Monday, June 16, 2008

First Sail (Sunday Before Last)

So having done right by the Chickenblogger, I can now return to my usual Boats, Boats & More Boats!

Quick, a writeup before I forget EVERYTHING about my first dinghy sail of 2008! That was week before yesterday - yesterday was somewhere around 14 - 15 miles of paddling in the Norwalk Islands, only notable thing was that I told TQ before I launched that this would be the day I finally spotted the maddeningly elusive Transatlantic Rowboat that's been lurking about the Norwalk area. And I did, too. How did I know I was going to spot the darned thing? Because I didn't have my camera. Ha ha. Oh well. Nice day otherwise.

Sunday, June 8th, though - that was the first Sebago Sailing Committee Sunday Cruise - that being the day where the sailors all officially go out & sail around - not a race, just a nice sail. Been itching to get out in a dinghy for a couple of months now, so nothing, not even the powerful force of guilt, was going to deter me.

Guilt? Yeah. There was a Trip Leader's Workshop that day, for everybody who's going to be leading kayak trips at the Sebago Canoe Club. Good thing to attend - all the club's tour protocols get reviewed, then there's on-water rescue practice & stuff. I seriously would have enjoyed attending if I just wasn't totally & completely fixated on going sailing. But I was so I did even though I had to slink past my sea kayak committee friends as they were settling into the serious Trip Leader Workshopping while I prepared to go lark about in a Sunfish - grief was duly & deservedly given, but I was not to be deterred from scratching that dinghy itch!

They fed me trip leader potluck later when they didn't have to so they can't have been too upset with me.

seriously, I do hope that nobody thought I was skipping the workshop because I thought I was too good to need it. That kind of review is always good.

But no, sailing sailing sailing, and if there was a website where you could order the appropriate weather system for the activity du jour, I don't think that the forecast could've been nicer. West wind, very light in the AM picking up to 10 - 15 in the afternoon, if I'm remembering correctly.

Trickiest thing was what to wear. The water was still cool but we were in the middle of that heat wave (heat wave, schmeat wave, never broke 100 but being in the middle of a nice cool spring, it felt brutal). Shorts? Farmer Jane wetsuit? I solved my dilemma by packing everything & consulting with the more experienced & upon their advice ended up in the wetsuit.

Rigging went fine although I almost went down to the dock without a mast after the first mental checkoff. Think I started envisioning the rigging steps & realized oh, yeah. Beyond that, though, no problems (Sunfish is pretty self-explanatorily simple anyways).

We had 3 Sunfish & 2 Lasers on the trip that day.

Sailing off the dock was the only thing I truly, deeply botched during the day. I was all rigged & I was in such a screaming hurry to not be the last person off the dock with everybody else waiting that I didn't really stop to think "OK, how does this need to work today?" Shoved off, sheeted in, promptly got blown back onto the dock, got flustered, didn't release the sheet, sailed sliding along the dock until I almost ran into one of the Lasers & somebody just shoved me off hard. Ugh. Crappy start.

Nice easy beam reach down the basin - plenty of time to recombobulate, reorient myself, start thinking about wind indicator, sail trim, where I should be sitting, all that good stuff. Out under the bridge with no trouble (that's where the wind direction was particularly merciful - tacking out through the restricted passageways under the bridge would have been quite a demand on my winter-rusty skills.

The plan was to do a counterclockwise loop around the bay, stopping at Ruffle Bar for lunch. Once we were clear of the bridge, I did a few gybes & tacks just to make sure I remembered how it all worked, then headed west.

That downwind leg was HOT. I was dying in my wetsuit. Holly jumped off her Laser and back on so fast I was the only person who saw. I wanted to try the same thing but instead I just stuck one leg, then the other in the water. Somebody else was sailing in fully-recumbent mode. Somebody else stood up for a while. Holly reminded me about that heeling to windward thing you can do with a Sunfish to raise up the sail in light air & move a little better - she'd taught me that last year but I'd forgotten. She also showed me how to hang on the raised centerboard to improve the control over the heel. My boat actually started moving a little better. Gurgle gurgle. Cool. Plus now at least I was able to get one portion of my anatomy into the water. Ahhhh.

Around Elder's Point Marsh, swinging to the south to head towards Broad Channel. I was told later I could've been pointing more so I'll work on that next time, I'd been trying not to pinch & was apparently erring too far in the other direction. There was also some really heavy seaweed in that end of the bay - I tried to find somewhere to avoid it but it was like the Squeegee Hunt camp song - can't go over it, can't go under it, can't go around gotta go through it sqrrssh shhmmssshkkksssh h sqrrsh shhmmssshkkksssh. Gave me flashbacks to the Delaware & Raritan Canal race where my surfski's rudder picked up every fallen leaf until I felt like I had a sea anchor - Swamp Fox just slowed waaaay down like I'd sailed into glue. That was the only time I was getting into irons on the whole sail (and remembering how much of my first class I spent sitting in irons practicing my sailorly cursing, that makes me feel pretty good). Finally had to just stop & lift the centerboard to clear things. Shortly after that was the last real bufoonery of the day - I sailed into a little shallow patch of eelgrass & ran aground, fortunately with centerboard down; pulled up the centerboard & was trying to find my way back to deeper water when Bob came sailing over to see what was up with me - I started waving him away & yelling "Don't come here!" but he couldn't quite here what I was saying. He figured it out a minute later, though!

