Posted by: wrmcnutt | December 22, 2009

Happy Solstice Everybody

Whoo-hoo!  Strike up the band!  Fill up the wassailing bowl!  For Monday, December 21 (at 12:47 PM, to be precise)  the Winter Solstice Arrives!  It is this day of the year that has the fewest daylight hours.  This is due to the 23.5 degree tilt on Earth’s axis.  This time of year, the Northern Hemisphere tilts away from the sun, resulting in shorter days and longer nights.

And why is the Winter Solstice so important?  Well, after today, the days will begin to get longer.

And that means that every day, there will now be MORE time for SAILING.

That said, I took September Blue out this Sunday for a brief late afternoon cruise.  According to the warmest part of the day would be at 3:00 PM, so that’s when I started out to put the boat in.  I have recently joined the Concord Yacht Club (CYC) here in East Tennessee, and I headed their way to put the boat in.  When I got there, alas, the boat ramp was closed.  Here in East TN, our lakes have predictable but wildly varying levels.  Winter is the season of the low water, when the Tennessee Valley Authority draws down the level of all of the lakes in preparation for the spring thaw and all of the snowmelt that’s going to come down from the high altitudes and latitudes. And apparently, the boat ramp at CYC is not useful during the low water season.

When I got there there was no one on the scene, and I thought I might just slip September Blue into the water, but I chickened out.   I just joined the club and I didn’t want my first use of the facilities to be a violation of the rules.  So I headed back up the way to the Concord Boat Ramp.

It’s a bit of a bummer, because I joined the CYC so that I could leave my boat rigged and just tow it to the water and launch it, saving the 40 minutes it takes me to rig the mast and sails.  Alas, I’ve added to my rigging time.  I can’t leave the boat rigged and tow it to the Concord Boat Ramp.  I have to go under power lines twice.  (For the uninitiated:  if you hit a power line with a sailboat’s mast, you die.)  So now I have to drive past the boat ramp, hook up my trailer, go back to the ramp, rig the boat, and reverse the process when I’m done.  The only thing. I’ve gained is not having to store my boat in the street in front of my house.  It’ll be better this summer. During the high water season, I can leave the boat rigged.  It will only suck for winter sailing.

In any case, this Sunday’s voyage felt like it was snake-bit.  First, I got a late start.  Had to deal with Dadstuff.  It was just as well. The day was scheduled for a high of 45 degrees, and it wouldn’t hit that until 3:00 PM, so I made a thermos of coffee, put on the wonderful hand-knitted wool socks my wife made for me, and headed out. For starters, she peed engine oil onto my jacket while I was rigging the engine.  Fortunately, it’s a brown jacket, and the stain doesn’t seem to show real bad.  I got the boat in the water at 3:15, and it was like she was trying to drown me.  There was a stiff breeze blowing off of the lake and she kept trying to drift away without me.  Launching September Blue solo has it’s challenges.

For starters, unless you’re willing to get your feet wet, you can’t reach the trailer winch.  Unless you go in the side loading doors of the van, climb over the walnut you bought for an apprentice who didn’t show up for her workshop appointment, squeeze past the three toolboxes you can’t leave in your workshop or they’ll get stolen, and open the rear loading doors.  Then you can step out onto the trailer tongue and let out the winch.   Take the long bow line and fling it over the dock.  Release the winch and GENTLY nudge the boat off of the trailer.  Firmly but kindly admonish the boat to STAY THERE.

Now you must literally outrun the wind.  Back-in-the-doors-past-the-toolboxes-over-the-walnut-*dammit*-BACK-over-the-walnut-grab-the-lifejacket-BACK-over-the-walnut-one-more-time-around-the-front-of-the-van-onto-the-catwalk-down-the-gangplank-and-onto-the-floating-dock-to-grab-the-bow-line.


This low-stress process left me with a two-thousand pound kite flying at the end of its bow tether.  I pulled her in and found that there was no way to get her to swing around and make her stern line fast.  I couldn’t turn her broadside to the breeze.  I got close a couple of times, though.  All I needed to do was lean out a little farther and. . .

Uh -uh.  The water’s 53 degrees.  I’m a nut to sail in this weather, but I’m not the stark, staring insane it takes to fall into the water in this weather.  I did not lean out a little farther, but instead pulled her to the end of the dock and hand-over-handed her into position until I could tie on the stern line.  At which point her bow decided to go sailing without us.  A quick jump to recover the bowline almost put me in the water, because I tripped over my own feet.  (Cue windmilling arms about 53 degree water at the dock.)

