Sunday, June 15, 2008

Nomad's maiden voyage (Tim's take)

Solo maiden voyage!

As you have seen Deb and I took Nomad out for the first time today. Not only was it our first time in a boat that we own, it was our first time without someone more knowledgeable along to keep us out of trouble. A leap into the deep end (so to speak). Though we took the sailing courses this felt like the first day of class to me. So feel free to laugh at my lessons learned, I did. After all, though sailing can be deadly serious business, this is mostly about learning a new thing and having fun. Beside, today was as close to a controlled environment as it is possible to get.

We got off to a less than stellar inauguration with me trying to back out of our dock. Prop walk on our boat is to port, where the dock is. So the back of the boat wanted to hit the dock. The wind was out of the southwest, on our starboard side. So the front of the boat wanted to hit the dock as well. Somehow I managed to miss the dock but ended up with the boat pointing the wrong way, up the dead end to the boat ramp. “No problem,” I figured, “I’ll just pull into this convenient empty slip, back out again, and get going in the right direction.” That however, started going bad as well. So LESSON #1: When your wife says “put the wheel all the way THIS way,” put the wheel all the way this way. It will, in all probability, get you facing in the right direction and headed out of the marina rather than in.

After getting turned around and going around two 90 degree turns it occurred to me that I should let off on the steering lock. LESSON #2: The boat steers a lot easier if the helm lock is free.

We worked our way slowly out to the mouth of the river and on toward the lake, passing several inbound boats along the way. In the “No Wake” zone our passing speeds were pretty slow, but after my clumsy start I wasn’t at all sure I knew how to drive little Nomad yet. It seemed like pretty heavy traffic to me. Once actually in the lake with a light breeze stirring it seemed like a good time to put up a sail. The jib seemed a reasonable choice to start with and I asked Deb to take the helm so I could go forward and hoist a sail. (This would be the first such hoisting I have ever attended.) The jib was hanked onto the head stay but I had not yet latched the halyard or down haul to the head of the sail, which meant going out to the very end of the bow sprit. LESSON #3: Get the sails ready to hoist before sailing out into the lake.

The jib went part way up then jammed on the down haul line, which had developed a small tangle just where it goes through a lock. I moved aft, cleared the tangle and moved back to the mast to continue hauling up the sail. LESSON #4: Get all those ropes under control.

With the jib flying, a nice breeze blowing and Deb at the helm, Nomad, for the first time in a couple of years, started moving under sail. I have to say I think our little boat was pretty pleased and rewarded our amateur efforts by leaving a bit of a wake behind us as we moved along. Too, too cool. After a while we got pretty comfortable and decided to hoist the main. Nomad has a more traditional sail plan so to do things like hoisting sails one must move out of the cockpit, onto the cabin roof and out to the mast. It can’t be more then 10 or 12 feet, but it feels a lot longer when the boat is rolling and pitching (even just the little bit it was today) under your feet. After a bit the main was flying along with the jib, but: SEE LESSON #4 again.

We started tacking back and forth across the lake, getting more and more comfortable doing the things a sailor has to do to keep a boat moving. Then, in the middle of a jibe the jib sheets kind of locked up, killing our turn and our speed. As it turns out the port jib sheet had tangled up on the still open forward hatch. LESSON #5: Close the freaking hatch before ropes start flapping all over the place.

After that things settled down to a pretty nice sail. Deb and I had lots of conversations about who had the right of way as we encountered different boats going in different directions. I felt pretty good that none of the sailboats seemed to be going that much faster then we were and, for the most part, when we were on a similar tack we were holding similar headings. Like they say, copying one person during a test is cheating, copying everyone is resource management. Keeping an eye on what the other boats on the lake are doing is a good way to learn. We played with the sails, seeing what would happen if we eased a sheet or trimmed a sail up a little tighter. It seems our little boat will actually point pretty far up into the wind. She seems pretty light on the helm and rode the small waves and occasional bigger boat wakes well. We had some tunes playing on the CD, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I drank a couple of cold ones, and generally just had a blast ghosting across the water. Toward mid-afternoon the wind died. Instead of firing up the engine we set the sails as best we could and just kind of drifted back toward the marina. It took a while but we weren’t in much of a hurry and the marina grew slowly larger. Then it came time to take the sails down. Deb wanted to do that so I stayed at the helm. She asked me a bunch of questions but I have never UN-hoisted sails either, so I’m not sure my suggestions were actually of much help. She got the sails down with little drama, lashed the main to the boom and we worked our way back to the dock with the little engine knocking away at dead slow. I made a better job of docking than I did undocking, and so finished our first lake adventure.

I spend the next week flying the jet back and forth across a big chunk of the country, from Denver to Ft. Lauderdale at something like 400 knots. But I suspect my mind will be wandering a bit, replaying the first hours Deb and I spent on our boat, just the two of us, probably never making more than 4 knots and never getting more than a couple of miles (if that) from the dock. LESSON #6: Actually sailing a boat is just too, too cool.

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