20 November 2011

Circumnavigating Utah Lake Day 2

(Click here if you missed day 1 of this sailing adventure.)  The fall air is really cool in the morning, and the marina is very quiet.  A little too quiet.  Oh wait, it's late October, we've already had snow in the mountains.  No one is out on the lake this morning!

Nothing will hold my intrepid crew back from day 2 of our epic circumnavigation in our Catalina 25 (of Utah Lake...)

This morning we're at the northeast-most corner of the lake, preparing to head west.  We steel our minds to the rigors of the journey ahead.  Doubtless it will be fraught with perilous light winds, the lure of exotic ports, and hardscrabble subsistence on the ship's supply of beef jerky, m&ms, licorice, and cooler full of bottled drinks.  Lesser men (and women) would feign attempt such a journey.

Eventually a couple comes down to fish from the docks, spending more time watching us get ready to set sail than actually fishing.  It was pretty warm in the boat last night.  The external temperature dropped into the 30s this morning, but the boat was warm with light sleeping bags.  A big part of staying warm is just staying out of the wind.  A truth not exactly congruent with sailing.

The wind will pick up this morning as the sun starts to peek over the mountains, sending strong breezes down the canyons.  We decide to hurry and get underway so we can catch all available wind.  The forecast is calling for fairly settled conditions later in the day, and we have a long way to go.  Breakfast consists of granola bars and apples so we don't have to cook.

Soon the canyon breeze kicks in from directly astern.  This is a fun point of sail called "wing and wing" sailing.  Basically, you want one sail out on one side of the boat, and the other out the other side to catch every puff of wind available.  So we pull the boom far out to starboard and pole out the genoa to port.  We're making good time now, but we realize that as soon as the canyon breeze is over, its going to be a slow day.

The boat moves along nicely for a couple miles, and its starting to warm up.  I'd better go down below and shed the polypro base layer I wore overnight so that I don't start smoldering.  

That's when the unthinkable happened aboard the unsinkable.  The sails fluttered.  I felt the floor of the cabin go from slightly-tilted-forward to level.  The canyon winds were done.

Becalmed.  An eerie calm sets over the crew now.  As captain, I grow concerned, knowing that in sailing history there were many examples of crews going nearly crazy after days and weeks of sitting idly in the middle of the ocean with no wind.  Restless, and with dwindling supplies, the crews would eventually blame one of their own for the misfortune, and sacrifice them to whatever beings they thought would listen.  I was determined not to see that happen on my boat.

But then again, history also records a certain Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon in ancient Greece.  Sailing to the Trojan War, the Greek fleet found itself becalmed at Aulis.  The only way to sail on was for Agamemnon to sacrifice Iphigenia to Artemis.  We're all thinking about it, but no one says it, at first.  And then Zack says to Kate, "would you hand me another gatorade, Iphigenia?"

The rest is a blur to me.  And the mad scribblings in my logbook are nigh unintelligible.  Kate tells us that she had to barricade herself in the forward cabin because Zack and I started calling her Iphigenia more and more, and soon we were gathering the wood on the boat to build a sacrificial fire.  I wouldn't believe it, except Kate managed to snap the following picture of her loving father and captain at some point.  Near as I can tell, it isn't photoshopped.  Things must have been bad out there in the doldrums.

Fortunately, Iphigenia had the presence of mind to slip to the back of the boat and raise the one sail that could get us out of this predicament.  The Iron Genny.  Kate probably owes her life to the skilled sailmakers over at Tohatsu.  Finally underway again, Zack and I were able to return to our senses and continue the voyage to Saratoga Springs.

Eventually we made landfall at the Pelican Point Harbor.  It's obvious people don't see sailboats here very often.  They are lined up along the jetty walls fishing and everyone stops to watch us pull into the harbor and tie off.  There's something about an audience, a sailboat, and our egos that combine to inspire a little more flare in our docking skills.  Zack and Kate leap from the boat to the dock, dock lines trailing expertly in the air behind them as they fly.  Even my grip on the tiller seems more showman-like. We must demonstrate with every action the seamanship and nautical prowess that brought our ancestors across the Atlantic only 300 years ago.  Their salt runs in our veins.

