Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Next Step

Well we signed up for our next course, Basic Coastal Cruising. Here is the link to the standard for the class so you can read about everything we will learn in 3 days:

The class will be October 12-14 and we're hoping that this time we have a little more wind than the last time! We will have the same teacher (which I'm really excited about because she was great) and the same boat. It should be an amazing day with the leaves turning.

I also added a link to a site for one of the boats that we're looking at. It's a lot of fun to drool over. It would have to be used though - definitely can't afford a new one!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Good Book

I cruised through a week ago and bought a couple books (Their new book browsing tool is wonderful). I've read enough "how to" books for the time being and I wanted some real-life stories written by people who have done what we want to do. I bought "A Year In Paradise: How We Lived Our Dream" by Stephen Wright Watterson (ISBN 0-9706167-0-8), a story of a retired couple in their early 60's that sail their 30ft sailboat from Sandusky, OH to the Keys and back in a year's time. The author is an excellent writer with a dry sense of humor very similar to mine and descriptive skills that transported me right to the cockpit of their boat, where the aroma of baking cookies was wafting up from the galley below. I wanted to leave tomorrow.

Now I'm reading "At the Mercy of the Sea" by John Kretschmer (ISBN 978-0-07-149887-6), the antithesis of the previous yarn, which has me riding out terrifying nightmares of hurricanes at sea.

I've chosen both books in an attempt to be realistic about my expectations, aware that while everyone seeks the romance of the sail, there are both inconvenient and dangerous aspects to cruising on a sailboat. I decided this is a price I'm willing to pay to squeeze every last drop of living out of whatever days the Lord may grace me with.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thoughts over a cup of coffee...

A few minutes before I head off to the hangar and I am running the weekend’s adventure through my mind. Not so much the actual learn-to-sail part, but the first brush with a life style of living-on-a-boat part. The only real reference I have is the 31-foot boat we used this weekend; not big enough to live on but certainly big enough to use for something like a two-week cruise.

In the cabin was everything you usually use in a day, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, a place to sit at a table and even a desktop where one could work at a computer. There were lights and though this one had no heat or air-conditioning a larger boat would. We were out in the toolies so there was no Internet access, but that was a function of where the boat was parked, not the boat itself. There was even a bulkhead, (if one were so inclined) to hang a nice, flat-screen TV to play movies, and power to run it. It was all just really close together.

So I look around this house, which is the nicest house we have ever had and I really love it. We have this perfect, huge bedroom with a lot of floor space I rarely walk on. It has a walk in closet full of clothes I never wear. We have 2 ½ bathrooms, an empty bedroom, and a bedroom with 3 desks, two bookshelves, and two computers. We have a living room with two couches, tables, and a fireplace. (I love the fireplace.) And we have the coolest back yard in the Central West end, to say nothing of my garage. Why even think of not living here?

And yet… The backyard of the boat is the ocean, or the shore, or the lake, or whatever part of this huge planet you happen to have sailed to. I have the coolest back yard in the C.W.E. but the cockpit of a boat is the coolest front yard I have ever seen. A slightly bigger boat, (say a 38 foot Cat) would have plenty of room for things like books and tools, even bicycles and snorkeling gear. (I think my SCUBA diving days are over just because I’m not sure I want to go through the hassle of getting another certification.) And though I would miss my garage, I would be living on this huge machine with two engines, electrical systems, and all kinds of stuff I would get to tinker with all the time.

Living compact, light if you would, mobile, mostly self-contained, with the wind and the waves rather than isolated from them; I have to admit the idea is growing ever more alluring.

Then again, maybe I am just nearly as nutty as some people have always thought? Anyway, off to work…

Sunday, September 16, 2007

At least I know what I'm trying to do.

Day two of trying to make a boat go where I want using wind and sail, helm and help. The help comes in the form of the rest of the crew. It was kind of amazing how quickly Tony, Mike, Joe, Jerry, Deb and I formed a semblance to a working boat crew with the patient instruction of Larissa. (It might have helped that four of the group, Deb, Jerry, Mike and I, were all pilots. Jerry is a corporate pilot flying Hawkers out of St. Louis.) After each maneuver we would all swap places so we could learn how to work the sails as well as getting time and practice driving the boat. People shifted posts from helm to mainsheet and jib sheet “grinders” almost like we had a plan.

