Random Play by Graham Reid


A missive from an ancient mariner

To be honest, yachting isn’t my thing. I did a bit when I was about 13 -- which actually means I sat in Brett Bensky’s Flying Ant (do they still have those?) pulling wet ropes while he sat at the rudder and told me what to do.

I didn’t like yachting: it always seemed you squatted in the shadow of the sail and got splashed with cold water while a bitter wind whipped around your ears. I preferred lying on the warm beach and getting wet at times of my own choosing.

For one year I was the treasurer of the Stanmore Bay Yacht Club -- a marvellous title, but as I was only a third former and not given charge of the chequebook I think that was more a titular role, and probably my Dad’s idea. I certainly never handled money and never attended a committee meeting.

Yachting to me doesn’t mean money and committees, and isn’t that a strange preconception in the 21st century?

But this is not me going to dismiss the rich folks’ sport of choice by being churlish. I didn’t get caught up in any of the recent hype simply because I am largely uninterested in yachting. But I’m disappointed we didn’t win.

And we “didn’t win“, as opposed to “lost”.

I always think we lose when we have something and it is taken away from us. We didn’t have that Cup, so in a way we are simply back to where we always were. Maybe?

My disappointing is largely empathetic: On a personal level it doesn’t matter a jot to me if we win or lose. (Although my guess is if we had won our rates in Auckland might have gone up again in the next few years. Any bloody excuse.)

My disappointment is for all those people (not so much for the shoreside supporters) who worked hard and put time in to this lengthy project.

Although, as I say, yachting isn‘t my thing I did interview both Sir Peter Blake and his mentor Sir Tom Clark in 2000 when there was another of these water-borne chess games mediated by lawyers.

I liked Sir Tom very much: he was in his 80s and couldn’t give a bugger about niceties, or unions. He was plain spoken, loved yachting -- and had some interesting things to say about Blake’s character.

Blake I found imperious, patrician and a man who literally and metaphorically looked down his nose at me. I was “a journalist” and probably of no use to him, but he was courteous enough to speak to me and we got on well enough.

I pointed out to me what seemed the obvious: “Sir Peter Blake is the hometown hero whose home is Britain, the dinner guest who says doesn't have a suit ('but I do black tie well enough') and the sailor who now charts a course through the seas of sponsorship.”

Butterworth was an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in wind-cheater. He was on “our” side then.

Interestingly the reason I was sent to interview all of these people is because I knew so little about sailing that I could ask the dumb questions -- about the Zen of sailing as it were -- and these people were forced to find answers that weren’t predetermined or pap.

And the “sports guys” told me later they really enjoyed the articles -- even the Butterworth which was subbed so badly that a couple of key sentences were rendered incomprehensible and some facts changed. I was enormously embarrassed, but was reliably told that Brad wouldn’t have the read the bloody piece anyway. Thinking about it then, I realised that was probably true.

Ironically, I was also asked to write introductory essay to a Herald supplement for the America’s Cup that year. (Defending Our Cup the lift-out was heroically entitled).

In the blurb for it I noted that my sailing experiences had rarely involved anything smaller than an ocean liner.

I looked at that article this morning. I stand by it. In a further irony the All Blacks at the time had just been routed: by whom I cannot recall, but that’s the great thing about sports writing, it is always deja-vu all over again. But I wrote of how some commentators would have us believe the nation went into an overwhelming grief at that loss.

Well, I haven’t been much out of the house today to engage my fellow citizens, other than to walk to the supermarket -- but on the way there I was thinking about this America’s Cup thing. And about going to the supermarket.

I well remember the day (but not the year) that I came back from China and had to go to the supermarket in Birkenhead. I pottered around the shelves but my attention kept being drawn to some massive tickertape parade being played out on the overhead televisions. I thought it was some astronaut thing in New York (which shows my age) but it was the day that Team New Zealand -- as I think they were called back then -- was being feted on Queen St.

Having been in China meant I had missed the preamble to this great day -- yachting is not big in China, you know -- and it didn’t seem to have affected my fellow shoppers either. We bought our sachets of cheap noodles, Coke discounted, bread and so on, and lined up at the checkout. Life was going on as usual.

Just as it was at the supermarket today.

But I do genuinely feel for the people who have spent years working towards this Cup thing. And I feel for us too.

What our winning of the rights to host the Rugby World Cup has proven is that we have a date now for the completion of major public works. Noticed that? Everything that has been dragging on for years, if not decades, stymied by councils or special interest groups, now needs to be resolved and in place by 2011. Hurry!

Maybe winning the America’s Cup would have had that effect on us too. We might have got on and resolved things: like the waterfront, like the traffic.

Anyway, roll on this year’s Rugby World Cup. Everyone is saying the All Blacks will win that.

Even those who have just beaten us.

PS: If you are feeling low about this Cup thing -- or just want to hear some interesting music -- among other goodies at Elsewhere right now is a country singer doing Cher’s Believe. Check it out at Music From Elsewhere.

“Ola!” as those tele-news people on Valencia-junkets have taken to saying.

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