May 31: Evening after-rain sail

We sailed last night. I shut down work immediately after my final meeting of the day so my husband and I could get to the lake and squeeze in a sail while the weather was good. I wasn’t able to sail last weekend because of work, and I wanted a chance when the wind was right and the water was quiet.

We drove through a cloudburst to get to the water. My husband rolled down the window to pay the park and launch fee, and rain wet the interior while we waited for our receipt. The temperature dropped from 80°F to 63° during the squall. I was prepared to sail in the rain but wasn’t very excited about it. It would be cold and wet.

We sat in the empty parking lot with the radio on, listening to news and talking about our kids’ summer screen time. Raindrops spattered the windshield. Brian occasionally ran the wipers to clear the glass and see how hard the rain was coming down. Each clearing of the glass, we’d tilt our heads to look up the sky, searching for signs of blue.

After about ten minutes, he put on his rain coat, opened his car door, and got out to step the masts. As soon as they were up, the rain stopped. The breeze was calm but usable, and the sky was clear with white puffy clouds over refreshed, green mountains. I wore my new teal fleece and my swimsuit bottom, and I was comfortable.

The lake was entirely ours except for a mahogany Chris Craft power boat with red bottom paint and a red rear bench: two boats out that evening — ours and the Chris Craft — and both were wooden. That was quite a treat.

We were on the water about three hours, and Brian did most of the sailing the first half of that. He tried different methods for tacking to see how the boat best performed, and a slow tack gave the best results: jamming the rudder too fast tends to stall the little yawl.

I didn’t volunteer to skipper. I hadn’t taken the tiller at all this year, and I’m still nervous and new and don’t know what I’m doing, which makes me lack confidence and not want to try it. It was a perfect night for me to practice though: there was enough wind to sail without being squirrelly or dangerous in any way. There wasn’t even a chop on the water, just 2-3 inch ripples. At the same time, the wind wasn’t so light that we’d sit dead still, in irons on the lake all night.

I finally took the tiller about an hour in. I headed into the wind for a bit, then tacked to take us downwind in a straight run. It was quite easy. There were a couple of times the wind stalled, and the mainsail went slack because our forward motion was greater than the wind that pushed us from behind. I thought the mainsail wanted to jibe, and I got all worried, but it was just calm and it wouldn’t have hurt anything even on an accidental jibe.

My favorite part of the sail last night was the quiet of it. The wind was calm — a breeze more than a wind — so the plywood-thin wooden hull didn’t rattle and thump against chop. Instead it slurp, glurp, glipped. The wooden masts creaked, the tiller squeaked, wavelets splished against rockys bank that rose up into mountains, and the basin was silent of other human activity.

Beams of light shone through storm clouds onto mountains like rays from heaven. The breeze brought the sweet scents of flowers — maybe jasmine, or honeysuckle — and the sun’s low angle reflected a path of light on the water’s rippled surface. There’s an untranslatable Swedish word for the moon light trace:

Mangata (Swedish): the roadlike reflection of the moon on the water

(from Ella Frances Sanders’ Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures)

Further down the lake, when we were back at the ramp but not ready to stop sailing, I jibed intentionally, and correctly, just to stay on the water a little longer. We didn’t want to go further downwind and risk getting stranded trying to get back, so we sailed across the lake on a beam reach. I tacked again and come back on a close reach. Sailing close the wind is still hard for me, trimming the sail, holding the course, correcting appropriately instead of _over_correcting when the sail goes slack. It takes practice for this to become intuitive.

The two things I had the hardest time with and I want to watch for next time:

  • Knowing where the wind is coming from to know how to use it to get to where I want to go.
  • Harnessing the wind: knowing which point of sail to use and trimming the sail appropriately.

May 1: First sail of the season

We took the yawl out on Claytor Lake yesterday for its first sail of the season. The sky was a brilliant blue, the clouds a crisp white, and the wind made us fly over the water: we ran wing on wing from launch down to the dam, farther and faster than we’ve been before.

