Relive RLIR 2020Updated 475 days ago

Anchors Aweigh!

With the eighth installment of the Royal Langkawi International Regatta just months away, HARIS HUSSAIN gets a taste of what it feels like to be on the high seas.

“TACKING!” yells the skipper of the Royal Malaysian Navy yacht Zuhal, RMN Commander Malik Sulaiman.

The deck becomes a flurry of activity as mates run to their stations, clipping carabiners to safety cables, securing rigs, manning winches and checking lines, preparing for the next maneouvre.

Everyone notes their positions on the deck, careful not to step on lines that could snag or trip them and throw them overboard once the skipper makes his turn.

Off to the port side, a yellow buoy bobs in the distance. The mainsail on this 15.8m-long boat is flapping in the breeze.

The sea off Kuah in Langkawi is calm and we’re doing a languorous 2.6 knots but we’re already tilting at a crazy angle; I’m guessing once we round the buoy, we’ll be whipping the ponies and going hell bent for the horizon.

Behind us, Zuhal’s sister ship, Zuhrah, is gaining on us. She had already beaten us on the first run, and Malik is determined not to let them get a clean sweep.

The words of the commodore of the Navy’s yacht club, Capt Mohd Hatim Saad, 48, are still fresh on everybody’s mind.

“Gentlemen, I do not intend to be on the losing boat.”

Malik, 43, glances behind, turns his gaze to the mainsail, and then to the marker buoy. He eyeballs the opposition again behind his Oakleys and without word, starts his turn.

I grab the railing as Zuhal turns on a dime and whips past the buoy. The violent turn rolls the boat to a 30-degree angle and everyone struggles to hang on. Up at the fo’c’sle, deckhands hoist the spinnaker. It billows and catches the wind.

Almost immediately, the boat thrusts forward, its bow slicing through the water like a hot knife through warm butter.

I look up at the base of the mainmast at a clump of digital displays — from heading to our speed in knots — and see that we are clocking a zippy18 knots. We’re leaving Zuhrah in the dust.

Stoked after gaining this tactical edge, the crew fine-tunes the rigging on the boat. Any drag-inducing protrusions are locked away and stowed. It’s down to the wire now.

The gap between Zuhrah and us is widening and for the first time in two hours, this crew is chugging along like a well-oiled machine.

And then the unthinkable happens.

Stressed beyond its limits, a cable that holds the spinnaker snaps with a loud crack.

Almost immediately, the sail goes limp. Our collective hearts sink.

As the crew stows the spinnaker, no one notices that the Zuhrah is slowly closing the distance.

“Check mast! C’mon, boys!” Mohd Hatim yells to the crew.

We’re mast-to-mast now and the finish line is just a few metres away. The crews trade good-natured jibes and put-downs, but Malik, a silver medallist in the Super Moth Class (open category) in the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games, is single-minded in his resolve. He wants this race. The tension aboard Zuhal is palpable.

The marshals from the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club finally blow the horn, signaling the end of the race. The mood aboard Zuhal is subdued. No one dares to celebrate. This one is too close to call.

Moments later, the race marshals make it official. Zuhal had won this round by the skin of her teeth. The crew goes wild and the boat erupts in celebration.

The two-boat race was a prelude to the eighth installment of the Royal Langkawi International Regatta, scheduled for Jan 8-15, next year.

It was also a chance for the Navy to showcase its two boats that will take part in the event.

Mohd Hatim says Zuhal and Zuhrah’s crews will spend the next two months at the RLYC, honing their seamanship in a series of work-ups before the event.

“We want to give our boys enough time to prepare and get acclimatised to the sea and wind conditions in the competition area.”

Organised by the RLYC, the RLIR was first held in 2003 and has become a popular race among sailors.

It is already a permanent fixture in the Asian Regatta Calendar and has become one of the world’s premier sailing events.

Abdul Rahman Mahani, senior manager of the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club, says the races proper will be from Jan 11-15, 2010 and will be divided into several categories — racing class, the sportsboat class, multi-hulls and club cruisers.

This year’s event saw the participation of 33 boats.

Last year, the secretariat introduced the round-the-island race format and plans to retain it due to its popularity among the participants.

“Apart from the usual windward/leeward courses, hallenging courses are also being designed for next year’s event,” he says.

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