Monday, August 18, 2014

Sailing, Sailing

I started a new job in mid-May, and I like it very much. But, I didn’t think about not having any vacation time accrued for summer, and summer here is fleeting, so my opportunities for sailing this summer have been curtailed. When I’ve time, the wind is too strong or absent. Or it’s raining. One weekend I met up with an old school chum, and it was lovely to catch up. Himself had a surgery recently, and while he’s mending, he can’t sail. So, that leaves me to single hand or go with friends.

It’s been mostly single handing, which is okay because I can learn more. But there’ve been times where I wasn’t quite sure to go because the wind was at the edge of where I feel comfortable. I’ve found that where I am at the moment in my sailing life, that 20 knots is about as much wind as I want. More than that makes things a bit too scary for me. I think my boat can handle 20 knots all right, and even 25 knots, if I want to sail with just the jib or consider putting a reef in the mainsail. Or, if I go with someone who knows a bit more than I do, then 25 knots could be doable.

Anyhow, between starting the new job and getting acclimated to that, it’s somehow become the middle of August. Summer has galloped along, and I asked SFB once again if he’d like to go sailing. Every other time I’ve asked, he’s been busy doing other things, family birthdays or get-togethers, and he’s been helping out at a kids’ camp near his house. This last time, when I asked, he said, “You know, I can’t quite believe it’s the middle of August. If I don’t say ‘yes’ now, the next time you ask, it’ll be to ask me to help you take your boat out of the water!” And for a wonder, he didn’t have any activities planned, so we went sailing on Saturday.
He insisted on rowing the dinghy, tried out my new-to-me oars, which are longer than the ones I got initially. SFB and Chuck, the clerk at the marine store thought that 5.5 ft oars would be good for me. They determined that taking my height into consideration, and though they didn’t say it, the fact that I was female. I was thinking longer oars, like 6.5 ft better. But, I took their suggestion since they have lots more experience than I do. This year, I twice was blown around trying to row back to the float where I keep my dinghy. I just couldn’t get enough oomph with the shorter oars. I decided to get longer ones, found a pair of used 6.5 ft ones, and tried them out two weekends ago. Perfect. Yes, they’re heavier, but they also fit my dinghy better because she’s wide. Small in length, but wide. I should have had 6.5 ft all along, and I’ve no doubt had I been male, the guys would have said at least 6 ft oars if not 6.5 ft oars. Now, I can sit and stew about it or I can remind myself that just because someone has loads of experience doesn’t mean he’ll be right in every instance. I really was unsure what size would be best, but if I had stuck to my inner voice, I’d have gone at least 6 ft. Lesson learned.

Once we got out to Retrouvé, SFB waited for me to tell him what to do and wanted me to do what I typically do. He did start up the engine, which did not get balky at all, he helped with removing the sail stops from the mainsail after asking if I were going to raise the main before I left the mooring (yes, I do do that, I don’t mind raising the jib underway, but I want the main up when I single hand). I went forward to cast us off the mooring, SFB was at the helm. I went aft when that was done, and we sailed for several hours.

It was a beautiful day, nice wind, some sun and some clouds, and SFB stayed on the helm. I was fine with that, and about a third of the way through, I really watched SFB. He became one with the boat, eye constantly looking ahead and put Retrouvé through her paces. He wanted to see what she’d do and how she handled. His eyes are a striking blue, and as he was fully engaged at the helm, they became a really saturated blue. We tacked a few times, he answered my question about backing a sail (he did it very easily and showed me how the wind went to the backside of the jib, forcing the bow to turn), and I went forward a few times to untangle the telltale or adjust a fender.
But clearly, for much of the sail, he was simply enjoying the feel of the tiller in his hand and watching what the boat would do, quite oblivious to anything except the boat, the sea, and watching as he navigated. I felt her respond differently, and it were as if she sighed with relief and said, “Someone at the tiller who knows—really knows—what to do.”
She seemed eager to please and very happy to be out and about. I silently apologized to her, letting her know that I was doing my best. Perhaps if I had the summer off, I could become a more competent sailor a bit faster. But for now, I had to be content with slow improvements, and I thanked her for being patient with me.

I was reminded of when I’ve heard new fifers play. You can often tell what tune they’re playing, it’s recognizable, and you can see that the new musician is in earnest. But it doesn’t have the same depth of when someone more experienced plays it. And, there is no shortcut for that experience, that wealth of knowledge and hundreds of hours of playing time that come after a while. And so it is with the boat. I’m still learning, I don’t have 60+ years of sailing experience in my hands, but I’m getting there as quickly as I’m able.
In the four or so hours we were sailing, other than explaining about backing the jib, or asking if he saw the lobster buoy or small boat that was partially obscured by the jib, I don’t think we exchanged 20 words.

It was glorious, to be enjoying the sea, the breeze, and not feel any pressure for small talk. As we sailed back to the mooring, I lowered and stowed the jib, handed it to SFB who put it below and handed me the boat hook so I could pick up the mooring line.

He was tired, but happy, and looked 10 years younger. I was happy, too, as being out on the water feeds my soul as nothing else does.
I had mentioned a mutual acquaintance having a new-to-him Friendship sloop, at the other end of the harbor, so we went down afterwards to see her. She was moved from where I’d first seen her to a mooring. Had we known, we could have sailed up to her. Maybe next time.

Rain spat on and off for much of Sunday, so I stayed home and attended to housework. Today would have been a delightful sailing day, but work calls. It feeds my boat habit, so I’m not complaining. I just hope the weekend has nice weather like this, too.


  1. I'd never really thought about the 'length' of oars, although as an ex-Eights rower, I suppose I should have. Ours were very long.

    1. What i found interesting, Cro, was that both SFB and Chuck took MY height into consideration, and i'm sure they figured since i wasn't very tall, and female, i probably also didn't have lots of upper arm strength and short oars would be easier for me. When i chatted about it with the Harbourmaster, whom i knew from when he was captain of the schooner i have sailed on, the first question to me was, "How wide is your dinghy?" and based his answer on that.

      My dinghy is small, but wide, so longer oars work much better. Were she narrower, then the shorter oars may have worked. Now, i can decide to sell the shorter oars, or keep them and see if we can have two rowers on the dinghy, since there are two places for oarlocks.

  2. I've never been sailing, being a born and bred prairie girl...but it's on my bucket list.

    1. Maria, it can be magic. At least i think so. I've always been happiest on the water, though, so i may be too biased. I know some unfortunates who always feel seasick no matter how many times they step aboard :0(