Posted by: wrmcnutt | March 25, 2010

Ship’s Log: September Blue – Voyage At Winter’s End


At long last: the stars aligned, the yarrow sticks fell right, the runes were true, and the dreidel spun right-way up.  I was in town AND the temperature was over fifty degrees.  And we all know what that means, don’t we?

SAILING!

The morning dawned bright and clear, and one cup of coffee later, I was out of the house and on my way to the lake.  Well, okay, maybe two cups of coffee.  Okay, fine.  I’d been to Northern Regional War Practice the day before after having not seen the inside of my armor since August.  I was a little stiff, a little sore, and hungry.  So, a large, leisurely breakfast, enough time to make coffee for the thermos, and an assortment of pain relievers later, I was out of the house and on my way to the lake.

Yesterday, on the way to war practice, the wind was blowing crisply, from the time I left my door, to when I pulled up to the site an hour away.  Perfect sailing weather.  And I was wearing an iron suit and running around in a field getting hit with a stick.  Worse, I was practicing getting hit on the head with a stick. (The getting hit on the head lessons can be found at 4:08.) As I left the house and moved through downtown, the omens boded ill.  Not a flag was stirring.  Not a banner was ruffled.  Not a leaf on any of the trees was moving.  The river, as I crossed over it, was like glass.  I think I could have counted my nostril hairs in my reflection, if my vision wasn’t deteriorating.

The luck of the draw has the shortest approach to the yacht club where I store September Blue actually going around the lake and then back up it, so I have a view down the lake approaching the yacht club by road.  And clearly, I was not the only skipper who could see the proper use of a day like to day.  There were at least four other yachts out on the lake.  Whoo-hoo!  I trundled into the club and hitched up my boat.  Alas, I do not rank high enough for a slip, so I much launch September Blue each time I want to go sailing.  It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to hitch up the boat, tow her to the public boat ramp, rig her, and get her in the water.

When I arrived at the dock, I encountered an experience that winter sailing had not prepared me for:  waiting in line to use the public boat ramp.  This was unexpected.  In the middle of November, with incipient falling snow, I’d had these two boat ramps to myself.  The mess of fishermen and power boaters who had gotten here first was a sobering experience.  Once TVA closes the locks, the water in the river will start coming up, and I’ll be able to use the boat ramps over at the yacht club.  But until then, I’ll be working the public ramps.  The water, I discovered, was even lower than it was last month, when I was last able to get out here.  I had to back even farther down the ramp to get September Blue afloat.  It was disconcerting, because the ramp was particularly shallow.  But the time she was up off the bumpers, my tailpipe was halfway submerged.  It’s disconcerting to hear your vehicle burble.

As I inched my way forward in the line to the ramp, I realized something else:  it was going to be hard to park the van and trailer rig, once I got September Blue into the water.  I’d also decided to use my former bow line for a reefing line, so I only had a ten foot rope to tie the boat to the dock.  It’s plenty of line when you’re tying off, but walking to the end of the ramp, up the stairs, down the gangplank, and out to the floating dock, well . . . it just won’t reach.  So I ended up making this rather absurd looking leap from the trailer to the dock, holding the bow line in one hand and the pulpit in the other, trying not to fall in, trying not to lose the boat, and trying not to let the boat ram into anybody else’s (expen$ive) power boats.   As an acrobat, well, I make a passable sailor.  But I managed the stunt without catastrophe, and learned a new skill in the process.

As you can (barely) see, I was not the only boat on the lake.  Sadly, the ripples you see on the water are not the result of wind, or even breeze.  No, that’s the aftermath of many, many powerboats chopping up the surface of the lake.  Oh well, it’s their lake, too.  Boat in the water, powerboats un-rammed, van and trailer parked, I’m off toward the yacht club, tosail with the other boat.  Any second now.  Really.  There’ll be a breeze soon.  I mean, I complain about the Tennessee River downtown all the time.  But it’s much wider here and there’s less to block the breeze.  I thought.  After about fifteen minutes of drifting, I fired up the iron jenny and motored on out, looking for ripples that would herald a breeze.  I initially left the dock and motored out to the center of the elbow of the river we call a Lake Loudon around here. I was able to find a few scraps of air, but wasn’t really able to get under way.  After about 20 minutes dropped the motor back in the water and putt-putted over to where there were some visible ripples, and got in another five minutes under sail.  Again, the wind just wasn’t there.  At least not for my West Wight Potter 19.  But I wasn’t the only one out on the lake.  After dipping my motor in the water a second time in search of wind, I ran into this guy.

Incoming Collision

Starboard Tack

Almost literally. Technically, I am on a port tack, and he is on a starboard tack, and I am, therefore, the “give way” vessel.  I should turn to get out of his way.  The problem here is that there is so little wind that September Blue has no “steerage way.”  Unlike a power boat, whose propeller gives thrust, a sailboat can’t maneuver without being in motion.  So even though my boom was on the correct side to make me the “give way” boat, I can’ t move.  He did not alter his course, and I was forced to slam my tiller over to sweep my bow out of his way.

I really shouldn’t complain.  He had the right of way.  But I couldn’t really MOVE.

To answer your next question, why is he moving, when I cannot?  Well, part of it is that I’m not much of a sailor any more.  I’ve got a lot of nautical miles under my keel, but they were almost all thirty or more years ago, and in a much smaller boat.  Also, September Blue was chosen for her ease of handling and long standing record of safe sailing.  Not for her speed or sail-ability in really, really light air.  She’s kind of pokey under the best of conditions, and these were far from the best of conditions.  But there’s one other reason.  Check out the next picture.

Light Air Sails

Light Air Sails

I’ve made this pic a little larger so you can see the details.  Look closely at the jib up where it’s attached the the forestay, especially down at the bottom where the sunlight is hitting it.  See the little horizontal lines.  It’s hard to see in this picture, but his sails are translucent, except for those ribs.  He’s got a special set of mylar sails for sailing in very light air. They’re over-sized, especially the jib, and made of astonishingly thin material.  This allows them to hold the shape of the airfoil while my standard-issue dacron sails are baggy and drooping.  So he’s able to make headway, while I’m dead in the water.

I’m considering tarting up September Blue’s sail locker with light air sails, but, frankly, I’m scared of the quote.  I don’t know exactly what they cost, but I had plenty of time to chat with the sailing master of this boat, and he sail, without getting into details, that he paid more for this set of light air sails than he did for his boat, standard sails included.  Owtch.

So maybe I’ll look into a spinnaker for September Blue before I consider a set of light air sails. A spinnaker is less than half the cost of a set of performance sails. Not quite as much as the price of the boat, but I’ll bet they aren’t mylar, either.

Sunset on Lake Loudon

Sunset on Lake Loudon

After about three hours of motoring back and forth, chasing little puddles of air, I was forced to drop the iron genny back in the water and putt-putt back to the ramp to put September Blue away for another two weeks while I dealt with my obligations at Gulf Wars. The sun was setting on the waters of Lake Loudon, and I had other parts of my life to get back to.  Was it worth all the effort to unpack the boat, put her in the water, and then put her away, just for an afternoon of breeze hunting and a slow-motion near-collision?

Of Course!

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Responses

  1. Very Cool pictures..


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