Blown Away by Sailing Stint – published in The Star (Friday November 24, 2006)

Original witer and works of photos included:

The Star Online > Central
Friday November 24, 2006

Blown away by sailing stint
The 17th Raja Muda Selangor International Regatta kicked off at Port Klang last Saturday in a blistering race involving 44 boats. CHOW HOW BAN followed the action on board the Royal Malaysian Navy's Zuhrah in the Racing Class of Race 1 from Port Klang to Pangkor.  
WE were welcomed aboard the Zuhrah, a sleek dk52, by the skipper himself, Lt Commander Malik Sulaiman, a silver medallist in the super moth open in the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games. 
He then pointed out to us his deputy, Ishak Jab, who was busy on top of the boat's three-storey-tall mast and introduced us to the 12 other crew, aged between 20 and 38, who were preparing to put up the main sail.  
The writer (right) with Lt Commander Malik on board the Royal Malaysian Navy's Zuhrah.

Tanned and with the bodies of athletes, some of these sailors from the Lumut naval base were on their second appearance in the Racing Class of the regatta. 
Lt Commander Malik has many years of experience in sailing and coaching while Ishak, a Bintara Kanan, is an engineer at the base. 
Later, Ishak showed us the cabin at the lower deck where all their food, clothing and different sails as well as the navigation and communication tools were stored. 
There were lots of pockets fitted to the cabin walls where we could place our belongings to prevent them from falling about when the boat loses its equilibrium. 
The crew got the sails ready, working in sync with Malik's instructions.  
As this was my first sailing experience, I was at a loss at most times. I didn't even know where to stand, not to mention what they were doing.  
When I finally found myself a place to stand under the main sail, Malik warned that the boom (the pole at the bottom of the sail) would swing from one side to another and I would be hit if I were to stand under it.  
He told me to sit at the edge of the boat with the crew and to follow suit when the crew changes their seats from one side of the boat to another to balance the vessel.  
Helping to balance the boat was the least I could do. However, I did sometimes lend a helping hand to pass the sails to the crew. 
As soon as the honk signalling the start of the race was heard at about 1.30pm, we were all on our own without the motor. It was just like what Malik told me – we have to rely on and utilise all the natural resources like the wind and tidal current to sail our boat. 
It didn't take us long to face our first test – a brief downpour that slowed our boat down. After the downpour, we were off again with some good wind and sunshine, too.  
Sailing at night can be quite scary as there is minimal light on board Zuhrah.
It was a sight to behold when our boat sailed with the other boats, most of which had colourful sails and boasted elegant designs. 
“It's nice that we are keeping with the pace and we can still see the other boats. If not, we will be sailing alone,” said the 38-year-old skipper. 
The crew's most regular task was tacking or turning the main and head sails from one side to another when changing the boat's direction (There are two sails on most yachts and the rear is called the main sail. The head sail is in front of the main sail).  
Malik would give the order: “Tack!” and the crew would ground the sails windward as hard as they could. Then, they shifted to the opposite edge of the boat in an attempt to balance the tilted boat.  
Responding to shouts of “Hike!”, the crew and I stretched our hands and upper bodies as far out to sea as we could to help in the balancing act. 
The sailing had been smooth with a maximum speed of nine knots until later in the evening. Our boat was plagued by bad wind and lost out to other boats that enjoyed good wind closer to the shore. That cost us a better finish. 
At 8pm, a thunderstorm hit us and we had to struggle until 10pm.  

Two crew grinding as hard as they could to turn the main sail when the boat is changing direction.
As there was no member of the jury on board and neither was there any tracking device installed on the boats, it would have been easy for the sailors to cheat by propelling the boat using its motor. However, Malik said the sailors must be honest and this was what sailing was all about. 
Our spinnaker (a lightweight sail for sailing downwind) was blown away when the crew was changing from a spinnaker to a heavier sail during the thunderstorm. 
Fortunately, we didn't lose the spinnaker in the middle of the sea as we managed to pull it back to the boat. 
Despite the chores to tack and change the sails, it was not all fast and furious and tense as Malik and his crew still found time to chit-chat and crack some jokes. At one point, Malik swapped roles with a crew member who took over the boat's helm while the skipper joined in the conversation of his protégés at the edge of the yacht.  
The crew shared their KFC and other snacks with us and I must have eaten about two pieces of fried chicken and seven packets of snacks throughout the journey.  
Crew members trying to haul in the spinnaker which fell in the sea during a thunderstorm.
The hardest part, for me, was going through the sun's scorching heat and the cold patches when I was drenched and shivering in the cold wind. I had a bad feeling that I would be coming down with a fever.  
As much as I wanted to follow through every moment of the race, I finally couldn't stand it and took to my bed at 11pm leaving behind the crew who stood vigil till dawn. 
Our boat crossed the finishing line at Pulau Pangkor on Sunday at 5.15am behind five other boats. When the results were tabulated, Zuhrah finished last with a corrected duration of 21 hours and six minutes.  
Despite the poor finish, I strongly believe that the navy has a group of good calibre sailors who can excel if they put their heart and soul into it.  
I am sure these sailors cannot agree more with national sailor Kevin Lim who was recently quoted as saying that a bad day at sailing is still better than a good day at work,  
Over 400 sailors on 44 boats competed in six different classes, namely Racing, Premier Cruising, Club Cruising, Multi-Hull, Non-IRC Cruising and Vintage Class. They were required to sail from Port Klang to Pangkor in Race 1 and from Pangkor to Penang in Race 2.  
They would then compete in Race 3 and 4 north of George Town before sailing to Langkawi in Race 5. The participants will finish off their races in Race 6 and 7 around the Kuah harbour in Langkawi. The regatta ends tomorrow.  

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