Lessons learned today ..
This morning brought clear skies over San Francisco Bay .. a light breeze .. and sun .. something that was welcomed after the past two weeks which were punctuated with rain ..
I am 61 .. and six months ago purchased my first sailboat .. a '67 Cal 28 flushdeck .. my previous sailing experience having amounted to a 2 week chartered cruise in the BVI on a 43 footer .. along with some time spent out of Detroit on Lake Ste Claire .. all over 25 years ago .. not much more than .. enjoyment .. no real hands-on ..
As I plan on cruising full-time in a little more than 4 years .. education and experience are top priority .. I have joined a sailing club (with 14' Lasers to practice and learn on) and am enrolled in the USCGAux Sailing Skills and Seamenship Course .. have read extensively books and boards .. and managed to take her out a few times with my partner/crewmate (who has extensive experience in Lasers and HobieCats .. as well as some in larger Cats (45' range)) ..
With such a beautiful sunlit morning and a light breeze .. we decided to forgo the Flare Shoot and seminar at a neighboring marina and instead .. try our hand at sailing her for an hour or two .. (I have set as a target .. 12 hours tiller time a week this year ..)
After motoring out into the bay and setting the main and jib .. we wallowed for awhile .. which for me was good practice at gauging wind direction and identifying points of sail .. finding the wind .. and getting more accustomed to the feel of the tiller .. of course 'wallowing' also included a late breakfast .. fried eggs and raspberry crepes .. and music (yes I now am sure that speakers are required in the cockpit) .. as the breeze picked up abit .. we were able to sail ... and I felt the tiller pull as I'd find the wind and keep the sails full .. I practiced tacking and found that it was difficult to maintain a 90 degree course change .. I'd more than likely swing around to almost 180 .. and I believe this is probably due to losing momentum as I moved the tiller .. and we attempted to readjust the jib .. and my inexperience ..
One of the realities of purchasing a 43 y/o sailboat is that the equipment is .. well old and used .. the sails are I imagine in fair shape .. she was raced when young here on the Bay .. and is set up for that purpose .. our inexperience with her particular rigging set-up made tacking a real learning experience .. which is why we chose to sail in light to moderate air .. as the afternoon wore on .. the wind increased and we enjoyed catching it and moving .. a complete thrill and wonder for me .. I tried to set marks to tack and change course .. but even with a stiffer breeze .. had trouble finding that 90 degree course and holding it .. she always drifted more and I was unable to keep her steady .. having to correct ..
At about 3 PM .. we made our 2nd pass by the entrance bouys to the channel back to the marina .. by then we had been out for 5 hours .. I thought to return .. the Super Bowl and a Crab feed at our yacht club (my Christmas present to myself) beckoned .. but I sighted a sailboat on the hook a mile or so away and wanted one last attempt at tacking around her .. to see if I could do so abit more smartly ..
I know the winds pick up around 3:30 but it failed to register .. I was getting abit chilled .. but felt exhilarated ..
We negotiated around the sailboat .. perhaps abit better but not meeting my expectations and headed back .. and caught the stronger breeze .. and I again enjoyed finding that 'slot' .. feeling her move .. feeling her heel .. and learning to pull off abit .. straighten out and yet move abit faster than when heeling .. (we also learned .. in our planning to only sail in light air .. we had not stowed everything .. properly .. and healing does wreck havoc on unstowed items .. as well as refrigerator doors left unbolted shut) ..
On our last tack to get to the channel .. we inadvertently allowed the jib sheet go loose .. causing it to flap and flail in the growing wind .. although nothing serious .. it caused more than a few anxious moments .. compounded by my sudden chill .. and perhaps overextended adrenaline rush from the full day's activities .. unable to turn into the wind completely .. we managed to drop the main .. retrieve the flying jib .. and enter the channel for the 20 minute run back to our berth .. as I was now chilly .. I slipped below for some sweat pants .. (had been in shorts and a pullover all day) .. and slipped on a jacket over my PFD abit later .. just before entering the marina ..
extreme care was taken bringing her in .. and as we turned into the slip .. I left the tiller in my partner's more than capable hands .. (she had been running the outboard) and moved to the bow to hop off and tie her down ..
as we glided in .. perhaps in my haste .. I tripped over the anchor bag which we had stowed onto the bow .. kicking it into the water as we were entering our slip .. and falling .. but managing to catch myself on the bow pulpit .. hanging on with my hands as I fell waist deep ..
unable to pull myself up either onto the deck .. or onto the dock .. I was shortly yanked up by my harness ..
and there we sat and laughed .. at the completely marvelous experience .. and a most thrilling day ..
Lessons learned ..
- we had planned only to motor over to the nearby marina .. for a class on flares .. but ended up out on the bay for nearly 7 hours ..
the good .. before leaving .. we checked the amount of gasoline for the outboard .. and although had plenty for the planned trip .. decided to go and fill another tank .. as a precaution .. it came in handy as we battled tides coming in late in the afternoon .. but we did not properly stow all equipment when in the cabin when it became apparent we were going sailing for an extended period of time .. nothing serious happened but something to remember .. always stow it all ..
