It’s been a while since Ive written about my travels. Reason being the quick turn-around time at ports, which has hardly allowed me to really explore a place.
So ive been limited to test-tasting the local foods and engaging in conversations with the few people that I interact with.
The Spirit of Seatrek, however has been a vessel that enjoys its port stays to the fullest! Even though the authorities may schedule her departure at a seemingly early date, she always overstays, much to the delight of this mariner.
I will write about my second visit to Hawaii in a later post where our ship was estimated to leave in 5 days’ time but actually stayed alongside for a whopping 14 days. So that was a pleasant surprise for sure.
Next up was Portland- A river port on the West Coast of the USA. Though not a big city, the Columbia river, along which Portland is situated is the second largest exporter of grain in the United States and our charter was to load 55000 Metric Tons of Wheat in bulk.
There were numerous questions on everyone’s mind regarding the port including regulations, inspections and yes of course, shore leave.
But Portland would be the first time I was to visit a different place, having the same name as another one I’d been to before.
Portland, Australia was the former and I have such wonderful memories of the place. The reputation of its namesake itself was enough to build my excitement.
We got off to a bad start with an outrageously rude and unreasonable surveyor. I was already wondering if the image I had built of the place in my mind was sadly mislead. But the following ten days slowly, yet steadily coaxed my first impression away and left me with a flurry of some of the most splendid memories I would take from any port till date.
Carol Wurdinger was the sprightly Foreman that was attending our vessel. Right away we got off on a good note and work was always pleasant with Carol and her team around. Though the first contact with Portlanders was rather rough, I learned that it was merely an isolated incident and the general populous were very friendly and cooperative. During one of my conversations with Carol, she brought up the fact that she rode horses in actual races. Though my knowledge about Horse racing itself is minimal at best, among all others I have the greatest awe for Horses. The tales of legendary horses have long fascinated me and what made it more real was my two week camp back when I was 14 years old where I was taught Horse riding. I can never forget the feeling of galloping away on the slopes of the Sahayadri mountains, in Matheran on “Rani” my horse– A beautiful spotless white mare. Though older and more “difficult” than any other horse in the group, once we had gotten comfortable with each other, there was nothing quite like blitzing through the muddy roads on her back, in the chilly morning air of the hillstation.
All of those memories flooded my mind at the instant horses were brought up in conversation.
When she did mention that she would be racing that week, the question literally jumped out of my mouth, “Can we come watch?”
She was rather happy to hear of our interest and the trip was planned! What made it more exciting was the fact that she would be competing against her two daughters- Reyna and Katie, who was debuting at the races that night.
Just the thought of going to a horse race was so exhilarating that I honestly didn’t bother too much about the details. All that was decided was the transport, the time and the place. Carol was gracious enough to arrange for our transport without which we wouldn’t have been able to get there in the first place as the event was a good 50 mile drive from the port.
An uneventful start to the journey almost threw us off our plan and had it not been for a last minute save by the “Lyft” taxi service, all of the expectations would never have been allowed to materialize.
Enter the Marriot Show Horse Race Course- An indoor ground way out in the countryside. Our approach was very doubtful as it was poorly lit from the outside. The taxi driver had been really sweet and helpful throughout and even helped us get in touch with Carol who, much to our relief came rushing out to the gate to get us. We were finally there!
We fist took a peek at the horses that were standing outside. Beautiful, well looked-after horses stood majestically abreast their trailers. It was rather dark and so we couldn’t see much but we could sure smell the stables and hear the horses neighing in the cold, foggy, night air.
The atmosphere around took me right back to when I was 14.
Carol showed us into the stadium which was a whole different setup than what we had expected. It comprised a starting point and a rather large ground with three conspicuously placed barrels.
We were immediately introduced to the friendly bunch of people attending the race. And what a jolly bunch indeed. Five minutes into conversation and I felt like I was part of the gang already.
Reyna talked me through the rules of the race, the strategies and the training involved. It was indeed intriguing to find out that all of that preparation was for 15 or so seconds of race time- Make or break.
I couldn’t fully comprehend it until I saw the first rider complete the course.
So the Three Barrel Race, is made up of a course of 3 barrels. The rider can choose which barrel to encircle first. A clockwise or counter-clockwise rotation may be chosen for the first barrel and then the opposite direction for the other two. After whizzing past all three barrels the horse and rider were to dash back to the starting line to stop the counter which read out the finish time!
Easy as it may sound, if the Rider-Horse team accidentally tipped a barrel, the time would not be recorded. It was as good as a disqualification as the team only gets one shot at the course.
We spent some time with the three Wurdinger horses and Reyna’s horse “Kaylee” was particularly spectacular- A spotted white colour and the attitude of a princess, she was much like how I remembered Rani.
The most striking feature of a horse to me is their personality. Each have their own strong personas that are so unique it just leaves you in awe.
We saw a number of riders giddy up and take to the ground, some with flawless runs while others a more difficult time.
It was fun with family and friends at the sidelines cheering and egging the competitors on. It was a very sporting event, I must say. The competition was limited to the race course, but off track everyone were friends. A very refreshing contest, quite unlike anything I’ve been to.
Every now and then the competition would cease temporarily to allow for “Raking” the ground, where a tractor would level any loose soil to make it even enough for the forthcoming participants.
It was during this time that we got chatting with our fellow onlookers. I remember having a long and intriguing conversation with Connor Ackley, who patiently answered all of my questions regarding the race and rearing horses. I was amazed at the effort that led to the 15 seconds of the race. He told me about the relationship an owner shared with their horse and briefly described how heartbreaking it was for him and his wife to put down one of their horses sometime ago.
The moment that particular raking ended, I saw the race in a completely new light. It was not just a rider and a horse anymore. It was a team built on trust and affection and countless hours of working together. A team riding hard, riding in unison- As one!
It was time the Wurdingers to race. Carol was lined up first who clocked a decent time but Reyna impressed with a faster clocking. Little Katie was cheered on by the whole crowd and I may not be an expert but I think she did really well for a debutant.
We congratulated the ladies and their horses on their great runs and looked on to see if Reyna, who had clocked the fastest run at the moment, had done enough to bring it home.
A horse that caught my eye, was gearing up to run. He was a tall black stallion with a broad white blaze on his forehead. His co-owner, a sweet old lady, was standing near to where we were. I walked up to her and told her that she had a beautiful horse indeed. “Hank’s his name,” she said. I told her how he reminded me of “Black Beauty”, she was delighted to hear that and smiled.
It was Hank’s turn and he did not disappoint. Clocked the fastest timing by a comfortable margin that put Reyna in second place and that’s how it stayed.
We went back to the stables and watched as the riders took the gear off their horses. We were fortunate enough that “Sprat”, Carol’s horse liked us just enough to let us take pictures on her. I thoroughly enjoyed petting the Wurdinger horses and playing with them for a little bit before we bid farewell to all the friends we made that night.
The taxi ride back to the ship was filled with conversation about our evening at the Marriot Club and a chirpy taxi driver made the one hour ride back, all the more fun.
I had briefly relived my fond memories of Matheran and had taken back a few more that I will cherish for a long, long time to come.