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Rail Meat

What an exciting day we had today.  One of our new friends, Matt, invited us to go with him to participate in a sailboat race.  We were invited to be part of the crew, appreciatively known as “rail meat”. (Definition to follow.)  Matt’s invitation was for both of us to go.  At first, I just encouraged Gary to go and I wasn’t going to.  Then, the more I thought about it, I decided to go also.  How often would we get an invitation to crew on a 40 foot custom made racing sail boat.  The owner of the boat, Floyd, is a retired surgeon.  That’s all we know about him, other than he is Gary’s age, and is a delightful, optimistic, fun-loving adventurous gentlesailor (i.e., a gentleman who sails).

For the Melbourne Yacht Club weekly race, Floyd has a crew of seven, eight counting himself.  These are the gentlesailors who do all the real sailing of the boat.  Matt is a member of the weekly crew.  Then, there is the part of the crew that probably (would be my guess) changes week to week–the “rail meat”.  There were four of us today who owned this catagory.  Rail meat have a very important function as part of the crew.  I’ll try to explain it to the best of my literary ability to those of you who are not sailors.

When a boat if sailing in high winds, it heels, which means it tips over onto it’s side.  If the wind is blowing over the starboard (right) side of the boat, that side of the boat will be tipped up.  And vice-versa, it the wind blows over the port (left) side of the boat, that side of the boat will be tipped up.  How much the boat tips depends upon the setting of the sails and the amount of wind there is.  Today, we had gusts of wind up to 30 mph, which is a lot of wind when you’re sailing. (Right, Snellenbergers???)  So, the “rail meat” helps to keep the high side of the boat down by sitting on that side with our feet hanging over the edge, and sometimes our upper bodies hanging out through the lifelines, with only our bottoms on the rail (edge) of the boat.  Thus, the term “rail meat”.

When the boat has to shift from going one direction to another direction, that is called a “tack” when the maneuver involves the bow (the front of the boat) crossing threw the wind.  It’s called a ” jibe” when the stern (the back of the boat) crosses threw the wind.  Whether it’s a tack or a jibe used to turn direction, the boom (the hugh horizontal bar that holds the bottom of the main sail) swings across the boat very forcefully, especially in high wind.  If it were to hit you in the head, it could be fatal.  So, with that in mind, this is what the rail meat has to do… As the helmsman (in this case it was a helmsman, not a helmswoman) yells out he’s going to tack, the rail meat prepares to move to the other side of the boat by getting their legs, head and arms out from overhanging the boat.  The timing to move to the other side is crutial.  You need to time it to where you are crawling over the cabin top, with your head and full body below the boom (they call it “boom” for a reason), arriving to the other side at the same time the tack is finished and the rail of that side of the boat is at it’s highest.  You don’t want to be caught on the lower side of the boat.  This maneuver is done repeatedly throughout the race.

Now, keep in mind Gary nor I are the youngest sailors on this boat.  In fact, Floyd and the two of us were the oldest on the boat.  And two of the three of us were rolling around the top deck and under the boom for two hours, and one of those two people was not Floyd.  And, this old woman has bad arthritic knees and can’t move too fast.  So to compensate for that fact, when the helmsman yelled out we were going to tack or jibe, I’d go ahead and get my appendages out from hanging over the edge of the boat, turned around and got my feet onto the cabin and got ready for the climb to the other side.  By doing this, I would make it to the other side of the boat at about the same time as everyone else.  Except one time…

 Near the end of the race, we were observing one of the boats ahead of us having trouble on a tack.  Their boat had heeled so much, their sails were parallel to the water, probably just skimming the water.  I thought to myself, “humm, that can’t be good…” and I thought about what might happen to us when we got to that same spot.  But then, I dismissed the worry because our boat was a much bigger boat than that one and we had all this good rail meat on our boat… Well. a very short time later, I could feel our boat moving like it was going into a tack and I got my body into position to shift to the other side, and a crew member who was doing double duty as rail meat, said, “No, no, we’re not tacking.”  So, I swung back around and repositioned myself over the rail at the exact moment the helmsman yells, “ACCIDENTAL TACK!”  Before I knew it, in what seemed like a split second, everyone was over to the other side of the boat (the high side), leaving me with my legs and head hanging over the low edge of the boat.  Two things went through my mind in that moment. #1.  Don’t loose my shoes (flipflops–dumb me) and my hat. #2.  Don’t go overboard, because we’re on the last tack of the race and we’d loose our placing in the race if they had to retreive me from the water.  So, I grabbed my hat as Gary grabbed me under my arms to keep me from going into the water as it was desperately trying to drag me down, due to the speed we were going.  I don’t know which was harder to accomplish, getting my legs out of the rushing water without loosing my flipflops, or climbing UP the boat to get to the higher side.  But, somehow, with Gary’s help, both were accomplished.   And as far as I know, we didn’t loose our place in the race because of the whole incident. 

Also, when I got caught in the “accidental tack”, my legs were under the jib sheets (“jib” is the sail at the front of the boat and “sheets” are the ropes attached to it).  So, in the process of this whole fiasco, I also got a flogging across my legs from the jib sheets.  And I am sure to have visible bruises on my body from the whole experience.  I told Gary I will have to keep my whole body covered until they heal, as people will think the captain has been beating the galley slave.  But seriously,  I am totally honest in saying, it was an AWESOME experience.  Would I do it again?  That is yet to be determined….It sure makes a good story, though.

Actually, the story is not finished.  As we were all standing on the deck of the boat, after we got back to the dock, talking about the race, Captain Floyd looked up at the jib halyard (the rope that takes the jib up and down) and said, “Someone needs to tighten up that jib halyard.  It’s loose.”  And right at that moment the jib fell to the deck as the halyard snapped in two.  Later, Matt told us he had noticed the halyard fraying and was going to fix it, but Floyd told him “not to bother, it was okay.”   I guess in this case, the “crew” knew better than the “captain”… At any rate, we all commented on how fortunate we were that the halyard breaking didn’t happen during the race.  And of course, personally I’m thinking,  expecially when I was in distress hanging over the rail being flogged by the jib sheet.  To have the whole jib fall on me would not have made a good ending to this story.  Thank you God, for watching over your “children and idiots”, as Gary so wisely says.


  1. Beverly says:

    omogosh! WHAT a story indeed! Hadn’t been able to read it thoroughly so long ago….yeeeikes.
    I love all the sailing lingo – it’s such fun learning about the art. …such a beautiful thing, sailing is. (er, minus the bodies hanging down in the water of course, smile) (and yes, Gary, not for the idiots–without God’s protection!)

  2. kt says:

    thankyou for this well written piece! i am very new to the sailing universe and got so much out of this awesome picture you detailed here. i needed to hear the sailing terms in context like this, which was so very helpful as i dont want to confirm my idioticness by messing up the lingo. But, your writting has me tasting the salt water (or lake water?) thankyou for posting this!

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