Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Don’t Do What I Did

October 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Don't Do What I DidDuring all of my years on the water, I focused on power boating. My parents owned a 21-foot cuddy cabin when I was growing up, and I’ve owned boats of my own from 16 to 37 feet.  Before buying my current boat with twin engines, the boats I owned were single engine outboards and inboards.

My shoulders tense even now as I recall how difficult my single inboard 30-foot Revelcraft could be when we were returning to the dock. It would only turn in one direction in reverse, and that was never the direction I needed it to be.  Of course, docking her became even worse as the winds kicked up.  Other boaters would yell at me, “Hey, you need to learn to dock a boat!” I’d reply, “You come try to dock this boat with one engine.”

I remember the day my wife and I picked up our 37-foot Silverton; the expression on her face seemed to be asking, How the heck are you going to be able to dock this boat given the issues with our last boat?   My confident look didn’t sway her, but my perfect alignment of boat and dock convinced her.

Even as I homed my skills with powerboats, I was intrigued by sailing. I’d only gone sailing once, when a friend invited me on her parents’ 30-foot sailboat.  There was only a very light breeze that day — not enough to propel the boat to its intended destination in any reasonable time.  I was amazed by how much energy the family spent setting and then changing sails as they expressed their determination not to use the engine. Maybe they thought that I’d be disappointed in having to surrender to the motor?  I don’t know, but after a considerable amount of time, they reluctantly yielded and engaged the sailboat’s small inboard engine to get us back to land.

That lackluster experience didn’t diminish the lure of sailing for me, and so after many years of power boating, I recently bought a sail kit for my eight-foot Walker Bay dingy.  After rigging the boat, I was ready to go sailing… or so I thought.

On my first adventure, I launched the boat from the dock, turning to the west as the wind was coming from the east. The sail caught the wind and my Walker Bay was moving forward — wow, this is fun!  A few minutes later I tried turning to the starboard, or reach, a sailing term that I’ve since learned.  That’s when I realized that controlling a sailboat wasn’t as simple as turning the rudder (tiller). I lost the wind and the boat slowed down.

By trimming the sail, the boat started to move forward again — about 70 feet! I tried to tack to the right and found myself heading straight for some docked boats.  Concerned that the sail would get caught up in an anchor on a bow pulpit, I stood up and fended my boat off the others one by one.  Exhausted, frustrated, and a bit rattled, the boat and I returned to the launch area.  Wow, sailing was certainly a lot more work and a lot less exciting than I’d anticipated.

The obvious point of this tale is that attempting to sail solo without any real understanding of technique or acquiring skills is foolhardy.  Not only is there an art to sailing, there is also a science of how to set the sail, tiller, and the boat’s position to utilize and actually take advantage of the wind.  I should have taken some lessons focused on skills and safety considerations and gone out a few times with a seasoned sailor.  Only then should I have practiced on my own in the open water. What was I thinking trying to sail for the first time in a marina surrounded by many boats with all those protruding hazards?

Finally, just like my friend’s parents all those years ago, I should have had an alternative method of propelling the boat back to where I started.

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