Of course while we were doing this, we knew we’d have to get back up to the ramp, tacking back and forth into the wind. As we ran with the wind at our backs, we didn’t care.

When we came about and the first crash of frigid lake water soaked us to our skin, we felt a little differently. Continue reading “May 1: First sail of the season”

April 16, 2017: Our canoe’s first trip

In the summer of 2016, we bought a canoe kit from Chesapeake Light Craft. Over the past 9 months, my husband and the kids stitched, glued, sanded, varnished, and painted what became a shiny, red, wooden canoe.

canoe on car

Today, Easter, we tied it to the roof rack, drove the 30 minutes to Claytor Lake, and launched it. There were white caps in the lake — it was quite windy — so it wasn’t really a great day for canoeing, but we wanted to try it anyway.
Continue reading “April 16, 2017: Our canoe’s first trip”

What do you eat when you live aboard?

When our record club sent us the March record-of-the-month, Yours Conditionally by Tennis (duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley), my husband put the disc on the turntable, started it spinning, placed the needle on the pink vinyl, and sat down on the couch with a cocktail and the liner notes. Later, he told me, “You should read the booklet that came with this album. Something about the writing, and the woman who wrote it — you would really love it.”

Last night I put the disc on the turntable, started it spinning, placed the needle on the vinyl, and sat down on the couch with a cocktail and the liner notes. And my husband was right: I loved the writing, the woman, the story. I was crying by the end, after she’d told of her time at sea, living aboard a 35 foot sailboat with her husband, doing things that terrified her — like sailing away from land and watching mountains flatten on the horizon until her world was nothing but the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea — and spending their time together on the boat making the music that became this album.

My craving for the ocean has been fierce the past several months. I leave for Mexico tomorrow for a work trip, and I am thrilled to see the aqua water, to feel warm sand, to smell the salt and feel it’s thin crust on my skin after swimming in the Caribbean Sea. I want that experience with my family, too. I want to strap masks and snorkels on the kids; I want to watch sunsets with Brian. I want to do a whole lot of nothing while I listen to the sound of water lapping.

As much as sailing scares me, I can’t stop thinking about what it would be like to sleep on a boat, to anchor under the big sky. To dive off the bow, to read on the warm deck, to smell the air and feel the wind. To write under the sun. To live under the stars. To spend that time alone with my husband.

In the Tennis liner notes, Alaina Moore writes that while under sail, she and her husband live entirely in the present moment and the moment that will immediately follow. That sounds amazing.

I wonder about the rest of the time, though, for the days and weeks when not under sail, when resting, when at anchor. What would true isolation feel like? No restaurants, no towns. No wifi. No socializing, no blogging, no phone. What would it be like to be so disconnected from humans? I like being alone. I like quiet. But people are always a few keystrokes away. What would it be like to be cut off? Would I get bored?

I want to try it and see. For right now, I am equally disconnected from the natural world. I am equally cut off from the sea.

But what I really wonder about, is what would we eat, and how would we cook it? I look around our dining area at home and the cookware is abundant. I see a 1.5 qt pot, a 2qt pot, a 3 qt pot, a 4qt pot, a 10qt pot. I see a heavy cast iron Dutch oven, 3 cast iron frying pans, a 5qt enameled iron braiser; multiple colanders, box graters, baking sheets, pie plates. We have dinner plates, salad plates, cereal bowls; coffee mugs, tumblers, Collins glasses; spatulas, silverware, ladles, tongs, wooden spoons; a charcoal grill. On a small boat we might have a pot, a pan, two dishes, two cups, two forks, two knives. Maybe more, but not by much. And our pantry would be tiny compared to the storage we have in our kitchen.

