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?)


  1. I love reading this blog, thanks! It's encouraging to me to get out and sail more, even when the weather is not perfect. Thanks again Mike.

  2. Other than in these conditions, how do you like the Idasailor rudder? I'm debating between that one and another balanced rudder.

  3. "Captain Falstaff" - ROTFL!

  4. @John - glad you are enjoying the blog and I hope you live somewhere that lets you sail more this time of year!
    @Nate - The Idasailor Kickup rudder has been well worth it. I had an unbalanced rudder before, and just having a balanced rudder makes sailing so much easier. Except under weird conditions like this night, I can easily leave the tiller for a minute to run down into the cabin or up on deck without having to tie it off. And the kickup is fantastic. Between that and the sing keel I dare explore pretty close to shore when I want.
    @JRig - Ok, I know he wasn't a Captain, but the sentiment is the same.
    @Cat25Guy - Excellent idea, thanks!