Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sarasota Bay: A pleasant, mid-week sail

On Tuesday I decided to go for a sail. The sun has been setting around 8:30 local time and the winds tend to be light but consistent in the evening, so after work I called up Wyatt and the two of us were on the water by 5:30.

I’m proud to say that the sail was pretty uneventful. Nothing really bad happened at all. I didn’t forget anything and it didn’t rain. Sweet! I could get used to that.

I decided that now was as good a time as any to see how the boat heaves-to. For those not familiar with heaving-to, it a technique used to stop the boat on the water in a controlled way. This is handy in a variety of situation… for example, if the Coast Guard pulls up next to me and yells, “Heave-to and prepare to be boarded!”, or if I just want to go below decks to grab a sandwich.

This is something they don’t officially teach you in the sailing school I went too, but it is in the “Fundamentals” book. Back when I was getting my certifications I’d asked my instructor to show me how to do it and he obliged. This was in a Catalina 22 and is the only boat I had ever heaved-to with before.

It turns out that heaving-to on a C&C 27 is hard… if it’s even possible at all. The best I could manage was a backed-jib and a very slow sailing boat. The main sheet was completely eased, as its supposed to be, and the rudder was all the way windward, but the boat was still sailing, albeit very slowly, in the direction the bow was pointed.

I’ll definitely try this again, perhaps rolling up the genoa to a shorter length so it catches less wind.

The other failed maneuver was an attempt to sail under the bridge. We probably could have achieved this if my self-imposed rules weren’t so rigid. The wind was coming from the northwest and the bridge was located more of a north-northwest. There is plenty of room in the Sarasota Bay to tack towards the bridge but the Bay does narrow a bit right at the bridge. My self-imposed rule was that we must sail through the center of the bridge where the navigation lights were located, even though we could probably safely sail to the west of that just fine.

We approached the bridge twice, but the first time I miscalculated the angle needed and we had to bear off about 60 yards from the bridge. The second attempt was much closer. We actually got beneath the bridge but we hadn’t gained enough speed to carry us safely through the lull caused by the bridge supports. We had to bear off at the last second or risk drifting into the leeward support.

Still, while it was not successful in that regard, it was a lot of fun trying and it was really nice to pass the evening on the water. I’ll probably try to get on the water at least one evening every week while the sun is setting so late. With the solstice just around the corner (this coming Saturday, I believe) the days will start getting a little shorter, but I’m sure I can keep this up for another 5 weeks or so.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sarasota Bay and the Gray Columns

Last Sunday I went sailing with Wyatt, a poker buddy. It was high time I tested out the new genoa and see how she handled. Wyatt volunteered as he’d never been sailing and wanted to try it out.

It had been a while since I last went out and it’s amazing how many lessons one forgets.

I got to the boat a little early to prep her. This mostly meant I planned on stowing things that would fall about once we started heeling. However, once I got on the boat I started looking at the dock lines and tried to figure out a way to disengage them that would make it easier to pull them in when we got back. I still need to come up with a good system that will let me tie up single-handed.

One would think this shouldn’t be to tasking. I’d seen Andy, a neighbor of mine who owns a Morgan 32’, successfully dock while so drunk he could barely talk. If he could manage a single-handed docking in such a state, then surely I could.

Wyatt arrived while I was working this out still, so I gave up on the planning action and just cast off. Time to do some sailing!

The engine still starts up like a charm. I’ve had a couple of mechanics tell me that the engine alone is worth the price I paid for the boat.

We motored out of the marina and as we were in the channel out I decided to test the furling genoa. Untie one line, pull on the port genoa sheet, and the sail unfolded beautifully. The boat jumped forward and she was really hauling! The forecast had said the winds were going to be 5-10 mph, but I think they were a tad higher than that. I’m pretty sure we were already moving near hull speed and I hadn’t even raised the main yet.

Which brings around forgotten lesson number one: raise the main first if you are going to do so at all.

Boats don’t sail well towards the wind with just the genoa up… the genoa tends to cause the boat to bear away from the wind. However, to raise the main sail I needed to turn the boat into the wind. Catch-22 here. Grr.

