Thursday, May 20, 2010

If I Could Just Accomplish One Simple Thing Today...

So often, owning a boat feels like a chicken fight with Entropy.

The other day I was stomping around in the dark, perhaps on my way to change a crappy diaper, perhaps on my way to do some other chore. My foot caught a piece of wood trim near the base of the companionway ladder and cracked a big piece right off.

That was weeks ago. Work, grad school, baby all intervened. I just got around to gluing and clamping it today. Ah, the small satisfaction of a day where I fix more than I break!

Now going to attempt a rescue mission for a kerosene jug that was glassed into the stern anchor chain locker when we had the cockpit redone. It won't fit through the access hatch, so I've got to cut it into tiny chunks, then mount a strong eye down there so we can secure the bitter end of our rode. Any chore that can be done with a Sawzall is typically a good chore!

- Ari

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Yemaya's First Sailboat Race

Ever since Yemaya was even tinier than she is now, she has laughed whenever she gets a gust of wind in her face. She closes her eyes and puffs out her cheeks and sputters and chuckles. It was so funny that we made up a rhyme to go with it:

Breeze in the face
Breeze in the face
Just enough for a sailboat race!

Last night Yemaya got introduced to the thrilling white-knuckle world of sailboat racing... which for her was much the same experience as the thrilling world of sitting in the backseat of a car on land...

Our courageous crewmember had all the latest high-tech sailing gear:
  • Stuffed dog. Check!
  • Rattle ball. Check!
  • Jingle bell bracelet. Check!
  • Soggy Ak-Mak cracker to slowly masticate into paste and rub into carseat. Check!
  • Mama's sunglasses to open. And close. And open. And close.... Check!
  • Jammies in case I fall asleep. (Don't worry, I won't) Check!

We weren't planning to fly the spinnaker, but Yemaya held onto (and chewed on) the pretty yellow pole topping lift just in case.

Since beer can racing on the Oakland Estuary is such a serious, competitive pursuit, I diligently printed 2 out of 3 of the available documents on the web site:
  • Course Map. Check!
  • Sailing Instructions. Check!
  • Fleet Assignments. We'll never need that...
Flash forward to 6:25pm. We are circling the starting line with a few dozen other boats of varying sizes trying to find other boats that look "like us." I see a Santana 25. That's gotta be similar rating to a Santana 22. I sail close enough and ask "Do you know when we start?" He replies "Are you racing non-spinnaker? You guys are all Fleet A. That was your warning gun." Doh! We were kinda slacking because, being slower, we're usually among the last boats to start. We are nowhere near the start.

Minutes after our starting gun, I'm still singlehanding the boat towards the line while Sarah breastfeeds Yemaya down below. It's a little dodgy trying to steer and trim both sails while peeking underneath our 155% Genoa. The two boats that started on time are miles ahead of us, but miraculously there are boats behind us too!

In light wind, less-wetted surface trumps longer waterline. In our small, stripped-down boat, slowly but surely we pull away from the pack of longer, heavier keelboats. The wind is coming over Alameda instead of down the Estuary, so what would normally be an upwind-downwind course is a reach both ways. The wind direction favors a genoa over jib+spinnaker, and later we even pace some of the spinnaker fleet.

Some of the racing highlights were slaloming the narrow gap between two Columbia 5.5's, rolling one to windward and one to leeward, while the baby shrieked "DADADADA" (I'll never get tired of hearing that!) and the other yachtsmen looked on in horror at being overtaken by a floating pack-n-play.

We finished just as we started, with Sarah down below breastfeeding Yemaya. The race instructions specify two laps around the course, but we heard a horn as we finished our first lap. "Hmm, I guess that's it." We looked around and kept sailing just in case, but it seemed the other boats are dropping headsails and going home.

In the end, we came in just ahead of the middle of the pack. But I think we won a moral victory for proving we could sail well with the baby, and enjoy almost every minute of it!

