Monday, January 11, 2010

Sailors Have Many Different Words for Wind

Dan studying the sail trim, trying to eke out a bit more speed. Photo by James Forsyth.

We’ve always said that we don’t race our boat. Officially, Dan claims that he doesn’t like the wear and tear on boat and crew, and mostly the attitude toward unnecessary risk-taking, that racing seems to engender. On the other hand, any time two sailboats of roughly the same size are traveling in the same direction, there’s … not racing exactly, but …”benchmarking our sailing skill,” or “learning fine points of sail trim,” or some other euphemism.
Last Saturday, when the wind was predicted to start out strong from the northwest and gradually taper off through the day, our friends James and Ellen suggested it would be a good day for a downwind sail down the Bay. They wanted to show us the way through Knapps Narrows, as we’d never been there before. Oh, yeah, and we could “compare the sailing characteristics of our two boats.” (You guys are going to be hearing a lot about James and Ellen; we’re planning to sail more-or-less in company as we head to the Bahamas this winter.) Although our boats are similar length, ours 33 feet and theirs 32, the designs are very different. Ours is a cutter – one mast, and theirs is a ketch – two masts. We should be slightly faster in light to moderate winds; their two masts and greater assortment of sails should give them more flexibility in changing conditions. They are also the more experienced sailors.
We spent Friday night on adjacent moorings on Clements Creek, and started down the Severn at 9 Saturday morning. The wind – almost too much wind – was roaring behind us, pushing us along quickly, a bit of adrenaline, hard to hold the helm, in fact. Not break-the-boat scary, but not really fun, either. I remember muttering to Dan, “I really don’t like this, why are we doing this?” and he asked me if I wanted to bail and head for home. But he already knew the answer – “No! We’ve gotta learn.” Sure enough, in another hour the wind had moderated and the day turned out more like everything we expected – clear air, sparkling blue water, warm sunshine, enough wind to sail well but not too much. We chose slightly different courses down the Bay, they stayed closer to the western shore, we were more in the center, but we noted (with just a bit of glee) that we seemed to be pulling ahead.
It wasn’t enough to make good speed, though – we had to be going in the right direction. James and Ellen’s more efficient navigation meant that they got to the entrance to the Narrows first and ended up waiting for us so they could lead us through. All sails down, we (and several other boats) followed them closely through the narrow channel rather like ducklings following their mother. On the other side, the water was flat and the wind had abated and we hoisted our sails again. As expected the lighter air favored our boat’s design and we began to pull ahead. The gap very slowly widened as the afternoon progressed. Then, quite abruptly it seemed, James and Ellen seemed to find their groove and their boat started catching up with us. It made no sense. The wind was getting lighter and lighter, which should have favored us. I was at the helm and Dan bounced around the boat like a hyperactive child, endlessly fidgeting with sails and winches to try to squeak just a bit more out of the trim, trying to keep our lead – to no avail. No fair! James took the above photo of Dan looking at the sails to see what else he could possibly do to improve our speed. As they continued to close the gap, James hailed us on the radio, teasing that he’d found some good wind over there where they were sailing a little to the left of us. He let us scratch our heads for only a moment before adding “It’s DIESEL wind. We’ve turned our engine on and suggest you do, too, if we want to make our anchorage before dark!”

No comments:

Post a Comment