Just a Couple of Changes to Make

September 19, 2015

This was a great day on the water. The wind was strong but not too overpowering, I made generally good decisions on tacking (the key word being “generally”) and had a great time.

The day started simply with a few chores around the house, and since I hadn’t been out on the water since Labor Day, heading out on Ilya was one of my goals. And since NOAA predicted a small craft advisory for Sunday, September 20, Saturday was the day. The last time I tried to go out, the wind and chop were so high that I just got spooked and came in. It was really demoralizing then, when after I had tied up in my slip, four guys came out and took a little rental dinghy out on the river. And yeah, when I saw that I really felt like a complete scaredy-cat. I did drive over to the rise over the breakwater of west basin and saw that the dinghy was way out in the river and making progress toward the bay — which is exactly what I had wanted to do. One thing I did see those sailors do that was interesting was that they turned into the winds while in west basin and raised their mainsail. Of course, they don’t really have much choice since they have no engine other than oars. But since one of the challenges of singlehanding is raising the main, especially in high winds, it gave me an idea. I was going to raise my main in west basin and see what happened next.

So, that was my goal today — raise the main in west basin. I did that and it worked! The nice thing about it was I was able to motorsail out of the marina and breakwater very nicely. And once on the river, I was able to cut the engine much earlier than I usually do. Once that happened, I deployed the genoa and started my sail toward the bay.

As usual, because of the strong current, I had to tack and change headings several times to get past Drum Point. I probably could have made it on an earlier tack, buy unfortunately, my port jib sheet got caught on something and I couldn’t tighten it. As a result, I wasn’t able to make much progress on that tack and had to try one or two more before breaking into the bay proper.

Once out on the bay however, I made great progress and kept thinking “I wonder if I can make it halfway across the bay before I head back?” Well, I just kept going and going. Mostly, I encountered fighting boats: there weren’t many sailboats out (couldn’t figure out why) few larger powerboats, and only one real speedboat. But I just kept sailing, and finally thought I would turn around at 5:00 pm. However, I turned around earlier because the wind diminished even though it had peaked earlier at 13 mph, or a little bit more than 11 knots.

The trip back was just as pleasant. I had the same challenge with getting around Drum Point but from the other direction. The wind and current were pushing me toward Drum Point, so again, I had to tack several times to get in the proper position. One tack had to be made when a large powerboat came out and kicked up a huge wake that was really uncomfortable for me. And that’s when I realized that the real problem with raising my main early on this day was that I had the lazy jacks blocking the main from going all the way up to its first reef position. This also explains why the boom was so low in the cockpit. Once I fixed that, I was able to sail even faster now that the sails were better balanced. So I think next time, I’ll raise the main and then deploy the lazy jacks.

Once past Drum Point, I just sailed nicely toward west basin. I tried using a couple of tacks so I could sail into the marina, but that wasn’t going to happen. I also realized that my self-steering mechanism (using bungee cords and surgical tubing) was good, but leaving it to its own devices resulted in a swing from side to side of about 25 degrees, which I think is way too much. I also noticed that I had to keep steering much more than I wanted to compared with previous years. This brings to mind the fact that I changed the way the rudder was deployed when I motored to west basin from Spring Cove. My guess? I should have left the rudder alone, so I’ll change it back the next time I get to the marina.

I was out long enough that I turned on the mast and running lights as I came in, and that made sense, since by the time I tied up, I could see the lights quite clearly.

All in all, an excellent day; I’m glad I got to go out.

How Big Were Those Waves Again?

August 29, 2015

I thought the winds were supposed to peak at 9 mph, and I thought the seas would be relatively light, and I thought it would be a simple afternoon on the water. In fact, I was so convinced about the winds that I almost shook out the reef before leaving the slip.

What I got was a lot more work than I expected. The wind was coming almost directly from the direction of the marina, so I knew I could turn into the wind, raise the main, and head on a nice beam reach toward the bay and easily miss the shore that was my bane the previous week. It wasn’t quite that easy. I deployed the genoa and made what felt like slow progress toward the bay. The reason was the very strong cross current that just continued throughout the sail. My speed got up to a maximum of 5.4 knots, but it felt like I was just slogging forward.