I went forward to raise the main anyway. The wind was still light enough and we were on a Close Reach and I figured I could man-handle it up. This where I discovered the second lesson I’d forgotten: check rigging before you get underway.

The shackle I use to attach the halyard to the head of the sail was nowhere to be found. I’m guessing that it get removed or misplaced when the sail-maker was installing the furling genoa. Fortunately, I knew I had a spare so I went below to get it. Unfortunately, it was not the right size shackle. This new one was too large to fit through the holes on both the sail head and the halyard. Sigh.

Well… no big deal. The wind was improving and we were well into the Bay now. We headed north under the big bridge and relaxed.

After about 20 minutes of sailing I chanced a look behind the boat and noticed a dark column advancing from the gulf towards shore. Nasty looking rain storm there. It’s interesting in Florida that you can actually see these storms as individual things, almost like large tornadoes with less wind and lots of rain. This one, I judged, would miss us. We were now a couple of miles north of the bridge.

Sure enough, in about 10 minutes we saw the storm hit the bridge. One minute the bridge was clear and big behind us, and the next minute it was gone—devoured by a gray blanket. There was literally no sign this massive structure ever existed. The sky above us was still nice and clear although the breeze was really picking up now.

Out of the blue Wyatt came up with an idea. He asked if one of the padlocks I had sitting around would fit in the halyard, and if so, could we use it to raise the main. Good idea! I wish I had thought of it. In fact, I was a little flustered that I didn’t. I grabbed a padlock and tested it out… it fit perfectly.

And thus came the third forgotten lesson: remember lesson one. I started to hoist the main and had Wyatt turn us into the wind. Several things happened… none of them good. First, as Wyatt turned into the wind we hit a radical new point of sail which called for an adjustment on the genoa. We heeled *way* over very quickly. Secondly, I heard all sorts of crashing from inside the cabin at which point I recalled I never did get around to securing everything inside. And finally, it was all for naught since, as lesson one told us, you can’t turn into the wind very well with the genoa alone and there was no way I could raise the main with the wind.

I gave up on the idea of getting the main sail up now. We kicked back and relaxed again (I’d deal with the mess in the cabin when we got back to the dock).

After another 10 minutes of very nice sailing Wyatt spotted another storm approaching, only this one was going to hit close to where we were and definitely in the area we were sailing toward. Time to turn about and head back to the now visible bridge behind us.

Unfortunately, there had been a slight change in the wind and sailing back to the bridge mean sailing close hauled. This was going to be hard without the main sail up. We did the best we could though by falling off the wind a little and settling into a close reach.

However, this dark storm heading towards was getting larger by the minute. I kept a close on eye it over the next several minutes and came to the conclusion that we were going get drenched. It was just too big and we weren’t sailing as fast as we were. When the gray blanket covered the windward shore and completely obscured it from view I knew the time was upon us. I secured up the genoa (Woot! Love that roller, baby!) and started the engine. 30 seconds later we were completely drenched.

When this baby hit us it was like stepping into an episode of The Twilight Zone. Our world was immediately reduced to a 60’ circle around us. The rest of the universe was gray and empty. I’d been steering by sight and now I had nothing to steer by at all. If I had been less occupied with engine and genoa I might have glanced at the compass to get a heading but, alas, I hadn’t. Wyatt volunteered to go forward and extend my visual range by 25’ or so.

Every so often the gray would thin out and we could see as far as 150’. While I couldn’t see land or any channel markers, it did let me spot a boat that had been under sail and also headed towards the bridge just before the storm hit. Those folks were still under sail although they seemed to be having issues with their genoa, but their heading was far more to the starboard than mine, so I adjusted my course to match theirs before the visibility dropped off again.

Finally, we got close enough to make out the bridge ahead of us and the storm eased up a little bit. By the time we hit the channel markers to the marina the storm had let up to a soft rain and visibility wasn’t too bad. However, we were definitely done. Both Wyatt and I were very soggy and the breeze was more than just a little cool.

Docking went very smoothly. I’m not certain I could have pulled it off single-handed yet, but it went very well and I was glad I planned it out before hand.