So heading on over towards Ruffle Bar, the two Lasers were out in front, Chris in a Sunfish behind them & me & Bob in the other 2 Sunfish bringing up the rear. Then things got strange. The wind had been picking up a little bit, and there were some puffs, but it wasn't at all unmanageable. I looked away for a second & looked back one of the Lasers was down. Huh. That's weird.

The three Sunfish sailed on towards the Lasers. I was expecting to see it pop back up again as dinghys do - but it looked weird, the mast was flat on the water but so was the boat. And then I saw that Tracy had Holly's sail.

Turned out that the deck of Holly's Laser had simply given way. She's been doing some sailing in pretty heavy air, and her boat's pretty old, and I guess the cumulative stresses finally caught up with the boat.

Bummer. Very sad. I couldn't even take pictures - it just didn't seem right!

Holly got her rigging squared away & tied down on her boat & there was some discussion of how to handle the situation. First things first - Chris, who was in a Sunfish, hitched a towline to Holly's boat & towed her on over to Ruffle Bar, where we stopped for lunch, sunscreen reapplication & some very welcome cooling-off in the water (which still has great instant cooling power - not quite gasp-inducing but REFRESHING!!!).

The original thoughts had been along the lines of somebody sail on back to Sebago to get the club's safety boat but the towing worked well enough that they decided to go with that. The safety boat is an old tin rowboat with a little outboard - little enough that the outboard gets taken off & locked up when the boat's not in use. The sailing back, motoring back out & motoring back again was going to take a lot of time. As we were eating, the wind was picking up.

I actually found the whole problem & solution to be pretty interesting to watch - in the sea kayaking, we're ALWAYS planning for somebody to have some sort of problem, drilling against the eventuality. The sailors don't seem to drill the same way - but there they were faced with an abruptly non-working boat, and without much fuss, they figured out how to get it home.

Last leg home, as I mentioned, the wind had picked up quite a bit. I'd been one of the last off the beach (note to self - if ever sailing alone, do not stop on a beach for lunch during the ebb & allow the tide to recede too far from boat!) , but since Holly & Chris weren't going to be moving too fast I decided to just mess around a little more with sailing around in a circle trying to spend a couple of beats on each point of sail before moving on to the next one - just a made-up drill to make myself think. Then I set off towards the Paerdegat. I was concentrating on trim, staying forward in the boat (I've still got a beginner tendency to sidle back), trying to keep the boat sailing smooth & flat when the puffs came, and just keeping everything sort of small & quiet as the boat picked up speed. Well, I must have been doing it just right 'cause all the sudden the boat just sort of picked up & ZOOOOOMED. Woohoo! Settled into a good solid hike, went screaming past Holly & Chris grinning madly(I predict that you will not see particular sentence in this blog again anytime soon, btw, although they are trying to get me out to race on Fridays & if I can manage to escape the cubicle manacles earlier than I've been managing too, I'd like to), and then just as quickly as it had started, the boat decelerated...

Chris explained to me later what had happened - I'd gotten Swamp Fox up on plane, and as you accelerate, your apparent wind moves forward and that as that happens, you need to sheet in. Made perfect sense once he explained it so I can get it to happen again sometime soon and see if I can manage to keep it going - it was pretty awesome while it lasted!

Sailing back into the Paerdegat under the bridge was the last big challenge of the day - the wind was very shifty at the bridge, and the tide was ebbing, so if you lost headway, you got flushed back out. We all sort of got there in a group. I dropped back & let others go first; Tracy went first in the working Laser, then Chris with Holly under tow. Then it was me & Bob in the other Sunfish - we both had to make a couple of runs at it, wind indicators were practically going in circles as you got to the mouth of the basin, but finally, just as Bob & I had gone under the bridge at about the same time & I was trying to figure out if I should drop back & let him go, I got a really nice little lift & though "No, this is gonna take me through and I'm going with it".

Sailed back onto the dock with much more style that the sailing-off had had.

Of course then I promptly reverted to newbie behavior & got distracted by a sea kayaking friend who was there following a sailing canoe rescue that had been an unplanned part of the trip leader workshop - left my Sunfish tied to the dock with the rig still up & flapping around & hitting people until I was reminded to attend to that first. Did so, and got off the dock just as the rest of the sea kayak folks returned.

Overall verdict for the first sail of the season - good. Did really well sometimes, not so well others, but overall, except for the botched sailing off the dock, mostly things were under control.

Main thing I did really wrong, in fact?

Failed to pack up my Tilly knockoff at all, that was a day for that if ever there was one. I did put on sunscreen but I think I just sweated it off. I was drinking water during the sail (except the last leg when you really needed both hands on the tiller & sheet). I didn't feel too bad after the sail - in fact I joined the kayakers to see if there was anymore discussion (and er maybe mooch some potluck food, which they kindly shared with me).

But I should have known that something was wrong when somebody offered me a beer and it just didn't sound good at all. What did sound good was water, water, more water and some watermelon please.

The next day my face was as puffy as a Pekinese & if it hadn't been the last day of close I never would've gone to work. I was lucky enough to get a seat on the subway, but even so I thought I was going to be sick. The work day was pure misery but I got everything done that I needed to.

I'd clearly done a number on myself - just surprised that it took overnight to really set in. Yes, it was worth it, but what an idiot I was to not pack that hat.

Ah well, I've still got lots to learn about sailing. What I need to wear to be confortable in what conditions is definitely part of that.

One other thing I learned -

I think I can actually add "Post-sail beer sounds completely unappealing" to my list of personal hyperthermia signs.

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