One of my most used techniques for sailing without an engine is using apparent wind to my best advantage. For our boat we probably need 5 kts of wind to even set the drifter and mainsail dead down wind in any kind of chop but closed hauled with the same sails and we are sailing at over 3 kts maybe closer to 4 kts. Knowing this, I try to keep the ability to head up in my back pocket for times when I think the wind might lighten. So I will often sail low of my destination. Falling off during the puffs and heading up as needed to maintain boat speed. This is especially helpful if my destination is shielded by land, which it often is.
I often try to figure out the wind direction and strength way ahead of my current position so I can avoid being in a situation where I need to sail off the wind, especially dead down wind.
Apparent wind is also my ally when dealing with traffic. I like to have the ability to head up to avoid traffic and I try to be at least on a close reach if I need to make evasive maneuvers in a tight situation. I like the fact that I can tack instantly with maximum boat speed and back wind the jib
should I need a quick tack in light wind. I find that off wind maneuvers are much more sluggish and don't convey my intentions nearly as well.
My very least favorite sailing situation is sailing in light air dead down wind against the current. Unfortunately this is the situation I face almost every time I leave Fishman Bay on Lopez Island. This adds a great deal more challenge and requires a bit of effort to safely navigate the channel without causing a hazard to incoming boats, and this conditions is more likely in late summer when the traffic is the busiest.
Here is an example of one of these trips a few years ago.
On this particular day the wind was actually quite nice, it was just in a direction that was partially shielded at the mouth of the channel. The tide was coming in pretty strong with about a 2 kt flood with a height of about 3 1/2 ft.
In order to take advantage of a small back eddy and to ovoid incoming traffic I stayed out of the main channel on the west side of the 1 fathom line
. The wind was mostly from astern and the current built as I approached the mouth of the channel. Seeing that the channel was clear, and this was my third attempt for the day as it was a busy traffic day, I sailed into the channel. It took only a couple of minutes to overcome the current and sail clear.
The whole time I had steerage with the 2 kts of current over the keel so if I needed to bail out or allow an incoming boat space it would have been quite easy. As it was it was I was in the mouth of the channel for just a few minutes until I was able head up a bit to overcome the current. A few minutes later I was at 2/3 of hull speed about to round the outer marker.
An afternoon return to our bay is quite typical, short tacking upwind with a fairly strong current. Here is a series of photos I shot of a sailboat motoring in one day that shows our typical current.
The challenge on the return trip is that the current would like to send you into the east shore and the docks that line
them. In addition the mouth of the channel is maybe 150 ft wide between the 1 fathom lines
. But there is another upwind trick that I like to use for this. A lazy tack. I start my approach to the entrance laying a line
from the outer marker to the marker on the west side of the channel. Invariably I get headed near the mouth of the channel and need to fall off. Long before I start to feel nervous of the east shore I tack back to the center of the channel back winding the job if I need to. Typically I am right in the mouth of the channel at this point so the next tack happens fast. But this is my lazy tack. Since the current is taking me out of danger I am in no hurry to head east again so I come around slowly. Think almost in irons except moving at 2 kts from the current. Finally I tack back to the east but now I have drifted past the docks and dangerous current pushing ashore. Now it is just a pleasant sail through the moored and anchored boats to our mooring.
The is the part of sailing that brings me the most joy, finding a way to safely work with what you have to get where you want to go.