"I am overpressed with sail"
Went out for a solo on the Patapsco River out of Rock Creek last night. I won't call it a BFS, but it sure turned into a "Whoa Nelly!"
Winds were light out of the W at about 8 kt (and only supposed to be in the 5-10 kt range) when I started out with full main and 110 genny, heading on a port tack close reach towards the Key Bridge in Baltimore. I could see stronger wind on the water ahead, and when I hit it I picked up some strong weather helm -- strong enough to pull me off course and want to fly right up into the wind. So, with one hand on the tiller (which wasn't near enough) I let the traveler down nearly all the way, and the weather helm eased up. Didn't go completely away, but got much less.
I decided to gybe and get on a starboard tack broad reach heading back out the river, paralleling the channel, but outside of it, and did that neatly enough that I gave myself a pat on the back. On the broad reach things settled down nicely, as would be expected -- but as I went along the wind started to pick up to the point that even on this point of sail she wanted to come up into the wind.
Things went from the annoying to the ridiculous quickly after that, with the wind picking up even more to the point that the tendency to round up was pulling me toward the Rock Point Shoal -- the windward shore was becoming more dangerous than a leeward shore!
I decided to gybe again and get on a port tack beam reach just to wait out the wind. It wasn't predicted, and it was within an hour of sunset, and I figured it would blow itself out in a few minutes. It didn't. The further I went on this tack the more fetch the wind had, and while the waves were no problem there was just nothing out that way to block the wind. Time to come about again -- at least this time I could tack instead of gybe.
By this point you are all thinking "Why didn't he heave-to and put in a reef?", and rightly so. The reasons were (1) I had nothing handy to tie down the tiller, and as soon as I released it she wanted to fly right up into the wind and flog the sails to pieces, and (2) I've never practiced putting in a reef solo, and (3) I'd have to go up to the mast to do it, and -- forget it, I'm just heading in.
So to head back I'm on a starboard tack close-hauled, which is just SO FUN with the weather helm even with the traveler all the way down, and the vang on full, and the outhaul tight, and the backstay tightened, and all that stuff. The funny thing was that the genny was board-flat while the main was luffing (not badly enough to call it flogging, but very unseamanlike) -- usually it's the other way around on my boat, with the main tight on a close haul and the genny stalling.
So now's where the "insult added to injury" occurs: I'm single-handing close-hauled on a starboard tack in winds gusting to 20 kt, pinching to beat the band and trying to get back into the creek without the sails falling to pieces. Down at me from starboard and windward comes another sailboat, starboard tack broad reach and full of people... and coming... and coming... and not giving way to the leeward boat at all. I finally had to pinch up even more (giving the mainsail a good hard flogging) to let them pass in front of me, while at least seven people on the boat stared at me as I just pass behind them, missing them by about 20 feet or so. Thanks guys, I really appreciated it.
The rest of the way home was routine. The closer I got to the creek the more the winds lessened, until as I passed the White Rocks they were just a nice 10-12 kt breeze. Still had LOTS of weather helm, which surprised me, but I was so tired by then I'm sure the genny just wasn't trimmed properly and was causing most of it. The faithful ol' Atomic 4 fired right up and put me into the wind to drop sail (thank goodness for the jib downhaul I installed) and took me back into the creek without incident.
Lessons learned: get that reefing system set up better, and find a good tiller tender. All in all a very educational sail and good workout!
S/V Free Spirit
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