I drug (dragged) her nose up to the dock and hand-over-handed her across the end of the dock and made her stern line fast.  While I was doing that, her dainty nose tried to sneak out on the lake.  Another quick leap, and I grabbed the bow line (more windmilling arms) before it fell into the lake, and finally had her tied up.  Park the trailer.  Visit the head.  Back to the trailer for the coffee thermos.  Stow the coffee thermos.  Roll eyes.  BACK to the van for the ownership paperwork.  (“What did YOU do Sunday?”  “Oh, I walked up and down a boatramp for an hour .  .  .”)

Finally, all of my crap stowed below, cast off without a sudden swim, and off I motored onto the lake.  Bringing her to a halt, I started lowering the daggerboard.  Down one foot.  Down two feet.  Down three feet. Up one foot.  What?  Yes, in fact, I was cranking clockwise to lower, and the board was coming UP.  Reverse direction.  Down one foot.  Up one foot up two feet.  ? ? ?   Down one foot. Down two feet.  Up one foot.  It’s acting like the line is jammed.  So I lowered it back to the critical point, laid down on my back in the cockpit, and looked up at the winch. It’s installed in my transom, so you have to look up through the top of the glovebox to see it.

No, the line is not jammed.  The winch is just EMPTY.  There’s not enough line to lower the daggerboard all of the way!  For the newcomers, when the steel cable that holds up my daggerboard wore out, I opted to replace it with 1/4″ Amsteel woven line.  We measured, we checked, we pondered, and we double checked.  But we couldn’t test it, because we were working on the trailer.  And somehow, we’d cut the line a foot short in the final finishing stage.  To say that I was put out would be an understatement.  If there’s one thing worse that something going wrong, it’s something going wrong that you can’t blame on someone else. *fume*  I used some words I haven’t used since I worked on the Charleston Navy Base back in the ’80’s.  But I’d bought enough line to have a spare.  I just couldn’t rig it in the middle of the lake.  The wind was brisk enough to put me on the beach if I just drifted.  I hadn’t rigged the anchor, and I wasn’t enthusiastic about raising the anchor with a cold soggy line attached to it anyway.  So .  .  .

Back to the dock.  I suck at docking, so it took ten minutes to get into position, hit the dock, and get the stern line in place.  I managed to only ram the dock once.  After about ten minutes of dealing with the wind, the outboard, and the fact that my fenders were on the wrong side of the boat, I managed to get tied up at the dock.  I was in a full five feet of water, tied up across the end of the dock, so would be able to lower the daggerboard all the way to test my line before I cut it off.


Raise the daggerboard.  Put the retaining pins in.  Lower the board onto the pins.  Drag the spare line waaaaay back up into the starboard quarter birth, through the block, and out into the glovebox.  Squirm out of the quarter birth.  Backwards. Drink coffee.  (Remember – it’s 50 degrees.)  Out to the cockpit.  Lie down.  Realize that at 46, you just don’t bend that way any more, and start feeling around.  Ok:  the line is tied in a clove hitch around the axle of the winch, and then with two half-hitches to prevent any slippage.  Ideally, the load will put most of the holding obligation o the clove hitch, and not the half hitches, because I don’t like how sharp the hole I’ve tied the line through is.  So.  Until the half hitches.  Until the clove hitch.  Pull he new line through.  Clove hitch. Two half hitches.

Drink more coffee.  I’ve been lying in a fiberglass cockpit in 48 degree weather and am slightly damp.  (Yes, the temperature is dropping.)  Back below.  Thread the line through one, two, three, four, five blocks.  Back to the cross bar on block two.  Poke.  Poke.  Poke.  Poke.  Dammit.  Okay.  Two more half hitches.  Cut the line off? Oh, hell no. Wind it around the winch drum.  Back to the cockpit.  Lift the daggerboard off the pins.   Cast off.  Start the motor.  Head for the center of the lake. Start lowering the daggerboard.

Watch the daggerboard hang every four inches and then drop like a rock, violently flexing the cabin roof.  What the?  Ah, of course.  I’m doing 2.5 knots.  The daggerboard is being pushed back against the trunk, and the friction is keeping it in place.  But it’s down now.  Raise motor.  Raise sails.

Finally sailing at 4:15.  I got in an hour and 15 minutes of sailing before I had to motor back and pack up the boat.

Not my best day, by any means.  But a bad day on the water beats a good day at work.

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