Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Part 1 of 8: Prologue

So I went to the bar under the youth hostel tonight where they serve free pizzas every Wednesday, and was delighted to get away with 4 slices of top-quality Pizza Hut joy! Mm-mm!

Anyway, after Tiger, Kazu, Paolo, Mickala, Kirsty, Ross, Wei and myself had finished our pizzas, the bar, in its desperate secular attempt to be exciting and rebellious, normally holds a goldfish race. This week however, the goldfish were not available. (maybe they were just being koi) (sorry) Anyway, to replaice (even sorrier) the lost soles (hrrrrrmmm…), someone in authority had actually decided to instead hold…a build your own yacht contest!


Flashbacks from my shameful yacht-building past immediately returned to haunt me...

Part 2 of 8: Flashback

That night – September 20th - in Crete last year...

Paul, Angela, Carmel and myself had slumped back to the Bali Star Hotel exhausted after a tennis session, only to be faced with having to take part in a far-too-cerebral Mastersun quiz night. Cerebral in that we weren't answering simple Q&As, ooohhh noooooo, we had to... construct a yacht.

Just a small one, mind, y'know, out of a sheet of paper, a couple of paperclips and a few other odds and ends. Dazed, we sat and looked at it. Our tired brains weren't even up to the task of naming our team, let alone writing our sea-shanty that we also had to sing, and certainly not building a regata-winning model yacht-race.

However, once Anna-Lisa had ingeniously dubbed us "The Dream Team," we made a token effort at fitting the bits and pieces together to build a yacht.

Today, as far as I know, there is no surviving photographic evidence of the tangle of wreckage that we 'constructed.' What I do remember is that it wouldn't even stand-up on the table, so I advocated unbending and straightening the paperclips to support it, which we did, sticking them both through the hull, as though this would help. It remained there on its side, utterly useless, like a dead pet that had been cruelly stabbed twice.

Time was up, and the other teams were already presenting their witticism-laden sea shanties. One team's tune was a parody of Queen's "We Are The Champions." Another seemed to have a many-versed tribute to ABBA going on. We looked down at the four lines we'd managed to scrawl:

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of Uzo,
Come and join us on our cruise-o,
Out of the port and across the sea,
Chucking-up 'til half-past three.

You didn't see this
Seriously, that was it. And we didn't even have any music. As the team before us crooned onward to their no doubt firework-enhanced conclusion, we looked at each other with an honesty of inadequacy that I've rarely experienced, even from close friends.

Trying to think how we might best salvage the situation, I said "I really think that just one of should just read this out as a poem."

Paul was quick: "I'm not reading it out."

Angela: "I'm not reading it out either."

Carmel: "I'm not reading it out."

Beat. They were all looking at me.

"Well I'm not reading it out, I've just told everyone here that I want to be a writer."

We knew we had only seconds left until the other team finished their masterpiece, and then our credibility would be blasted to pieces. Forever.

We looked at each other. We looked at the other team. We looked at Anna-Lisa and Wing-Commander, our quizmasters. We looked down at this dilapidated naval jalopy, still lying motionless on its side with two unwound paperclips spiking out of the bottom of the hull garrotting it, a mass of crumpled paper that could neither float nor stand up, let alone race.

On some subconscious level, we grimly realised that that barbed tangle of Greek stationery represented... us.

There was another beat, as we all four locked eye-contact with each other, and four minds shared a single thought.

We bolted for the door. And then we didn't stop running. Not until we were far, far away...

That night was a lesson to never, ever be unlearnt. Never again enter a yacht-building contest. Ever. Never! Never... never... never...

As my mind returned to the Auckland nightclub tonight, I still shuddered at the memory of the sheer derision and ridicule that Paul, Angela, Carmel and myself would have faced if we had gone through with mumbling our abysmal 4-line sea-shanty, followed by presenting our 'boat."

Inevitably I had to ask myself the thought that I did not wish to form into words:

Was history about to repeat itself? Or was this my once-in-a-lifetime chance to redeem myself and heal the memory of that terrible night?

Part 3 of 8: Hello Tiger

In the end, Tiger decided for me.

Tiger (who’s Korean): Steve! You come with me. We build boat.
Me: You don’t know who you’re talking to.

Tiger: Come. We build boat.
Me: I’ve done this before. I’m rubbish at it.
Tiger: No you not. You good. You clever. You come with me. We build boat. We win race!
Me: The last boat I built was so bad we all had to run away in shame. We didn’t go back for hours! Such was the effect of this boat on the local population, that in some parts of Crete when they find a dilapidated piece of flotsam or wreckage, they now actually call it a “Dream Team boat!” I have a stamp in my passport refusing my re-entry to the EU for contributing to such a poorly constructed piece of refuse! No! There is absolutely no way I am going to help you build this boat!
Tiger: Great. We build boat over here.

