Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sailing Home

We had a great sail back from Berkeley to Alameda with our friends Bradley and Craig. I love sailing with those guys. Bradley is like some kind of crazed sailing prodigy: he's only been sailing for a couple years, but he brings so much passion and intensity to it that he sails way better than folks I know who have been sailing for decades. Craig is a super experienced, experimental, and intuitive sailor. I'd sailed with him a bunch on my old Catalina and his old Catalina, but it's only in sailing with him on engineless boats that I really began to appreciate what a truly gifted sailor he is.

While the wind was light, we warped from one side dock to the fuel dock. Basically, this involved giving the boat a giant bobsled shove and letting it coast around a corner and upwind to the fuel dock. We kinda bungled the maneuver. We had two crew aboard, but the two "pushers" failed to jump on in time, so we had to sprint around the docks to get in position to catch Macha. We got to the other side of the dock in time and no J24's were harmed. Phew.

We debated just sailing out, but we had previously arranged a tow out of the breakwater from Steve, the guy who did our cockpit. He arrived in a vintage wooden mini-tugboat and, as soon as the towrope was made fast to our samson post, dragged us straight upwind at 4 knots. It was only the second time we've towed the boat. It's always a blow to the ego, and reinforces the perception that engineless sailors get towed everywhere. Still, it really helped, as the flood would otherwise have been setting us right into (through) the pier. Basically, it turned what would have been a two day sail into a one-day sail.

Once past the end of the Berkeley pier, I faced a moment of truth. The winds were REALLY light. Should we drop the tow rope now and sail behind Treasure Island? (much shorter, but less wind) Or radio Steve and ask for a further tow around the front of Treasure Island? It made me realize that the reason I don't have an engine is the same as the reason I don't have a TV or a Playstation. Not because I'm a self-righteous purist, but because I find it REALLY hard to "unplug" from addictive technological conveniences...

With some urging from Craig, I decided it was time to stop motoring and start sailing!

With the extremely light wind, we got to rotate through every sail: main, topsail, staysail, jib, yankee, tow staysail, asymmetrical kite. Great learning experience!

We ghosted along, drifting with the current with just enough way on to keep steerage. We ran a slow-motion slalom course through the anchored construction barges near the Bay Bridge construction.

As we got closer to the bridge (right by Clipper Cove), we picked up the strongest wind of the day (probably 7-9 knots) which we used to maximum effect to work Westward to pass through the upwind gap in the bridge. Once on the other side, we drifted again until the flood carried us out of the wind shadow of the island. We bore off on a broad reach towards the entrance doused the headsails and hoisted our giant asymmetrical spinnaker to fly wing-on-wing.

At one point coming down the Estuary, Craig suggested we take down everything except the kite so it could draw better. I was skeptical to take down the mainsail, since I figured we had more sail area going wing-on-wing, and that raising the main again would be a pain. But with so many crew aboard, I figured it was worth the experiment. Wow -- we instantly gained a half-knot. We had been pacing a pretty little navy blue Etchells the whole way down the Estuary, but we figure we would have beat them if we had taken down the main sooner.

Then the wind died completely, and as the current was about to change, we towed ourselves with the dinghy lashed on the quarter for a little while. Again, I felt like I was cheating by using the outboard. But it ended up being a great exercise: we now know that in near-perfect calm the 15 horse two-stroke can push the big girl at 4+ knots. Something to add to our bag of tricks...

As we towed ourselves deeper into the Estuary, our wind came back and we sailed with the kite, dowsing it to put up tow staysail to slow ourselves, then lining up for final approach under bare poles.

Home sweet home!


Bursledon Blogger said...

Ari, nice blog, nice boat, I've always liked Atkins double ender (presume that what she is).

I blog about nautical scene and old boats here in UK

I'm also on the commitee of the local Old Gaffers Association - so expect to see some gaff -ering posts (Feb had some good pics on the AGM item)

Over 10 years ago my wife and I did what you're doing, bought a boat (although not a gaffer) did some work and saved a bit of money - took ourseleves off around - the Atlantic UK, Africa, Caribbean, Azores and back - go for it.

Couldn't get your email link to work so sorry its a ling post.



Melanie Daryl said...

This is what I like about sailing: it gives me a moment of silence every now and then, and it lets me on an exhilarating experience, but a FUN ride at the same time. If this isn’t the best activity ever, I don’t know what is! ^_^

Melanie Daryl