in Checking In, Sailing

First Sail Of The Summer

We spent most of the weekend tooling around Lake Gaston in our sailboat, Whimsy. Hallie had soccer at 11 Saturday morning, so we drove separate cars to the lake, with me leaving a little after they left for soccer. I got to the boat and began putting things together, all the while dodging the neighbor’s overly-friendly labrador retriever. Kelly and the kids joined me around 1:15 PM and we had the boat in the water about 2:15.

Winds were blowing out of the west the whole weekend, though at first they weren’t very strong. Kelly took the helm to begin with, reacquainting herself to the whole process. Hallie took a turn after she did: the first time she’s piloted on her own. I took a turn after that once the winds picked up a bit more.

We sailed in a direction different than we usually do. Typically we go east to Eaton’s Ferry and return. Saturday we went west, sailing all the way down to the I-85 bridge. That end of the lake seems much bigger than the eastern side. We saw a lot that we don’t normally see, including a platform of some type right in the middle of the lake, complete with scraggly pines surrounding it and some sort of large bird guarding a nest on top. After a few pictures of the platform, we turned around.

Normally sailors like to have the wind at their backs. It can be much less work. In our case, though, we were unequipped to properly take advantage of it. With wind behind you, the sail that gives you the fastest ride is the spinnaker: a giant rocket of a sail that balloons up like a parachute. We had the spinnaker but no clue how to rig it (and possibly a part missing to do so), so we made do with the sails spread like wings. This worked fine until the wind shifted a bit, at which point one of the sails would go flying in the opposite direction and the careful balance would be disturbed.

I hoped to put the boat in Saturday without cranking the engine but we ran out of wind short of the harbor. It was getting late so we had to move along. Hallie, who was having the time of her life, helpfully suggested we drop anchor and spend the night on the boat. That will have to wait until another time!

We parked the boat at the dock for the night and had the kids in bed by 8:30 last night.

This morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast before heading back for Day Two of sailing. We arrived at the lake around 10:30. With the boat already partially rigged it was easy to get going again. I took the time to connect the engine’s alternator leads to the boat’s battery so that we could put a charge into it while the engine ran. It was the first time I have tried charging the battery this way and it appeared successful. I don’t like having to twist the bare wires together, however, so I’m still looking for a suitable plug arrangement to add to it.

We went our typical direction today: east, towards Eaton’s Ferry. Kelly took the helm the whole trip out, making use of a strong wind to get us out there in record time. She seemed much more comfortable at the helm, and I felt comfortable going below to read stories to the kids. Occasionally, she would ask me to come topside to help with something but generally she skippered the boat herself. I am very proud of her!

The wind had picked up quite a bit by the time we made it to Eaton’s Ferry. I finagled the helm away from Kelly at that point and began the first of a long series of tacks upwind to get us back to the lakehouse.

The problem now was facing a wind blowing exactly from the direction we wished to go. One cannot sail directly upwind, so one sails as close as practicable and tacks when one must. Several times I would set a course to bring us past a point, only to be thwarted by changing wind into tacking again. There were several “last tacks” on the way home.

Kelly looked at me near the end of one and asked how I was doing.

“Tired,” I replied. “I’m ready to get out of here!” As I said it I realized I’d never said that before anytime I was sailing. Truth is, in spite of our fun I had a headache all day long and the sun was making me cranky. Still, to paraphrase the saying: a bad day sailing is better than a good day at the office.

We got back to the lakehouse just about the time we hoped we would. We packed up our stuff and soon headed back home. The kids are now bathed and safely in their beds. Kelly and I are at our desks, wondering why they seem to be bobbing up and down. In a few minutes, we’ll crank up our Netflix movie to top off the weekend.

It was a fine start to our sailing season.