The name “grinders” comes from sticking a big crank handle in the top of a mechanical winch (the boat had 4 of them) and working it to tighten up various ropes (called “sheets” for reasons completely unknown to me). These “sheets’ are used to put tension on the sails which is called “trimming.” A person using the handle - to turn the winch - to tighten the sheet - which pulls on the sail - to set the trim; looks like a person working a giant, old-fashioned coffee grinder, and it sounds sort of like one as well. Trimming changes the shape of the sail and allows them to use the wind more efficiently. Use the wind more efficiently and you go fast.

“Fast” is of course a relative term. On water it turns out there is a maximum speed any sailboat can go no matter how hard you push it, a speed which is equal to 1.34 * the square root of the length of the low water line in feet. The boat we were on today had a top speed of about 6.83 knots, a blazing 5.9 mph! Who would have thought that 5.9 mph was nearly as fun as 120 mph on a GSXR 1000? (I’m sure someone is thinking, “And a damn sight safer to boot.” Hi Mom.) And really, because of the light winds today, the best speed we made was right around 2 ½ mph. Neither Deb’s nor my motorcycle will actually do just 2 ½ mph unless you ride the brakes and badly abuse the clutch. In a sailboat in light winds it is a respectable speed and we were all quite pleased with ourselves for getting the boat to go at such an amazing pace using nothing but a gentle breeze. (We did get a good laugh when a butterfly PASSED us on an upwind tack.)

The day started with a review and a written test. Deb (of course) aced the test and scored the first 100% that our instructor had ever handed out. I (of course) didn’t score 100. In my defense let me say I have taken dozens of written tests over my carrier as a pilot and long ago gave up caring what the actual score was, as long as it says “passed” at the top of the page. And well, as most of you figured out a long time ago, Deb is smarter than I am.

So after two days of being on a boat I am smitten once again with a bad case of machine lust. (To complement my apparently permanent case of wanderlust.) Airplanes. Motorcycles. And now its boats. Not just any kind of boats either, but big, beautiful sailing type boats that cost more than a house. I don’t know if we can ever make it happen, but it looks like we are going to give it a try. I guess the worst that can befall us is we go broke and get wet.

Been broke. Been wet too. So I guess we’ll see.

Miscellaneous pictures

Sailing "Wing on Wing", when you sail downwind and have the mainsail on one side and the jib on the other. This allows the wind to push the boat downwind more efficiently.

Tim at the entrance of the cabin so you can guage the size

The inside of the boat facing aft

The tack explained

For the non-sailors: I was told that I was not clear about a video I posted. The video of Tim's first tack is a video of a sailing maneuver in which you start at one edge of the no-sail zone and steer through it to the other side. This involves the sails moving from one side to the other side of the boat as the wind direction changes. The no-sail zone is an area from about 10:30 on a clock to about 1:30 on a clock in which you cannot sail. If you attempt to, the sails simply stall and you will be stuck in what they call, "the irons". This term came from a battle tactic in which ships would try to force an opponent to sail in the no-sail zone, rendering them powerless, after which they would board them and put them in irons.

(Now you can go back and look at the video again)

One-entry logbook

Day two complete and I am the proud owner of a new sailing logbook with an ASA101 endorsement in it. The day started out with the completion of our 100 question written test and then some time on the water. By 12:30 the wind was dying off so we heaved to and ate some lunch. The wind remained calm and the water glassy in spite of the weatherman's predictions of 8-12 knots after 1:00. Here is how Tim entertained himself. Quite adaptable, don't you think?

We finally turned on the motor and practiced man overboard drills under power since we had to prove the skill to pass the test. After the drills we decided to head out under power a little and explore the other end of the lake. Half way there the wind suddenly picked up so off went the motor and out came the sails. We got to practice the man overboard drills under sail and I even beat Tony's speed record with a whopping 2.87 knots. Wooooooo Hoooooo!

We actually had some good sailing for the rest of the afternoon and then headed back. It was a wonderful experience that answered our initial question of whether we want to try to do this. The answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Saturday, September 15, 2007

One day a sailor

So now I have one whole day of sailing experience. Well, not really. I spent about 20 minutes standing behind the tiller of a boat that was barely moving. When the wind completely died away we furled the sails (they don’t come down anymore, just roll up into the mast and onto the forestay like window shades for the Jolly Green Giant), cranked up the motor and practiced things like docking and approaching a mooring buoy. Lesson #2; A slow moving 31-foot sailboat handles like a loaf of bread.

