Sunday, June 24, 2007

Macha's Maiden Voyage

This is a repost of ancient news. We bought Macha from Jay Fitzgerald in the Spring of 2007. We left her "up a creek" in San Rafael for a few months while we worked up the courage to sail her to her new side-tie in Alameda. The following is the story of our first sail on Macha, around June 2007:

We drove across the Bay to San Rafael on Saturday at the crack of dawn to practice setting the main and topsail in morning light wind. (Last week's practice session was staysail, jib, and jib topsail.) We had arranged a tow with a friend, but it fell through at the last minute as he was having carburator trouble. So we weren't planning on going anywhere; just practicing the moves we've been reading about in previous owner Jay's book; trying to integrate advice from other books, friends' advice, Internet posts, etc.

While we were messing around doing sail raising/lowering drills, a guy motored up in a hard dinghy.

"What's that sail on the top called?"
"I should have guessed..."

His name is "Crispy" and he lives on a green double-ender a few slips over. Same hull as ours, but different rig; he has sailed her as far as New Zealand and all over the Pacific. One thing led to another, we started talking and explaining how we were literally up a creek. He offered to tow us out of the narrow tributary as soon as we could get the boat ready. At that point it was like 8:00 in the morning - high tide and perfect conditions for towing. We didn't know this guy from Adam, but from the way we saw him handle his boat we felt confident. We had a quick huddle and decided we were as ready as we'd ever be. Later turned out in addition to marine welding he ran a towing, refueling and rescue service. While I might not have trusted him to babysit a puppy, we met the absolute right guy to tow us out of the creek to freedom!

He nudged us with his dinghy over to a fuel dock 100 yards away. Definitely had a few butt pucker moments. The creek is so narrow that one point our stern was about 10 feet from a big beautiful houseboat on the far side of the creek. My whole financial life flashed before my eyes, but our tower had it under control at all times. We tied up at the fuel dock while he got his bigger work boat ready to tow us the 2 miles out of the creek, out of the channel into open water. Had a funny moment at the fuel dock: guess the guy working thought we were being towed because we were out of gas. He came running out, "Sorry we don't have any diesel." "That's alright, we don't have any engine."

The creek leads to the San Pablo bay: deceptively wide, but dangerously shallow. The whole area was a glorified 5 mile wide mud puddle with a mile-long 6 foot deep channel dredged through it. There is simply no way we could have sailed, sculled, kedged, or otherwise propelled or finessed our engineless boat out of there!

Once into the open bay, the sail was great. As is typical of the SF Bay, we had everything from 0 to 30mph winds.

As soon as Crispy dropped the tow line we hoisted our staysail to maintain forward motion against moderate 10-15mpg winds. That gave us time to deal with the mainsail. We could have tuned the sail better, but not bad for our second time raising it. Next came the jib, which sets at the very end of the 10 foot bowsprit. Finally, we raised the free-flying upside-down-triangular topsail, which requires juggling 4 lines.

As is typical for the mornings, the wind was blowing straight from the South, instead of the West or Northwest. What would normally have been a rocket ride broad reach home was instead a series of slow tacks back and forth. With each tack we figured out another secret of our mysterious new boat, and consequently with each tack she pointed a little higher upwind.

We passed under the first bridge of the day and into the main San Francisco Bay. Macha handled great!!!! When we were in "the slot" in front of Golden Gate there was solid 25mph gusting to 30. We waited just a minute too long to take down the topsail; which resulted in me wrestling a very feisty dacron opponent into submission on the foredeck while Sarah steered and tried not to laugh. With topsail down but all other working sail set Macha was rail-down, shouldering through 2-4 foot short-spaced chop. With her shape and weight she has a really smooth ride compared to our Catalina; you can see why people love these hulls for rough weather and open ocean.

However, it was definitely a wet ride compared to the Catalina. Since it was a "spontaneous trip", we didn't have foul weather gear. At one point I looked over and Sarah was in push-up position with a river of water running across the deck under her. We're thinking at some point we need to add some wood coamings to direct the water on deck and give "sheeter" somewhere to brace feet and back. Once in the lee of Treasure Island we had some time to dry out in the sun.

We had a brief nervous moment coming from behind Treasure Island into the channel to the Oakland Estuary. We thought we should be out of the lee of the Island, but were still in some kind of funky wind shadow. Current was setting us to the right of the red channel marker just drifting with the sails slatting. Arrgh! Sarah broke out the oar, I got ready to deploy stern anchor if we got too close to the rocks. Sarah's sculling with the oar gave us just enough steerage to gibe well before the marker and well clear of the rocks. Saw the first sweet "cat paws" of wind creeping towards us as the breeze filled back in and we knew we were golden.

We had a beautiful and stately sail down the Oakland Estuary, broad reaching with main, topsail, and both headsails in 5-7mph of wind. We were only going 2 to 3 knots, but everyone that motored by at 5 knots shouted over "Wow, what a beautiful boat!!" I'm sure there are a large contingent of gaff rig and engineless naysayers out there, but she also brings out some kind of primal longing in other sailors. She's the real deal...

As we got near our slip, Sarah hustled to get topsail and both headsails down. We deliberately went downwind past our marine. Then we made a couple practice tacks back upwind across the Estuary with just mainsail up to try and estimate cross current and glide speed & distance. I think in the end we came in with perfect angle but maybe half knot too hot. We had a spring line amidships and Sarah hopped off, took it round a cleat and killed our speed like a champ. With three big soft fenders off the starboard side we swung parallel into the dock, bounced a wee bit, then we made off the dock lines around 7:00pm. No sooner had we landed than a buyer called to say he wanted to buy my old boat!

Short digression -- the new buyer is a bit of a character. Quiet British guy - seems somewhat new to sailing. Last week he came to our prepurchase survey appointment in a spiffy dark suit, complete with shiny shoes and cufflinks. Not exactly ideal attire for sailing in 20 knots of wind. We let him suffer just long enough to appreciate the Goretex jacket we lent him. After the surveyor had hauled the boat out the water on a crane for inspection, we thought for sure he wouldn't buy the boat when he called a limo rather than sailing back with us. But in his defense he seems like a decent sailor as well as a conscientious boat owner. So he may not be the life of the parties down at the Emeryville firepit, but I doubt he'll sink the boat.

After our arrival in Alameda, our buddy Darrin came over the from next marina and we toasted our arrival with grilled cheese and rum (we didn't have time to fully provision before leaving, but we brought the essentials!) Our new slip has a beautiful view of the city and the passing sailboats, tugboats, and cargo ships. New boat neighbours seem cool.

Feel very excited. New boat is very demanding to sail, but very magical as well. We were more than a little nervous about sailing her for the first time, but now feel confident we'll grow to meet the challenge. Our teamwork and communication were great and I feel we learned more about sailing in one long day than we have in months. From what we've experienced so far, it's light wind rather than high wind that really raises the adrenaline levels. Sailing a gaff rigger is also a good equalizer, because I feel I know more about the physics and strategy of sailing in general (Sarah will respectfully disagree - and that's why I love her), but Sarah has way more experience with traditional sailing and knows all the skills and techniques that old fashioned style hardware requires. We both felt triumphant and elated at the end of the day!

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