Sunday, June 29, 2008

Beams, reaches and waves

Our first weekend out on little Nomad was, (by my humble estimation) a huge success. Saturday morning saw us arriving at the marina around 9:30. We were a little later then we first intended but it so happens I ran across the MotoGP race live via Internet at about 6:30 in the morning, (it was mid-afternoon in Assen where the race was being run). Casey Stoner was destroying the field, putting better then 10 seconds on the second place finisher. In an amazing display of patience Deb puttered around the house waiting for the race to end, then we headed out for the dock.

As usual there was some work to do before we could leave the dock. First and foremost was fitting the screen door Deb and I designed and built to fit over the companionway. It works better then I thought it would and looks pretty sharp to boot. We got several nice complements and it completely frustrated the squadrons of mud wasps looking for places to build new nests.

The plan for the weekend’s adventure was to sail the length of the lake to the dam, tie up with boats from our marina in a thing called “rafting,” share some food, drink and stories, watch the fireworks display, spend the night, and sail home on Sunday. As always the plan was made with one eye on the weather. The forecast for both days included a lot of wind, (good for sailboats) rain showers, (a minor annoyance) and thunderstorms, (mmm…not good). But Saturday morning the sky was blue and the wind blowing not much more than 20 mph, (about 17 knots). It seemed reasonable so off we went. Deb was at the helm for this departure and, though a little nervous, she eased Nomad out of the slip with a touch of √©lan that was completely lacking on my first try. Once clear of the “No Wake” zone we hoisted sail. I’m getting better at that, having learned my lesson from the last time. Under full sail little Nomad took a bone in her teeth, (that’s the white water at the bow of a ship making good speed) and we headed off in a direction just shy of 40 degrees off the heading we needed to get to the dam. (And that, friends, is known as a “close reach” or “close hauled”.) It was a blast. At times little Nomad was heeled over slightly more than 20 degrees as she pounded her way down the lake. We probably had a little too much sail up, when the wind gusted (I think it was blowing a little harder than the forecast) we had to let the main sail go a little loose, (sailors call that easing the sheet) to ease up on the heel and hold our course. We tacked back and forth with our destination first 40 degrees off of one side of the bow, then 40 degrees off the other, trying to keep track of exactly where we were on the lake, watching for other boats, and trying to figure out which boats were in a race and where they might be racing. (At the end of the day we were told that we had cut through one race, but I have to admit I didn’t see it.)

The only real bugger up during this upwind run was a jib sheet (that would be a control rope) getting snagged on a mast cleat during a tack. By the time I got out on deck and fixed the problem the wind had pushed the bow off on a heading we didn’t intend. Another boat that was closing on us from behind took offense at our sudden turn and sailed really close off our bow. He seemed kind of serious but I just laughed. Since we were going roughly the same direction in the same wind, our combined closing speed might have been ½ knot making us, for all practical purposes, stationary. Missing us was a simple matter of turning slightly off the wind. That guy was taking himself and his lake sailing way too seriously. Besides that we were trying to tack away from him when the line snarled, so it's not like we got in his way deliberately. (We could have if we wanted, since his was the overtaking boat we had the right of way. It is something racers apparently do to each other all the time.) We also learned to close all the hatches and portholes when bashing through the waves like we were. Saturday night my pillow was a little damp from flying spray.

Finally reaching the dam we found a batch of boats from our marina already tied together. Mike and his family aboard “Orca” allowed that we should tie up next to them since they are fellow newbies, also on their first boat, and also on their first “raft up.”

It was an excellent evening of making new friends, the fireworks were cool, and sleeping on the boat as it bumped and squeaked alongside 6 other boats was actually pretty comfortable. A storm rolled through about midnight, but Deb and I had suspected it might and had set everything up for rain just in case. So other than getting up for a few minutes to close hatches and put in the wash boards, (closing up the companionway) it was no big deal. Riding out a bumper (meaning thunderstorm, not fender) in a boat is considerably more comfortable than riding one out in a tent.

This morning was as pretty a morning as I can remember with more stories, coffee and the best bacon and eggs anyone has ever had, ever. The weather forecast was a bit iffy though, so we cleaned up and were the first to head back up the lake. In deference to having had maybe a bit too much sail up the day before, and because we are experimenting with different sail sets to learn what Nomad likes, we decided to make the down wind run on a reefed mainsail. At first this down wind run was pretty easy sailing, no tacking, no pounding, no real heel and no spray splashing into the cockpit, just a bit of a wallowing motion as the waves swept around the stern.

As we moved up the lake the run turned into a beam reach, with the wind blowing directly over the (in this case) port side of the boat. Not bad at first but as we went along the ride got worse and worse, the boat rolling and corkscrewing as the waves grew to two feet and maybe a bit more. It was a beam reach all right, but it also meant that we were in a beam sea. And that, it turns out, is an ugly ride. (Sailors call it “sailing in the trough.” I’m sure they mean the trough of the waves but it also makes the boat wallow like a pig.) So we started jibing, putting the wind and waves on our port quarter, stern and bow. It made for a much, much better ride and we even went a little faster. But the sum total of these headings put home port about 90 degrees off our starboard side. That worked out though, since we ended up in a position to make a straight, down wind run into the marina. I think this constant interplay of wave, wind, heading and destination is why they call it sailing, not boating or traveling.

There weren’t as many boats on the lake today as I would have thought. It turns out a lot of people thought it was a bit too windy to go sailing. We heard more than a few comments along the lines of people being surprised that we were out there on our own. They should have joined us. It was two days of sailing I was glad we didn’t miss.

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