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Sailing story....

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  • Alan Thompson
    This was posted on the Catsailor Open Forum yesterday.... it s a great read and describes the way I m sure we ve all felt before.... ... Posted by A. H.
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2000
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      This was posted on the Catsailor Open Forum yesterday....
      it's a great read and describes the way I'm sure we've all
      felt before....

      --------------------------------------------------

      Posted by A. H. STAHLHEBER on July 30, 19100 at 17:26:15:

      WET AND WILD


      Whatever calls men to the sky is probably the same siren
      that
      calls men to the sea. In the clouds or on the sea, can be
      terrifying to some and rapturous to others.

      A few years ago, at an age when I felt most adventures were
      behind me, a strange thing happened at a birthday party for
      my
      daughter, Karen, on the beach of Mission Bay in San Diego.
      We
      were all enjoying taking turns riding a couple of jet skis
      when
      around a point in the bay comes a sailboat that Karen had
      rented.
      Heading our way was not just any little dingy flying a piece
      of
      cloth and snailing its’ way across the water. This was
      something
      very unusual!

      Even as a kid I’d always wanted to sail, but somehow just
      never got the chance. The idea of gliding across the water,
      with
      only the wind for power, fascinated me.

      Well finally, at age 60, I would get my chance. As the boat
      approached it looked oddly out of proportion. Tall mast,
      huge
      sails, and when looking head on, I couldn’t tell how it
      stayed
      afloat. It had two hulls as thin as ice skates, set wide
      apart, with
      a piece of canvas, like a trampoline, stretched between.

      When my brother-in-law beached this maritime marvel, I
      hastened for a better look. She looked fast! In fact, even
      to a
      landlubber like me, ignorant of all things nautical, it was
      obvious
      this little beauty was designed for only one thing - SPEED!!

      You could tell it wasn’t made for comfort, there isn’t a
      seat
      anywhere, just a stretchy piece of canvas to sit on. But the
      twin
      hulls were truly works of beauty. Banana shaped front to
      back
      with sharp V shaped bows that flowed sleek and true all the
      way
      to the stern.

      When someone said “Who’s first ?” I was in the water like a
      shot trying to figure out how to get on this thing.

      The first cruise was exhilarating. Even with 368,456 speed
      boats and jet skis plowing the water in every direction at
      once,
      somehow there was no collision and I learned a little about
      port
      and starboard, fore and aft, heeling over, tacking and sheet
      lines.
      Over the course of the day I also learned that this craft,
      that
      caused adrenaline to flow just by looking at her, was a 16
      foot
      HobieCat and had been around a long time. First built in the

      early 70’s by a man right here in San Diego. Now there are
      HobieCats all over the world.

      After that tantalizing experience the lingering glow of
      sailing
      persisted, then one day while driving to town a sail was
      just
      visible, sticking up above the trees, just along side the
      road. It
      seemed a dream because we were in the backcountry, at least
      60
      miles from the coast. I couldn’t resist! I pulled off at the
      next
      street and went back.

      There she was, sitting in a weedy back yard, fully rigged,
      sails
      flying. A 16 foot 1974 HobieCat, clean and beautiful. It was

      love at first sight. And to prove to all skeptics there is a
      God,
      she wore a FOR SALE sign on her hull.

      Now to further convince the non-believers, just follow along

      here. I knew by now that even vintage sailboats in good
      condition can bring a price of several thousand dollars.
      Being a
      semi-retired handyman I have little money to spare and this
      dream of owning my own boat could easily go up in smoke.

      The owner, a grizzly, older sort of fellow, showed me all
      that
      went with the boat. An extra jib, trailer, trapeze rigging,
      etc.
      and the cost was $300 dollars. In stunned silence I searched
      for
      some major defect and looked from one end to the other. She
      appeared sound and sound she was. I told the man this isn’t
      right, she’s worth much more than that. He admitted I was
      probably right but that he and his wife had had many a
      pleasant
      day sailing many different waters with her and that he’d
      more
      than gotten his moneys worth long ago and now it was time
      for
      someone else to have some fun. (Believe it or not people
      like this
      do exist. It sure renews your faith in humanity when you
      meet
      one).

