Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sailing Like Gentlemen

The fact is, when people tell you they're "going sailing" they are in point of fact "going motoring." Landlubbers are frequently astonished to learn sailboats have engines at all. I refrain from pointing out that technically speaking a sailboat is known to the authorities as an "auxiliary sailboat." That is to say, it has an engine to help things along when the breezes fails. Which is quite often as it happens. Furthermore most people know that a sailboat can't sail straight into the wind, so there is an arc of about one hundred degrees wherein you have to use your auxiliary to make progress. For those of you trigonometrically challenged there are three hundred and sixty degrees in a circle so a sailboat can only sail in approximately 260 of them at any one time. If you start to add up the amount of time the wind isn't blowing with the amount of time you want to go in the direction from which the wind is blowing you discover to the amazement of the sailing novice that more often than not the engine is running while the auxiliary sailboat is under way. Which thought puts me in mind of sails I have taken and enjoyed..
......................................................... Racing Catalina 22. ..............................................................

My wife had been out sailing before I met her and after we got married I hatched a great plan to get her back out on the water. We bought a Catalina 22, a basic modest sailboat with a large open area (cockpit) and a small cabin. It was well used but came with a competent 7.5 horsepower Honda outboard to provide the critical auxiliary power. I got in the habit of quitting work in the afternoon (I was the morning news reader at a radio station which got me out of bed at an ungodly hour) and instead of taking a nap I rode my Yamaha down to the harbor and took my Catalina out of the slip. It was a perfect boat for one, easy to handle and no trouble at all. By early afternoon in summer the northwest winds are howling down the California coast produces big waves and bigger swells and giving the warm air a cool breath from the icy ocean waters up north.

.........................................................Capitola, California..................................................................
Outside the exposed entrance to the Santa Cruz harbor lies a point known as Steamer Lane famous in surfing circles and this knob of land gives meager protection to small boats sailing between the harbor and municipal wharf a half mile to the north. My plan was to turn south to Capitola five miles away, sail south with the northeast winds behind me, drift through the anchorage looking at boats in the protected waters off Capitola Beach, and by the time boredom set in the evening land breeze would kick in producing east winds out of the Salinas Valley. Those evening breezes pushed me back to the harbor before dark, where I could step off the boat and be home before my wife got out of her law office. ...............................................Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor Entrance........................................

One Sunday afternoon after I'd had the boat a little while we both went sailing. The wind was honking but I was confident we'd have a pleasant afternoon out on the water. We motored out through the harbor breakwaters our mainsail (the one at the back) reflecting white in the pale afternoon sun and as soon as were out I put the tiller between my legs and raised the foresail (the one in front) quickly and efficently. I pushed the tiller to the left, turned the boat to the beach and allowed the sails to fill. I turned around to turn off the outboard and pull it out of the water ( for greater sailing efficency) when I felt the Catalina heel (lean) sharply. The wind was kicking up. By the time I was facing forwards the boat was creaming towards the beach both sails ballooning from the force of the wind that was now blowing from astern (from the back). Shit! I said out loud to a sharp look from my wife. Oh nothing dear. I threw the tiller over and let the sheets go, the sails ballooned some more as the ropes keeping them taut suddenly went slack, and the boat turned back towards the wharf.

.............................................................Santa Cruz Wharf...................................................................

I pulled in the sheets tightening up the sails. The boat started to heel most alarmingly. We ploughed wildly towards the wharf, pushing aside the waves thundering underneath heading towards crashing destruction on the beach to our right. The boat leaned over further and further, my wife's eyes got bigger and bigger and pretty soon we were standing almost vertically in the boat, leaning back against the bench with our feet braced on the opposite side of the cockpit. I held the sheets in my hands, ready to let go and release them from their respective clamps should things get any stronger. The tiller was fighting me like a very annoyed mule kicking me in the groin and swinging wildly keeping time with the waves pushing under the boat. Great isn't it? I said through gritted teeth but my wife's brain power was taken up by what was showing through her eyes and she could only nod mutely. I wondered what to do next. The usual northwest wind had obviously backed a little and instead of being deflected by the headland was blowing straight into the harbor mouth and pushing all before it. The Catalina kept going and I watched the rigging wondering which piece would go first under the awful strain and awhat would I do when it did.

And then suddenly we were in the wind shadow, the lee of the point and rather than go crashing helpless into the side of the wharf we levelled off and started to slow down. I threw the tiller over as soon as we regained our footing, took a tack around the end of the wharf and sailed splendidly into the calm blue waters off Cowell's Beach. Families were picnicing, toddlers were splashing in the tiddler sized wavelets lapping the sand. All was well with the world. My wife grinned at me and said that was fun. I would have been scared if you hadn't loooked so happy. For once in my life I was tongue tied and limited myself to nodding cheerfully while I tried to look busy with the slack sails and dormant tiller. It was years before I told her it was among the hairiest rides I'd ever taken. Previously, sailing single handed I had composed myself to die like a gentleman as suggested in the sailing literature, whenever things got out of hand. My wife made it clear she has never had any ambition to die like a gentleman, and would appreciate my cooperation in seeing to it. Thus it was we motored a lot more and sailed a lot less than we might have done and I found it easy not to blame myself for our motoring habit. I was just being a good spouse I'd tell myself as I reached for the starter button, suppressing the innate adventurer as I rolled up the foresail, who would otherwise much prefer, he says, to sail on his ear.

(Photos are stock non copyright photos as I have temporarily mislaid my own supply of sailing pictures.)