Once the boat was tied up properly I looked into the cabin to see what the earlier commotion was. Egads. It was a huge mess. And a bit soggy too. I straightened up best I could and offered Wyatt a towel and some dry clothes. (The clothes were quite funny on him. He is easily half my weight although about the same height. Thank god my shorts are mostly draw-strings.)

Once again I had turned a leisure sail into an adventure. Wyatt was entertained and wants to go again. I’m not sure I can promise him another adventure like this one, but odds are something will pop up.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Stuff that's happened lately

Hello everyone!

Its been quite a while since my last blog entry but things have been happening. As I mentioned in the last entry I had moved my boat to Sarasota. She’s docked at Marina Jack’s which is right in the middle of downtown Sarasota and only a short trip to the Gulf.

I’m presently living on my boat “part-time”. The marina rules state that they cannot have full time live aboards and give a definition of what they mean by “live aboard”. Since I work in downtown Sarasota—only a 15 minute walk from the marina—its very convenient for me to stay on the boat. However, since they have a clearly defined rule and I can’t really afford to get kicked out of the marina, I still spend a few nights a week at Jimi’s in Port Charlotte (which is about 50 miles away).

My mother came down for a week stay and during that time we went on a short sail into the gulf. Peter, who had helped me move the boat from Punta Gorda to Sarasota, and his wife Jeanne came along for the ride.

The wind and weather reports had forecast a sunny day with reasonable wind and waves in the Gulf to about 2 foot. When we cast off the wind was a little low and the waters in the Sarasota Bay were a tad choppy. Not bad, really, but I should have taken this as a warning.

We motored south--against the wind--to get to Big Pass. As we entered the 25’ water right before we get to the channel markers at Big Pass we got a look at the Gulf waters. The waves look a tad bigger than 2’. They sort of looked huge.

However, that stretch of water is really, really shallow. In fact, there were birds actually walking on water between us and those waves. The Gulf waves hit that shallow area and crest, making it look much worse than it really is. I kept thinking that all the way up until we made the turn into the channel markers where we finally had real access to the Gulf. The waves were definitely larger than 2 foot… more like 4 foot with a 5 second frequency. Ugh.

Jeanne hadn’t been on a sailboat before, and I knew my mother was very uncomfortable with water, so I decided maybe we should head back. However, the whole crew assured me that they felt ok and wanted to go ahead and try it. It wasn’t a matter of safety with me, I was 100% confident in my boat and knew she could handle way more than this, I was just concerned about the comfort of my crew. Since they wanted to keep going I was game.

The next 15 minutes were pure torture with a dash of adventure. I was correct when I mentioned the behavior of the waves in relation to the water depth. I had miscalculated the affect it would have as we went through it into the relatively calmer waters of the Gulf proper. The boat pounded through the channel and finally into the Gulf. Unfortunately the wave heights were still a little larger than anticipated, but manageable. I went forward to manhandle the sails so we could finally cut the engine. This was the adventure part.

Anyhow, once we got to sailing and shut of the engine it was a very enjoyable sail. There were some green faces when we turned around to head back and boat settled into a corkscrewing motion, but we adjusted course somewhat to alleviate that.

That’s the only time I’ve been out since the move to Sarasota and now.

I’m a little disappointed in myself that I haven’t gone out more. With working full time and a side job that consumes much of my weekend its not as easy to just toss the lines and cut loose for a couple of hours as I thought it would be. However, I have been getting some work done on the boat.

I finally got my furling genoa installed. This was one of my big ticket items and something that I felt had to be done before I head to the oceans. I had some minor work done on the diesel engine which a surveyor had told me was critical (cracks in the exhaust hose). The interior of the boat got a thorough cleaning while my mother was here. I’ve also replaced the dinette table with something that was more comfortable to work on.

My next projects are some work on the mast which needs a windex (a device which shows the direction the wind is coming from) and the anchor lights replaced. I’m also getting the steaming light replaced as it stopped functioning during the trip up from Punta Gorda. The biggest project, and the last “critical” one before I can make passages, is some form of self-steering.

I plan on doing some sailing on the Sarasota Bay this weekend. In fact, I’ll probably be headed out with Jimi and Arrielle as soon as they get back from Arrielle’s bowling league outing.

Until next time!