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Coles Phinizy
December 11, 1967
In the old days (above) Australia's small-boat sailors piled 14 men and a boy in their 18-footers and bashed each other's heads in. Now they just pile on sail and try to sink the enemy
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December 11, 1967

A Bloody Wild Way To Go Sailing

In the old days (above) Australia's small-boat sailors piled 14 men and a boy in their 18-footers and bashed each other's heads in. Now they just pile on sail and try to sink the enemy

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Kevin O'Keefe showed up a moment later. "We were in a Chinese restaurant," he reported to Whizzer, "and you were singing choruses because it was their New Year's."

"What bloody beautiful timing," Whizzer said. "We go in a restaurant and it turns out to be New Year's."

For some reason this reminded Heffernan of the party at the Squadron when someone tied a halyard around the leg of a lady guest and tried to haul her up the flagpole. "Only got her a third the way," Heffernan recalled, "she was kicking and squirming so." This reminded him of another story and another and another, until it was almost too late to make the starting line. And it is rather a pity that they made the line, because they fouled their spinnaker jibing around Shark Island and capsized once again.

Disaster was the order of that day. Gambling in 18-knot winds, eight of the 20 crews swam. Considering that they are relative novices, the crewmen of the boat Daily Mirror were doing well until one hand suddenly looked forward and exclaimed, "We've lost our bloody bow." On the beat to the first mark, Gold Thimble was footing well, intent on catching lighter-handicapped boats and cheered on by the ferryloads of punters, until a rival, Beryl, closed in fast, unseen, on the opposite tack. Beryl's boom went through Gold Thimble's mainsail. Beryl capsized, and the crew of Gold Thimble also went in but managed to scramble back aboard their half-swamped boat. As if this were not grief enough, while Gold Thimble was limping home, a trunk-cabin sloop skimmed by her too close to windward. A sudden gust brought the sloop's mast over hard and carried away some of Gold Thimble's standing rigging.

Sydney harbor of a windy weekend gets traffic such as few other ports ever see. While the 18-footers are beating to their first mark, there may be a fleet of big 8-meters coming the opposite way, spinnakers billowing. Little 12-footers skitter about. Dragons and a variety of classes criss and cross the harbor. Large freighters from distant ports use the same waters, and ferryboats, both orthodox and hydrofoil, make their appointed rounds. In addition, there are casual Sunday sailors loose, and, naturally, outboard runabouts, as well as larger stinkpots. "It's a crush," an Englishman, Robert Chandler, observed on seeing it for the first time. "Boats of this kind and that, a little of everything and a lot of many things. A regular dog's breakfast, as Australians say. I would only be faintly surprised if, in the middle of the whole mash, the Loch Ness monster reared its head."

On the windy day that Len Heffernan and his crew took their ninth swim, most of the favorites ran into trouble, and a large, grumbling mass of punters who played it safe with the short odds lost their shirts. In the clubhouse that evening someone within earshot of Len Heffernan said that it had been miserable.

"Aw, there is no such thing as miserable," Heffernan replied. "You know, miserable is only a state of mind. Win or swim, it's a good kind of boat we sail. I reckon it's about the best class of boat there is anywhere, so how can I ever be miserable?"

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