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.

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