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.
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.
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.