Saturday, October 27, 2012

I wish ...

I knew what I was doing.

Last week was recurrent training week. Usually a bit of a bummer but the place was Long Beach, CA. Hard to have a bad week in Long Beach, CA - particularly when one hails from St. Louis, MO. Sessions in the sim were the usual mix of problem added to disaster. One of the more interesting scenarios involved a night departure into icy skies. The airspeed system failed in a subtle way that has lead to many a crash, but we caught it in time and applied one of the fundamental truths in aviation; Pitch + Power = Performance. Just as we got that settled both the engines flamed; pumps and ignition came on as per the memory items. The checklist recommends 200 knots to help refire the expired power plants but we had two problems with that. One, the airspeed indicator had already shot craps; 200 knots was anyone's guess. Two, pushing the nose over to 200 knots meant giving away altitude we needed to return to the departure airport. Pitch went to the best glide Angle of Attack, we declared an emergency (again) and turned back, nursing altitude until we broke out of the overcast with the airport in sight. Then all we had to do was manage the energy in order to arrive at the end of a runway, manually extend and lock the gear, finesse a "no-flap" landing, ignore the rest of the instrument panel that went dark in the flair due to the main battery having been depleted of electrons during the glide, and get the airplane stopped before running out of concrete by using the emergency brake handle.

Just another day in the office.

Compare that with today's attempt at sailing. Winds out of the north were 15 gusting to 20+. Kintala is tied in her slip facing north. No problem. I'll just back across to the empty slip, turn slightly, let the wind push the bow out into the alleyway, and we will motor out onto the lake just like I know what I am doing. Except ...

The stern stepped smartly to port as I powered back. The wind caught the wrong side of the bow and shoved it toward the dock. I backed away harder. The wind swung the bow all the way from North through East, grabbed the rest of the now exposed hull, and off we went, sideways and South. Unfortunately south lay another finger pier with a friends 33 foot boat poking out. Bump. Not a bad bump, but Kintala has a scratch or two she didn't have this morning.

Friends man handled our wayward selves, managed to corral bow and stern, pulled us back into the slip, (us having performed an ugly 180) and held fast while Deb fed a line to another pier to pull the bow the correct way, and eventually we motored out onto the lake, just like I knew what I was doing.

On the lake we flew a reef in the main and the small staysail. A perfect combination when the winds were better than 15 knots, gusting past 20. But this is Carlyle. Those same winds were often 8 gusting to 10, or a steady 20, or maybe a fading 5. Anything less than 15 and the small staysail might well have stayed in the bag. It simply didn't provide enough motivation for us to tack, something we usually need to do every few minutes on our little lake, particularly when the season's biggest race is underway and the water is full of boat going as fast as they can, often barely under control. We do our best to stay out of their way but that means tacking which, today, often meant putting Kintala in irons, wallowing around like a fat man in a baby pool, falling off, and then trying again. Somehow during this day we also managed to get the jib sheets tangled up so we couldn't get it deployed when we needed it and wore inflatable life vests all day that had never been armed. More ugly.

And cold. (Loves me some dodger!) After several hours of mal-practicing the art of sailing we were heading back. Getting on the dock was only slightly less a show than getting off but eventually Kintala was settled in. Bringing order to our disheveled deck took a little longer than normal and I'm not sure that I have warmed up completely yet, even several hours later.

It is a bit weird. In the aviation world, which I hope to leave one of these day, I am actually pretty good at doing what I do. No matter how bad things get, no matter what I am facing in the course of a flight, I never run out of ideas and there is never a time when I can't make the airplane do what I need it to do.

In the sailing world, which I hope to join one of these days, it is just the opposite. Things happen I didn't foresee and when they do I often don't have an answer right at my fingertips. While I'm trying to figure it out the boat heads off on its own merry way with me more passenger than Captain. I can put a 16,000 pound airplane moving at 200 knots to within inches of where it needs to be. I can't get Kinala, moving at 2 knots, anywhere near where I want her sometimes.

Weird. And today, a bit discouraging.

Maybe I should go back to just fixing the thing?


Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

As a semi-competent sailor myself, I feel much better about myself after reading your post!

TJ said...

There is a saying among some pilots, "perfection is barely good enough". It isn't true of course, but though we are not perfect there really is very little room for error in my work-a-day world. Even though I should know better I kind of carry that attitude into everything I try.

Kyra and Rick said...

No! Don't go back to just fixing your boat! Keep going out - sail as much as you can! As full-time cruisers (for over a year now), we are firm believers that many would-be cruisers spend too much adding gadgets to their boats, and far too little time sailing. The more you do it, the more you cope more effectively with whatever comes your way. By the way, I used to get embarrassed for "screwing up in front of other sailors..." I realize now it's a rite of passage, haha... Cheers, Kyra SV Nyon

TJ said...

Out for over a year ... good on you! Like most probably, we debate how much stuff we need for the boat to be ready, and how much practice we need for us to be ready, and fully realize that no one ever heads out totally ready. One great thing about our little sailing family here in the middle of IL, I never screw up in front of other sailors, they are all friends and are cheering us on.