I'm still a newbie sailor so my story will probably be a day at the park for most of you. Here goes....
It was a Saturday morning on Kentucky Lake. I had made the 2.5 hr drive right after work on Friday to get an early start for the weekend. I had slept in that morning, just enjoying the feel and the smells of my Endeavour 32, the first boat I have ever owned. The marina is located 3 miles up Blood River and the hills and trees tend to keep the wind high. They were very light and variable that day anyway so I decided to motor out to the main lake before putting up the sails. Since it was summer, the marina ramp located about 30' from my slip had a line of trailors putting in. My slip was actually on the same dock as the fuel pumps and it had powerboats circling like vultures waiting for the feast. Blood river itself had lots of skiers and fishing boats cruising around.
When I was ready I took in my dock lines and pushed her out at an angle to miss the patio dock 5' to port and the 2 pontoons directly behind me, backed out past the end of the dock, turned and headed for the lake. I locked the wheel brake, retrieved my fenders, and removed the cover on the main. It was such a beautiful day! The channel is rather narrow and hugs the bank pretty much all the way to the mouth of the river. I was keeping a good lookout for swimmers in the water, watching for the next channel bouy, and trying to decide whether to go north or south on the lake when the motor revved up unexpectedly. The boat slowed as I throttled back and I lost steerageway and started to drift towards shallow water. My "what the hell" turned into "holy s***"!
My first thought was to get the main up and regain control of the boat, which I did. Not enough wind! I pulled out the jib and as I did so I got a lucky puff of wind! Freya started moving so I turned and headed back to the marina. I had to hug the south side of the channel because of the hills and trees blocking my wind. I would get a gust that pushed me forward on a reach then have to coast through a dead spot. When I turned into the branch to reach the marina the winds seemed to come from right over the top of my slip. Boats were everywhere and I had to constantly tack because of the confined space and shifting breeze.
I circled just outside the no wake zone waiting for an opening in traffic that never appeared, tied on the fenders, and readied my docklines. Since I had the only sailboat in the marina and at 32' LOA, I probably made quite the spectacle. I decided to just go on in and pray that the powerboaters would get out of the way. I figured the law of tonnage was working for me since Freya weighs 11,600 lbs. At this point I was really worried. The winds were so light and shifted so much that I worked my butt off just trying to keep headway. What happened next seemed like an eternity but I'm sure lasted only a few minutes. I rolled up the jib, continued with the main, missed the derelict dock floats to port, lost all wind, tacked to starboard while coasting, got another lucky gust, tacked to port missing the 2 pontoons by just a few feet, doglegged around them, released the main sheet, and coasted to a perfect landing in my 15' wide cubbyhole of a slip, stepped onto the pier and snubbed her to a stop.
At this point I learned a few things.
1. Docking is a spectator sport. People, especially the ones in powerboats that don't know anything about sailing, love to watch sailors dock. I had quite the crowd watching with rapt attention.
2. Always appear as if you have things under control even if you're scared sh**less. I was complimented by several people about just how "totally cool" that was. I also learned that you could not drive a 10 penny nail up my butthole with a 20 lb sledgehammer up to that point because I was so tensed up! I think they call it grace under pressure.
3. It is ALWAYS the smart thing to keep the main ready to hoist even when motoring. I never untied the dock lines thereafter until I readied the main first.
4. KNOW YOUR BOAT! Had I known that the stuffing box would overheat if the compression nut was too tight, the prop shaft probably wouldn't have been weakened to the point it broke.
5. Singlehanding can be pretty rigorous sometimes.
6. And lastly, a cold beer goes a long way for settling frazzled nerves!
This was my first single-handed docking under sail alone, 2nd in my sailing experience, and it had to be in a crowded and confined marina with barely enough wind to work with. Although I will admit I was worried about my boat and pretty scared I was going to screw up the landing or hit someone elses boat, I do feel a bit of pride that I handled what was a very stressful and scary experience, at least for me, with apparent calm and acted sensibly to bring my boat home safe.
