4-5 MPH Winds? Perfect!

Really? Well, yes. Given that I haven’t been out on a boat as skipper or as a single hander in almost 2 years, 4-5 mph winds was just about right. I took off from the marina and headed out in light winds, hoping as always to navigate down the river to the bay then play with the wind. Most things went smoothly, and because of the light winds, I was able to fix a fouled mainsheet while sailing back and forth between Solomons and NAS PAX. Mind you, this can get a little boring, though I certainly didn’t want something more treacherous that taxed my out of practice sailing technique.

One larger sailboat was on the opposite tack from me and seemed to be going an awful lot faster than I was, so, I switched to follow them, and really got going. According to the ASA app on my phone, I was peaking at 4.86 knots, or 5.6 MPH, though since the app only noted 4.86 knots or 4.37 knots, or a couple of other specific speeds, it may not have been particularly accurate. It was kinda nice feeling the boat heel (a little) and take off with a puff of wind.

Coming back into the marina, Hercules shifted from forward to reverse flawlessly, and I backed down the fairway and into the skip, where I accepted the assistance of a fellow sailor who grabbed the starboard rail so I could kill the engine and just glide to a smooth stop.

I’d count it as a great first sail for the season.

Hercules Down; Hercules Recovered

Hercules, my Mercury 9.9 outboard was definitely not feeling well. The last season, we had the problem of not being able to shift from forward to reverse in low RPM: when we tried it, the engine quit, and wouldn’t start again for another 10 minutes. This made for very challenging approaches down the fairway and into our slip.

The boatyard called and said “It’s fixed,” so I went to the slip, started up Hercules and moved Ilya out of the marina and toward our home marina — only to have Hercules die about 300 yards away. The marina staff pushed us back to the slip and they announced that Hercules wasn’t pumping water (that wasn’t hard to figure out), so they needed to order a water pump kit which included the impeller.

So, the boatyard called and said “It’s fixed,” so I went to the slip, started up Hercules and started out of the marina. About 1 minute later, I thought to look at the engine and saw it wasn’t pumping water. So, back into the slip. Called the boatyard, and they said they would fix it.

So, the boatyard called and said “It’s fixed,” so I went to the slip, started up Hercules and started out of the marina. The engine was pumping water, I was happy, the engine was happy, until it wasn’t. Somewhere around Zahniser’s marina, I noticed that instead of a steady stream of water, it was putting out steam and smoke, and about ten minutes later, I wisely tied up at the Calvert marina fuel dock and called for a tow from BoatUs. After about a half hour, they showed up and towed me back to the marina. I am very thankful I decided to get their unlimited towing.

Well, this situation clearly had to change, and after three previous tries, Hercules — reliable and steady as ever — powered Ilya to her regular slip at the West Basin Marina. I would have loved to sail that day, but the wind simply wasn’t cooperating.

Better late than never….Hercules on stern

Shoulda Gone Out Earlier

September 23, 2012


Of course, earlier, not only was the wind blowing harder, the chop was bad with lots of white caps.  These were not those 8 foot whitecaps some people sail in all the time.  No, they were a lot lower, but when my wife and I finally went out, I sensed that the amount of chop was the same as when my daughter and I went out last season, and I packed it in before we even got going.  What a difference a year and several sailing excursions makes!


I thought it best to go all the way across the river to Solomons, then raise the main and head on a reach to the bay.  Well, I didn’t exactly make it all the way across the river, yet raised our sails anyway and started sailing.  I discovered the same problem as a few weeks ago when the wind just wasn’t consistent, and seemed to shift from various directions while we were out there.  That was frustrating.  We also hunkered down really fast and low (read: scared the Bejeezus out of me) a few times but I just let go of the tiller and went to weather, keeping calm all the way.  We tacked back and forth, and while my wife didn’t do as much as she did the last time we got out, she helped as she could.  Probably my directions weren’t as clear as they should be, but hey — I haven’t had anyone on the boat to listen to my directions for two months anyway — I was out of practice!


One thing I did notice is that she seemed to be in the way a number of times, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.  The simple truth is I’m not used to having anybody on the boat with me.  So, even an extra foot or seat cushion could get in the way.  Certainly this was not my wife’s fault, but I guess mine for being a sailing hermit.