There are beautiful homes along the lake here, with fantastic views of Mount Timpanogos and the lake.  The neighborhoods along the lake all boast nautically-themed street names and homes positioned to take in the lake's scenic views.  

Utah Lake was the gathering place for Native American tribes long before settlers came to the valley.  Tribes would come to the provo river each year as the fish would spawn to catch and dry fish, trade, and hunt along the lake's fertile shores.  The lake was originally called "Lake Timpanogos", a name that I would like to see return.

It's mid morning now and we decide we need some exercise.  Luckily Zack brought a frisbee.  Actually, it's probably not that lucky, because Zack is several inches taller than Kate and me, and his armspan is 3 inches longer than his height.  We don't stand a chance at beating Zack.  But it's a beautiful sunny day, and so the ultimate frisbee begins.  The exercise feels great, and the temperature is warm enough now that we shed our jackets and spend an hour running, throwing, and diving.  The light breeze is perfect for frisbee.

Eventually, we decide to get sailing again.  We have the longest stretch of the voyage ahead, and with little to no wind it will be a long sail to Lincoln Beach on the south end of Utah Lake.  

Such austere sailing conditions will require drastic measures.  So I order the crew to lash me to the tiller, just as a helmsman would have been lashed to the wheel while rounding the Horn in the Age of Sail.  Only in my case it was to keep the boat on course in case I fell asleep, not to prevent the helmsman from being swept overboard.

Utah Lake is 10-12 feet deep.  The advantage of being shallow is that the lake heats up quickly in the spring and stays comfortably warm all summer.  The down side is that even moderate windstorms can kick up fairly large waves which are problematic for low-slung powerboats and fishing boats, but actually provide a rather thrilling ride from the safety of a sailboat.  This tendency to build waves quickly provides a nice balance between the power boaters and sailors on the lake.  When the wind and waves pick up, the power boaters come in and the sailors set sail.  

With little wind today, that doesn't really seem to make a difference though.  Still, we sail on.  There are many important life lessons learned while sailing.  Sublime truths that are only available to those who dare cast off from the safety of shore and sail out into the unknown, carried by the winds and seas to discover the lessons of life known only to farers of the sea.  Sailing along all these hours, straining to adjust the sails and make maximum use out of every slight puff of light air, my son Zack uttered the following newly-formulated moral:

"Sometimes it's more important to go fast, than to get where you're trying to go."

Truer words were never spoken.  I just hope he doesn't take himself too seriously.

After passing Pelican Point, a small Peninsula jutting out from the lake's western shore, we settle in for the long voyage south.  With the exception of Pelican Point's moderate protection, there are no natural safe harbors on the lake.  We sail on, watching the distant orchards on the lake's south shore slowly get bigger.  There are several fishermen out this afternoon along the shore, I am struck with the brilliant idea of sailing in as close to the shore as we can.  I'm not sure if it was the humidity or the psychology of the sailor in light air, but that was my brilliant idea.  About 200 fee from shore, we ran aground.  

Running aground in a sailboat is the start of many humorous and sometimes tragic stories.  But not about the Catalina 25,  Unsinkable 2.  This boat is a swing keel, which means that the 1700 lbs. keel can be raised and lowered with a winch in the boat.  So when we run aground, some aboard simply raises the keel a few cranks, and we sail off into deeper water.

Around the corner from the orchards, we finally reach Lincoln Beach Harbor.  Lincoln Beach has several hot springs, and at different times has been developed into a resort.  Now it consists of a small harbor with picnic tables, restrooms, and a historical marker.  There is just one small dock in the harbor, intended for loading and unloading fishing passengers.

We've just about completed the circumnavigation.  The sail north back to Provo Harbor will take a few hours.  Our original plan had included a stop at Bird island, but with the high water this year, the island is completely submerged.

Doubtless, they will be raising a monument in honor of our historical circumnavigation these past 24 hours.  Until they do, this picture will have to suffice.  Zack stands triumphantly atop the concrete Lincoln Beach historical marker, with the trusty Unsinkable 2 waiting faithfully at the dock in the background.

