Sailing isn’t chill

on April 21-23, 2017
Elliot Bay Marina, Lake Washington

What a weekend of sailing it was…

Friday was a surprisingly clear day, so Peter and I headed straight for the marina after work to meet Jim. It was warm – at first I was just wearing a tank top and a light shell as we sailed towards Bainbridge Island. It’s days like this that remind me of what summer feels like, for, as a Seattleite, the nine months of grey means forgetting what fair weather is like, or what it feels like not to be cold.

The sail was beautiful, and I took the helm for a few of the tacks. We could see Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker quite clearly, and the north sky was just the clearest of blue fading to yellow as the sun approached the horizon. Then, all of a sudden the wind died. We practiced our first gybe on CDS in the soft breeze and headed back towards the marina. Clouds started to gather over the Olympics, foreshadowing the next week of rain the weather holds for Seattle. I asked Jim when we would see orcas, knowing they are relatively rare sightings near Seattle. Later I saw news reports of orcas just off downtown earlier in the day – there is hope!

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A Bainbridge Island heading
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From the Space Needle to Mt. Ranier and beyond
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Clouds gathering over the Olympics

Before I go any further, I must say a few words on my sailing experience. Last summer I didn’t know ANYTHING about sailing when Peter and I went out on an FJ. I didn’t know what tacking or gybing was, that you couldn’t sail directly upwind, how to rig a boat, what any of the terminology was, etc. etc. Really, I didn’t know ANYTHING, other than that I wanted to learn to sail and have wanted to for a very long time. Slowly I learned some miscellaneous tips and terms, but most of the sailing I’ve done means doing what someone more experienced tells me to do whether it was on an FJ or CDS. In other words, I lack a solid fundamental knowledge of how to sail. This became quite evident to me by the end of the weekend.

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On Saturday, I went to the first of four FJ sailing classes at Sail Sand Point. They have a new fleet of FJs that look really nice and shiny. It was a little rainy and partly cloudy, with southerly gusts the instructor called “dirty spring wind”. We rigged the FJs, but the wind was a little too much for new FJ sailors, so we just ended up going out on Quests for 15 or so minutes.

Peter and Kevin, one of Peter’s friends from Missoula, picked me up at Magnuson at the end of the class. I left knowing I have so much to learn, and looking forward to more time on the water. As we drove away, I had that burning knowledge that learning to sail is the right thing for me to do. I know it’ll be hard and that I have so much more to learn, but something inside tells me it’s what I need to do.

Kevin was crashing with us for the night between his international flight to Seattle on Saturday and a flight to Missoula on Sunday. With the newly attached grill on CDS, Peter and I had big plans for dinner between the three of us. We stopped at Mollusk for a growler and Whole Foods for bacon hamburgers and fixins’, then headed for the marina. It had been rainy earlier, but then evening proved quite nice for a grill out on CDS. Kevin hasn’t spent much time on the water, so we pushed him out on the dinghy to practice rowing in the marina lanes. When it got dark, we played Pandemic inside the cabin. It was a great evening, where I learned the chill side of sailing (re: not sailing, but I didn’t quite know this until the Sunday).

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Boats aren’t just for sailing (they’re also for grilling hamburgers)

Sunday rolled around, and Kevin headed back to the airport. I read a few chapters of Tranquility before going to day 2 of my FJ sailing class. And boy, this was where my lack of sailing fundamentals showed right through my veneer of miscellaneous sailing knowledge.

This time the sun didn’t peak through the clouds, and a constant rain came down as we rigged the FJs. The instructor told us about practicing a figure 8 course once we got out on the water that included only tacks. Kelly, my partner in the FJ, and I were both feeling a little unsure of ourselves when we left the dock, but sailing was what we had each signed up to do, so we were off!

Things got stressful pretty quickly. Kelly was the skipper in charge of the mainsheet and tiller, and I was the crew on the jib. After some very wobbly tacks, it was pretty clear neither of us felt in control of the boat. On one tack, the boat heeled and water started rushing in on the port side, but we managed to straighten out. We switched positions so I was managing the mainsheet and tiller…

I’d had this feeling before. I remember learning to drive on a manual and feeling overwhelmed with everything that was going on inside and outside the car. Paying attention to the clutch on top of trying not to hit anything or going the right speed felt like a lot to handle. I also remember learning to snowboard and not understanding how to stay on the edge of the board or knowing how to control my speed when I managed to get going. If I went to fast or started to feel out of control, I would just fall on purpose, sometimes pretty hard.

This sailboat didn’t have breaks like a car or the cushion of snow-covered ground (as hard as that is). I didn’t have a good concept of the wind direction in relation to our boat, and my tacks were wobbly. I was a bit afraid to go too fast, but once we got settled a little bit, some of the random useful knowledge started coming together. Trim the sails as you reach the edge of no-sail zone… reach when you’re heading closer downwind… luffing means you’re heading towards the no-sail zone…let go of the main sheet if you are unhappily loosing control of the boat (there it is: the brakes, the snow-covered ground)…The things I’d read but not quite understood and the things I tried to pick up on when I’ve sailed before. That figure 8 the instructor talked about never happened for us but we precariously made it around one of the buoys a couple times.

My knees and right shin took got the worst of the day (not to mention they were feeling quite weak when I got out of the boat back at the dock). On one tack as I scrambled to the other side of the boat, my right shin smacked the centerboard leaving a large, painful welt. My feet got soaked, but I didn’t have time to think about being cold.

Yes, I was a little scared out there on the water in a sleek, fast little vessel I hardly know how to control. When you’re scared a thought crosses your mind: maybe I shouldn’t do this. The doubt, the refusal of the call. But what journey doesn’t start with a little fear and a leap of faith? I recognized the call to adventure, and I’m crossing the first threshold into the unknown. I won’t give up.

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Scared and excited to sail an FJ again. My shin aching at the thought of a sailboat.

What I learned:

  • How to read the water for wind (or at least a step in that direction). Also, that white caps on fresh water means less wind than white caps on salt water.
  • Many cues on how to angle my boat in the wind, though this knowledge is quite minimal.
  • How to tack in an FJ without any grace or finesse.
  • New small boat sailers often have bruised shins.
  • Sailing isn’t chill, but hanging at the dock is (the ultimate lesson of the weekend).
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