Thursday, January 26, 2017


Airplane drivers are regulars at “debriefings”. After every sim session during recurrent training the crew and instructor retire to a briefing room. There, every decision made during the session will be rehashed, along with a diagram of the flight paths just flown. Such discussions are particularly enlightening when the flight path diagram ends up in a simulated smoking hole in a field somewhere. Just like in racing, you can't really know just where the line is until you bin a couple. That's why all good pilots love simulators. You get to try things you would never try for real, and crashing doesn't hurt anything but the ego.

Kintala left Boot Key and motored sailed to Rodriguez Key for a beautiful night in a nice anchorage. The next morning she headed for No Name Harbor. The forecast suggested there would be enough wind to let the Beast take most of the day off. And so it was. The only real challenge was that the Hawk Channel isn't particularly wide and the wind was directly off the stern. Normally we would have just spun out the head sail, and we tried that. But there wasn't enough wind to get to Biscayne Bay before nightfall. So we got bold and flew the main as well, setting the sails wing on wing; head sail flying off the port side, the main on a preventer, flying off the starboard side.

We haven't done much wing on wing in Kintala. Usually the head sail is all we need and, well, wing on wing sailing is (for my money) a lot of work and some risk. Getting the wind on the wrong side of the main sail and having it slam across the boat is a nightmare thought for any sailor. Rigs come down that way, booms get bent, and to do it right one also needs to use a jib pole on the head sail.

I have never made friends with the jib pole. With a back still a little stiff from hauling the anchor out of the clay of Boot Key, after it was set by days of 30 knot winds, I wasn't enthusiastic about dancing on the foredeck with that unwieldy and cantankerous thing. But it was the sailorly thing to do and, someday, I hope to be a sailor.

After my normal amount of fumbling around the jib pole was set and the preventer secure. For a couple of glorious hours Kintala flew up the Hawk Channel with her wings spread wide. Deb even tamed the wind vane and it was working like a champ. A great point of sail, vane working, following seas, flying does it get any better than that?

But the channel bends a little, and the winds were shifting a little, and the fun had to end. It did, with two fingers of my left hand tangled in the preventer and jammed against a cleat just as the line picked up the load from an accidental jibe cased by a passing powerboat wake. It was an interesting (and painful) couple of seconds before Deb cut me free with her knife. (Mine, of course, was down in the cabin where I always put it at night so I don't forget it the next morning.)

Hand now free and still functioning to a degree, we managed to get things back under control and sailed on. Me pretty embarrassed at such a bone-headed move. Deb still a little buzzed by the adrenaline hit. A few hours later things got really interesting.

By time we made the markers for the channel into Biscayne Bay the wind was a solid 25 knots. Kintala was humming along at better than 7 knots, with a lot of sail up for that kind of wind in a narrow channel. Too much, actually, which is why I had considered dropping the main while still out in the Hawk channel and easing our way into No Name at a less frantic pace. Considered, but didn't mention. Later the effort to reduce the head sail without being able to turn much in the narrow channel just off the light house point proved...unfortunate. The furling line back-lashed and froze, there was no rolling that sail in. Believe me, I tried. In fact I tried so hard that the lazy sheet got away from me, spun out into the wind, whipped around the forestay, and ended up in the water on the other side of the boat. With the wind behind us there was no way of getting the main sail down either.

With the line trailing in the water all the way back to the prop, any thought of waking up the Beast, turning into the wind, and getting things under control went away.

We blew past the entrance to No Name at better than six knots, head sail flogging, sheets flying, and Deb working hard at the helm just trying to keep everything together. I scrambled madly around the deck not accomplishing much of anything though, eventually, I did get the wayward sheet under control and back on the boat. Deb woke up the Beast and sailed us into the bay proper, where we had enough room to actually turn up into the wind. I dumped the mainsail into the lazy jacks and tried to un-jam the furler, which was a no-go. Deb saw me getting ready to drop the jib to the deck but, at that moment, I was trying to remember which halyard was which. The stay sail is on a furler as well and it has been a couple of months since we put those back on the boat. Finally I just picked one and let it free. It was the right one, the first break of the day.

