At the moment, I am leading a strange double life. You know me best as the jovial, freewheeling Dr Hutch, the man who fills the last spread of the magazine on those all-too-frequent occasions when the CW ad-sales department doesn’t manage to sell it to someone.
But to others, I am the sun-tanned, windswept author of a book called Hello Sailor. It’s published today, but I mention that only in passing, not because having worked on it for months I’m desperate for someone to buy it (that’s Hello Sailor, by me, Michael Hutchinson, published by Yellow Jersey. Again, just in passing).
The book is about competitive sailing, because that was my first sport. As a teenager, when hindsight suggests I might have been better off riding a bike, I raced little plywood sailing dinghies in a manner that might best be described as appallingly incompetent.
Young & useless
I gave up in disgust at my own uselessness when I was about 18. But then, recently I found myself thinking that it might be good to go back to it and have another go. Having spent years as a cyclist, I wanted to try something else.
There are, of course, some differences. If you think you had a bad day the time you rode down a lane full of hedge clippings and ran out of puncture patches, rest assured, that’s peanuts compared to crashing a boat into the pointy bits of the Isle of Wight.
And while I agree that it’s alarming having a driver bearing down on you on a single-track road, personally I think it’s topped by trying to get out of the way of 100,000 tons of tanker ship by using your baseball cap as a paddle.
There are some more serious differences. The most striking is that, in sailing, someone blessed with minimal levels of talent, but a big bank balance, can buy their way to the top. You get a good
boat and a bunch of professionals to help you sail it. They win stuff, you collect trophies. Not all
sailing is like that, but some is, especially in the bigger-boat classes where money really talks.
I’d just love to see someone shop to the top in cycling. Let’s see — you’d buy a decent bike. And get a coach. And, um, that’s about it, legally at any rate. You could hire Mark Cavendish’s lead-out men, but you’d look a real turkey bringing them to your club run so you could win the sprint at the end, and you probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with them anyway.
That’s something about cycling that I didn’t appreciate until I went to do something else. It’s such an honest sport. We’re all doing exactly the same thing, and it feels just the same for all of us.
Smug self satisfaction
It’s rather pleasant to glory in the merits of our sport while bashing someone else’s — it’s what reading this magazine is all about, smug self-satisfaction. But let me introduce a discordant note.
Sailing has at least as many different disciplines as our sport. In cycling, there is a constant niggling tension between them. Road racers are scornful of time triallists. They’re unimpressed by the trackies, even if the trackies can point to the Beijing medal-table. And they all look down on sportives, because they don’t always appreciate the worth of the personal challenge involved.
Sailors, though, seem to have a respect for the other facets of their sport, from solo round-the-world marathon sluggers, to the athletic Olympic classes. They appreciate what’s required; it’s something that makes the supposed snobby sport of sailing seem friendlier than cycling. It’s not something I expected — I assumed all sports were like us.Turns out we’re not perfect after all.
And by the way, that’s Hello Sailor. Just in passing. Just casually. No pressure. Greeny-blue jacket — you can’t miss it.