      I graciously thanked this kind and generous man, paid him
      $350 dollars, which he protested to, and the next day towed
      home
      the new love of my life.

      There are a lot of cables, lines, pulleys and cleats even on
      a
      little HobieCat. Granted, this isn’t a Brigantine Man of War

      with 14 square sails and 342 miles of line with a crew of 46

      able-bodied seaman, but in both cases you get the same
      results.
      Do something wrong and you’ll be one of those “ who went
      down
      (under) the sea in ships. “

      Stepping the 26 foot mast, hoisting the sails (main and
      jib),
      hooking up the rudder arms (the first day I had them on
      backwards), attaching the boom to the bottom of the mains’l,

      (seaman jargon) and sheet lines to the sails, was very
      confusing.
      Then figuring out what to do with 86 feet of ropes hanging
      all
      over the place, (correction-86 feet of LINE, never say ROPE
      anywhere near a sailing vessel unless you want your anchor
      cable
      cut), was an even bigger problem.

      After one trial rigging in the back yard I grew impatient
      for
      open water, so with my patient yet wary wife Marge, I
      trailered
      our new vessel to a nearby lake. We launched into a new
      adventure.

      Rigging a sailboat of this type turns into a two stage
      affair.
      First is to lift the 26 foot aluminum mast into a vertical
      position
      and secure it with what I later learned is called the
      standing
      rigging. Then the boat goes in the water. Next comes
      hoisting
      the sails. It became very clear at this point that one needs
      to
      have the vessel pointing directly to windward during this
      operation, as the sails have the notion and the ability to
      beat you
      half to death before you can get them secured. There is no
      way
      one man can hold a mains’l crosswind in even a 5 knot
      breeze.
      However, when blowing straight back from the mast it becomes

      quite tame and allows itself to be harnessed for a days
      work.

      This first time at rigging took over an hour and a half. I
      still
      wasn’t sure we had everything in the right place, but as it
      is with
      all mortals, we shoved off anyway.

      The rented boat at the bay had been pretty fast even though
      it
      had always carried 3 or 4 people, now we found out what
      happens
      with only 2 aboard. We were fortunate that day, as ignorant
      people sometimes are, for there was a very light breeze.
      Even
      then we moved along much faster than our confidence could
      stand and after a few hours welcomed solid ground under our
      shaky legs. The true miracle was that we had not capsized,
      hit
      anything large or small, and had beached the craft fairly
      close to
      where we launched. Tired but very elated we de-rigged,
      loaded,
      and trailered this lovely beauty home feeling we’d sailed
      ‘round
      the world and somewhere there should be a band playing.

      By late fall we had polished our skills some in rigging and
      de-rigging and brought the time down from an hour and a half
      to
      about 20 minutes.
      I began to realize that the similarities between power boats

      and sailboats is only in the water they both travel on. With
      a
      motor you point the bow, push the throttle and go from here
      to
      there. Under sail you may never get from here to there.
      You’re
      entirely at the whim of the wind. Soft or hard or none at
      all, the
      wind demands patience and respect for its’ power. Patience
      to
      take the time to plot your course and patience when you’re
      becalmed. It seems that as one acquires patience,
      impulsiveness
      just quietly slips away. I now wish this lesson had carried
      over
      to the next spring when the impulsive bug about did me in.

      During the winter months, even though the boat was in pretty

      good shape, I disassembled it and piece by piece took it
      into the
      shop for cleaning, sanding, filling and painting. By spring
      she
      was stronger with some new rigging and much prettier with
      gleaming white hulls, red decks and a sleek red stripe
      following
      her graceful lines on the sides of her hulls. She was
      gorgeous. I
      told my neighbors that for just 50 cents apiece they could
      take a
      look at her. (They just laughed and snuck a peek anyway.)

