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A Week in Darwin; Minnow Nationals 2016

On 1 July 2016, I travelled to Darwin, NT, to compete in the 2016 Minnow Nationals. A minnow is a small dinghy class boat made out of either fibreglass, wood, or foam sandwich, but regardless of its material, it is only as good as the sailor. My minnow is a fibreglass boat called Devil In Disguise. In the sailing community people say that the Darwin Nationals is the Nationals attend.

After touching down, my mother, younger brother who is also as sailor and I caught a taxi to The Paravista Motel, our home for the next week. My first impression of Darwin was that it seemed very small and dry, a far cry from the hustling, bustling place of the previous nationals, when we travelled to in Melbourne. Following a relaxing swim in the pool with our friends, the Wrights, we walked down to the Darwin Sailing Club for our first look at our racing venue.

The club was beautiful, the sunset even more so. What we didn't realise was that it was Territory Day, meaning we were allowed to purchase and set off our own fireworks. One of the competing WA families bought some fireworks and we took turns lighting them and watching them fly. From Ufos to Ednas, they all made massive sparks and loud bangs. Some flew, some stayed on the ground and sparked like crazy; they were all beautiful.

The next day we walked back down to the club, although nobody from WA had slept well, as the celebrations had continued after we’d gone to bed. We unpacked the seven minnows and two small ribs from the shipping container. The boats competing from WA included Red Dragon, Red Robin, Stardust Mini, Nauti Buoy, Maniac, Dreadnaught, and Devil In Disguise. Once again, I was the only female competitor from WA.

Day One of Competition

On the day of the invitational, we rigged up and prepared for our first taste of the competition. The tide wasn't too bad, and it was warm out on the water. After the five-minute start sequence, the minnows were off like small fibreglass bullets from a gun. I was doing well, thanks to a massive wind shift which left me coming second, but I dropped to third, then fourth. Catastrophe struck in form of a capsize on the third leg and I lost fourteen places.

I might not have finished well in the race, but I was happy enough, considering I’d picked up a head cold the minute we touched down. The next was a new day and that was what mattered, I thought as we headed home again.

Day Two of Competition

Three races today. My head cold was better, but the tide was absolutely horrific. A minnow course looks like a triangle, with a top mark at the top of the triangle, the wing mark at the bottom left and the bottom mark at the bottom right. The bottom mark had dropped way down so we had to go upwind to it. Upwind is where the mark is dead into the wind so you have to zigzag up to it, the top mark is meant to be like this … the bottom mark is not.

We only had one more day of races before the lay day and even though I was towards the back end of the fleet, I was enjoying the weather. There was also a lovely welcome barbecue. By now, the boys had all developed a handball addiction and spent every spare minute on the makeshift handball court, thus making them no fun at all, so the barbecue was a very good social opportunity, and I finally made some friends who weren’t from WA.

Day Three of Competition

Another three races but the winds were very light and the tide was strong as well. In a small boat, the tide is like having swell on a 12 knot day, and continuously pushing against you. My NT friend helped me to outsmart the tide, so life was a bit easier. Come lunchtime, though, the wind completely dropped and it didn't look like the sea breeze was going to come in at all. We were held up for an hour, waiting, before being told to head back out onto the race course for the afternoon’s race. We raced hard and were more than ready for the rest day.

Rest Day

The rest day was an opportunity to drink in the Darwin culture. In the morning, we went to a crocodile park in the city and wandered through the exhibits oohing and ahhing at the massive crocs behind the glass. We enjoyed a quick picnic lunch before jumping on the hop on hop off tour bus around Darwin. Later, we headed to the Mindil night markets. There were many different things to experience, from henna to slide whistles to gluten free ice cream. The whole day was heaps of fun but we were glad to head back to the yacht cub for the final race of the regatta.

Final Race Day

Time had flown Here we were, on the last day of the regatta, where I raced my best race of the competition. Then it was time to put the boats back into the container, and prepare for the presentation night. As they announced the awards, my friends and I plotted who to dunk first. It’s regatta tradition among the minnows to dunk the winners - and anyone within arm’s reach!

To our surprise, the commodore threw a disco. What a perfect way to end the regatta, dancing away the exhaustion until it didn't matter where we finished or who won. It hit 10:00; we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, then headed back to the motel.

Heading Home

We spent our last morning in Darwin at the Aviation museum, home to a B-52 bomber, which took up almost the entire hangar. After learning a great deal about Darwin history, we headed to a small coffee shop and then onto the Parap Markets. The markets were vibrant and full of colour and jewellery and food. My mother and I tried buckwheat nutella crepes and they were amazing, although my brother couldn't have them because he has coeliac disease and any trace of gluten makes him very ill. After lunch we headed to the amazing Darwin wave pool, followed by ice-cream at Cullen estate. Then it was time to collect our bags and head to the airport for our flight home.

It was cold, but good to be back.

About the Author

Ethany Bates is eleven years old and has three siblings and three pets. She enjoys scouts, traveling and sailing her minnow, Devil in Disguise. Her sailing friends call her Satan (666), but her normal friends call her Ethany. She is currently being homechooled, and enjoys reading books by Cassandra Clare, Christopher Paolini and Sarah J Maas.

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