Part 4 of 8: Everybody's Building

It was pretty straightforward stuff. Rather than recklessly issuing each team with paper, paperclips etc., we had all actually been given a box containing a cellophane bag, which itself contained a really simple model boat to construct. We had a solid wooden hull, a wooden mast, a plastic sail, 2 rudders and stickers. That was it, apart from an instruction sheet and a scalpel. As usual, nothing else was allowed to be used in its construction.

This was going to be all right. We could just build a simple bog-standard boat, exactly the same as everyone else’s, and then any subsequent shame would surely fall on everyone else with their identical boats too. My pride was safe. Unless we sank at the start of the race, we could only look as bad as everyone else with the same wait a minute. Instruction sheet? Hang on, that was a bit bigger than the plastic sail we’d been provided with. And if it was bigger, then surely it could catch more air and…and…and…it was too late. I had been sucked in, and was even now foolishly running-up to the 3-metre water-track to measure its width (about 9cm) to determine how big our new sail should be. Bugs on the motorway are probably in a similar frame of mind when they decide that an approaching windscreen looks quite interesting.

So after I’d torn the instructions in 2, plotted where the holes should go, punched them, rolled the paper up to give it a curl, joined it with the excellent work that Tiger had done on the rudders, used the stickers to reinforce it to the mast, and mumbled the world-record-breakingly stupid suggestion that we call ourselves The Dream Team (Tiger, thank goodness, turned it down in favour of the “HMS 2 Fast 2 Furious”), we had built our boat!

As mentioned earlier, the water track in which we would be racing was approximately 3 metres long, and about 9cm wide. There were 2 of them – enough therefore for 2 boats to race at once.

Tests went well! The sail made out of the instruction sheet just fitted into this narrow-track. If it had been a bit lower, then it would have knocked the sides, which would have minimised it drifting from side to side during the race, and kept it going in a straight line, but one can’t have everything. It caught the wind admirably (no pun anywhere, please don’t look for one), and it was only when someone blew it really ridiculously hard that it went over, as everyone knows all real boats are designed to.

Quickly fishing it out (still none) I handed it back to Tiger and headed off to the toilet to get some tissues to dry-out the instructions cum sail.

In the toilet, I bumped into Andy - a local kiwi guy I know from a rival team. He said something along the lines of:

Kiwi guy: G’day mate, ‘ow’s it goin’, ‘ow’s yer boat mate, ay? Ay? Aaaaaay? (Kiwi-isms toned-down)
Me: Yes, thank you, as a matter of fact it’s all going rather well. In fact, I do believe that we are going to win.
Kiwi guy: Awesome mate, awesome. What modifications have you made, ay?
Me: I’m not telling, I’m afraid that you will just have to look very quickly as we speed past your vessel and through the finishing line.
Kiwi guy: Take me head off and paint me green, mate. We split our hull in two and made a catamaran. Ay? (Ay added gratuitously by me, as I’ve finally figured out what happened to all the A’s that are missing from the locally-produced boxes of “Weet-Bix.”)

This conversation did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm. We had a simple boat with one improvement. None of the over-complicated stuff that would look nice, but ultimately make a yacht top-heavy. Things were looking good. Earlier on I had even gone out to get my camera. Oh, we might not win, but we were darn well not going to come last. At last the secret pain that I had been harbouring (still no puns) for almost 12 months would finally be healed.

Part 5 of 8: Sail Now Off

When I got back to Tiger, I was appalled to find him and Mickala re-attaching the original plastic sail.

Me: (hysterically flapping my arms) What! What do you think you’re doing?! Why have you removed our instruction-sheet sail and replaced it with the smaller plastic one again?!?
Tiger: Oh. Paper too wet. It not dry out before race. We use this sail.
Me: (hysterically flapping arms and jumping up and down) No no no no no! This instruction sheet is our EDGE! It’s what makes our boat better than the others! It’s our EDGE! It catches more wind! It reduces drift from port to starboard! If it’s a bit damp, it’ll still catch the wind and work as a sail! (brief pause) It’s our EDGE!
Tiger: You want to blow?

Clearly the only way of communicating just what a foolish path they were obviously heading down was to wrench the thing off them, break the plastic sail and reattach my paper one. Except that they had beaten me to it. In removing my sail, they had damaged it, and now the plastic one really was the better option.

Mickala offered me the straw. It was time for the first race, but this crewman was jumping overboard. My connection with this boat had gone.

Part 6 of 8: Fight Or Flight?

There were 8 boats, but only 2 tracks, which meant 4 initial heats, 2 semi-finals and 1 final. One member of the team would blow through a straw to get their boat all the way along the track to the end, where the straw would be passed baton-like to a second team-member, who would blow it back for the second half of the race. The HMS 2 Fast 2 Furious was scheduled for the 3rd heat.

I mentally sat on the fence and agonized over whether I was still a member of the team or not. The solution was simple enough. If we won, then I was. If not, then I reiterated my EDGE argument.