We really did try to catch the wind, but it just died down more and more until it just wasn’t worth it to keep trying.  We fired up the engine and headed in.  Once we got close to the slip, I discovered that when I put the outboard into reverse, I couldn’t lower the revs beyond a certain point without manhandling the shift lever.  That made for some uncomfortable moments as we docked.  This was the first time in awhile that she helped me secure Ilya for the night.  That made things a little easier than usual, and I certainly appreciated the help.

Just About Perfect

September 21, 2012


Work this last week wasn’t bad — it was practically catastrophic.  I mean, bad enough that I didn’t even pay full attention to my daughter’s volleyball match, and I love volleyball.  My wife — sensitive person that she is — could see by my scowl that I was in no mood for any kind of spirit lifting.  I had to attend an all day meeting the following day, so she suggested that I go straight home afterwards and head out on the boat.  Why didn’t I think of that?


As the title suggests,. it was just about perfect.  Sure, I made three separate mistakes: 1) I misjudged the current getting out of the slip and had to back out the fairway instead of motoring forward; 2) when I released the boom from the little clip that attaches it to the backstay, I didn’t notice that it got caught on something else for awhile; and, 3) I had the main reefed with the single line system, but had neglected to tie the sail down on the other three points until I had already raised the main.  All things that any sailor could do — though probably not on the same day. 


However, once I got the sails properly trimmed, I was able to stay on almost the same heading for about an hour as I moved into the bay.  The wind was reasonably steady at about 8-10 knots, with frequent gusts to 12, and some as high as 14.  I handled all of them including the additional heeling with aplomb, and got used to sitting on the windward wide with my feet up which served to lessen the sense of heeling that had always unnerved me.  The few times I felt I needed to tack were smooth, almost effortless, and since there were very few boats out, I was able to reflect and just be.  I could have sailed that way for hours including maybe even across the bay, but since I was pretty sure my mast light wasn’t working, I didn’t want to run afoul of the coast guard. Reluctantly, I turned around at about 6:50 pm. and after a few more changes in tack, sailed back to the marina, nice and smoothly, taking this one picture along the way.




And to top off the just-about-perfect sail?  I backed into my slip with no trouble and tied up like I’d been doing it for 20 years.  And given the week I had had, this was really the perfect afternoon on the water.

What the..*#@!

September 1, 2012


Okay, maybe I missed the memo one day, but I thought that most enlightened powerboaters (there are some out there!) understood that their wakes can adversely affect sailboats.  And these same enlightened powerboaters would take care to avoid actions that might severely rock our small craft.  So, why then were those enlightened powerboaters all at home watching television while the idiots were all out in the Patuxent River and adjacent Chesapeake Bay?  Geez!  If it wasn’t Bubba informally racing his buddy (Leroy, I think he was) then it was people who just decided that the only thing that matters is their getting to the bay, regardless of the flotsam and jetsam of little sailboats that got munched up along the way. 


This was supposed to be a simple little outing — solo of course — during which I would for the first time sail toward the Thomas Johnson Bridge rather than toward the bay because of where the wind was coming from.  It made sense when I tested the wind as I left the marina breakwater.  And I got Ilya heading up just fine toward the bridge, though because of the way the wind was blowing, I would have to tack back and forth several times to get where I wanted to go — which was under the bridge for a great photo.  Needless to say, that never happened for several reasons.  First, I’m still new enough at this that I don’t point as well, meaning that I’m not as skilled at trimming the sails etc. to get the boat to go close enough to the wind.  Therefore, I don’t make the kind of headway more experienced sailors do.  Of course, one part of the problem might be the boat, though I’m guessing it is more my level of expertise than the boat.  Second, those aforementioned powerboats were just creating havoc in the water anywhere near the channel.  One time, I was caught with virtually no wind, and an engine that was bouncing so much out of the water because of the wake, that I couldn’t get anywhere, and the keel kept making really scary sounds as it lifted and fell with the waves.


Final reason?  No wind.  I watched with interest as a boat with a spinnaker (all female crew with a name that suggested that was by design rather than chance) sailed quietly and slowly by me, making slow but steady progress toward the bay.  Eventually, though I tried and tried, when the wind’s gone, the wind’s gone.


And the only thing I have to show for it is a renewed annoyance toward the less enlightened powerboaters — which I had anyway.



A Win, More or Less

July 29, 2012


When I woke up on Sunday, I decided that enough was enough.  Saturday might have been a good day to go sailing, and I wasn’t going to take no for answer today.  So, I asked my wife if she wanted to go sailing, and she said yes.  Since our daughter planned to spend time with two friends playing volleyball, and our son always helps out at church, we figured we had the late morning to go play.


