Today was the day — and the best day by far on the water. As the title says, I went out by myself today. My wife was headed to the Kennedy Center, our daughter wanted to rest up so she could participate tonight in relay for life, and my son — well, he’s 15 — ‘nuff said. Mind you, the forecast for the day wasn’t particularly encouraging, or at least it didn’t seem so. Having said that, NOAA isn’t always helpful in these regards. Because I know what it feel like on the Patuxent River in the heat of the day with no wind, I had no illusions that I would actually get out. In fact, as I was heading toward the marina (once on the naval air station) I thought to myself that I should have looked toward the bridge to see how many masts were in the water. But, I thought, if there’s no wind, I don’t need to go out.
Once I got to the marina, however, there seemed to be a nice steady wind, and a lot of the windmills on other people’s boats were spinning wildly. I put my go bag, coffee thermos and water bottle on the boat, opened the companionway door, and started my routine. Within 10 minutes, I was ready to head out. Since the current was a little stronger than usual, I kinda hugged the port side piling, but still got out without much trouble. Next time, I’m going to try to keep control of the starboard bowline long enough that I can keep the boat toward the right and perhaps miss the piling altogether.
Once out on the river, I figured out where the wind was coking from, got myself far enough from the rocks before I tried to raise the mainsail. I had already attached the sail cradle, removed a few of the sail ties and attached the halyard so it wouldn’t get tangled in the sail cradle. However — and this is probably the hardest thing about single handing to me — I can’t manage to keep the boat into the wind consistently enough to raise the mainsail. By the time it’s half way up (and we’re talking seconds here, not minutes) the main is already tangled in the sail cradle and I have to lower it and try again. I suppose I could forget the sail cradle and just try to raise the main without it (may try that the next time), but then the main would be kind of a mess on the deck. I’ll keep working on it.
After trying two or three times to raise the main, then moving forward to lower it in a big mess, I finally gave up and unfurled the jib, and actually began sailing. It wasn’t bad, but it was slow, and it seemed like a waste of all this nice wind, I’m estimating about 7 or 8 knots.
Finally, I decided to give it one more try. I furled the jib, and managed to get the main all the way up! Unfurling the jib at this point was pretty easy, and I was sailing with all the canvas up. I noticed other boats going back and forth across the Patuxent, so I did the same thing. I sailed toward Solomons, then turned the boat around, and went back toward the marina. This could have been boring it if wasn’t just enough work that I had to be engaged the whole time. And I think it was a good idea to practice steering, changing direction, etc. in a protected area. I also got to try out the self-steering mechanism I made following the instructions in Thoughts, Tips, Techniques and Tactics for Singlehanded Sailing, by Andrew Evans — it’s in Chapter 5-1, and you can download it here: http://www.sfbaysss.org/tipsbook/. The device worked pretty well, and I was able to leave the tiller alone for about 5 minutes at a time. That may not seem like much given the slow speed I was going, but remember I’m still new at this, and getting the sails balanced at all takes a lot. I bet I will be able to continue using it as I gain more experience, and if nothing else, it might be just as good as the more expensive models. If not, I could still buy one.
While I sailed, I also had a cup of coffee and a drink of water, and just sat back in the cockpit just smiling and enjoying the speed and the feel of sailing. I managed to change direction back and forth at least — actually, I don’t know how many times — it was just a bunch, and even when I decided it was time to go in, I decided to go back and forth one more time. Bringing the main down was as unpleasant as raising it, but I got it down enough to put on some sail ties, and started in. Obviously, the job was no big deal.
Docking wasn’t too difficult, though my engine (named “Hercules,” remember?) did tap the dock lightly. I’ll have to watch for that next time as well. But, I got the boat in and tied, took care of tying the sail to the boom, put on the sail cover and got it fixed up all nice and in a bow.
Now, I’m gonna get in trouble for this at home. My wife does not want me to go out by myself for safety reasons. Mind you — she’s right, and once I get the jackline and tethers in the mail, I will wear my harness when I single hand. I just thought that today was mild enough that I could go out safely without the tether.
And I have to tell you, I haven’t stopped talking or thinking about today yet — it was wicked awesome!