The weather has been up and down lately: 40 degrees and 20 knot winds one day, 55 degrees and calm the next. The weather was looking good for a sail last Friday, and since I was on a flex day from work, we decided to take Egretta for one last sail on Claytor Lake before putting her away for the season.
The sky was brilliant blue, that crystal clear, I-can-see-forever sky that only fall and winter bring. The November trees contrasted against it in gorgeous yellows and oranges.
The lake had been lowered significantly, maybe 5-7 feet, for dam maintenance. We used the public ramp, as the state park warned that the ramp we usually used would be too dry to launch a boat. Launching was challenging as we had to climb down a ladder to step onto the boat once we launched it. The dock was 2-3 above our heads when standing on the deck of the boat. Retrieving was even harder. Holding a bowline from 10 feet above and trying to manuever the boat with only a line was not easy.
Out on the lake, the world and the water were silent. We were on a different part of the lake than usual, which I loved. We were able to sail along some of the cliffs of Claytor Lake, which until now we haven’t accessed in our sailboat.
With the exception of the occasional lawn mower or cawing of a crow, there were no sounds. The lake was like a liquid mirror. Somehow there was enough air to move our boat while barely rippling the surface, and for the first time I recall, we glided through the water in silence: no gurgles, no sloshing, no mushing or slapping. The only time our movement made any sound was when we crossed a small boat wake and the tiny waves tinkled against the bow hull.
We were wrapped in tall socks, jeans, fleeces and light windbreakers, and with no wind and clear air, the sun was warm on our clothes at 3pm. As soon as the sun started dropping, it got cold fast. By the time we returned to the dock, my hands and feet were numb.
On land at the ramp, Brian pulled all the halyards out of the mast to stow for the season. No more sailing until spring :-(.
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.
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.
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.
DaySailer before our first sail
Ready to launch
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.