As the jib started down Deb swung the bow just enough to put the flogging clew inside the life lines. I wrestled the wayward sail down onto the deck, a rope burn on my left arm and the loss of part of the fingernail on one of the fingers already mashed was the only toll required.

I was glad to pay up. Sails down and Beast rumbling, I tried not to think about the anchor still tied, pinned, and cabled. Should the Beast join in the fumbling of the day it would be questionable if the hook could be dropped before we were blown into shallow water. But sometimes the very worst doesn't actually happen, and we limped into No Name.

We had planed on using the pump out station there, then anchoring for a couple of days. It turned out that pump out station is out of service. That would be five out of five. We tried to get pumped out before leaving Boot Key. Not a single marina had a pump out in service, and the pump out boat was booked full for the next couple of days. We couldn't get on the list before the weather window north closed.

So we are tied to the wall near the inoperative pump out in No Name. Our tank is full so the bathrooms here are the only option until we figure out what to do next. The Park Ranger, being told that the boat was broke, I was hurt, and the holding tank was full, was kind and understanding. He told us to say tied-to as long as we need to figure out our next move and get the boat back in sailing shape. The jib is flaked and stored on deck, the main sail is flaked, tied, and covered, halyards are secured, and Kintala and her crew safe and secure.

We did so many things wrong today, yet did everything right we needed to do to keep from hurting the boat or getting hurt too badly ourselves. (I'm a mechanic, smashed fingers and burns are pretty much a regular occurrence. The minor bang ups of today hardly count.) Oh, and just to add insult to injury; while flaking the jib I managed to put my bare foot deep into an ant hill. It still feels like it is on fire.

We are still not exactly sure how to characterize today. Back in my old life I actually knew what I was doing. Today, more than three years into my new life, I don't seem to have a clue. Tomorrow we will start fixing things, re-assembling things, and try to find a pump out somewhere in Florida that actually works. I am all for not pooping in the ocean, letting the land dwellers add my small contribution to their overwhelming flood of sewage. But if they are going to pass “no discharge” laws, the least they can do is give a person a chance to comply.

And that's the debriefing for today.


Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

Now for some contingency planning the next time you're in a narrow passage with the wind dead aft!

Phil Gow said...

To paraphrase the saying about landings, It's a good day sailing if you make shore and a great day sailing if the boat can be sailed away again.... :)

s/v Odin the Wanderer said...

At that point, we look at each other and say, "Are we having fun yet?" and then laugh.

pfrymier1 said...

Plenty of folks would have summoned the iron jenny and called it good from the get-go. I'm impressed you sailed it in.

Robert Salnick said...

You know, we too got in trouble by carrying the main too long in a rising wind, and then not being able to douse it because it was too full of wind. I wonder if this is a common enough problem to warrant a mention in basic sailing training texts...

s/v Eolian

pfrymier1 said...

It has been my observation that in sailing, you discover what you should have done about a minute or so after you needed to have done it (changing a headsail, reefing, taking down the main, starting the engine, fixing the head, getting the anchor off the chocks, etc.). I would have saved myself much trouble if at the very first inkling that I needed to reef, I'd done it.

TJ said...

All good comments. We weren't having any fun, though I did laugh pretty good after we made it into No Name, just on general principles. I'll be pretty slow to head down a narrow channel with the wind behind me next time. Small sail, go slow, and have the anchor ready to deploy. And we really should have reduced sail out in the Hawk Channel. I'm going to say that we don't sail that far off the wind, with that nice of a following sea, standing up that straight, and having such an easy ride, very often. The wind just sneaked up on us, something that probably wouldn't have happened if we had been pounding into the waves. (Which seems to be our normal point of sail.)

There are lots of things I don't remember ever hearing about in the various classes we took. What to do when caught out with too much sail up was one of them. The books all seemed to assume that we would be smart enough not to let that happen. One thing I am glad of though, was that the wind wasn't that strong earlier in the day. Had it been blowing stink we we jibed the boat, I would only be able to count to eight.