We'll make this circumnavigation an annual festivity, hopefully on a weekend with a little more wind next year.

Circumnavigating Utah Lake Day 1

Tonight we set sail on a historic voyage to circumnavigate Utah Lake.  To our knowledge, no one has ever accomplished such a feat in a single voyage  We likely wont finish till sometime tomorrow afternoon. Add tacking, run-ins with natives along the hostile western shores, battles with herds of man-eating carp, the wind-blown wrath of mother nature, and the fury of Poseidon himself, and this will be an EPIC Voyage.

We're not just sailing along these exotic shores without immersing ourselves in the local culture along the way.  We will be setting foot in each of Utah Lake's 7 Ports of Call: We'll set sail from Provo Harbor, sail north to the Lindon Marina, American Fork Boat Harbor, sail across to the three harbors along the shores of Saratoga Springs (Community Harbor, Private Nautica Yacht Club, and the new Saratoga Springs Public Harbor).  We'll then sail south past Pelican Point all the way south to Lincoln Beach Harbor, before heading back to Provo with a stop at the fishing haven and only island on Utah Lake, Bird Island.

The winds are fair as we leave Provo Harbor and head north.  With wind out of the northwest, we decide to sail a few miles west, then we'll turn northeast and reach our first two harbors on a long beam reach.  Once we tack towards the northeast, we all settle down for a comfortable sail.  The water is splashing past the hull and the sails are full.  We're flying the big genoa for maximum speed tonight, as the winds are in the 5-8 knot range and we want as much speed as we can get.  The genoa is a 150, and made from a lighter-weight material so it fills easily in lighter winds.  By my cellphone's gps, we're doing about 5 knots most of the way.

Zack and Kate take advantage of the long tack to finish up school homework.  Which is probably another first: the first time someone has solved AP calculus problems while sailing a beam reach to American Fork Harbor.  I'll have to check the Guiness Book of World Records on that to be sure.

The sunset is beautiful tonight, and the sailing is sublime.  I have plenty of time to walk up on deck and take some videos and photos of the sunset.  The waves are fairly mild, so the sailing is pretty flat and very comfortable.  With the sun setting, the lights along the shoreside towns are coming to life, changing from distant colored blocks to sparkling white lights as the sky darkens.  It's a beautiful night.

Darkness fell just before we reached the American Fork Harbor, which was a small problem.  Without the ability to see the harbor in daylight, we had to sail by other landmarks.  Fortunately, you can find the Harbor by sailing towards the Mormon Temple in American Fork.  The temple is a beautiful building and is lit up at night.  Although several miles inland, it sits on a hill and is an easily distinguishable landmark.  

So we knew we were in the right vicinity now, but the harbor entrance is along a dark section of shoreline, and we really weren't to keen on the prospect of running aground while poking along the shore looking for the harbor entrance.  The red and green marker light had already been removed for the winter, and we hadn't sailed into this harbor in a couple years.  So I pulled out my cellphone, which thanks to a fantastic app called GaiaGPS, has completely replaced my handheld GPS.  (You can download GaiaGPS from the app store here.)  I navigated through the dark water using the cell phone's screen right into the harbor.  Here is an image of the boat passing through the marina opening (the shot was taken the next morning, since I was too busy steering the night before to grab a screen shot.  Also, I was zoomed in more than this the night before so there was no question how far away the jetty walls were).

Once in the harbor, the wind was blocked and the water was as smooth as glass.  We tied up to one of the docks and went ashore to stretch our legs.  Out on the windward side of the harbor wall, the wind is still blowing nicely, and its tempting to just keep sailing tonight.  We're hungry though, and I'm sure by the time we finish dinner we'll be tired.  Or ready for a movie.  I brought a laptop and a couple of great sailing movies like Master and Commander and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Dinner is a simple affair tonight.  (Teens are hardy sailors and easy to please).  Cup o Noodle soups and lots of snacks, and we're all warmed back up.

