Thursday, January 29, 2009

A mid-week single-handed sail

I went sailing on Wednesday and, all in all, I had a pretty weird day.

Early in the morning I got the urge to get on the water. I knew the weather was supposed to be pretty decent and when I checked the web I was told it would be 80 degrees with winds 8.5 mph with gusts a tad higher. Practically perfect! Then I checked the tide charts to see how safe the Charlotte Harbor would be. According to the predictions low tide was at 10am and water levels would be just a couple of inches too low, but if I waited until 11:30 or the water would be several inches above the low chart depth and that would be no problem for me.

(Side note: charts all have soundings letting the navigator know how deep water is in low tides. The tide predictions tell you how low the water is in relation to the charts. So if a sounding says the water is 5 feet... and at low tide the prediction is -0.5, that means the water depth is actually only 4'6". Normally the prediction doesn't go in the negatives, but winter time on the gulf coast of Florida has some wacky tides. My draft, which is how much below the waterline my boat goes, is 4'3".)

The plan was to go out single-handed. I had never sailed single-handed before (the trip from Fort Myers Beach to Punta Gorda was done by motor the whole way) and was looking forward to see how much of a challenge it would be. I got to my boat at 11:00 and was ready to head out at 11:30.

As I eased the boat out into the channel from dock I encountered my first oddity.

The channel is supposed to have a minimum depth of 5'6". There are numerous sailboats much larger than mine (implying they have a greater draft) in the same canal system and while the depth should have been 5' even at low tide we were now 90 minutes past that and the level should have been close to normal.

However, leaving the dock my keel touched bottom.

It wasn't a big deal... it really just sort of scraped mud for a couple of feet and since I was using the engine while in the canal I easily went over it. It kind of put me in a weird mood though. This shouldn't have happened. I'd been over that spot many times in the last few months even when the tide had been lower and never touched ground. Very strange.

Anyhow, there were no other problems as I headed out to the bay.
The wind was picking up and I suspect it was a little more than the anticipated 8mph, probably closer to 11 or 12. This didn't worry me a whole lot although I knew it would make raising the sail a little more difficult. I decided I would forgo using the genoa... the sail in the front of the boat. It would be a little unwieldy in the wind and would probably exhaust me fighting to get it up. I opted for just the main sail.

When I reached the middle of the harbor I turned the boat into the wind and put the engine in neutral. Its important to keep the engine running in this case so, in the event of an emergency I needed to quickly move the boat, it would be ready.

Raising the main by myself, and without anyone to keep the boat facing into the wind, was a chore. I fought the wind, the choppy waters in the bay, tangled lines... I'm sure any film of the situation would have been hilarious. It took me about 15 minutes and the current from the incoming tide moved me upriver (the Peace River empties into Charlotte Harbor) close to a quarter of a mile. The boat was drifting close to the center of the channel so I wasn't too concerned.

Once the sail was up and the boat was moving I let out a sigh of relief and cut the engine. It was a hassle, but I now knew it was doable. Goal achieved. As I leaned back in the cockpit to relax and cruise the boat around the bay I spotted a big problem.

On sailboats there is a mechanism called the main sheet. This is the line (usually comprised of several block and tackles) that connects to the boom, in turn allowing the sailor to catch or release more wind into the main sail. There is *significant* amount of force applied to the boom, which in turns applies it to the main sheet. The problem I noticed is that the shackle which unites the boom and the mainsheet had broken and the boom was being held in place by a small hook in the shackle, and the hook was straining mightily in the increasing wind.

A swinging boom has got to be the single most dangerous thing in all sailing. I've read many stories of accidental jibes (where the boom swings from one side of the boat to the other) killing sailors. If it doesn't kill them outright, it will often knock them unconscious and overboard. Imagine Paul Bunyan swinging a 12' long aluminum baseball bat and aiming for the fences.

Was I, at that moment, in physical danger? Probably not. My head and body were below and slightly behind the boom. However, all the time I'd been hoisting the sail and moving between the mast and cockpit I had been in severe danger. Egads. That alone was enough to freeze me in place a few minutes thinking about it.

Even as I sat there contemplating that the wind was getting noticeably stronger. Any other time I would be ecstatic to have strong winds hurling me at top speed along the water, but now it was just getting more and more dangerous on the boat.

And so ended my single-handed sailing debut. I started the engine, turned the boat into the wind, then jumped to the mast and started lowering the sail. It was almost as much work taking it down as it was raising it. With the sail down and somewhat secure, I jumped back into the cockpit and fixed the boom with the boom-vang (a line which prevent the boom swinging around when not in use). No longer in danger, I sighed (I had *really* wanted to enjoy this more) and changed course back to the canal system.

As if to add insult to (near) injury the boat ran aground as I was on the final approach to my docking space.

Unlike before, I was coasting in and had made my final adjustment. This bit can by tricky with two people, let alone single-handed. I have to judge the correct speed to coast into the dock, slow enough that I don't hit anything too hard, yet quickly enough that the boat doesn't drift or turn. At the last second I have to turn the boat alongside the dock, then jump forward and grab a line and attach it to a post on the dock... all before drifting past the post. To envision this, its like parallel parking between two cars with no brakes.

As I was getting close the point where I make the final steering adjustment the boat jarred along the ground and came to a complete stop. Argh!!!!!

I knew this wasn't really a problem, but I was already pretty angry about how the day was going and now I was just plain pissed. I put in the engine in reverse, gave her some throttle, and worked the boat off the ground. After a few minutes of manuevering back through the canal I was ready for another shot. This time I had make sharper turns to avoid the spot where I had just went aground. This is not ideal since it now left me with a couple seconds less time to catch the boat on the dock as I coasted past it.

Fortunately I made the catch just fine. After 30 more minutes of securing the boat from the sail and a few other related chores I was ready to go home.

One thing I had noticed throughout the day was how hot it felt. On a lark I checked the weather site again when I got back to the house. The day's high was 89 degrees! Whoever forecast 80 should be fired. I mean really... how can a forecast be 9 degrees off?! The web page still listed the day's high as 80, even though the current temperature right next to it said 89.

Well... no more sailing for me until I can get the shackle fixed. I don't know how much its going to be but I certainly won't be able to afford it until I start working.

Till next time....

Monday, January 5, 2009

Couple new photos

Not much to comment on. I wanted to go sailing this weekend but the weekend was crowded with other events (namely football and Arrielle's birthday).

However, I did add some new photos to my gallery which I took a few weeks ago. They are of Jimi, Arrielle, and I out on Charlotte Harbor. I'm pretty sure it was a Sunday around midday. The harbor gets a little busy out there (although nothing resembling the San Diego Bay) on the weekends with the racers and whatnot.

Here is the link to my gallery...

Dan's Online Gallery