Speaking of landings, I have one from a few weeks ago.
The wind forecast was for 15-20 knts in the morning then really blow in the afternoon. This is fine for me since the high is for over 100F. I figured I could get some sailing in, be back by 1pm before it got hot. It'd be pleasant, I'd be comfortable. Lovely. So, I drag myself and Penelope out of bed and to the lake.
A sailing instructor stopped me after I had unloaded Penelope. She’s a unique boat, being that she's English, and always starts a conversation. He made mention of how hard it must be single handing her then spent 20-30 minutes yammering on about how wonderful he is then lets me go. The day is already warming up a bit by the time I get to the boat.
The outboard doesn’t exactly hum along like it should, but still reliable so I've put off some maintenance. It has a new plug, a clean carburetor, but the fuel filter could use replacing.
My procrastination caught up with me that day.
The sailing instructor had watched me yank on the outboard, jiggle some things, peek under the cover and saw that I had given up on it having determined its problem wasn’t something I would fix on the lake. The wind was going as predicted so I figured I'll launch and retrieve under sail.
He yells from his car, "Motor won't start?"
As I tossed off dock lines, I yelled back, "Nope." I gave a hearty shove. He laughed and gave me a thumbs up. I raised the reefed canvas, trimmed up and off we went. As fast as we were moving, I figured I could go to one end of the lake and come back. It was going to be a fun day.
As predicted, we screamed to the other side of the lake. And then the wind died.
Hmph. I shook out the reef. Well, sometimes you need be patient.
My patience wore out an hour later. The wind was not 20 kts as predicted. Maybe 3. Or less. It wasn't even kicking up the telltales at times. The 3 knts then went to 0. But suddenly pipes up to 1 knt.
Shoot, it's hot out even with my feet over the rail trailing in the water. The sun is straight up in the air and I have no shade from the sails. I try the motor again. Nope. Not even a “putt-putt” from it. I pulled out the oars. I learned I need to practice rowing. The telltales are still quiet.
I eye the lake water as to whether or not it's safe to drink. I decide not to. I manage to pick up some wind as I sucked down the last of my water.
Slowly I make way towards the boat ramp. About 100 yards out, the wind shifts in the worst possible direction for me. Okay, I'll alter course and strategy. I get to the side of the ramp, about 100 yards away, and again, the wind shifts. Frustration is now heating up my already sunburned face. I manage to get out of the invisible hole I was in and am now quite hot, thirsty and frustrated. Finally, a little breeze that’ll work for me and I'm headed back to the boat ramp, ready to land this thing.
I'd rather have just one sail to deal with, but without everything up, I don't make progress. Landing with three sails, a tiller and two hands it is. Maybe I can use my feet for something? I wished I had one of those super long middle toes I could use as a thumb.
Ridiculous this is. Who thought of this?
I'm about 40 feet away from the dock. The wind kicks up enough to heel the boat over. This is the worst possible time for this! Where in the eff was this wind all day long??
I let the main and mizzen loose. The jib is still doing a fine job of pulling the boat forward. Some swimmers on shore have turned into lookie-loos as Penelope comes charging towards the dock.
I slacken the jib. I still have to hang onto it to get some power since I don't have much momentum in this boat. I'm standing up with one hand on the jib, finessing it to get the right amount of power from this gusty shifty four-letter-word wind I suddenly have and a dock line in the other. The centerboard is up a bit to avoid grounding so Penelope is sliding sideways as we come in. The tiller is between my knees and as the dock comes up, I let the jib go, cut the tiller over to move the stern closer to the dock and lasso the dock cleat which I have been dreaming about for the past four hours. The sails are flogging themselves to death. The wind shifts as I’m tying off the bow and the sheet lines start slapping me in the face. I finally get the sails down and take a seat. I don't remember ever being so happy to see a freaking dock.
Later, I take a look at the motor. The safety clip is not quite all the way in. Sonofa...