Arriving at the marina, I was pleased to see one boat’s flag (one of those “don’t tread on me” banners), furling nicely.  I estimated that the wind might be 7 or so miles per hour, which would be fine by me.  Once I got my wife onto the boat (not one of her great talents) we methodically got the boat ready to go out.  I even decided to sacrifice to let her wear the newest PFD, the inflatable one I purchased last year on sale.  She had complained last season about how hot it was to wear the vests, and since I insist on people wearing PFDs, that didn’t make her very happy.  I had suggested buying an inflatable one for her last year, but she had balked at the cost.  This year, I’m going to have to get one for her when some are on sale — I miss the inflatable!


Since there was very little current, we were able to get out from the slip rather easily, with her only using the boat hook to ensure we didn’t hit the shrouds.  Once we got past the breakwater, I found that we were already going almost straight into the wind, and what I should have done in retrospect was to motor all the way across the Solomons and then hoist the main.  In that way, we could have sailed using the wind on a beam reach and gotten into the bay.  Instead, I got only about halfway across, raised the main, and then we moved slowly on close reaches and finally got pretty much in the bay, but by that time, we had already used up quite a bit of time.  Having said that, the wind wasn’t too crazy, we finally got coming about handily (I don’t try to get my family into the “Prepare to come about — ready — hard alee!” stuff, since my teenagers just wouldn’t stand for it), so it took us awhile to develop a rhythm.  Since my wife doesn’t go out much, she’s never really gotten her own sense of what to do without instruction.  Mind you, I just remembered, that I didn’t get even remotely close to yelling or getting stressed with her.  This may have been because it was a really lazy day of sailing, with enough but not too much wind, or because I was just calmer and didn’t need to.  I tend to think it was a combination, but more that I just didn’t feel the need.  I had her release the jib sheet, then I took up the new leeward sheet and cleated it off, and it got pretty good after awhile.


And even though we really should have gone all the way toward Solomons before raising sail and tilting the engine, I only realized after we lowered the sails that we hadn’t used the engine the entire time we were sailing.  In past sails with family — when I was even greener than I am now — I had had to resort to the engine multiple times during a sail.  There do seem to be some greater skills developing, I guess.


All back in the slip, and all finished.  A good time out, and I think Ellen had a good time too.  Everybody won!


Now, Which Way Was I Going?

July 15, 2012


Since I has acted a little inappropriate and threw something of a fit on Saturday, my wife told me as I got up Sunday “It looks like it might be a good day to go sailing.”  I said a very quick thank you, ate breakfast, made sure my other obligations for the day were complete, and headed to the marina. 


Now, once there, I did a lot of good things.  For example, I took the time to figure out which lines to release first, last. etc.  Because of this, I first tightened the starboard bow line, then, once I released the spring lines, I released the starboard bowline and Ilya stayed within the pilings effortlessly.  It was one of the smoother exits I’ve had.  I got to the river easily and noticed the wind was heading almost directly toward the bay, which remains my Holy Grail.  I knew I didn’t want to run, since the wind wasn’t that strong, but I was able, over the course of time to go at a broad reach and jibe the boat over time to the bay.  It was actually a pleasant time. 


During the sail, I managed to jibe easily with both sails, and when the wind picked up, I was able to withstand the healing pretty well, and believe I’m getting better and better at it.  I did make it to the bay, yet at some time I knew I needed to get home so I could make the drive up to Frederick.  That’s when I realized my critical mistake for this day:  I should have headed into the wind and sailed toward the bridge rather than on a broad reach/ running toward the bay.  Because try as I might, I just could not tack on both sides of the wind all the way back to the marina.  I really tried and had the sails up for awhile, but the river just wasn’t big enough, and I wasn’t able to sail close enough to the wind to make it.  And I was now really far out from the marina.  But hey, I forgot, just what did I name our 9.9 Mercury Bigfoot outboard?  Hercules!  And I’d never really opened up this little engine — until today.  Hercules started humming and moving me ahead faster than I’d ever gone under power.  And while it wasn’t anything impressive compared to the feeling of sailing with the wind, I really got back in much less time than usual, without even the slightest bad sound from the engine.  I only wish I had some way of measuring my speed.


In the future, I need to consider sailing around the bridge.  Lots of people do it and it gives another view of the scenery while sailing, and probably would have been worth it today.  Next time the wind blows toward the bay….


Backing into the slip was a piece of cake.  That part was a clear win.