By GREG WHITE
GARRY Innes thought crewing B52 in the Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht race would be a breeze.
"I imagined this would be about sailing past a start boat near Barrenjoey Lighthouse, drinking coffee and telling yarns for two days until somebody spied Muttonbird and we took the second turn left into Coffs Harbour" he said.
"We'd get a carton of beer and a bunch of bananas for our trouble, party at our beloved yacht club, then go home to explain to the missus where we were for the last week before life went on."
Instead, Innes admits his surprise at being bitten by the bug and the pure adrenalin rush provided by ocean racing.
Wild Oats XI and the glamour boats may have all gone home ? and the locals may be inclined to forget until 2008 rolls around ? but Innes and his crewmates will continue to spread the message in their 'off' season.
"People may not realise but this sport continues much longer than the week over January when 'Pittwater' is on," Innes said.
"The thrill of working a yacht, being at the beck and call of Mother Nature, striving to the end to reach a goal is what makes an Aussie bloke tick."
A broken leg before the 2005 race delayed Innes's debut for a year and he wasn't prepared for the hoopla surrounding the race when he climbed aboard B52.
"The preparation is enormous and the tension and excitement at the start is indescribable," he said.
"Media helicopters everywhere, photographers hanging out of pleasure craft and trying to miss the hooligans who decided to barge the start line.
"There were a couple of crunches and for at least one boat the race was over before it began."
With technology-charged superboat Wild Oats XI screaming ahead of the fleet, the race became a battle to find a breeze ? any breeze ? to stay in contact.
"Before the race we planned a course for a southerly blowing," Innes said.
"We studied weather charts for a week in case of a nor'easter but you can't anticipate no wind and the current coming to a stop."
Skipper Paul D'Olier tried 'rock hopping' up the coastline before becoming a storm chaser.
"Instead of turning away from storms, Paul headed toward them to pick up winds on the edge," Innes said.
"By late Thursday the storms had gone and we were seriously becalmed off Sawtell.
"We were mentally and physically exhausted and could see Muttonbird Island but couldn't reach it."
Eventually, the ragged adventurers aboard B52 staggered into home port, long after the race winner had accepted her dues and turned her bow back to Sydney.
"I probably wasn't as prepared for the experience as I should have been but believe me, this race and the sport of yachting is huge for Coffs Harbour," Innes said.
"Last year this bloody yacht race broke my leg and it wasn't going to break any part of me this year.
"The race bit me hard and I figured it was my turn to bite it back."