I was once on an epic voyage from Vashon Islan to Olympia, my port of call.
We weighed anchor just after breakfast, just after the slack tide. The idea was for the three of us and the cheoy lee 27' to ride the flood all the way down. The forecast was less than spectacular, with winds on the lighter side. But ****, it was sunny. After 6 months of complaining of rain, it wasn't right to complain about wind once the day star showed up again. We sailed over to the entrance, full canvas, then flew the spinnaker on a run down the first leg. We made some progress over water, but the current must have been 6k. it's a weird when you feel like your going nowhere, until you look up at the bridge and realize your really flying. Once we passed that bridge though, the water opened up... and the wind! oh the WIND!!!!!
It died. Completely. The sails could hardly decide if they wanted to stay on the leeward side of the boat. One of us sat on the lee rail so they wouldn't have to worry so much about making up their mind. If we had any steering at all we would have tried to avoid the irregular water flows ahead. But we couldn't. We rode that flood straight into a web of vortexes, and we spun like a top. I took the 14' oar out, and tried to guide the boat into more favorable currents. It seemed that just over there the tide was an actual current and not just an assortment of whirlpools. It wasn't. perhaps i was seasick and was seeing things. More likely I was just dizzy. In the end we sat around for 3 hours, spinning, bobbing. Making jokes about how w've given new meaning to the term "go with the flow", and how sailing sucks and we should be able to transform our sailboat into a motor boat at the flick of a button. We also fiddled with everything, lines of all kinds. halyards, cunningham, topping lift, outhaul, sheets, anything. Damn sails are blown out, and they we probably wanted them flatter than they were even brand new. It began to feel like like we could be reaching... if was only a bit stronger...
We chatted and dreamed of big freaking sails (both the noun and the verb). So we lashed the spinnaker pole to the foredeck and poked it as far as we dared of the bow. Set the spinnaker on it flying, with the number 1 behind it, and the main up too. Basically the three largest sails in a configuration that doesn't really make any sense; it's a masthead sloop. It didn't help much, but it did something. We had steerage back, so we must have been making some kind of progress. We were probably there for another hour before the wind actually started to do something. And it couldn't have been at a better time, the high tide was there and the choice was looming: anchor and wait for the next flood, or get sucked back out with the ebb. We dropped one of our headsails (heh), because honestly it probably wasn't doing anything. In the end the wind was strong enough to fight the current, having already gone through the quickest part, and we eventually lazied our way back to the budd inlet, and sailed ever so slowly into the fairway, and sculled that 3.5 tons back into the slip. Better late than never.
This is my fifth season sailing and I had the best sail yet last week.
I was out with a buddy from work.
The plan was to sail across Georgian Bay in the south (from Midland to White Cloud Island), then head up the Eastern side of the Bruce Peninsula to Wingfield Basin (Cabot Head), then cross back over to the East side of Georgian Bay, coming in around Franklin Island (just North of Parry Sound) and back to Midland.
The challenge was that we had only 5 days in which to make the trip.
The first leg was supposed to be Midland to White Cloud. The wind was on our nose the whole way North and backed to stay on our nose when we turned West. It took us 9 hours of beating into 15 knots to make Hope Island, which is about 20 miles from Midland and 40ish miles from White Cloud. We stayed at Hope and planned on an early start across the Bay.
Next day: no wind!!! We motored across to the West Side. No BFS here!
The forecast was for NE 10knts veering to E 15knts. Great winds to head up the peninsula. We left White Cloud wing and wing with a light westerly pushing us at a heart-pounding 2.5 - 3.5 knts.
By the time we made the turn to head North the wind had dried right up. We doused the sails and turned on the kicker and decided to make for Lion's Head for lunch.
A fog had settled in giving us about a mile visibility and it was raining. Not exactly what the weather gurus had foretold.
We had made our turn to West after Cape Croker and started past Barrier Island when I saw some fluttering in my telltales. What the hell, let's hoist the sails and see what happens.
