Rainbow sunset sail

Boat: Egretta (O’Day Daysailer)
Location: North River, Gloucester, VA, USA
Date: October 7, 2017
Time: ~5pm – 7pm
Conditions: ~70°F, brisk breeze

We headed out under cloudy skies tonight for a final evening sail from our airbnb. The wind was up and dark clouds hid the sun. October light shone through rare spaces between them, showing blue sky and blinding white dollops above the grey shadowed bottoms. The kids sailed with us, and they jittered with excitement for the higher wind and the rougher chop.

evening sun over beam
It never looks as choppy in pictures as it feels in a small boat

We beat into the wind first so that we wouldn’t go too far on the first half of our trip and then run out of light trying to get home. As we came around a point of land, and sailed out of its wind shadow, the air became fiercer, the chop larger and white-capped, and the sailing dicier. We called the kids back into the cockpit. “If you want to be up on the bow, you need to wear a live vest.” They opted to stay in the back with us.

As we approached the opening of the river into the bay, we began to feel unsafe. Egretta heeled and snapped up, heeled and snapped up. We were getting knocked around by gusts and heavy chop, and my husband sat up on the combing with his hat straining at the chin strap as the wind tried to tear it off his head. His face was grave and skippering was a strain. After conversations that morning about having never practiced capsizing in safe conditions so we’d know what to do in an emergency, we looked at each other and knew it was dumb to take risks, at sunset, with the kids on board, in rougher wind and water than we were accustomed to.

We turned around to head back into the protection of the river, and a few minutes later our son was back up on the foredeck and our minds at ease. In the distance, I’m not sure how far — maybe a mile? maybe two miles? — stood a huge white-columned house. It emerged from the trees ahead like a mansion-sized Jefferson Memorial. I wanted to see it up close. Near it, on the water, was a double-masted boat my husband wanted to see. We sailed fast with the wind at our backs, running at the same speed as the waves on the river.

Running fast was fun, and we kept saying “Just a little bit further.” But the sun dropped with every minute, and ominous weather swept up the river behind us. We’d have to beat back into the wind to get home, and the storm would bring erratic blasts (or no wind at all). Finally, with the columned house and the double-masted boat still distant, we turned around.

As we did, and we watched ourselves approach the rain that dropped like jellyfish tentacles from dark clouds, and the chop was up and the sailing wet, all of us in the cockpit and the kids hyper with the excitement of the wind and storm and sloppy water and the hour and dark clouds and sun dropping, playing some game by tapping each others’ knees, our son staying quiet as he does, and our daughter getting shrill and cackly and hyper-talky like she does, as we did all of these things, as we headed into the dark sky and imminent downpour like fog on the river, as we headed towards a curtain of rain, a rainbow appeared.

rainbow sail golden light on bow_2856
Sunset on our bow as we steered toward the end of the rainbow(s)

Egretta‘s deck and sails shone yellow-orange in the dropping light of sunset, the rainbow glowed bright as it landed first on the starboard bank of the river, then touched down on the water near the bank on our port beam. The wind was gusting now, knocking us around again, and as we neared the entrance to our airbnb’s inlet, I uncoiled and uncleated the halyard, my husband released the mainsheet, and we the had the cleanest pulldown of the mainsail I think we’ve accomplished to date. If we fumbled any part of it, I don’t remember it.

The sky started spitting, my glasses speckled with sprinkles, and the rainbow completed its arc: a full bow arched over the river, like a gateway that if we sailed through it, we’d turn into unicorns or enter an alternate dimension. I felt like we could have been in a scene from Lord of the Rings.

rainbow over sail_2857
We were too close for me to get the whole rainbow in the frame

We saw both of the rainbow’s landing points, unobscured: the actual ends of the rainbow. They were so clear we felt we could sail up to them and touch them.

rainbow end and bright white sail
Sunset behind us, rainbow ahead

We motored into the sheltered cove of our airbnb, laughing and grinning and giddy with our luck. The storm never touched us, but we got to see its rainbow.

In the shower that evening, the ground shifted under me like the floor was floating. I swayed on sea legs in the clawed tub. There were no walls to grab onto, nor any shrouds. After three sails in two days, I smiled and wanted more. I wanted to be back on the water. The rainbow sunset sail was the perfect close to our first foray into salt water with our little Egretta.

Evening sail, skippering fail

Boat: O’day Daysailer
Location: Claytor Lake, VA
Time: 4pm – 8:30pm
Conditions: ~77°F, light breeze turning gusty and swirly

After a cold front blew through Friday night, we opted to take a Saturday evening sail to let the wind die down during the early part of the day. We wanted to be able to spend as much time on the water as we wanted, so we stopped by the Kroger deli and bought picnic foods to take on the water with us: fried chicken nuggets for the kids, chicken salad for my husband and me, and fruit for all of us.