      On the first cruise of spring with my brother-in-law, David,

      and my wife for a crew, we slipped across the lake in a good

      breeze and I was feeling pretty cocky. I’d read several
      books on
      sailing and my confidence was at an all time high. A puff of
      wind
      took off my ball cap, I turned the helm over to David,
      jumped in
      and started swimming. It took only about 50 yards to reach
      the
      cap, put it on and then look back for the boat. Right about
      here I
      began to question my judgement as I watched the boat
      disappearing over the horizon. I wasn’t wearing a life
      preserver,
      the lake was still cold, and it had been maybe 20 years
      since I’d
      done much swimming. It was starting to dawn on me that this
      cap rescue wasn’t going to be that easy as I started to swim
      after
      the boat and my muscles began to protest. Confidence was
      quickly being replaced with fear. When I stopped and started
      to
      float it gave me a chance to fully access my situation. The
      boat
      was way off, not yet heading back, knowing my buoyancy is
      about
      4 feet under water when relaxed, my fear was being rapidly
      replaced with panic. Laying on my back in a float position I

      remembered the big lunch I just had and prayed I wouldn’t
      cramp up. Calm down and float. Did David have the ability to

      bring that thing back? Calm down. With clothes and shoes on
      how long could I stay up? Did the pot belly I’d diligently
      acquired over the past few years add much to my buoyancy? It

      seemed like an hour before I saw those beautiful white sails

      heading toward me. When they hauled me back aboard of
      course I acted cool. Bad manners to admit you about lost it
      back
      there. Later it hit me what I’d gambled for a $3.95 ball
      cap. It
      goes without saying that no one gets aboard now without a
      life
      vest. Even our little ships mascot, Beagle dog Lassie, has
      her
      own AquaDog vest on at all times.

      The next trip to the lake was filled with man overboard
      drills. A
      small white buoy had come with the boat. With a short piece
      of
      line attached it made an excellent man to be thrown
      overboard.
      No matter how long it took to get back to him or how many
      times
      I plowed him over with a sharp bow traveling at 5 knots, we
      heard no complaints and the little guy just wouldn’t drown.
      We
      about lost him a few times but we followed the recommended
      procedure which requires one member of the crew to never
      take
      their eyes off him, from the time he goes in till the time
      he comes
      out. There are several different tactics in several
      different books
      but they all require the skipper to act fast to a preplanned
      and
      rehearsed course of action. There’s no time to debate on
      what to
      do because statistics show that a large percentage of
      drownings
      are from people going overboard. After maybe an hour or so
      of
      practice, in which we got the recovery time down to 45
      seconds on
      a lucky try, the breeze came up a bit so we tried for some
      speed
      runs.

      Maybe the most thrilling feats of a catamaran is it’s unique

      ability to “fly a hull”. When the wind is up to about 8
      knots or
      more this little marvel just seems to come alive. On a beam
      reach (the wind coming directly from the side) a little cat
      can lift
      the windward hull out of the water. All you do is pull the
      sails in
      tight and up you go, 1, 2, 3 feet off the water. Because the
      crew is
      always seated on the windward side, when the hull comes up
      you
      feel like you’re going right over the top and into the
      water. Now
      this can, and sometimes does, happen. But if the skipper who

      also has hold of the mains’l sheet line, eases and tensions
      the line
      just enough, then the magic begins. You’re suddenly riding
      on
      air, heeled over at about 30 degrees, and literally flying
      over the
      water at speeds sometimes faster than the wind itself. As
      far as I
      know, under sail, only a catamaran can travel faster than
      the
      wind. If the mains’l is sheeted in a little too far you
      capsize, if let
      out a little too much you settle back down. I haven’t yet
      capsized
      but I know it’s just a matter of time.

      During our speed runs I did get the hull up a few times but
      overreacted and we came down with a splash. Rounding a point

      and heading into the northern cove of the lake, I spotted a
      cat on
      the far beach and headed for it. After introductions were
      over,
      the slow moving, relaxed, middle aged man and I left our
      wives
      chatting on the beach and went for a spin in his boat. This
      was a
      really mellow fellow, as I have found that most small boat
      sailors
      are. His boat was of modern design and of a different make
      but
      she was really pretty, with nice lines and more
      sophisticated
      rigging. She was the same size and about the same
      proportions
      of sail to hull size as mine. The big difference, I came to
      find,
      was who was at the helm. Out from the shore a little way and
      on
      a beam reach, this soft spoken fellow said, just above a
      whisper,
      “Slide back a little and hold on.” He then yanked the
      mains’l
      tight, we both rose up out of the water about 2 feet. The
      boat
      took off like a shot and we stayed that way for about 3
      miles, all
      the way across the lake. Wow! The wind, the spray, the hum
      of
      the wind in the wires, the water flashing by, and yet quiet,
      so
      quiet you can hear the water churning in the bows wake and
      gurgling as it comes from under the stern and around the
      rudder.
      Now this is sailing!