I flew for a year or so and lived by my checklists .. and have always thought a presail checklist a must .. but never have made one out .. this now is a priority .. (along with a floatplan each time we sail .. Float Plan Central - Official Site of the Float Plan )
- our sails are old .. the jib hanks are corroded .. the sheets improper .. the main won't raise the final 3 inches .. as I am spending quite abit of time onboard .. we had prioritized maintenance primarily to cabin projects .. adding 110 shorepower .. rewire 12V .. insulation .. adding a composting head .. adding hot water .. etc .. hoping that sailing in light wind would enable us to complete the interior before tackling the rigging and sails (among other concerns) .. of course not only time is an issue .. but money as well .. it became obvious that IF we are going to sail her .. then the attention as well needs to be put into not just the rigging .. but also the sails (and yes .. I want to sail her) as well as understanding completely HOW she is rigged .. and why .. not a very happy thought at the moment but I understand a necessary one .. one of the priority items on my current list is to reset all the safety stanchions (per Mainesail's recommended how-to) and especially the bow pulpit (safety issues being paramount - but happy to report the bow pulpit held me well today) .. which means removing the main .. clearing the track .. cleaning and inspecting all sails .. changing the hanks on the jibs .. reviewing all running rigging and replacing as needed (would think most need it) .. and having a complete inspection of the standing rigging (actual inspection) ..
- as I am older (61) and not as agile as I once was .. safety and prudence has become exceeding important .. I remember reading here on this very board 2 weeks ago a discussion about .. the inability to climb back into a sailboat .. and there is mention in this month's Latitudes 38 about a well respected sailor who drowned after he tripped and fell off his dock .. unfortunately I am negligent in this area .. even tho' I am fully aware of it's importance .. we have a cheap ladder on board .. but not in place when we sail .. stowed in the cabin .. one that would work is required .. to enable reentry into the boat .. in addition .. we have do not have a jackline set up .. yes we have only sailed in light wind conditions .. but today we stayed out longer than originally planned .. and in heavier wind conditions than anticipated .. and had trouble with a flying jib .. and even if we only are sailing in light wind conditions .. to my mind .. not taking necessary precautions is a bad habit to get into .. so add jackline to the list ..
- not listening to that little voice .. when we came past the channel entrance the second time .. something told me to go back in .. in retrospect .. I was tired .. weary .. and getting cold .. even tho' I was exuberant and thoroughly enjoying myself .. being cold and weary led me to donning a jacket .. over my PFD .. as we motored into the marina .. I didn't zip it up .. but I imagine if I had .. and I had fallen fully into the water in my slip .. that I wouldn't be too comfortable right now .. after my PFD inflated (and no .. although we have talked about checking to see if it is armed and ready .. I haven't done so .. as I bought it used) ...
It's been a thrilling .. enjoyable and memorable day .. I would appreciate any thoughts .. comments or suggestions ..
Thank you ..
Sounds like a perfect learning experience to me. The only real way to learn to sail is cast off the lines and do it. Sailing like flying is one of those things in life where the test comes first and the learning comes second. You've clearly passed the test and are learning a lot of good lessons. Most of what you learned is typical stuff but the two things that stand out in my mind are your flirting with hypothermia and tripping on deck. Those are the only lessons from your experience that could really prove dangerous. Remember that "real sailors" are not embarrassed to crawl on the foredeck, they are embarrassed to fall or go overboard. Also, it takes some will to stop and adjust for conditions but many of us need to heed that inner voice. In my situation, its more often about going below to get a long sleeve shirt and another coat of sunblock on the face and neck. In cool areas you need to heed that voice as soon as that inner voice say's "your getting cold". I know from experience your concentration and judgement become degraded quickly when you become chilled and the heat can impair your performance also.
As for sailing lessons you probably need to focus on reefing and getting the sails down. Its difficult (maybe impossible) to flatten and depower old baggy sails. In building winds, you can find yourself overpowered and needing to either reduce sail or just get them down in order to be safe.
It seems to me that you are very clearly on the right track.
I am not a very experienced sailor but have had similar sails.
Some things I have learned:
Be really careful about hypothermia. You start getting chilled almost before you realize it, and for me it means a sense of apathy and a lack of energy that can be dangerous. It is very easy to get chilled, even on a warm day with a stiff breeze.
Practice reefing and then practice again and again. As a beginning sailor I had a tendency to put up with too much weather helm, which actually means the rudder is acting as a break and which tires your arms and shoulders. If you are wondering if you need to reef, it is time to reef. Your boat will stay upright better and the helm will be more balanced. There are other sail trim adjustments that can flatten your main and reduce the heeling forces, but reefing is a fundamental skill.
Learn to heave to. It can give you a respite and a quiet boat if you need to go below for some reason, want to have a hot drink, or just take a break from the helm. One rarely sees people do it but it is a wonderful thing to know how to do.
Main thing is to keep going out and practicing.
thanks for the reply ..
Realizing that degradation in judgement as well as physical dexterity I believe is probably the most important lesson I learned ..