We stepped the mast and attached the mainsail in the boat launch parking lot, flaking the sail to avoid twisting when we hoisted it. We forgot the battens, which was annoying and meant the leech of the sail would flap instead of hold its shape. Aside from that, though, my husband has organized the gear for easier stowage in the cabin: a bucket with the fenders, dock lines, and hand pump; a bin with tools, first aid kit, flares, whistle, dry box, paper towels, and various supplies; a bin with the anchor, extra lines, and throw cushions; dry bags with towels, sweatshirts, and fleeces; and our L.L. Bean bag with snacks, goggles, water bottles, and glasses cases.

After launching, we motored out, and as it has on all of our previous sails in this boat, the centerboard wouldn’t drop down. Our daughter jumped in with goggles, swam under the boat, and pulled it down. Then our son decided he wanted to swim too, so he jumped in. And then I decided a swim sounded lovely, so I jumped in, too. It was strange for the water to not be salty.

Once we had all cooled off, we fumbled back in over the gunwale, dried off, and made ready to sail. My husband replaced all the crusty, dried, algae-coated lines with fresh soft ones, making it much more pleasant to handle the halyards, and hoisting the mainsail was much easier with the sail already on the boom and flaked so that all we had to do on the water was attach the halyard to the head of the sail, feed the luff into the mast, and haul. Our daughter and I hoisted the jib next, and we were sailing.

mainsail and shore
Underway
As crew, I felt the wind steady and easy. We didn’t need to maneuver a lot, the boat didn’t heel, lurch, or stall unexpectedly, and the kids lay on the foredeck when they weren’t in the cockpit crewing or eating popcorn chicken. I made myself a chicken salad sandwich and ate as the wind pushed us from behind down the lake.

When we ran out of lake, I was ready to take over as skipper so my husband could eat — my first time skippering our new boat — and as soon as we had turned into the wind to beat back up the lake, I took over the helm.

And everything fell apart.

When we turned, we had been sailing back up the lake into the wind. Now, somehow the wind was behind us and we were in danger of accidentally jibing. The wind had changed directions completely, and I was not prepared to make instant adjustments. It became clear to me quickly that I do not have an instinct for sailing. My mood darkened, and my feeling of self-worth plummeted. My husband tried to coach me through how to handle the boat in the shifting wind, but I kept steering it in the wrong direction, adjusting the sails wrong, and stalling the boat. My brain shut down, I couldn’t adapt, and I ended up giving the tiller back to my husband while I went to a corner and felt horrible about myself.

As quickly as I had stalled the boat, he got it going again. It was a fast, windy, and tippy ride back up the lake, with gusts that pushed us over quickly enough that the kids had to grab the edge of the bow to keep from sliding off. I made my husband a sandwich, and he navigated us through the swirls and blasts without capsizing or stalling us. We raced through the water, sometimes feeling like we might get tossed in the drink, until we once again ran out of lake.

sail and kids on deck
Kids on the foredeck
We turned again and started making our way on a broad reach back towards the boat ramp. The sun was low now, and the wind seemed settled and steady when it was at our back. I was nervous about trying again and failing, but I need to learn how to do this, and I need to practice so I can build instinct for when conditions shift.

Before I took the tiller, we talked through the current wind direction, what to do if the wind shifted in this direction or that direction, when to use the sail to react and when to use the tiller to react. I took the helm with confidence after that, and I sailed us back to the ramp, where I turned us to the wind so we could lower the sails.

I skippered maybe 20-30 minutes of our four and a half hour sail. My husband’s hands ache today from grasping the tiller and the mainsheet for so long. Next time I can help more. Little by little, I’ll get there.

cockpit and kids on deck
Cockpit

July 30: beautiful day to sail

It occurs to me that I should record weather conditions if this is to be a useful sailing log. My husband is keeping a log, too, and I’m sure his is much more practical while mine is a bunch of words and feelings.

It was a beautiful day to sail though. The sky was a crystalline blue, almost an autumn sky, with no clouds at all when we launched at about 2:00pm, and with just a couple of tiny puffs when we returned around 5pm.

This sail I made all sorts of blunders without even skippering the boat. I almost hoisted the mainsail without the battens, and after putting them in while the sail was attached to the boom, our daughter and I started to raise it and realized the sail was twisted, we lowered it, untwisted it, and raised it again.

I couldn’t remember what anything was called. My husband would tell me to pull the sail by the luff, and I wouldn’t remember which part of the sail the luff was. Or the foot, or the head.

