Friday, April 5, 2019

Adventures in sailing, in three parts

Part 1 - The Good.

Keep in mind I have had a long life on the water. Growing up I spent time on my fathers power boats, and got pretty adept at life on the water. I started kayaking - for real - in 1994, and started earning a living - or part of my living - in kayaks in 2003, when I started teaching privately. In that time I have done many long distance expeditions on the east coast of the US, as well as Alaska. My point, I have a lot of experience on the water. I have a good understanding of how a boat is affected by wind, and how water is affected by wind.

I had no idea.

I am working with a wonderful sailing instructor who primarily teaches people how to race sailboats. Her ability to judge wind, is incredible, and far more refined than mine. This is a sport that relies heavily on understanding the wind and seeing what is about to happen.

Let's take a step back. I decided that 2018 was going to be the year I learned to sail, and there were a couple of false starts, more on that in part 3. There was also a dog with a broken paw, which drained finances and time. It wasn't until the beginning of 2019 that I was really able to start making it happen. But in 2018 I did a lot of studying. I read a ton, and figured out what my path would be. My path is different that most people, certainly most adults learning to sail. More on that in part 2. All of my reading and studying led me to believe that this was actually a pretty easy sport.

You need an understanding of where the wind is coming from, and how to set the sails based on that wind. Simple. I even used a simulator put out by the American Sailing Association to practice sailing a little boat. I had it down. To a certain extent that is true. You can get into a sail boat and set the sails and go, but there is far more to it than that.

There is a level of nuance in trimming sails, which I am sure with practice - or as my instructor says "tiller time" - will become second nature. Frequently when I am sailing I feel like I am grasping for something in the dark that I know is there, but I don't quite know what it looks like or feels like in my hand. It is an interesting place to be, I have spent the last twenty plus years finessing a kayak in good weather and bad, and to feel like a complete novice is incredible. There is so much to learn, and absorb and I am taking it in as fast as I can. Yesterday, my instructor turned to me and said "are you ready to go in?" and I replied simply that yes, I was, as my brain was mush.

We spent the day in a 15 foot Wayfarer Mark 1 GRP which was originally released in 1965, and is the fiberglass version of the even older, original Mark 1 which was made out of wood. It is just slightly older than I am. My instructor dropped a buoy with an anchor overboard and we spent the day sailing around it. With the wind constantly changing on the lake we had to constantly adjust our approach, and in the course of four hours we circled it from all points of sail, and with gusting wind and nearly dead calm. Spending four hours hyper focused on sails and tell-tales (the small ribbons on sails and standing rigging that tell you what the wind is doing) is absolutely exhausting. Late last year my wife and myself spent a day on a 41 foot sailboat getting an idea of what sailing is like. It was much more calm and predictable than the little boat on the lake. I am thinking that getting a grounding in what is called Dinghy sailors will give me a better understanding of how to sail bigger boats.

My previous lesson was in two parts. We started in a Hobie kayak with outriggers, and pedal drives. It also had a single mast, and a hand control for the rudder. We spent about two hours in what is essentially a trimaran sailboat. Having only a mainsail and a simple rudder made the boat easy to control and super easy to get a handle on sailing concepts, and this confirmed my thoughts that sailing was easy. It really was just like the sailboat simulator I had used. However, the second half of our day was spent in a 16 foot RS Quest which was like jumping ahead about 30 years in terms of what was happening. All of a sudden I had a jib to control as well as a main sail. I also had a tiller, to control the rudder, and it does this with a handle that is articulated in the middle. Because it isn't hard enough that a tiller gets pushed the opposite direction you want to go, adding an elbow just makes it more confusing. There was also the little fact that the boat could now heel over to one side, which the trimaran couldn't do. It was a lot to keep track of. It was just starting to make sense when the lesson came to an end.

I have a lot to do in 2019, there are four phases to this project, the learn to sail project, and I am only on part one. It should be an interesting time.

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