My stomach gave me an uneasy feeling. I mentally asked my stomach why it had decided to give me this discomfort, after I had earlier treated it to so much pizza. It replied by referring my attention to the first boat in the first heat. Oh.

For a start it had three sails. A plastic one, a paper one (ingeniously made out of the instructions) and a cardboard one, made from the box it had all come in.

Yes, I recognised this feeling. This was the feeling of watching Dangerous Brian and others singing many brilliantly-written verses, whilst The Dream Team had only 4 unfunny lines. The feeling of fear induced by the subsequent team’s rendition of “We Are The Dancers,” a subtle parody of a well-known Queen number. By the time Ailsa, Felicity and others had begun singing their many witticism-laden verses about Wing-Commander, the 4 of us had realized that everyone had done outstandingly. Everyone but us. In the circumstances, we had done the only mature thing, and run for it.

Now I was faced with that same choice again. I eyed the doorway.

I stayed.

Part 7 of 8: Two Heats

The 3-sailed vessel had quite a close first heat with its competitor, another magnificent tribute to ingenuity. I can’t remember who won. Then came the 2nd heat, and 2 more finely-crafted tributes to maritime. And they really looked like boats. Surely they couldn’t all be this spectacular? Surely someone else would have just made the model as it had come in the box? And then it hit me.

This was Auckland. They proudly call themselves “The City Of Sails.” They’re all into boats.

There was the odd moment of encouragement. One of the 2nd heat teams had beaten me to the Guinness Book Of Records’ title of World’s Most Defeatest Team Name by guffawingly calling themselves “The Wet Dream Team.” Their boat obviously lost. With a name like that, they really should have got out earlier.

So this was it. Heat 3, and the HMS 2 Fast 2 Furious (Mark 2) was up against a very small vessel with “only” two half-size sails. Clearly whoever had made it was avoiding any risk of it toppling over. It looked decided nippy, and I wasn’t thinking about the water.

The race began.

Part 8 of 8: They're Off!

Blowing through the straw, Mickala got the HMS 2 Fast 2 Furious off to a brilliant flying stop.

Straight into the port side of the water-track, poor Mickala had obviously had too much to drink and no longer had much puff left in her. At the far end of the track, Kazu watched helpless as he wondered if the boat would reach him before his indefinite visa expired.

Meanwhile the competitor’s boat was surging ahead like a dynamo. It fact, it probably had a dynamo. Let’s be honest, these guys had probably made one by shearing the wax off the box and turning it into a solar panel or something.

My conscience pricked me. I don’t drink, and I like to think that I have a pretty healthy set of lungs. If I had taken the straw off of Mickala when she’d offered it to me, then we probably could have made it to half-way by now. But did it matter? The prize was a bar tab, and I don’t drink. Sure, the orange juice would have been nice, but wasn’t this a matter of pride?

I glanced down at my camera. No, I didn’t want a picture of any of this. It was a picture of failure. And it wasn’t even my boat, since they’d de-rigged my sail. They were losing. THEY were.

Then suddenly, the competitor got into trouble on the side too, just as Mickala got her breath back! Unthinkably, the HMS 2 Fast 2 Furious was actually taking the lead!

Mickala got to the end, gave Kazu the straw, and he began the 2nd half…while the other boat was still stuck! We were SOARING along! There was no stopping us! Hang on a second…”We”?

Darn it, if we were going to win just one race, and with the other boat almost a length behind our speeding one in a 2-length course, then yes, I darn well was a part of the team. But this was it. If I committed myself now, there was no going back. Everyone would know that I was responsible if any unimaginable embarrassment unexpectedly befell us.

“GO KAZU!” I yelled at the top of my voice. “GO KAZ! GO KAZ! GGGGOOOOO!!!!!!”

Suddenly our boat sank.

The whole room seemed to slow-down. Everyone was moving in slow-motion, their eyes slowly closing and opening as they blinked, their cheering several octaves lower than immediately before. And I could hear my heart beating really really loudly.

I looked around me. There was Kaz, desperately attempting to coax our boat back up again. Way behind him was the competitor’s boat, just reaching the end of their first half. They handed over their straw, and their second “blower” expertly took over. And there was the Bali Star Hotel in Crete, and those steps outside, and that blasted walkie-talkie I’d left behind to avoid being contacted.

And there were other memories from my life too. Entering a school fancy-dress competition as Long John Silver and falling over, to be laughed at by the entire school and all of their parents. Feeling really shy when meeting Father Christmas. Cutting my own hair and stabbing myself in the eye because I forgot that mirrors work backwards. Actually I think that must have been someone else’s memory, but whoever they were, their pain was very real.

And sailing through them all was this little boat with 2 small sails, which won hands-down while we were still dead in the water.

I had quite literally gone down with another sinking ship.

Someone once said that the true test of any choice in life was having to make it twice.

If I ever find myself in a home-made yacht-building contest ever again, I’m stuffing well going to win it this time!

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