Posted by: wrmcnutt | July 7, 2009

New To the River

I took my father’s boat out on the River today.  It was a first for me.  I’ve got over a thousand hours in small boats, but all of it, with very few exceptions, was on freshwater lakes.  In fact, almost all of it was in the Goose Creek Resovoir, in Hanahan, South Carolina.  It was only maybe a quarter mile across at its widest point.  But it was five miles long and tended to have steady winds.  Its fed by assorted small creeks and rainoff runwater.  There’s a dam at the south end.  Rivers are different.   Especially in the mountains.  For starters, rivers have current.  And the current isn’t consistent across the span.  The current changes, the deeper the water and the farther you are from the bank.  (FYI – it’s fastest in the middle.)

Then you’ve got the wind.  If the wind can get to you in the river valley at all, it changes with the geography of the river.  Go around a bend, and the wind picks up as you go past the headland.  The other way, and it dies.  Same for the wind.  It’s like the current.  In general, when you’re in the center of the river, the wind is strongest  Closer to the banks, it dies.  Add to that:  the river is, as bodies of water go, narrow. 

I put in at the James C. Ford Memorial Bridge, formerly the South Knoxville Bridge.  From there, I beat windward up past Volunteer Landing, the Gay Street Bridge, Calhoun’s on the River, and the Henley Street Bridge.  At that point, the wind died way down, and I decided that I’d better start my downwind run while there was still any wind at all.  It took me almost three house to tack a mile and a half, and just a half hour to ghost back on almost no wind at all.  In fact, I coasted into the dock with with an utterly empty sail.  On the other hand, my voyage was almost entirely dry. You can’t launch a Snark directly from a beach.  The daggerboard and the rudder both project beneath the hull, so you have to be in at least a foot of water before you can finish rigging-out the boat.  That means that you’ve waded in up to your knees and are going to kick water into the bottom of the boat when you scramble over the rail.

That was how I found the leak. The leak was too small to notice when I was sailing on the lake earlier this summer.  Launch from the beach the way I did, I always had water amidships.  This time, since I launched from a dock, I was able to board entirely dry.  So when my right sock got wet, I noticed.  A very close examination of the inside transom revealed a drop of water being slowly sqeezed out from one of the bolts I used to hold the transom on.  I’m going to try just tightening the bolt, but I’ll be that I’m going to need a rubber washer to keep the water out of the people tank.  (A friend of mine is an ex-submariner.  He says job one is “keep the water out of the people tank.  Job 2 is ‘surface to dive ration should equal ‘one.’ ” I don’t think that one’s ever going to apply to sailboats, but keeping the water out of the people tank is a good idea.

I also got some very, very light rain while I was on the water.  Nothing to get me particularly wet.  Just that stuff that barely marks your clothes before it stops raining.

A boat in the basement is just a thing.  Like the sawhorses it sits on or the extra chunk of aluminum roofing behind it.  A boat in a van or a trailer is just potential.  But a boat in the water by the dock is a small child, bouncing up and down in the water, waiting for you to finish the rigging.  But when the canvas snaps taut and she moves away, even under light air, a boat is alive.

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  1. A boat is alive.. You said it so well. I keep wandering into your blog because I just bought a Snark Sunflower. Been wanting a sailboat since I was a little girl. I’m SCA too. Been to the lilies war a couple of times. Thanks for a great read.

    • So – have you had the Sunflower in the water yet? How does it handle? Used or new? How much experience have you had?

      • I have! 3 times now. The first time, I didn’t discover till I was out on the river that the assembly instructions had a small typo that had the sails come down on my head. LOL.
        Been out 2 more times.. both times with very little to no air and hot hot hot.
        Found myself reciting the part in the movie Moby Dick where the guy with the Scottish accent tries to get Ishmael to throw the Spanish gold ounce into the drink to “pay the sea a ransom” when they are becalmed. LOL Decided my brains were getting cooked and went home. Maybe I will try tomorrow. Its hard to tell how the wind is going to be on the river from here.
        I have had a few sailing lessons. And read a couple of books. That’s pretty much it. I will let you know how it went when the wind decides to cooperate.

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