Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sailing with Australians (and One Kiwi), Sandgropers and Gropers

Sailing With the Aussies

My aunt Lyn is an avid yacht racer. This all sounds very fancy and evokes mental images of wine events, women in white bikinis lounging on the prow of massive white ships (in Capri) and mind blowingly fantastic luxury. This is actually a total fallacy. A "yacht" can in fact be defined as "a sailboat of most descriptions," and yacht racing in the smallest class takes place on sailboats that have been stripped of all imaginable luxuries. Further, high-speed and intensive yacht racing can, apparently, be a nail biter sport involving incredibly close near misses, close proximity to chilly water, man-overboard situations, and other unpleasantry. One part of the legend is true: there is a lot of booze involved. And chips. But only at the yacht club afterwards.

I was thrilled to find that the Swan River around Perth is absolutely teeming with moon jellyfish, in all shapes and sizes. I was under some impression that Moon jellies are only found in the extreme deep sea and at educational aquariums, when in fact they occur in astonishing numbers all over the place in Perth. This was pretty cool. Apparently their stings are only minimally painful, which is also nice to know. I enjoyed trodding on the dead ones that washed ashore on the beach - they squash quite pleasantly. They're a lot firmer then you'd think by looking at them.

We boarded the ship and I met Lyn's sailing team, who are all lovely professional women who enjoy hauling rope and getting very close to jellyfish in their free time. But they do get to say their hobby is Yacht Racing. The woman who owns the boat is in fact a Kiwi. Making the distinction is very important. It is also Very Bad if you mix up their accents. Beware. Ask pointed questions before making an assessment.

My aunt lives here, at the Raffles. Pity her.

The day we went out, as it turned out, there was no wind. Nada. None. It was unsure if the race was actually going to happen or not - but it did. Very, very slowly. This was fine for me, as I had to do barely any hauling of rope whatsoever, and I was not entirely sure how one actually goes about hauling rope. I mostly just got out of the way of the crew, who busily hauled rope, put up the sails and took them down again, and exchanged greetings with the sailboats passing very, very close to us, entirely too close. I spotted thousands upon thousands of jellyfish, and was quietly unnerved by the enormous, terrifying, and omnipresent pelicans. Lyn was even astonished when we actually got *snacks* - hummus, crackers, and Australia's perennial favorite, ginger beer. Luxury had come to yachting again!

We then adjourned to the Yacht Club to drink wine and eat deep fried things. Apparently chips are an integral part of the yachting experience in these parts, as well as good New Zealand sauvignon blanc. I like this sport a lot. I even got a commemorative sail because I didn't fall off. The food at the Perth Yacht Club is surprisingly good as well. I had the grilled "groper" fish. I have not yet determined if the fish is actually a sexual predator or if this is just an alternate spelling for "grouper."

Okay, okay, they really are called Gropers. The Blue Groper in fact, a commonly eaten and fished critter in Western Australian waters.

The nickname for WA residents is "Sandgropers," which actually refers to the mole cricket, a very large and disquieting sand digging insect. So now you know.

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