By Denham McMullen
On Sunday 27 January this year one boat and four members of the FCYC journeyed to Rockingham to defend the club’s enviable reputation as tug-of-war champions in a tightly contested best of three challenge against the Fremantle Sailing Club. With both clubs’ honor, self esteem of individual pullers, and the prestigious winners trophy at stake it was always going to be an event not to be missed.
Our own Captain (formally known as Commodore) Andrew Porteous had sailed down the previous day with shipmate Peter Evans aboard the lovely Canopus which lay anchored 100 metres offshore in Rockingham’s dazzling sand. For those who haven’t been there (like myself) it looks highly recommendable as an overnight or weekend anchorage with easterly seabreezes, providing you can overlook the view back towards Kwinana and tolerate the sea lice (Andrews nickname for jetskiers) that seem to haunt the place (at least on stinking hot weekends, and this was the hottest of the year to date!).
Following a brisk round of grim faced introductions to enemy pullers the respective club captains wisely deigned to ease their charges into the action with the less strenuous but by no means less coveted sea boot tossing championship. There are as many different ways to toss a sea boot as there are to shuck abalone, but none more effective than that employed by the FCYC’s home grown tosser Greg Youdale, who summarily dispatched the opposition with two record breaking tosses (37.5 metres sticks in mind, or was it 26 metres?) that will secure his place in the tossers’ hall of fame for many years to come.
By this stage both camps were well and truly warmed up. There were tanned sweaty biceps flexing everywhere you looked, sand being pawed up in the air and flared nostrils. Retrospectively, there was a distinct lack of stretching going on. One wonders (from his immobilized condition on the couch the following day) if some sort of a stretching competition shouldn’t be introduced into future challenges. If we weren’t on that rope shortly all hell was going to break loose. Then suddenly, in defiance of the peaking energy and willingness of the crews, FSC captain Rob Hills pulled a tactical move that seemed shrewd at the time but may well have thwarted the testosterone driven advantage swelling through his pullers by instigating a one handed bowline tying competition. Credit where due though, the captain picked up some points for his team with a dazzling display of one handed bowlining, posting a time to beat in future years of 4.2 seconds.
We were down on numbers – there was no hiding that. It was close enough to 3:1 with us weighing in under a third of their light end. There were no last minute sails reaching down from the northern horizon. An unfazed Peter Evans was busy tying himself into the anchor position of our end of the rope, his features set in grim determination. Greg Youdale, still pumped from his tossing success, was likewise busy with establishing footholds and experimenting with different grips. Nobody will be accusing the FSC of taking the easy money though – they like a tug with a challenge. We were offered three of their number and, with a good few deciding to sit out, established two teams of seven.
Once the jury were thoroughly satisfied with the delineation of the pitch, opposing teams assembled at their respective ends of the rope. Various discussions concerning grip, puller symmetry and heaving rhythms could be overheard. Who’d have thought tactics had anything to do with a good tug? Suddenly, the point of all this seemed to crystalise in the shimmering air around us and the two teams, moving as opposing halves of one now, took the strain. And strained. And strained. And….you bet tactics play a part. Those FSC pullers had a rhythm up and there wasn’t a lot we could do to throw them off it. Sure as eggs we were going their way little by little but not without a pointless fight.
Round 1 to FSC! Everybody gasping for air and dragging themselves into the water to cool off. Did we really want that stupid trophy back ? Not like we can hang it anywhere anyway. Is forfeiting an option ? Not for the FCYC it’s not! Someone suggested that swapping ends was only fair, just in case the beach had some slope on it. Numbers were down on the other end of the rope we noticed. We had to let a couple of our ring-ins go to balance things out which seemed appropriate. And maybe that beach did have some slope, or maybe we’d learned a few things cause that second pull went our way in short order. Which is not to say it was a cake walk. Every last one of us was rooted – to the spot where we’d fallen when the FSC team let go the rope in defeat. Pullers from both teams were strewn over the beach clawing vainly in the direction of the water and its promise of salvation. A draw seemed an honorable enough result. Half a trophy each – why not?
No, that was the former self, the pre-FCYC self crying for a way out. We had this. They were spent worse than we were and looked in danger of losing all but one or two pullers to cardiac arrests. All we had to do was get back in line and pick up the rope. English makes that sound so easy. By now the FSC team was so reduced that we were down to our family of four and Suzie, who will be offered free membership for her contribution to the team and our victory. That’s right, I’ll spare the blow by blow of the final heat. As a spectator sport tug-of-war wouldn’t rate highly. Not by the time you get to round three anyway. Grunts and groans and frothy lips. Quivering legs, bellies and god knows what else. It can’t have been pretty but we prevailed.
Was it all worth it ? Is the honor of a club something that individuals should take seriously ? Does our insurance policy cover potential fallout from activities like this ? I don’t know or care about the answer to these questions. All I know is that the cold can of Pilsener that Andrew handed me back out on Canopus made it all worthwhile.
Acknowledgements to the FSC for their sportspersonship. We look forward to defending our title as long as it is not challenged inside two years from this last one!