Lesson #1 was: a sail boat without wind isn’t really a sailboat. It really isn’t a powerboat either, though powerboat rules apply.

We did have a little wind at first, and with Deb at the helm the boat was tooling along at a nice clip with a pronounced heel – and that is just way cool. I spent a little time down in the cabin while the boat was actually under way. Water looks like its going by really fast when its that close, even if you are only doing a few knots. I couldn’t spend much time there as the “head” was giving off a noticeable sink, sort of like camping down wind of the port-a-potty.

All in all, sitting on the “stern pulpit” sipping some hot coffee, feeling the gentle motion of the boat, looking around at all the rigging strung across the deck and actually making a little sense of it all; I could almost envision calling such a place “home.”

Day one of ASA101

We arrived at class about 8:15, packed lunch and coffee thermos in hand, and had some time to walk around the marina looking at boats. By 9 we were all there and had swept the spider webs off the boat (spiders like marinas it would seem), stowed all our gear, put on our life jackets, learned where all the through-hulls were (any drain or water inlet that goes through the hull). The wind was blowing nicely and off we went.

Our instructor Larissa:

We had a chance to each steer the boat through a tack and a jibe before lunch. Here's a video of Tim's first tack:

My first sailing attempt took a little concentration, but I was amazed at how similar the skills required were to flying

On the way out to the middle of the lake we dropped a water bottle off the boat by accident which is a no-no. The federal regulations state that you can't dump any plastic overboard in any waters of the United States. So we decided to practice the man overboard drill using our water bottle as John Doe. We successfully rescued Mr. Doe and off we went.

Our ever patient instructor hard at work:

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We stopped for lunch around 12:30 and shortly after lunch the wind pretty abruptly came to a halt. We ended up motoring back to the marina via some bouys at which we each practiced a mooring pickup (a manuever that allows you to secure your boat to an anchored float to spend the night), and then we each practiced motoring up to the dock without slamming into it.

More book work at the dock in preparation for the written test tomorrow. Hopefully the wind will pick up a little in the morning so we can get our practical test out of the way.

Miscellaneous observations:

I thought the "heeling" (when the boat tips in good wind) would bother me, but it's just a lot like being in a hard corner on the ZX-14, just in slow motion.

Note to self: if we ever use the head, make sure to have it cleaned after returning to the dock. Letting the holding tank sit makes for an uncomfortably smelly boat.

Second note to self: never never never leave food in the refrigerator when the power is off.

I'm happy that my flying skills came back in use after all these years of not flying.

When you get off the boat, you still feel the rolling waves.

Coffee tastes better on open water in a sailboat. So does a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.

Sailboats make you smile.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I got to class early so I could poke around the parked boats a little. The owner of the place showed me around several of the boats he has in his lot, the largest being a 41 foot Hunter. It was a pretty thing; it was also a pretty little thing. The inside was gorgeous and included two bedrooms, two heads, galley, stateroom and Nav station, all of it very close together. Maybe part of the "smallness" came from the fact that the "windows" were tiny and up very high. Understandable since this is an ocean going boat and one would expect heavy weather to put the waves up on the deck and washing over the cabin. Now THAT would be a ride! Still, looking at the interior and thinking, "This is a house...."

In any case I am really looking forward to spending the weekend on the water and learning a new thing. Hopefully the wind will be blowing as hard in the morning as it was tonight.

School's out for sailing

The boat we will use in class

We learned boat parts, rules & regulations and how to tie 6 basic knots in class tonight. Tomorrow morning we're on the boat. I stood in the parking lot of the sailing school and looked up at a 41 ft Hunter, and it seems a lot smaller than one would think. I didn't get to see the inside, but Tim did before class. He said he was also surprised at how small the inside was. Maybe I can't live on a boat. It will be interesting to see the boat tomorrow with 7 of us on board.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sailor talk vs. Pilot talk

I am finding the new language a bit daunting as well…mainsheet, boomvang, (love the word, still not sure what it means) outhaul, downhaul, cunningham, telltails, genoa, spinnaker, clew, leech, luff, head, (not the one you pee in) tack, (this word apparently means several different things), jib, heel, in irons, close hauled – which is not the same as a close reach – which is not the same as a beam reach or broad reach, and none of which actually have anything to do with reaching for something. And apparently (at least it seems this way from the videos we have watched) all sailor words are pronounced with a slight New England accent.