There was a point right at the end .. when the wind picked up .. that we were really sailing at (and probably past) our ability to control .. given experience and physical condition .. with the jib flying and unable to turn into the wind to drop .. I must say that we had the presence of mind to regroup .. focus .. and come up with a plan of action .. drop the main and safely recapture the jib .. all seemed well with the outboard started and the channel entrance near .. until I realized the markers were moving further away .. only to find that we were in neutral .. against the strong tide ..
I know that practice drills .. taking down sails .. is in order .. as well as learning exactly what is enough sail/too much sail .. and how to react to changing conditions .. thankful to be sailing on San Francisco Bay where this can be practiced .. so very often
good advice .. thank you
In my enthusiasm .. I failed to stay warm ..
Somewhere in my mind .. I had registered that because the sails were old and tired .. too much sail wouldn't be a problem .. lesson learned ..
I need to understand what to sail .. under what conditions .. and yes .. learn and practice to reef ..
and I WILL keep practicing ...
We did have a wonderful day! The perfect learning curve; challenging but not hazardous conditions.
Himself is being the gentleman here and not mentioning that it twas I on the jib sheets when they got wrapped and tangled and blown... and twas I that got the motor started but neglected to put the cursed thang in FORWARD... He was SO nice about pointing out that we had no forward motion once the sails came down. As soon as the words were out of his mouth I was leaping to the stern to slide the gear lever into forward. heh... I could really get a hate on for outboards. annoying contrary fussy difficult to access things that they are!
Reefing lessons and practice will have to wait for a bigger day. The winds were nothing near big enough to warrant a reef, even when the gusts picked up. We had problems managing the sails but that was mostly our ineptness. We need to get the blocks out and cleaned and use them so the winches don't over wrap... And he was also nice and didn't mention that I sorta ran the jib out like a spinnaker... none of the shackles will open so it was clipped in at the top and bottom and that was it. (which contributed GREATLY to the difficulty getting the darn thing down...) I need to go searching around for how to uncorrode shackles that have been growing green blue fuzz for too long.
And he was really nice about all the stuff that went flying all over the cabin. really, it's a miracle nothing was broken, not even the chech glass oval lamp chimney, which would have been a stone cold bitch to replace at something like 80 bucks... Even the toaster oven that grew wings and FLEW across the cabin survived!
But I have to say, I am going to buy a few more bolts the right gauge for dropping thru the reffer door bolt holes and CHAIN It to the darn thing, so he CAN"T loose it into the bilge... The door flew open on that puppy and it it launched out of its hole like a... well like a 3.5 cf Norcold... gouged the mahogany and busted off one arm of a very ugly TP holder which has the same blue green fuzz the shackles have. That I am HAPPY to get rid of!
And pulling his soggy ass outta the water wasn't SO hard.. I just reached and got a good hold of his sweats AND boxers... Man, either I am stronger than I think I am or he levitated right up as soon as the pressure was applied. Heh. Really, he came right out with one good tug!
So I have been meaning to take one of the old Halyards and tie up one of those nifty jacob's ladders and secure it to the stern with a pull line to drop it down into the water. Now I actually have to get it done, because all joking aside about tuggin on his boxers, if we had not been at the dock when it happened it would have been much more difficult. Not impossible. I could have rigged a rope under his arms and used some leverage off the mast to get him up, but not easy. And I am the guilty party who got him his jacket and did not take the life jacket off before I put him into the jacket. And while he does not recall zipping it up, I did it for him and my understanding from conversation at dinner last night with other boaters is that there can be serious consequences to having an inflatable expand under a snug garment. So we got lucky there.
But maybe the best part, aside from the moments when we had good wind in the sails and were moving along under the clear blue sky, is that at the end of a long tiring day, after I pulled him outta the water, we both lay there giggling like loons and catching our breath, but still happy from how our day had gone and how well we had worked as a team.
And I don't even mind the sore muscles I have today.
It's all good!!
Very cool guys! Great write up - and great sail!
it was a great time .. still abit weary physically and mentally
but moving forward ..
just read a good post by sailingdog ..
and this from a man who believes that one of the greatest inventions ever was the loafer .. cause I couldn't tie my shoelaces ..
</i>forgot to add two other things I learned ..
- warm raspberry crepes for brunch while wallowing out on San Francisco Bay are absolutely delicious .. especially when cooked on a camping stove in the cockpit ...
- my mom was right when she told me to always change your shorts every morning .. you never know who's going to be yanking on them later in the day ...
I'd point out that buying a boat and refurbishing and commisioning it yourself with the help of a more knowledgeable sailor would be a very good way to get a jump start on many of the skills I mentioned.
I'd also point out that tying knots is kind of a pre-requisite for sailing... and you'd best be able to tie at least four knots:
The Bowline—often used for connecting the sheets to the headsail's clew
The Round Turn and Two-half-hitches—good for tieing fenders to stanchion bases or docklines to pilings
The cleat hitch—if you can't figure why you need this, you shouldn't be on a sailboat. :)
and the Buntline Hitch—a good, semi-permanent knot, for attaching halyards to shackles.
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