I continued to the bay, and eventually furled the genoa because it just seemed like it was making the boat unstable. I noticed many of the other boats doing the same thing, so I didn’t feel like such a wuss. At some point, I noticed the seas and waves getting much higher, like 4 feet, and the rocking became really unpleasant, so much so that I headed back in. One very nice powerboater, with the name “Kiki’s Tiki,” a really large boat that has a slip in my marina, was taking its time going slowly toward the marina so as not to create too large a wake. Shortly afterwards, another boat came by doing the exact opposite thing. Thank you Kiki’s Tiki!

While heading back, I noticed that I seemed pretty unstable and rocking, while a Capri 26 Catalina was much more stable (it seemed) and going faster. Well, that just wasn’t going to do. I unfurled part of the genoa, and kicked it into gear. While I didn’t overtake the Capri, I did get going really fast, and was a bit more stable. I also noticed that at some point, the Capri got really unstable, so I guess that problem didn’t impact me alone.

When I finally started going in, I chose to lower the main as far as it would after failing to sail into the marina, and found I could only lower the main within the marina waters — not my favorite method, but it worked and I got back safely.

I’m sure glad I didn’t shake out that reef….

Apparent Wind

August 21, 2015

Boy, did the whole apparent wind thing finally make sense to me. My wife and I went out in the afternoon after what were supposed to be high winds, but actually seemed to be more like 8-ish. Not really high, but the current was particularly strong.

It was really strange in that we had decent wind, and seemed to be heeling quite nicely, yet were making almost no headway against the wind. And, just when we got going, the current kept pushing us toward a shore. This only happened about 8 times while were out. And to say that this was annoying would be a gross understatement. Still, we persevered, and made some progress toward the bay and also played within the river, which required tacking several times. The following day, I discovered something I hadn’t really focused on before: the fact that my wife thought I was annoyed at her because I kept asking her to change sides in the boat. She hadn’t quite realized that I was moving from side to side also as we changed headings. It just brings to mind the need to communicate things that are in many way instinctive for people who sail a lot.

Apparently, not everybody “gets it” without explanation. Something to think about.

Third Time’s the Charm and How Fast Again?

August 16, 2015

This was an awesome day. With my wife and our friend doing the shopping thing, Ellen said “why don’t you go to the boat today.” She didn’t have to ask me twice. I arrived at the marina sometime around 2:00 – 2:30, and was easily able to head out onto the river. The wind was coming from the marina shore, so I was able to raise the reefed main pretty early and head toward the bay, not because I had to “get to the bay,” rather because it was the logical place to head. Once I unfurled most of the genoa, I was off. The current was working against me as it usually does, but I was still able to make steady progress. However, I could see that on the tack I was taking, I was unlikely to be able to sail within the red marker on the Solomons shore. That proved to be the case. On two occasions, I was unable to make it and had to change tacks. One time, I had to change tacks by turning ¾ of the way around because a powerboat’s wake had sapped all my forward momentum. On the third time trying to head out, I made it, and continued for quite a ways out.

I was tempted to try to head all the way across the bay to the eastern shore, but knew that wouldn’t have been a good idea. Apparently, to get to the community of Fishing Creek would be about 15 nautical miles from west basin marina, which would take perhaps no more than 3 hours on an average day, so I think that will be my first across-the-bay destination.

The heading that I took to get out to the bay was held for about another hour as I sailed through a number of buoys indicating crab pots, and by a number of fishing boats, with their entourage of seagulls and pelicans. The pelican can be seen in the distance ahead of Ilya in the picture. 20150816_160650 with pelican

My speed got up to and beyond 6 mph, and I began trying to notice how far I was from west basin versus the eastern shore. Eventually, at about 4:10 pm, I took the opposite heading and headed back to the marina. For a while, another boat was behind me to my right, and eventually passed me. Can’t say I was happy about that, but I did realize that their sails were fully out, while mine were reefed, plus it was a bigger boat, so it has higher speed potential. What was really impressive was that this boat was closer to Drum Point than I was, yet still managed to avoid going aground. I was conscious the whole time that I needed to sail close enough to the wind to avoid grounding, yet this boat just seemed to get nowhere near the shore enough to worry about it.