Why can’t they use normal words like pitot, VeeRef, nacelle, buckets, (not the boat kind used to haul water) leading edge, (luff to a sailor) trailing edge, (leech to a sailor) trailing link, yoke, boards, slats, EFIS and stall? (All spoken with a slight West Virginia drawl.) Then it would make sense. For example, when a pilot “stalls,” the wing on the airplane stops going forward and starts falling down. What else would it mean? But when a sail “stalls” the sailor is “in irons,” the boat stops going forward and starts going backward. "In irons?" What does irons have to do with anything; hand-cuff kind of irons, get the wrinkles out of your shirt kind, change the tire on your motorcycle kind? Irons? A pilot would use a completely different word for "in irons."

Even when I learn the words I am a bit self-conscious using them. I am a pilot and using pilot words is just natural. But I am not a sailor. In fact, except for one story from my childhood about me going for a sailboat ride, (an event I don’t actually remember) I have never set foot on a sailboat. Surely I have never actually tried to steer a sailboat. And I'm sure "steer" is the wrong word. I know the driver stands at the "helm" but I don't think you can "helm" a boat. "Crash" is a word everyone uses, though a sailor can also "run aground," "pitch-pole"
suffer a "knock-down" capsize and sink (not the thing you wash your hands in.)

So when I use sailor words I feel like a poser; like some kid hanging around the airport boasting about his “ILS to Minimums” when you know for a fact he has never even seen the inside of a cloud. I suppose this will change with time. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll get a laugh out of the person who glances at the top corner of the mainsail with a puzzled look on their face when I say, “I’m going to the head.” (That is the one you pee in.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Learning a new language

After nearly 20 years as a pilot I was rather surprised to find a lifestyle with a language more complex than aviation. We picked up our books for our ASA101 course today and the list of terms is daunting to say the least. I'm sure that some day this language will become second nature, but for the time being it is very much like putting on new school clothes in September that feel too stiff and not broken in. When is a rope not a rope? When it's a sheet or a halyard or a lifeline or a rode or...

Friday, September 7, 2007

Back to School

One week from now we start ASA101 Basic Keelboat Certification. I printed out the list of things that you have to know to pass the test and wow! I better get busy studying! I'm sure that it will all make better sense once we're actually doing it, but for the time being it's all Greek. We start out Friday after work at 5:30 with classroom time. Saturday and Sunday are on the water all day both days. The class is given on a 31ft Hunter.

Here's the link to some information about the boat:

Here's a link to some information about the school:

Thursday, September 6, 2007

I'm so excited - I just stumbled on a fully certified ASA101 sailing course right here in the Saint Louis area. St. Louis Sailing Center offers a course on Lake Carlysle very near here in Illinois in just a few weeks.

Here we go!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My take on the weekend ride.

It really was a fun weekend. I picked up a bit of metal in the back tire leaving Hot Springs, AR (Where I spent the night after leaving Dallas, TX.) and limped into a place called Russellville on a plug. The Suzuki dealer there took good care of me and I was back on the road with a brand new, super sticky sport tire. Good thing too, since I spent Saturday riding with the “fast boys.” Actually, I just hung on to their rear fenders figuring if their bikes would lean over that far, my bike would learn over that far as well. Turns out I was right and managed not to embarrass myself. I even did a pretty good job of buggering up my brand new back tire by sliding it out of the corners. FUN! There is nothing like trashing a $300 tire in a couple of hundred miles.

Deb and I put in more then 400 miles on Sunday riding at a slightly less insane pace, though still fast enough that Mr. Poe-Poe might have taken us to visit the local jail had he been able to catch us. (I was following Deb watching her slide her rear tire out of the corners!)

I don’t think I’ll be up to such shenanigans in another 10 years or so though. But I did watch a short video of a sailing cat making 20 knots through big waves, and that looked like fun as well. And you know what? That Cat wasn’t leaning over nearly as far as my GSXR.

Monday, September 3, 2007

We just got back from a long weekend of very fast motorcycle riding on great Arkansas roads. I'm wondering if I would miss that, or would the adrenaline rush be replaced by enough things in sailing that I wouldn't miss it? Will I be ready to give it up by the time I'm ready to buy the boat?