      Back on the beach I puzzled over this difference in boats.
      There wasn’t enough to justify the difference in
      performance. It
      had to be the difference in skippers. The inequity between
      the
      novice and the old salt was obvious. The old saying I’d
      heard
      before seemed to be true. To ably handle a cat you’ve got to
      be
      willing to push the limits and not afraid to get wet. It
      also helps
      to sail a bit with the salty types. After several more trips
      to the
      lake, I felt we were ready to tackle some water with some
      salt in it
      and a bit more size, so we planned a grand excursion to
      Mission
      Bay.

      A DAY ON THE BAY

      The temperature was in the 80’s, the water warm in the cove
      and relaxation in the air. I’d heard the wind picked up
      about 9
      in the morning, so the little missus and I had left the
      mountains
      early to be on the water by midmorning. The sky was clear
      with
      some high clouds coming in from the sea when we drove into
      the
      parking area by the launch ramp.

      The shape of this place in Mission Bay, on the Santa Clara
      Point, is similar to a mushroom with the stem attached to
      the
      narrow strip of land called Mission Beach. The point creates
      a
      cove on each side and provides safe shelter for many moored
      sailboats. A truly beautiful and peaceful sight with green
      grass
      bordering a broad strip of white sand being lapped by dark
      blue
      water. To top it off were bright colored boats bobbing in a
      light
      swell.

      As we prepared to launch, an amiable young man left his 18
      foot PringleCat a couple spaces down and dropped over to
      chat.
      When he mentioned that people sometimes pull into your
      parking
      spot when your down the ramp and, as the lot was about full,
      we
      agreed to hold each others parking spaces. Having sailed
      catamarans for several years, Tim gave me some fine points
      of
      sailing for which I was grateful, however Marge noticed a
      bitterness toward powerboats and asked why. Many who sail
      don’t have much good to say about powerboats but Tim’s
      resentment had some firm foundation. Several years ago while

      on the bay in a HobieCat with his girlfriend Tim’s boat was
      cut in
      half by a reckless speedboat. Though Tim was only shaken,
      his
      girlfriends leg was cut badly and she was hospitalized. Tim
      fought the other fellow in court for 3 years before he
      recovered
      his losses. He still loves to sail but he’s a mighty
      cautious citizen.

      I had a map of the bay, even though I had once lived only a
      stones throw away, but that was (cough) years ago. The
      course
      we took was off the shore line following all the coves,
      basins, and
      islands so we could see all the new places that have been
      created
      since we were kids. My wife and I both grew up here when
      this
      area was thousands of acres of marsh and wildlife. Now it’s
      a
      multibillion dollar water park and the wildlife have gone
      into
      hiding.

      The breeze was cool off the water and a welcome relief after

      weeks of over 90 degree weather in the backcountry. There
      was
      a good sailing wind of 5 to 10 knots and it always came from
      the
      same direction, west. This too is a relief because on our
      mountain lake the wind can change 180 degrees in a matter of

      minutes, creating frustration or challenge depending on your

      attitude. A shifting wind keeps you awake, alert and teaches
      you
      to be aware of its’ strength and direction.

      Here at the bay, on a lazy Saturday, it is real easy to set
      a
      course, make fast the sheets and just stretch out, look up
      and
      watch the sails flowing through the clouds, with an
      occasional
      seagull squawking as it glides overhead. So easy to forget
      where
      you’re going and why you want to get there. In fact, while
      gazing off the port beam at a group of little sailboats of
      every
      description moored in a small cove, I nearly ran down a
      large
      buoy marker. Lightning reflexes immediately took over and
      without a thought I deftly averted disaster. (Yah!!)
      Actually
      everybody deserves a little luck and I guess I get my share.