One thing I learned today was that I could sail a lot closer to the wind than I thought I could — maybe this comes at least partially from the higher wind velocity today. I was able to sail with the wind indicator actually on the rear flags, and so long as I didn’t get the rear of the indicator inside the flags I was okay, which allowed me to sail another 5 degrees closer to the wind. After unfurling the remainder of my genoa, I continued to build speed once inside Drum Point, and got up to 7.1 mph, which translates to 6.17 knots, and is less than .3 mph away from theoretical hull speed. It’s funny how while the speed was up there, it didn’t feel as fast as I thought it would, though that is probably because I’ve been pushing myself to become more comfortable with speed and heeling so much this year.

Though I gotta tell you, 7.1 still felt good.

Surprise, Surprise

August 15, 2015

Yeah, I was surprised. The winds didn’t suggest anything particularly great, and we (my wife, a long time friend and I) got a later start that I would have liked. I was still reefed (Capt. Reef will never die) and headed out with only the expectation that there was at least some wind so it would likely be a whole lot better than my no-wind sail on Thursday, August 13.

Well, the wind was good enough for a lot of back and forth runs across the river, and we were able to handle several annoying powerboaters who kept taunting us with their wakes. We also encountered a really nice powerboater who slowed down long before and after going by us, then sped up. I wish I got the name of his boat to include here.

We — actually it was me, since I was doing pretty much all of the work — eventually shook out the reef and got up to about 5 mph (about 4.4 knots), and while not fast, certainly felt pretty nice. While sailing, we saw two ospreys carrying fish they had just captured, and saw a cormorant on a large metal float. We almost got to the bay, but just then the wind died, so we turned around and headed back to the river. At some point, some of the motion got to my wife, so we started back to the marina in earnest.

Today was good practice in figuring out how to take multiple people out on the boat, since I have promised several of my students that I would take them out. Learning how to sail the boat with more people on board — and finding things they can do to help — is always tough for me. But, today was definitely a good day and a step in the right direction.

Wind and Powerboaters

August 9, 2015

Moral of the story first: never go sailing (okay, try to seldom go sailing) when you’re on a schedule. I headed out to the river at around 9:00 am, and was surprised by how serene it was. The water was almost like glass, and there were very few boats out. I thought: this is the perfect time to head out. Why do I always go out in the late afternoon?

Of course, with all that serenity and steady water came the very low winds which would plague me the whole time I was out. Never mind that I also realized my fuel was low and I needed to head to the Calvert Marina to get more — that was really a pain.

Beyond that, I still struggled with the wind, though I got a few nice puffs. The greater hassle was that as it got closer to noonish, all the powerboaters came out, and unfortunately, the nicer powerboaters stayed in, while only the jerks were out. Do they really have to race each other when they see a bunch of sailboats trying not to capsize from their powerboat wakes? They must think so.

The biggest realization was that I could have easily stayed longer and taken advantage of the building winds, but I wanted to see my daughter in a 6 v 6 tournament at her volleyball camp. Which just reminded me that having a schedule when you’re trying to enjoy time on the water may not be the best thing.

Bang the Mast Slowly

August 8, 2015

Well, I finally went back to the boat and decided to be more aggressive when trying to close the slot in the mast for either a bolt rope or slugs. The conventional wisdom says to use a hammer and a wooden block — the wooden block helps to spread the force of the hammer blow so it won’t unduly damage the mast. I tried that with a variation — I used a rubber mallet and the wooden block. And while this did close the mast somewhat, it didn’t have the effect I wanted.

So, I went back to the boat and tried doing it with the rubber mallet hitting the mast directly. A risk, but I was willing to take it. It worked! So well that while I could still install the slugs, I couldn’t install the sail stop, but I just widened one part of the slot enough to accept the sail stop, and I was done. Now, I have to find some kind of pin that will prevent the slugs from dropping out then remove the stop, and I should be done.

I hope this works as well for me as it has for other people.