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.

Becoming crew

I began my new goal today: to master my role as crew. I began it on land, with the mainsail. Every time I raise it, without fail, something goes wrong: I’ve forgotten to untie the downhaul, I’ve forgotten to feed the bolt rope into the mast, my husband has forgotten to uncleat the mainsheet, I’ve tangled lines. I’ll start hauling and then I shred my hands on the halyard, yanking and grunting despite the sail’s head being stuck halfway up the mast.

On land, with my husband and coffee and pen and paper, on the porch of our airbnb while the kids were still asleep, we thought through, talked through, and I wrote notes to help me understand every force acting on the mainsail and boom, and everything that needs to happen for me to raise and lower the sail. As Brian reminded me, conditions will be different every time we hoist the sails, so the routine can’t be a memorized set of steps, it must take into account the constant question of forces — if I uncleat this, what will fly loose? If pull this, what will happen? If I meet resistance, where are the places to look for the blockage?

notes about mainsail hoisting forces lines
Lines attached to the mainsail, and the directions they pull it

The ultimate goal is to get the sail raised and the luff taut: get the head to the top of the mast, then pull the luff taut by tightening the downhaul, then loosening the topping lift so the boom falls to its proper place.

The basic steps to raising the sail, one of which I almost always forget, are these:

  1. Wait for the okay from the skipper.
  2. Attach the halyard to the head of the sail. Make sure it’s not tangled in any other lines.
  3. Release the mainsheet and downhaul.
  4. Feed the bolt rope into the mast.
  5. Haul.
  6. Cleat the halyard.
  7. Coil and stow the remaining line.
  8. Sail.

For lowering, the steps are slightly different and are not necessarily the opposite of what to do when raising:

  1. Wait for okay from the skipper.
  2. Remove halyard end from stowage; uncoil it and make sure end is loose.
  3. Prepare passengers and ask them to keep the sail in the boat as it comes down.
  4. Uncleat the topping lift, find the end of the line, and cleat it at the end of the line.
  5. Release mainsheet.
  6. Find the end of halyard, uncleat halyard, hold it steady, and cleat it at it’s end to avoid losing the halyard in the mast.
  7. Notify everyone on board that boom will come down as you lower.
  8. Begin slowly so boom lowers gently into cockpit, making sure to pull bolt rope out of mast.
  9. Lower sail quickly by pulling on canvas and bolt rope; keep bolt rope in hand to avoid the sail getting loose when it’s free of the mast. Remind passengers to keep sail in boat.
  10. Detach halyard from head of sail.

After talking all that through, I was eager to begin, but the kids were still asleep. When they finally woke, they were gummy eyed and hungry and weren’t ready to sail. Brian and I had been up for hours and really wanted to get out on the water, though. So we went alone.

I was able to practice raising the main while thinking through all the components rather than just doing random things and hoping for the best. The sail still got stuck halfway up — on the topping lift, the lines were crossed — but I saw it, took care of it, and everything was fine. Then one of my knots slipped and the mainsail started sinking down the mast. Again I saw it, took care of it, and everything was fine. I raised the jib, successfully checking for crossed lines and twists in the sail, and tidied all the lines on deck before taking my place at the jibsheets in the cockpit.

Once we were underway, in perfect wind for our boat, cruising along at a fast clip, I was true crew, trimming the jib, adjusing lines on the mast, watching for crab pots and sea life. It’s a lot easier to focus and pay attention when the kids aren’t on board. When they’re aboard I default to Mom mode instead of crew mode. It’s also a lot more crowded when they join us, and Egretta more sluggish, and the freedom of an open cockpit and speeding along with wind and salt water exhilerated me.

We sailed about two hours and I didn’t want to come back in. The jib sheet kept getting caught on the pin at the base of the mast when we tacked, and before we turned to go home, Brian said, “Should we practice two more tacks and then head back?”

“Yes,” I said, and prepared to come around.

We repeated our “practice tacks” four more times before finally admitting we really did need to get back. We sailed in on a beam reach and got up onto a plane. We were surfing on our own wake. It was glorious, and I am in love.

I wrote about the story leading up to this post, about falling in love with sailing and Egretta on my main blog, Butterfly Mind.

First sail in Chesapeake waters

North River and Mobjack Bay
Boat: O’day Daysailer
Location: North River, Gloucester, VA
Time: ~2pm – 5pm
Conditions: ~82°F, light breeze

We took a couple of days off of work to get out of the mountains and east to the Chesapeake so we could sail in salt water and rename our boat. We launched from the ramp at Mobjack Bay Marina, then brought the boat across the North River to the dock at our Airbnb.

before the renaming_2802
Ready to go

It was a risk coming in October. We had no idea what the weather might bring. We lucked out with sunny skies, plenty of breezes, and warm weather. Continue reading “First sail in Chesapeake waters”