      Looking ahead I noticed a long string of these markers
      warning
      not to enter this area. It was a large wildlife preserve of
      shallows
      and marshes, safe from powerboats and fishermen. This
      brought
      a smile to both of us. The wisdom of man to let at least a
      little of
      nature alone, is comforting.

      We enjoyed watching quite a number of young kayak-ers
      paddling around outside the preserve,13 and a few of those
      long
      skinny racing skulls with kids stroking strong and steady.
      Although they moved at a pretty good clip, the wife and I in
      a
      lazy recline, flew right past them. As some looked our way I

      saluted with a call of “Ahoy mates”. I imagined a few of
      those
      kids with sweat dripping would have changed boats quick if
      given
      a half a chance.


      After the grand tour of the north half of the bay we beat
      back
      towards Santa Clara Point. To get there we had to head
      directly
      windward to pass under the Crown Point bridge. With my
      normal confidence we pinched tight and attacked the narrow
      opening through the center pylons at about a 40 degree
      angle.
      Then halfway through the wind shifted slightly to the south,
      the
      sails began to flap and the boat stopped dead in the water.
      Looking up we saw deep grooves in the underside of the
      bridge
      where, we guessed, mastheads had tried to cut through
      concrete.
      Drifting backward and out of control, the missus asked
      quietly
      “What now, SKIPPER?” Quite calmly I assessed our situation
      and replied “Any suggestions?” We agreed on a plan of action

      and jumped overboard. Actually, we just circled around and
      tried again, this time with more success.

      With the boat pulled up on the beach next to the launch
      ramp we walked up to the boulevard, found a boardwalk cafe
      and
      enjoyed a nice lunch. The highlight here was watching a
      group
      of pelicans in tight bomber formation patrolling up and down
      the
      beach. Without a wing flapping, these large birds silhouette
      in
      flight, resemble the ancient Pterodactyl.

      Back on the water and heading south, the boat was sliding
      through some pretty choppy water as we entered the main
      channel that heads to the ocean. When I’ve been in
      motorboats
      in this kind of water, the hulls would pound so hard you’d
      think
      they’d come apart. Yet as we moved along on these V shaped
      hulls, the water just seemed to separate and let us through
      with
      no apparent resistance. Even when we pitched up and came
      down hard, we just felt a gentle swooshing without the
      slightest
      bump.

      Around a small point to starboard, we entered a large bay
      called Mariners Basin. There were many good looking
      sailboats
      moored here but one large two masted ketch rig really stood
      out.
      I swung us over as close as I could for a closer look. She
      appeared to be a small Brigantine of maybe 30 feet. With a
      built
      up aft deck, port holes and gold stripped railing with a
      dark
      colored hull, she was beautiful. I hailed a friendly Ahoy to
      the
      man on deck but received no response. Either he was too busy
      or
      thought us to insignificant to even wave a hand. After
      checking
      out the other nice looking craft moored throughout the
      basin, we
      headed back out into the channel.

      TO SEA OR NOT TO SEA

      Two long rock jetties boarder the surging waters into the
      Pacific Ocean and looking seaward from where we were, the
      fast
      moving swells were hitting the rocks with explosive force.
      With
      the wind coming straight down the channel we knew we’d have
      to
      tack back and forth many times. Each time I looked seaward
      that channel kept getting longer. As determined as I first
      was
      about getting into the ocean, my courage was on the ebb and
      I
      asked my crew if maybe we could try this another day. The
      vote
      came back in favor of a hasty, yet dignified, retreat. The
      weather was turning cold and the clouds were coming in fast
      so
      after another roll-call of all hands, we decided to call it
      a day.
      We made good time getting back to the ramp were we loaded up

      and headed for home.

      Some would call this an uneventful day, yet it was full of
      events. They were just peaceful events. Events of
      wonderfully
      active exploration. Two people at peace with each other and
      their beautiful environment of wind, water and sky, made
      even
      more enjoyable when flowing quietly and effortlessly from
      one
      lovely scene to the other. Life just doesn’t get much
      better. A
      very eventful day to me and if “the good Lords willin and
      the
      creek don’t rise”, there will be many more.

      by A. H. Stahlheber
      6-25-00
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