Posted by: wrmcnutt | September 23, 2011

Ok – Maybe, Occasionally, There is Wind at East Tennessee


Aaaaand that’s probably enough hospitals posts.  I continue to recover apace. I’ve been known to say that there are three kinds of wind in East Tennessee: not enough wind, too much wind, and wind blowing the wrong damn way.  It is possible that I may have been mistaken.

So this post is one I’ve been chewing on since the beginning of summer.

Earlier this week I caught an e-mail on the list of the yacht club where I keep my boat. Recent storms had damaged one of our docks, and the Rear Commodore needed volunteers to replace the damaged boards and re-set the cleats.  Mind you, every time I say the phrase “yacht club,” I feel obligated to explain that you might have the wrong picture in your head.  When they hear someone say “yacht club,” they think of huge motor yachts, oak paneled walls, and Persian rugs.  But, you see . . .  middle class people like boats, too.  So they get together in a big bunch, lease some land, and put together a place to park their boats.  So don’t think of Chauncey and Cyril with their jackets and ascots.  Think lawyers and accountants in flip flops and beachwear.  Anyway, at my club, the term Rear Commodore means “guy in charge of organizing volunteers to keep the buildings from falling down.”  And he’d spent the last week at the club, and wanted to be done early.  So we met at 8:00 in the morning and got to work.  I’d thought, you know, since I was here, I might take the boat out when we were done.

As usual, there wasn’t a breath of air blowing.  The lake looked like a giant sheet of tin, slowly flexing under the rising sun. Beads of sweat immediately broke out between my shoulder blades, and slowly trickled down my back.  Never mind; I’ll get my volunteer hours in and then read a novel

The work was light and interesting.  Recent severe storms had rolled through East Tennessee, causing damage to the West Dock.  Boats bucking at their slips had effectively ripped the cleats clean out of the dock, and in one case, ripped one of the boards off of the dock.  Also – the lake has risen sharply and at least one of the finger docks was submerged, it’s floatation overwhelmed by a dock line that had fouled the rollers and stopped it from rising with the water.

When I got there the Rear Commodore had already left on the Home Depot run to go pick up boards for the repair.  While he was away, the rest of us started mounting or re-mounting the cleats.  One of the interesting things about cleat mounting is that if you have a background in carpentry or home repair, your instincts are wrong, just like the guys who originally mounted these cleats.  It looks like a couple of lag-bolts will do the job, right?  Lag bolts just don’t have the holding power needed to keep a six-thousand pound yacht on leash when the wind hits thirty knots and the lake suddenly leaps to four foot swells.  You have to bolt through the wood and ideally, use a backing plate.  Failing that, a fender washer.  In any case, after about three hours, we managed to clear all of our work items, and it was around 11 o’clock, and the wind had risen to a steady ten knots, blowing in from the west.

As you might imagine.  Wind. Not just wind, but moderate, steady wind.  Here, in the mountains.  I was sorely tempted to sail out from the dock.  But I’m not comfortable enough trying to sail in the tight quarters of the finger docks around OPB’s. (Other People’s Boats)  Sail long enough and you’ll discover that you’re far more solicitous of the state of OPB’s than your own.  It’s something about responsibility.  After all, I can fix anything that goes wrong with my boat.

Once clear of the mooring field I raised sail, and we were off!  Under full sail Charleston Lady leapt into the main channel of the river.  I could feel the vibration of the flow past the rudder in the tiller.  There was  gentle gurgle astern as we moved across the water.  As always, when sailing without  a destination in mind, I headed upwind, in this case, down the Tennessee river toward Lenoir city. I was able to complete the first leg of the river on a broad reach and then started tacking up wind.  The usual “dead spots” weren’t, and I don’t think I dropped below 3.5 knots on the entire voyage.  The skies were sapphire blue, the sun was warm, and the power boats were mostly absent.   I reached my normal turnaround point in just over an hour.  There’s a spot on the river there where south side shoals.  Across the river is an enormous boathouse with a copper clad roof (some people have ALL the money) and some natural caves worn in the limestone.  Normally it takes me about three hours to get there.  Unfortunately, as usual, I was out of time and had to point my bow homeward.  The downwind run was even quicker and I made it back to the mooring field in about forty five minutes.

Turning around that day was one of the hardest things I’ve done.  It was the perfect day, under the perfect weather.  The boat responded perfectly and the air was stiff and steady.  And there was no one to share it with.  If I never sail again, all the money, all the effort have been worth it.  Under those conditions, I could sail forever.

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