A few days ago I went out sailing for the first time this year! It’s been many months since I took out my girl, in fact the last time I ventured out with her was for a “race” at the end of October of 2011. I say “race” because there was barely any wind, so really it was a contest of whose boat traveled the current faster. Since then Libby has been docked and charged with 30 amps of shore power, providing her grateful captain with electric heat and refrigeration. But over the weekend, when the unseasonably warm April sun was shining, it was time to cut the dock lines and head out.
Before I get into the wonderfulness of my small sail trip, let me first cover some basics for those readers who are not sailors:
Sailing is not like riding a bike. It seems that the longer one goes without sailing, the more one forgets. I thought it was just me, but a friend of mine, who took her boat out a couple of weeks ago, was having the same issue, forgetting basic things like what lines led where. She had a sailor friend of hers join her, and we related the problem we were having to him, and he totally understood and told us he’d forgotten a lot as well. So this problem is not confined to just us sailing gals. And, as I was getting Libby ready for her first sail of the year, attaching my genoa to the forestay, it dawned on me that I’d forgotten how to tie a bowline knot. Embarrassing I know, but it’s the sad truth. Therefore I sought some help from a sailor next door to me, who has a beautiful CT 34. Once he was aboard my boat, he kept tying slip knots through my genoa’s sheets, and we both laughed. He’s been a sailor for years, but winter left him a little rusty as well. So we got out the book of knots, laid it on the deck and tried our hands at tying the oh-so important knot. I kept thinking of the joke…how many sailors does it take to… But we eventually got it.
My trusty Yanmar diesel started up right away, and even though the light winds were blowing from the south (she’s docked stern to the wind), I was able to push my boat out of the slip. Libby reverses horribly, due to the placement of the prop in relation to the fin keel and rudder. Whenever I can, I push her out, then hop aboard at the last second and scurry to the cockpit as she comes about.
Once I got her out of the docks and into the bay, I breathed a sigh of relief. The marina was under hostile occupation by obnoxious motor boaters who lived loudly in their monstrosities they called “yachts.” It was wonderful to be out in the open water again, with a steady and perfect cool wind blowing. Since it had been a while since raising the main, I was afraid it would stick as I hauled it up, therefore I motored Libby far from anchored boats, before steering into the wind and running up on deck to raise the main.
I got the sail up quickly, and had to return to the cockpit once to steer her back into the wind to lift the sail the remainder. Before I take my boat on any long cruises, I’ll route the main’s halyard line back to the cockpit so I won’t have to run up on deck. Anyway, Once the main was up and tightened, I shut off the engine and raised the genoa!
Remember, sailing is not like riding a bike. Last summer, after a few sails, I found that with a bit of practice, I was a textbook tacker. On Saturday, though, my first few maneuvers were sloppy. I expected nothing less, especially after enlisting the help of a fellow sailor to tie my sheet’s knots. I’d also lost a bit of my nerve over winter. One of the last times I’d been sailing in 2011 was my Blake Island Adventure, where I reached unholy speeds of 7.3 knots running downwind, wing-and-wing and had to run forward to pull down the sail as the boat pitched in dangerous winds and waves.
Thankfully, due either to my youthful age, stubbornness, or competitive streak, I overcame my parched mouth and jitters, and after the boat heeled and I remained in control of both the helm and my nerves, I remembered that I was, in fact, fantastically good at sailing. With a smile, I recalled that I used to sail Libby at such heeling angles that I’d have to hook my arm around a winch to keep from sliding, and had done so with exhilaration and the joy that other boats were much slower than me.
Which brings me to another point for my non-sailing readers: where there are two or more sailboats, there’s a race–doesn’t matter if it’s been stated or not. With such perfect sailing conditions, I was not the only boat out in the bay. To be honest, I hadn’t even planned on going sailing that day at all, since I’m still rocking the winter moorage thing and have creature comforts spread throughout my boat. But after hastily stowing all of that garbage, I was out quicker than the boys of the bay. I was one of five boats sailing, the remaining four manned by men, one was a fellow Islander 30, and it was against this boat I was most eager to prove my sailing worth.
Two of my fellow liveaboard neighbors, Jonathan on his Cascade 36, and Jim on his absolutely gorgeous Cape George Cutter, shared the bay with me. I was pleasantly surprised to see the blue-water cutter, a full-keeled boat, speeding along behind me, tacking gracefully and looking stunning in the process. Can you tell I love that boat? I had been under the impression that full keeled boats were slower and lacked the maneuverability of the fin keeled ships, like mine. Jim seemed to have no problem making turns, however, and was able to tack into the wind and make it out of the bay with no problems. It should be stated that he had a crew with him, where the remainder of the sailors that day were single-handing.
When I reached the mouth of the bay, I turned downwind and cruised at a leisurely pace for a bit and thought I’d stay in the bay to practice up on my skills, since I was out of practice. But I couldn’t handle it when I saw Jonathan and Jim heading out. My competitive streak just couldn’t deal with it. After showing the fellow Islander 30 that I was faster, I decided it was time to catch up with the boys in their 36 footers and make them feel inadequate. Yes, I know I have a serious problem.
I’d already lost sight of them when I entered the mouth of the bay and was trying to tack out. Unfortunately I chickened out and tacked a few seconds too soon, and as I was heading toward a Red Right Returning pylon and the wind kept changing, I had to tack over again for a few seconds, before switching back. It’s a practice thing, and the wind is just weird and inconsistent in small bodies of water. But it was a quick fix, and in no time I cleared the inlet and saw the boys ahead of me, at which time I started thinking of different jibes I’d throw at them later. Like that I wanted to give them a head start before catching up to them. You know, like a handicap. I was struggling to think of other insults other than “slow-poke” when I was overcome with hunger and dashed down below to grab a banana. My neck and lower back were also starting to ache, reminding me that I really was out of sailing shape.
The wind was starting to die down when I was getting closer to Jim (Jonathan had already dropped his jib and was sailing back home on just his main), and after waiting for a motor boat to pass me and thus turn 45 degrees to take on his massive wake, I decided I’d head home too. It had been a perfect, gorgeous, great first day, and just long enough for me to enjoy it, and short enough to keep me from scorching my pale skin and straining my neck. Besides, there will be plenty of opportunities to take the wind out of the boys’ sails. So I started the engine then dropped my sails and headed back home.
It was great to run the diesel for a while, as it had been dormant for most of winter, save the days I’d run it at the docks to keep it from going completely kaput. While I was motoring at a slow speed, I tied the tiller in place (sort of) and bagged my genoa, wrapped up my main, and once I got closer to my marina, dropped my fenders. I was immensely proud of myself that I remembered to pull up my fenders before sailing. Few things are more embarrassing than leaving your fenders down.
I can’t wait to get some more sailing into my life, and taking the boat out this past weekend was also a great reminder that it’s time to oil my winches, fix my autotiller, and get some cockpit cushions for my buns. Sailing is a blast, but it’s always best to make it as comfortable, and as safe, as possible. No more excuses, time to get cracking!