I forgot to bring the tripod, but want to get some shots of the boat in the harbor at night.  So I took these pictures, holding the camera as still as I can for a 6 second shutter time!  The water is really as flat as glass.  The red lights in the cabin are the great new LED lights I installed a couple winters ago.  They have a 2 way switch that turns on either red lights to protect your night vision, or white lights.  The LED is such a low draw on the battery, I only have to charge the battery once in spring and it lasts all summer with no real recharging needed.  (The outboard does recharge the battery, but the outboard is only run for about 5 minutes each trip just to get the boat in and out of the marina.)
Be sure and read the next thrilling post for day 2 of the Utah Lake Circumnavigation.

08 November 2011

A Windy Winter Night's Sail

I'm standing on deck, looking out over the last few boats in the empty marina.  It's November and most boats were hauled and winterized weeks ago.  Tonight the temperature is hovering just above freezing as a few drifting flakes of snow fall from the last passing storm system.  The sun set over an hour ago and now a blue, wintery moon crawls through the clouds into the cold night sky.  Winds are stiffening from 14 knots into the low 20's now.  I wonder, "110 Jib or Storm Jib?"

Tonight my son is bringing several college friends sailing.  One hurried final sail before the lake freezes over, so we are getting less picky about weather conditions.  If we don't sail tonight, we won't sail until the lake thaws next March.  With the semester ending in mid-April, there wouldn't be much chance of getting this group out sailing again.

Most of the friends are new to sailing, and with wind in the 20's the waves will be 5 to 6 feet high outside the harbor wall.  Though the crew is young and hearty, conditions call for caution.  As the HMS Shakespeare's Captain Falstaff said, "The better part of valor is discretion".

Storm Jib it is.

From a captain's perspective, tonight is almost one of those "do we sail or don't we" judgment calls.  We'd planned to set sail the hour before sunset, but hadn't realized that daylight savings would retire the sun an hour earlier tonight.  But with a storm jib, clearing sky, and mandatory life jackets for the crew we will be safe.  And no one balks at putting on the jackets, probably because they add an inch of foam insulation against the wintry air.

The waves build as expected at the harbor entrance, we can see the waves crashing into walls of cold silvery spray as they slam into the jetty.  It's a fun sail, although really cold.

The waves have built to a good height tonight, and the little storm jib carries us along at 4-5 knots in this wind.  I notice that my idasailor balanced rudder feels a little less balanced under these winds.  I can feel that the center of effort is very far forward.  That little storm jib is doing it's job!  The boat cuts cleanly through the large waves though, occasionally lifting far out of the water before slamming into the oncoming waves, sending the cold water splashing high into the cold dark air and onto the deck.  If the crew weren't freezing, I'd raise the main with a reef and spend several hours sailing tonight.  This is good sailing.

Note in the picture of me standing at the helm (showcasing my amazing ability to steer with one leg, which will come in handy should I lose my arms in a pirate raid one day), how windy it is.  You can see the strong wind over the port beam in the sideways-flying drawstring under the barbecue, and the heavy cable pigtail hanging at an angle from the rear stay (it's a stiff wire that normally never moves.)  Also you can see how far to leeward I have the tiller.  Normally the boat balances very nicely, but in 20 knots I am balancing out the foreward center of effort, so the tiller must be held to leeward to maintain our heading.

A mile and a half out from the harbor, I explain the process of tacking and prepare the crew.  "Tacking!"  But the wind in the storm sail keeps us from coming head to wind.  So I explain the process of jibing and prepare the crew.  With no main up, the jibe will be safe enough.  "Jibe Ho!"  We jibe back toward the marina, eventually covering several miles before we head back in an hour later.

It's fun meeting some of my son's friends I haven't met before. The conversation brings me back to college days, when the world was a blank slate and every decision would have consequences so far reaching into my future life I could never have understood at the time.  But somehow, things turn out alright.

Back at the dock, the crew goes below for hot chocolate as I stow the jib and get the boat put away for the night.  There's no heater on the boat, but just being down out of the wind really makes a difference, and they stay for another 45 minutes talking an laughing.  I'm sure proud of my son.  He's turned into a fine young man and is surrounded by good friends.

I neglected to bring my camera on this trip, so thanks to my son for serving as Bosun/Photographer.

(Do we really have to haul the boat out on Saturday?)