No sooner than the sails were set but the wind kicked right up. It seemed to be the NE wind that was promised. This is nice.
The wind kept building and building from the North East until we were flying along at over 6 knots. The wind and waves were building, the wave heights getting up to over a metre. White caps were forming and foam was beginning to spray from the crests.
We approached Lion’s Head under full canvas, with the jib vibrating and the main taut. We still intended to head into the town for lunch. As we got closer to the turn down to Lion’s Head I suggested that we keep going for Wingfield. The wind direction was right and I was having too much fun to stop. Craig agreed so we adjusted our course to a more Northerly heading and headed up the coast to Cabot Head which was now visible on the horizon.
The winds increased and shifted to a slightly more Easterly direction putting us on a close to beam reach. The waves were now approaching 3 metres in height and were breaking all around us. The boat speed never dropped below 6 for the 4 hours that we were sailing toward Wingfield. Each time we surfed down a wave we yelled out the speed that showed on the GPS. The fastest we saw was 9.3 knots! There was a period of 10 – 15 minutes in which the GPS showed we were traveling in excess of 7 knots.
I decided to turn on the VHF, just so that it was ready in case anything went awry. The only broadcasts seemed to be Coast Guard communications. At one point a Hercules aircraft flew at a low level, across our path. We saw it later in what appeared to be a search pattern.
We were getting closer to Wingfield when I started to worry about how we were going to get the sails down in the wind and waves. Wingfield has a very narrow channel going in with rocks on either side. Sailing in is possible, but definitely not preferable.
As it turned out, by the time we got close to the entrance the wind seemed to have lightened up a bit. I put the jib in the lee of the main and we were able to roll it on to the furler quite easily. We turned into the wind, I clipped myself on to my newly installed jacklines and headed up onto the deck to take down the main. The waves were still very steep with short periods, so it was quite a balancing act hanging on and easing the halyard. It turned out going a lot more smoothly than I expected though and I soon had the sail on the boom. I didn’t bother with the sail ties at this point.
We motored in to the calm waters of Wingfield Basin and dropped anchor for the night.
A great day of sailing!
I have to say that the boat handled admirably! I have always been a bit concerned about its durability – it doesn’t seem to be designed for aggressive sailing. But she rode the waves effortlessly, and, even without the sails reefed, didn’t feel to be under any stress.
Another thing that pleased me was my autohelm (Ray Marine ST2000). It handled most of the steering for us. When I took over I realized the force on the tiller. The tiller pilot kept up with the strain.
At Wingfield we went ashore to explore the Lighthouse there. I started chatting with another sailor who had arrived shortly before us. He told me that he was getting wind speed readings of consistently 25 – 26 knots with periods reaching as high as 32 knots.
I’m sure for some of you these conditions would not be worth mentioning, but for me, given my lack of experience, my 26 foot Nash, 3 metre (10 foot) waves and 32 knot winds, it was definitely an exhilarating experience.
Here is a chart to give you a rough idea of the route: (we covered approximately 36 nautical miles that day.)
It's funny, I, my wife, and our two boys went to the boat today for a sail. The wind was absolutely perfect at 15 knots. From the northeast - so perfect for the GR course run. I was excited. I'd challenged the boys to turn the boat over to them to see if they could get it from point A to B. And they were ready.
But, we got there and were screwed. Our marina had been pushed out into the lake because the water level has dropped so much due to the drought. The result was that we were stuck in our slip. There were rocks literally 25 feet off our stern, with the wind pushing us right into them. No way to back out a 27 footer.
So, why am I posting in BFS? Simple, my wife and I sat in the cockpit, drinking D&S's while the boys swam, and talked seriously about springing for the "coastal boat" and spending some time in the islands. Big hurdle overcome.
Sailing has become a real part of our lives as a family. We all love it. And it doesn't get bigger than that.
I love this whole sailing thing. IMUSO, it's life's best privilege....bar none.