Posted by: wrmcnutt | December 8, 2009

Ship’s Log, September Blue: Ooops

A few days back, I took my wife sailing, seriously sailing for the first time.  Five minutes in the Snark last Lilies War does not count.  I’ve developed a habit.  It started almost as soon as I put Dad’s Boat back in the water.  My eyes look for flagpoles.  I’ve got a map of all the flagpoles near my routes to work and to the boat ramps in my head, and no matter what time of day it is or what I’m doing, my eyes seek out flags, banner, and used car-lot tinsel.  Because it tells me if the wind is blowing, and if I can be content going to work, or if I’m wasting a perfectly good sailing day in an “office,” doing “work.”  So as we head out toward the boat ramp, every flag, pennon and guidon that I see is hanging limper than hot spaghetti.  It just didn’t look like a good day for sailing.  But this is the day we had to get on out on the water, so, wind or not, we were putting the boat in the water.

Still, the day was warmer than we had been expecting.  The sky was clear and if the air was cold, the sun was warm.  The lake, unfortunately, was like glass, although there were tiny hints of breeze.  I had some hopes that the boat would move under sail, at least a little.  The Concord Park public boat ramp has a really nice parking lot.  Up at the top near the road there’s a large, level spot that is not only a really good place to rig the boat, it’s under a streetlight, so you can sail until sunset and still have plenty of light to break down the boat when you’re done for the night.  The ramps are long, shallow, and straight.  I could wish for the water to be a little deeper at the finger dock.  I can’t lower the daggerboard  at the dock.  It takes too much draft.  In any case, it took us about 90 minutes to get her ready to put in the water.  There were also a couple of issues getting launched.  It wasn’t until I had the boat afloat and was standing on the trailer in about two feet of water, holding onto the bow that I realized that K, standing in the boat,  could not reach the dock.  After about two minutes of her trying to lasso one of the dock cleats, it occurred to my to ask the bass fisherman who was getting ready to trailer his boat to grab the line and pull our boat over to the dock.  She’s a wonderful wife and a great nurse.  Cowgirl, not so much.

But, now rigged, we put our heavy coats below, together with the thermos full of soup and the one full of coffee, and prepared to cast off.  Step one, as always, is to put the motor in the water.  And, as always, the motor bracket put up a fight.  But, after five minutes of fiddling and swearing I got it in position.  There are only four things to check to start that little outboard.  Step one:  prime the fuel line.  Step two:  Pull out the choke.  Step three: put the throttle in the start position.  Step four:  Yank on that starter cord and OW!  Son of a @#$%& !!!

[iframe width=”1″ height=”1″ src=”″%5DStep four:  Confirm that the motor is not in gear.  Because it won’t move in gear.  Step FIVE:  Yank on that starter cord.

Note to sailors who are still in the dating game.  Daughters of bass fishermen have never encountered outboard motors smaller than 75 seahorses.  Should you become involved with one, you must become inured to frequent snickers and remarks about the size of your engine.

Despite my miniscule engine, I managed to get the boat into the middle of the lake and shut the stinkpot down.  I lowered the daggerboard and send the giggling Flower of Meridies down below to set the retaining pins.  There are four of them, each in their own bracket.  We had to motor out into the middle because we can’t run up the sails and get under weigh until the dagger board is down, and that takes a couple of minutes.  I didn’t want to take the chance of drifting up onto the beach.  While the wife set those retaining pins, I set sail, and by the time she came back up into the cockpit, we were under sail.

The air was very, very light, so I instructed my First Mate on the fine art of Making Sure You’re Getting Somewhere.  First of all, if the sail are holding their shape,  you’re moving.  Second, check for a wake.  If you’re leaving any ripples behind you, you’re moving. But both of these indicators will fool you in the river.  If you’re pointed upstream, you can still be sailing backwards.  The acid test is to pick a stationary object on the riverbank, usually a tree, and see if the landscape behind it is moving aft.  If it is, you’re moving.  Trust me, sailing in East Tennessee calls for these skills more often than I would like.

So I put herself on the helm, and she started learning now to con a sailboat.  The weather behaved very well, actually.  As light as he air was, she got to learn the basic skills without having to sweat the somewhat intense excitement involved in training in stiff breezes.  So now she can steer, operate the cam cleats, and come about.  After a while, she decided she wanted some lunch, so I took the helm and she went below to cope with the soup.

You know – soup is a great cold weather food.  But here’s an important safety tip:  when tacking a monohull, do not fill your soup bowl more than halfway full.  It sloshes.  You’ll also want a travel mug for your coffee.  Using an open top mug is an exercise in, well, pouring coffee onto your cockpit. Gosh – I’m over my word count already, and we haven’t even gotten to my first near capsize of the day.



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