Sailing in the fresh air, under the sun, would be hungry work. What do people eat when they are two on a boat? Do they catch fish, clean it, and cook it? Do they bring canned foods? Dry foods? What’s the quality of the food? Backpacking food is tolerable for a few days, but what if this were your whole life? What about fresh foods? What about snacks? I’d love to learn some simple, filling meals we could prepare on a boat at sea. Is that a thing — simple cooking? Minimalized food? It should be. I have simplified my purse, I’d like to simplify my food as well. I have some research to do. I want to bring this into our lives, whether we’re living aboard or not.

 

Tying knots on the plane

Since it’s winter, and we’re not sailing, the closest I can get to being on a boat is to read novels that feature sailboats, build upper body strength for when we can actually sail, and practice tying knots.

On a flight to Boston last night, I used the What Knot To Do app to get familiar with a few boating knots. Before leaving on the trip I had tried using the instructions in The Complete Book of Sailing Knots, but the illustrations apparently did not match the way my brain needed to see the knot instructions, and I couldn’t follow the steps.

The What Knot To Do steps worked really well for me, though, and I practiced the bowline, anchor bend, clove hitch, and my favorite, the highwayman’s knot.

I keep a length of line in my laptop bag now (really it’s just a sweatshirt hoodie string) so I can keep practicing. I tied knots for about 20 minutes on the plane, and I’m not sure I could do any of them again right now. So much to learn!

Recommended apps from Capts. Bill and Sara

Navionics — online charts. Get the US/Canada combo if there’s any chance we’d be boating in Canada since it’s not possible to just add-on Canada, you have to repurchase the whole bundle. Fee-based.

What knot to do — knot instruction from Columbia Sportswear. Categorized by sport, so there’s a sailing category. The reef knot is in camping, fyi. Free app.

My Radar Pro from NOAA  — great for locating storms; can set alerts for if there is precipitation or lightning within a certain radius. Fee-based to get the pro version.

The butt cleat

Originally published on Butterfly Mind.

Sailors have a reputation for colorful language, usually in relation to swearing and storytelling. I admit, this is one of the aspects of sailing that tickles me most: the vocabulary. The terminology is filled with unfamiliar words that I’m slowly learning — words that sound old and nautical, like shroud and sheet, halyard and cleat.

In our two-day course, we learned both official language and unofficial, equally colorful, language. Like the chicken jibe.

Jibing can be dangerous. It happens when the  wind is at your back, and the stern of the boat turns through the wind. If uncontrolled, jibing can bring the boom hurtling across the cockpit with great power, knocking unprepared crew in the skull and potentially breaking the boat.

If a skipper judges conditions or their skills unsafe for jibing, they can opt to chicken jibe: to chicken out of a jibe and instead take the safer route of putting the bow through the wind and tacking through 260° (rather than jibing through 90°). Our captain indicated no bravado about choosing a true jibe over a chicken jibe; the chicken jibe is totally acceptable if a skipper judges it to be necessary or smart. But it’s still called the chicken jibe.

At one point, Captain Sara went through the different cleats on the boat.

“You’ve got the jam cleat, the cam cleat, the clam cleat, and — ” she looked at the dock cleat, hoping for a rhyme. “And the dock cleat — the damn cleat — the one you’re always stubbing your toe on.”

She glanced at the bench where the crew sits with the lines that control the jib. The jib sheets end up on the seat where the crew sit when tacking, and on the floor of the cockpit.

“Then there’s the foot cleat.” She pointed at our feet. We had deployed the foot cleat on accident through at least one tack, when we tried to release the jib and one of us was stepping on the line.

She gestured at the seat itself, where a jib sheet lay. We both knew what the final cleat was going to be. We had been warned against this one several times the day before. It is easy to deploy on accident; without care and intention, the lines end up right where the sailor sits.

“And a’ course,” she said, “there’s the butt cleat.”

As I did through every tack yesterday, when Captain Bill said, “Watch for the butt cleat!”, I giggled. Butt cleat is my new favorite sailing term.