562 Joey Hansen Magic Mercury 234 19:22:10 0:52:10 0:41:15 1

18686 Fred Minning Svenska Peterson 34 123 19:17:49 0:47:49 0:42:05 2

53 Ari Rubenstein Mardi Gras Santana 22 237 19:27:56 0:57:56 0:46:52 3

3674 Robert Hamner Pequod Catalina 27 Tall 189 19:33:31 1:03:31 0:54:42 4

18020 Roger Mystic Newport 177 19:35:56 1:05:56 0:57:40 5
157 Leroy Gilles Summerplace
198 19:37:27 1:07:27 0:58:13 6
285 Warren Taylor Kiwa Ericson 32-2 183 DNC : : 8
535 Paul Mueller Iskra Mercury 234 DNC : : 8

It was amazing how Sarah multi-tasked between sailing and mothering. At one point she was literally trimming a genoa sheet with one hand and a putting on a puppet show with the other. Damn. There are moments in any marriage where you think, "If I wasn't already married to this woman, I'd get down on one knee right now..."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Great Vallejo Race

I think Craig said it best: "These two sailing days are ones to remember as the good old days!"

The intrepid crew of Chorus raced downwind from Berkeley to Vallejo on Saturday, and back upwind Sunday.

Conditions on the first day were gorgeous: warm sun, flood tide with us, just enough wind to move the boat at a good clip, but light enough wind to make spinnaker handling drama-free.

When we arrived, we saw the entire boat population of the Vallejo Municipal Marina had been emptied out. (Where did they all go?) which left room for hundreds of race boats of every size, shape, and age to raft up in every available slip (and even rafted four deep in the fairways.)

We stayed for a few beers and deadly Tequila Sunrises. Toby the dog ate about 30 leftover sparerib bones, to his later intestinal distress.

The single and childless among us rocked out in Port Costa at a bar and former-brothel-turned-hotel, while Sarah and Yemaya and I headed back to Macha for bedtime stories and diaper changes.

Sunday morning's low tide was VERY low. On the way out of the marina, boats were getting stuck in the mud left and right.

Anticipating problems, we pre-emptively warped the boat around so she'd be pointed straight out the fairway. We moved all crew to the shrouds, and gunned the engine full forward. (Hey, isn't this blog supposed to be about engineless sailing?!?!?! Well, I'm not so purist as to refuse rides on beautiful sailboats with engines!) Another boat was already stuck in the middle of fairway, so we aimed for the narrow space between the boat and the dock. With about a foot of clearance on either side, the skipper of the other boat started yelling "What are your intentions?" In fact, I think our intentions were all too clear!!! Despite our strenuous hiking, we slowed slightly as we dragged the tip of our keel in the mud. Rock the boat slightly, we inched slowly, slowly forward. Freedom.

The second day's race opened with an exciting downwind start under spinnaker, followed by a run down the channel between Vallejo and Mare Island. Bain, our mast man, re-injured his knee, so he went below for Ibuprofen and beer while the remaining three crew members multitasked for the douse.

The finish was amazing. Latitude was reporting that about 200 boats finished within 20 minutes. Ahead of us, we caught sight of Kame Richards on Golden Moon and our moral and spiritual advisor Peter English on Sunda, so we figured we were headed towards the line even if we couldn't see it through all the traffic!

We finished 2nd for our class, 3rd overall for PHRF boats. Not bad for a bunch of Uzbeks!

- Ari

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sailing with BGIers

A few weeks back, I went sailing on the Tuna with friends from BGI. We had a great time dodging cargo ships on the Estuary. It was really cool to see the team dynamic we've developed in writing papers and case studies together transferred to the water. We then went back to Macha for Solar Curry. Aw yeah.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wooden Boat Forum: Sailing with No Engine?

(This blog post is a slight edit of a response I wrote on Wooden Boat magazine's online discussion forum. You can find the whole conversation here.)

We have a fiberglass hull, but I read this forum because I love OTHER people's wooden boats, and because wooden boat geeks frequently have insights and wisdom to share about gaffers, traditional seamanship, etc.

I was really very impressed to see how respectful and thoughtful this thread was! Normally, discussions of engineless sailing quickly devolve into explorations of alternative propulsion (electric engines, bicycle geared propellers, cold fusion drives, etc.) -- which respectfully is a completely different topic than sailing without any sort of engine.

Nevertheless, the various forum posters collectively enumerated many of the tropes, misunderstandings, and frequently asked questions we hear about sailing without an engine.

"For open water sailing the engine is just dead weight and wasted space, but if you routinely sail where there is lots of traffic and tricky channels, the engine is a piece of safety equipment and definitely worth the trouble."

