Monday, September 28, 2015

Suddenly Sailing Part 4 - Boat Show!

Suddenly Sailing Part 4

Boat Show!

One weekend ago, we headed on down to South Lake Union for Seattle's Boats Afloat show. Neither of us was quite sure what to expect, but we packed my satchel with water, snacks, and the camera, and showed up at about 10:30. The weather was mild, on the verge of rain, and rows and rows of boats lined the docks. 

Unfortunately, most of these were not sailboats. All in all, there were probably less than 30 sailboats, and even fewer in sizes and styles relevant to our needs. We took a quick walk around to scope them out, then headed to a boat-buying seminar.

The seminar was well presented and touched on many topics we had already run across, such as the importance of a good surveyor. It was very broker-centric- a broker was presenting, after all. But still, he pointed out some things to us that were very useful, such as stressing taking the sea trial before the survey. Little things like that may be common sense,  especially to someone who has bought a boat before, but not necessarily obvious to a newcomer. 

After that, we decided we'd get on as many boats as we could during the course of the day to get a feel for the different manufacturers and what we liked or disliked about each. We also spoke with a few of the brokers standing on the docks, all of whom were very friendly and informative. 

Some take-aways from the boats we hopped on-

  • Jeanneau, Hanse, and Beneteau yachts all felt a bit like Ikea had vomited into a boat. Don't get me wrong, it was a beautifully modern sort of vomit, full of slick lines and birch and cherry veneer, but it's not my thing. Ikea itself has its place and they even make some very nice things that have a touch of character, but not these boats. If you want a slick daysailer to show off to your buddies, sure, but not if you want a place to come home to.
  • Catalinas and Hunters were a happy medium of creature comfort. The Hunter-Marlows were incredibly roomy for their length and had a lovely separated shower. However, we learned that Hunters very recently became so roomy after a buyout by Marlow, so the likelihood of a Hunter-Marlow being in our price range is very low. The Catalina felt like a very cozy RV, and while The Sir wasn't as keen on the Catalina as the Hunter, I'd be happy in either.
  • Island Packet and Blue Jacket - Of course, the boats we liked the most would be the most pricey. These ships both had some nautical character to them with nice vented lockers and well finished interiors, and the Island Packet even carries a full keel. We're not sure we'll entirely utilize a full keel, but the idea of a sturdier sea-worthy ship is darn appealing. They also run somewhere around double the price of an equivalent ship from the other manufacturers. 
Some interior shots of the 2014 Island Packet (click for a closer look):
Saloon, with some chairs I didn't care for. Fortunately, 
there's an alternate layout with a settee (couch) in their place.
U-Shaped Galley
Aft Stateroom

V Berth

The infamous head

Truth be told, I'd be happy on any of these ships, but The Sir was not overly impressed with them. If we end up in one of these incredibly popular (for good reason) boats, we'll probably be looking for something that will work for the time being and be easy to resell, so that if something we really love comes onto the market, we can quickly transition to our dream boat.

So, the boat show was not as helpful as we'd hoped, but we did get a good feel for the most common manufacturers and also pick up countless tidbits of useful information while we were there. On the second day, we went through each boat again, taking more detailed notes and video clips. We also got to spend some time hanging out with The Sir's aunt and uncle, checking out absolutely ridiculous triple story trawlers. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Suddenly Sailing Part 3 - Lessons, Continued

Lessons, Continued

After reaching our mooring for the evening, we headed back out to get in a bit more practice. The wind had picked up nicely and carried us out to the surrounding waters. We went through some more tacks, and then began on jibes.

A jibe is the action of turning the stern (rear) of the boat through the direction the wind is coming from, while a tack turns the bow (front) through the wind. (Sailing carries an extensive lexicon of both useful new terms and ridiculous renamings of things that didn't need renaming.) 

In any case, tacks are relatively simple. On our ship, it mostly involved turning the wheel and then moving the jib (the front sail) to the other side. The main sail didn't need much adjustment, and the boat would catch the wind and be on its way in no time. Jibes focus on switching over the main sail, and carefully adjusting it to prevent the boom (the horizontal spar/beam at the bottom of the main sail) from swinging violently around. The boom was well above our heads on this ship and more dangerous to the ship than to us if it were to catch the wind incorrectly. 

I believe it was Franz who was first up at the helm while we worked the lines and Cam guided him through the process. Everything went relatively smoothly, though some amount of sails flapping and less than smooth shift of the main sail took place. I was up next. 

I took the helm and followed Cam's orders through a few points of sail, still having a bit of trouble orienting myself by the windvane at the top of the mast. With everything still being very new, it was (and still is) a challenge to quickly account for the arrow's position in regards to the little guides that fall on either side of the no-sail zone (where the ship is pointed directly into the wind). When the arrow is pointing towards you, it means the wind is coming from behind the ship, and the no-sail zone more or less becomes the wind full in your sails/accidental jibe hazard zone. I managed to get the ship in line with the Cam's orders as the rest of the crew did an excellent job of trimming (adjusting) the sails.

And then he asked me to jibe. 

