Finally, I went sailing with the idea of practicing in stronger breeze. I reconnected with the usual conditions of the San Francisco Coast. Wind was between 15-26 kts during the whole afternoon and soon a thick fog joined us.
Read on for a fun graphical at the end.
Slip those lines!
Getting out of the slip solo proved harder than I thought. There was a constant 12-14 kts wind blowing me into the dock. Changabang has a lot of freeboard, and with the mainsail rigged and ready to hoist to boost, we presented a lof of windage. My first idea was to push the boat hard off the dock, jump on the boat, and power out. Well, that didn’t work. Changabang was now about half way out of her slip and still against the dock. I doubled the stern line to a cleat, and started motoring in reverse. Ever so slowly Changabang started to point up against the wind. More power, a little more. More power still and I am starting to feel good that I may have enough leeway to get out of the slip without dragging along the dock.
Switch to neutral, forward, power up, let go of the dock line. Boom we’re out, powering straight for the boats on the other side of the fairway. Slow down, get the line back in, turn and voilà: “en route pour de nouvelles aventures”!
Hoist them sails
After motoring out of the harbor and into the ocean, it’s time to hoist sails. I’m not sure what the boat can take in the forecast conditions, 20-25 kts from NNW. So the mainsail goes all the way up. Next, since the solent is rigged, it goes up too (while going downwind to depower it). As I start going upwind it becomes quickly clear that the solent is too much for today, at least without using the ballasts, which I don’t plan to use just yet. I want to learn to sail without them first. Who knows, they may be converted to water reservoirs!
So it’s back downwind and the solent goes down. I pick up the old dacron staysail, rig it. Now, it’s quite a process working at the bow with the boat slamming into the waves and sometimes fairly large rollers. So I start using my tether. As I am working at the bow I pick up the upper lifeline for a good handhold and … it lets go! There was a small lashing where there should have been a stainless steel pin, and it broke. So it’s time to look for a bit of dyneema line for a temporary lashing.
Then we’re ready to hoist, which goes just fine (except that later I’ll discover that I had the halyard twisted once on the removable headstay … live and learn!). For today, my work on the halyard repair seems to hold (I sewed a 48 plaits Dyneema chafe sleeve over the chafed cover).
Yeah, the only way from here is up
I can’t say that anything went wrong. But there’s lots of work to do here. As the afternoon progressed the wind picked up, reefs went up. We were down to 3 reefs in 25 kts. And then the fog kicked in. We made it almost to the San Francisco South Traffic Lane Lighted Bell Buoy, and then turned around. Here are a few findings:
- Anticipation is key with these boats, especially as the wind goes up. We were getting to the point where the staysail was a little too much. It can be reefed, but how? Drop it to deck level, to leeward, while it’s blowing 30 kts apparent, and the boat is healing 25 degrees and slamming? That’d be interesting.
- Reefing the mainsail is a process that I feel I have a good handle on, comparatively that is.
- As the day progressed I started having cramps in biceps, triceps, hands. The physique is not where it needs to be!
- We were not hitting the polars but we were not doing too bad either. However, as soon as the boat starts slamming it is very important to keep the speed up. There were (too long) moments spent doing 3-5 kts for a while, trying to get back up to speed.
- Tacking, so easy. Not. The process I have put down only works so so. I have to cross-sheet the jib sheets as the primary winches are also used for the running backstays. So it goes like this. Preparation: cross-sheet active jib sheet to the opposite halyard winch, prepare lazy running backstay, prepare the active backstay for release. Execution: winch up lazy running backstay, hit tack on autopilot, release active running backstay. Clean up: release active jib sheet (the jib is now backwinded) and trim on the opposite side.
- What’s wrong with the picture above? I shouldn’t be backwinded with my jib. I think the autopilot tacking speed is too fast. That or I need to move the running backstay work upstream (i.e. sail with both on while tacking).
- Everything is slow, partly because my fitness is not in line with the needs, partly because I’m learning, partly because everything is big and I’m solo. I’ll say it again: anticipation is key. It’s not good being caught with the wrong sail up on these boats.
Check out this quick video on Youtube of us sailing upwind at the beginning of the afternoon.
I’m now fairly tired, cramping up, and completely wet. I was reminded that sailing off the Pacific Coast often means cold, wet and tired. I won’t say that I had flashbacks of my practice days with Double Espresso but I might as well (there, just did it). Despite the high freeboard of Changabang, water was still finding its way over. So, around 5PM I decided to turn around and sail back home. I had not the energy to do anything special going downwind so we were slow with the staysail and 3 reefs. Of, and we did a jibe. As time passed, I went on to shake the reefs, arriving with a full mainsail. It’s still blowing 15-19 kts, and the idea of docking in those conditions solo starts bothering me.
The saysail goes down, and is secured to the deck. The engine comes alive (yeah!). I must say that, for now, the most troubling thought about Changabang is: what would I do if the engine died and I’m making my entrance into port (or we’re anywhere close to trouble, really: a beach, a rock jetty, other boats). The mainsail goes down. We make our approach to the marina, rig the docking lines and fenders. In the marina itself, the wind is still above 13 kts, gusting 16-18, and it’s actually coming from astern and into the docks. What this means is that when I’ll slow down in the fairway and start backing the boat I’ll be blown fairly quickly into the opposite docks. So I turn into the wind, power up in reverse. Pfew, tragedy averted, we’re looking good. Slowly motoring into my slip, not hitting anything. We’re half way into the slip, idle in reverse, the wind stops us, and we drift into the docks. Quick, jump, grab a line, get organized. The boat is still in idle in reverse. I man handle her into the slip. All is good!
It’s not over until …
The boat is tidy and the sailor is home. It’s getting dark now. Tidy up the dock lines. Stow the solent back into its bag. Secure the staysail as it will stay out for the night. Cover the mainsail. Tidy more loose ends. And it’s 9:45PM when I get home. A good day, a very good day! I was so tired, I couldn’t sleep that night!
Here’s another video of the afternoon.
Everywhere I look there’s something wrong. It’s fairly obvious that I am not likely to leave with a boat that is perfect; the money is not there for that. I hope that we will be ready enough. And then it will be up to the “spinning wheel”.