"For long distance stuff an engine is nice. I remember reading something by the wife of the builder of the Spray replica Scud, about how painful it was to sail past beautiful Pacific atolls because they would have needed an engine to get in or out."

What I love about these mutually contradictory opinions is that they really elluminate the difference in philosophy between cruising by motorsailing, and cruising under sail.

Yeah, it's too bad that there are parts of the world that you can't get to with an engineless sailboat. But, if you're a skier, it's also too bad that there are parts of the world that don't have snow.

If you're a surfer, it's too bad that there are beaches in the world that don't have waves.

But for sailors, skiers, surfers, and anyone else who takes part in a weather dependent sport, it seems to me that seeking out or waiting for proper conditions is part of the sport.

I choose to focus on all the places in the world I CAN sail to, rather than the few places I can't. And I also realize that as my skills improve, there are more and more places I can get in an out of. For example, the latest edition of the Pardey's book describes sailing in and out of the coral atolls described above.

"For me using the engine is largely a safety thing."

Another way of saying this is: "Every time I motorsail somewhere that an engine is REQUIRED for safety, I'm implicitly trusting my life to my impeller, my fuel filter, my alternator, etc., etc." Modern diesels are pretty reliable, but there are still way to many single-points-of-failure for me to feel comfortable trusting my life to one.

I've heard somewhere that mountaineers say, "it's never the first thing going wrong that kills you, it's the third thing going wrong" I would argue that motorsailors often forge the first few chain-links of a tragic cascading failure without even realizing it, by placing their craft into a pickle they can't safely sail out of. By the way, this is true whether or not they actually even use their engines when sailing. The point is if and when they NEED their motor, they are literally betting their boat and maybe their lives that it will start on cue.

"Our Great Grandfathers sailed in a world with far far fewer vessels in it."

Not necessarily true. At my marina in Alameda California, there were more (and bigger three masted) sailboats at the turn of the last century than now. You could practically walk across the Oakland Estuary on the decks of the Alaska Packer fleet tied up there.

Of course, in those days there were harbor pilots and warping bollards and skilled line handlers, etc. See below.

"Yacht harbours are no longer set up for pure sailing."

That is definitely true!!! If you want to sail without an engine, you need to be choosy about where you keep your boat. Mooring or anchoring is definitely easier than docking. We keep our boat in a marina, but we shopped around carefully for an end-tie that would be easy to sail in and out of. Again, I think this is part of the sport for me. I would no more choose a slip I HAD to motor out of than I would choose a bicycle trail I HAD to drive to. Interesting thing is that side-ties around here seem to be easy to find, since the long walk from the parking lot is perceived to outweigh the short sail from the Estuary... :-)

"If you work for a living and need to get back, you probably could use an engine."

I totally agree. This is the main argument I see for engines. This is me trimming a gennaker with my teeth AND rowing so I could get home in time for a school-related conference call. Sarah was on baby duty down below.

But there is a difference in priority between boaters and sailors. If there is light wind, I find it insanely challenging and fun to try to keep the boat moving. If there is NO wind, I'd rather be reading a book than motorboating. And if there's an irreconcilable contradiction between working for a living, and sailing, who to say it's the sailing in your life that's the problem? :-)

"What did our great great grand fathers know about sailing that we dont? they sailed up the rivers what did we loose when the engine became king?"

Ultimately, this is why I sail engineless. I want to learn how to SAIL. If those salty old buggers could do it back in the day, why can't we?

I hear a lot of people say things like, I can't sail engineless in (location X) because there are currents of up to X knots here and the wind is unpredictable. I always want to say, "Yes, the moon's gravity also affects the ocean near where I live!" Pretty much anywhere you go, there will be tidal currents.

Pretty much anywhere you go, the weather man's forecast will not be 100% right. And yet, intrepid sailors have historically ventured into all these areas. (Hopefully at slack tide!!!)

To quote Charles Stock:

"the cruising man will take a fair tide as naturally as he selects the up or down escalator at the underground station depending on which direction he wants to take."

When people say they NEED a 50 horsepower engine to stem a 5 knot tidal current, to me it's like saying you need a gasoline-powered pogo stick to go up a down escalator!

- Ari

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Scull This

Looks like the oarsmen is relocating his floating home as well as a goodly number of his neighbours.