When we hoisted the jib, once we got it all the way up, we saw the halyard was twisted at the top. We had to lower it again. And when we brought the jib down at the end of the sail, I was so proud of remembering how to do it, and then I realized I hadn’t secured the loose end of the halyard, so its bundle hung from the mast, swaying and making us look lubberly. (I am totally lubberly, though my husband is not).

I couldn’t remember how to bundle the lines neatly, either, and as my husband tried to tell me with words, I couldn’t remember any of the knot terminology Working end? Bitter end? What are those?

Aside from all the many gaffes that made me feel like an idiot, the voyage itself was glorious. We were fast, and at times sat ont he gunwale to balance the heeling of the boat. Our son didn’t join us — he had just returned from soccer camp and was tired — but our daughter and I tried our best to crew.

The yawl didn’t have the same rigging as this boat — there were no halyards, no big boom, the sails weren’t hoisted but were already attached to the masts. Lines didn’t need to be stowed since we were using them all. I’m glad we have a more common rig now so I can get used to all of this.

We got a(nother) sailboat

When I arrived home from Portland, Oregon, after a weekend away for work, I found a new sailboat in front of our house: a 17′ O’Day DaySailer. I knew it would be there — my husband had texted me pictures — and I was so happy to find it under the moonlight in the driveway when the taxi dropped me off after midnight.

Finally, we have a boat that our family of four can voyage in together.

Our previous setup consisted of a tiny wooden yawl that a maximum of 3 of us could sail in together, which means at least one person was always left behind, and usually two. We (meaning everyone in our household but me) then built a canoe for whoever wasn’t on the sailboat. The problem is that this meant we had to carry and launch two boats, and conditions that were good for the canoe were not good for the sailboat. We wound up never taking both boats out together, which means that as a family, we were not able to all four boat together.

This little sailboat has changed all of that.

We took her out last night on Claytor Lake, and she performed beautifully. Everything was easy compared to the yawl. We had room to spread out, we didn’t have to sit in water on the floor, we could stand in the cockpit, and moving our bodies didn’t make it feel like we were going to flip the boat.

We motored away from the launch ramp, giving us more control than rowing, and once we puttered out into the open lake, the kids jumped out and swam while my husband and I organized the sails and the rigging. They climbed in near the stern and jumped off the bow, splashing and swimming away from the crowds.

When we were ready to hoist the mainsail, we called the kids back into the boat, and as soon as the sail was up, we were sailing. It pretty much sailed itself.

daysailer mainsail yellow orange brown
Mainsail
The rigging is quite different from the yawl. We will need to practice a few times to get everything set up properly on our first try, making sure the centerboard is down, rigging the mainsheet and boom without injuries, and sorting the jib sheets so they don’t tangle.

When we had the mainsail under control and I raised the jib, the little boat zipped across the water. We were across the lake before we had even gotten comfortable — more quickly than we’d ever gotten halfway across the lake in the yawl. I’m glad we didn’t get anything bigger, as the lake might start to feel pretty small.

daysailer main and jib
Jib
The kids love this boat like they never loved the yawl. They love being able to help rather than just feeling like they were in the way. They got to crew when we tacked, releasing one jibsheet and pulling the other one in. And they (and I) appreciated the comfort of benches to sit on and the convenience of stowing food and towels in the small cabin.

daysailer daughter on deck
Daughter on the bow
This boat is going to be a source of great joy for our family. We only sailed for about an hour, but it was a great chance to start getting to know the boat. We pulled down the sails and motored in while the sun was setting, and I can’t wait for next time when we can spend more time and really sail.

daysailer sunset
Sunset sail

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”

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.

Because one boat wasn't enough

Originally published on Butterfly Mind.

In the beginning of the summer, we bought a little wooden yawl. We knew when we bought it that it wouldn’t hold our family of four. So the most practical thing to do, since we can’t all fit in the first boat, is to build a second boat, right? So that the two people who aren’t in the sailboat have their own little boat to play in?

Yep, that’s what we thought, too. The kids love canoeing, my husband loves wooden boats, and with wooden boat kits from Chesapeake Light Craft, we thought it would be fun for the kids to help build our second boat.

They are having the time of their lives. Every weekend, our daughter asks, “Dad, are you working on the canoe?” She pouts when he works on it without her.

The kids have stitched wood, glued, clamped, sanded, applied fiberglass, and epoxied. I’ve even received text messages with videos of our daughter using power tools.

I’m not sure when the boat will be ready for launch, but it’s sure going to be a pretty canoe. I can’t wait for the kids to take me out in it.