Monday, July 13, 2009

Finally, sailing!

Trip #1: Tidal river.
- Boat launch surrounded by hull-eating rocks.
- Narrow passable channel down the middle of the river surrounded by wide shallows of 1-2 feet.
- Invisible marker buoys.
- Why is the boat not moving? Oh, the daggerboard has decided to plant itself into the ground.
- Fast, tidal current in an inconvenient direction.
- Ocean going power boats with the words, "fuck you" painted on their transoms, though difficult to read over the four-foot wakes in their trail.
- Noobs need not apply for this job.

Conclusion: We won't be returning anytime soon.

Trip #2: A middling lake of a few hundred acres with a beach and sandy boat launch.

After our previous adventure, I insisted upon low expectations. "Let's call this a fire drill. Just getting there and checking our rigging will be a success. In fact, if we get in the water, let's keep it simple and not bother with the jib sail."

We put up the main and slowly tacked up wind. Emphasis on slowly. The narrow lake near the launch was well surrounded by tall trees and beautiful waterfront homes, effectively sheltering the water from the wind.

Things picked up as we entered a wider expanse. I've not yet mastered the art of smoothly passing the tiller and main sheet from hand to hand behind my back during a tack or gybe. Sometimes the tiller slips away from me, causing the boat to careen madly in a circle with the boom swinging like a major league player with an eye on our heads.

Sailors are reputed to be the acme of salty language --e.g., "swear like a sailor." Wonder no longer why this might be.

The clouds came in and with them a pleasant breeze. My crew lost his hat. "No big deal. Maybe we'll get it on the way back, LOL!"

Surprisingly, we did see the red cap bobbing just below the surface of the water about an hour later as we headed back to the launch. We came about and passed by it a few times. I meant to drift along side it so my crew could reach out and snatch it off the water. But the bow obscured my view as I got near and I tended to drive over it. Sadly, I think the daggerboard finally sent it down to Davey Jones' locker. Still, the flailing was kinda fun.

We stopped for subs and ice cream on the way home. My crew conceded that sailing might actually be fun, provided that the trips don't cut into his running schedule or weekly mileage. Marathon coming up in November.

Trip #3: Big lake of a few thousand acres.
- Perfect sunny New England afternoon.
- Picturesque boat launch in the narrows between the lake proper and an adjoining bay.
- Modest current from the lake and into the bay, leading to a downstream river system.
- Bumper-to-bumper motor boats in two single-file lanes travelling in and out of the busy marina.
- No fucking wind.

Me: "I don't see how we're going to do this."
Crew: "Well let's get going. There's a slight breeze, and we can use the paddle."

"The paddle" has a handle about three feet long and a blade about five inches wide. It can be broken apart and stored in the hold of a kayak, ostensibly for use in some emergency where the actual kayaking paddle gets lost. It's on our boat instead of a functional, effective paddle or set of oars, because we've no room for such things. In fact, we've no place for the "yellow thing that sucks ass," but we tolerate it at the aft end of the cockpit floor, where it's only occasionally in the way or trying to kill us.

I sat on the bow deck straddling the forestay, feet touching the water. The jib sail was at my right shoulder. I paddle-paddled to port, then paddle-paddled more awkwardly to starboard. The crew took the tiller and tried to do something useful with the mainsail. We were tacking upwind, which meant cutting into the lane of oncoming boats. That might have been a problem had we actually been moving. But all my hard work with the paddle merely kept us from drifting backward with the current.

Finally a couple of guys on a pontoon party barge offered to give us a tow, and we were saved. Once out of the narrows we caught a breeze and took off.

I relieved my crew at the tiller and he moved forward to man the jib sheets ("sheets" = lines that pull the sail in or out from the boat). It was then that I noted that our jib was not fully up. The jib luff - the leading edge of the sail - was too slack.

Capt: "Hey, see if you can tighten up the halyard for the jib."

Crew: "Why, what's wrong with it?"

Capt: "See how the forestay is tight and the jib at the front there is kinda slack? It's supposed to be the other way. The forestay's supposed to be slack and the jib's supposed to be tight."

Crew: "You're saying the forestay's too slack?"

Capt: "No, the forestay's too tight."

Crew: "Don't you want it tight?"

Capt: "No! The jib's s'posed to be tight. Remember, the jib actually holds up the mast. The forestay's just a temporary stabilizer, until you get the jib up."

Crew: "Oh, ok. Well, how do I do that?"

Capt: "See the jib halyard?"

Crew: "Uhh..."

Capt: "That green thing coming down the side of the mast. Untie it from the cleat and yank on it 'till it's as tight as you can get it, then re-cleat it."

Crew: "Oh, ok."

A little later:

Capt: "Hey, check the tension on the boom vang. I think we need a little more."

Crew: "Boom vang?"

Insert replay of jib dialog here, followed by...

Capt: "With the vang tighter, the outhall's looking weak. See if you can yank on that a little."

Crew: "Outhall?"

Capt: "That blue thing that pulls bottom of the sail out to the end of the boom."

Crew: "This here? But it's cleated. How do I pull it?

Capt: "You don't need to uncleat it. See how it passes through the cleat then goes around a block near the mast then back toward you? Just pull on the end coming from the block. The cleat will hold it."

A little later I saw that our cunningham was totally slack. Captain and crew had endured the "tighten X - what's X" chat a few too many times. Yet they endured it again, and with only a little huffing and puffing.

However, once the cunningham was cleated off and the luff was looking sharp, the vang and outhall needed to be re-tensioned. Not surprisingly, the call to check the vang provoked a "WTF?" from the crew, who now was convinced that the captain was merely trying to take the piss.

Capt: "No really, the tension makes a difference... Notice how flags on flagpoles don't go wandering around city streets? They merely sit in one place. That's because they're allowed to luff in the breeze loosely. But I guarantee, if you tightened down each edge of the flag and angled it toward the wind properly, they'd be yanking their poles behind them all over the place."

Crew: "Oh, ok... Hey, nice analogy."

Capt: "Why thank ye, matey. And remember: it's 'Aye aye, captain.'"

Crew: "LOL, in your dreams."


  1. Excellent, I own a house in Donegal Ireland and we have called it Jib Luff, your sailing encounters remind me of mine, though you are far advanced!! Well done! Les.

  2. LOL. And are you also burdened with an insubordinate crew?