What ensued was basically a disaster. When Franz had jibed, I was not fully aware of what was happening in regards to the ship, being very focused on the sail line that I was responsible for. Cam instructed me to bring the ship through a jibe to a broad reach (swinging the stern of the boat about 45 degrees through the wind). So, I brought the wheel over slowly, watching the weather vane at the top to judge how far the ship had turned. When the main sail was brought over, which is not a very gentle process, the wind pushed the ship to keep it turning strongly. Things happened very quickly, and I got very disoriented about the wind direction and extremely flustered with my inability to get the ship pointed in the right direction. I froze up at the wheel with the sail flapping about and had to hand it over while I mentally sorted things out and the rest of the crew sorted the ship.

I don't perform well under scrutiny. My general philosophy has been to practice things until I know them so well that I'm very unlikely to fail at them in front of others. When I mess up and get noticed or become embarrassed, it is close to impossible for me to not become even more flustered and incapable of fixing the situation. In the case of helming a 41 foot sailboat, it's impossible to learn that behind closed doors.

I watched everyone else perform the jibes more or less without issue, and was silently kicking myself the entire time, too nervous and embarrassed to give it another go. Cam disappeared below decks, as he tended to do, and eventually I worked up to asking the rest of the crew if I could have another go at it. And just as I was about to make an attempt, back up came Cam and suggested we head back to our mooring for the evening. 

The whole jibing situation put a damper on the evening and set me into a slight panic. I really, really needed to learn this skill and I only had however much time was spent sailing tomorrow to practice. We still had the written exam in the morning as well. My internal drama aside, dinner was wonderful. The ship had a little barbecue on the back. Though it took just about forever to cook the overly thick chicken breasts we had been provisioned with, they were all the more delicious for the wait. Chicken, green beans, and herbed fresh bread made up a simple and delicious dinner while we got to know Cam, Franz and Leah a bit better. The sun slowly set behind the pine covered islands on a perfectly peaceful evening.

It had been a long day, and by 8:30, everyone was dragging. Cam tucked in first, and we followed suit shortly after. Franz sat up studying a bit later. We hadn't been sleeping long when we were roused by the sound of rain. It was raining hard, a chorus of loud thuds all around us. But the constant drumming eventually settled into a soothing drone while the ship steadily rocked. We were in one of two aft cabins tucked below the cockpit on deck, each equipped with a roughly queen sized bed and a low ceiling. When we woke again in the morning, the world was grey and it was still raining, but less intensely. 

After breakfast, we took the written exam. There were no surprises, just a lot of material. When we'd finished, we went up top to scope things out. The rain had cleared and everything was perfectly still. The water in front of us was glass-like with small ripples. Absolutely beautiful, and completely useless for sailing. 

We were prepping to motor out with Cam discussing our course when I noticed something move behind him. Sea birds seemed to be everywhere out here, but whatever I had glimpsed dipping below the water was larger and had a less organic shape. It had almost look like a diver's flipper going down. I pointed out to where I had seen it, and in moments, we were watching a pod of orcas passing by. They were somewhere around 500 feet out from us. I'd never seen an orca in person, and it was absolutely stunning to see them surfacing. One even leapt out of the water in a breach. But we weren't there for the whales. After a few minutes, we refocused on Cam, only to have a harbor seal poke its head curiously out of the water about 20 feet off our port side.  And then, finally, we set to motoring away from that magical little island. 

It took us most of the morning to motor our way back to Bellingham harbor. Cam taught us a little about reading the charts when he was topside, and went over our tests once he'd had a chance to grade them. Everyone had passed the written. We approached the harbor sometime after noon, and thankfully, the wind was up - not so strong as it had been the night before, and I was grateful for that. We spent time doing drills - mostly driving the boat in a large circle, jibing and tacking as necessary and rotating through all of the positions. I finally had the opportunity to practice jibing again. And following Cam and the Sir's advice I consciously oriented myself against the landscape, avoiding focusing on the windvane. It was much more doable. Anticlimactic, even. 

After a few hours practicing, we made our way back into the harbor, refueled the boat, checked out Cam's ship on a slip across the marina, and carefully settled the Wind Song into her slip. Cam gave us some parting words, helpful advice, and each of us received our certificate for the course. Overall, it was a great experience, and I learned an immense amount over the course of the weekend. For every thing I felt I now had a handle on, I also recognized there were two or more new things I needed to learn, or how much more I needed to practice a given skill so that it could become second nature. 

I could recount innumerable other bits and baubles from our first sailing lesson, but I think I've hit on the most substantial, interesting, and exciting bits. In just two more weeks we'll have our 103 course at the same school, with a different instructor and different ship.  Next weekend is the Boat Show. In the meanwhile, I'm still working on whittling down the massive collection of "stuff" I've accumulated around the house over the years- art supplies, clothing, books - you name it, I've got too much of it. But every day, we're getting a little closer. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Suddenly Sailing Part 2 - First Sail and Lessons

Suddenly Sailing Part 2

First Sail

Last I wrote, we had just plunged headfirst into learning about sailing. Thursday of last week, I stepped onto a sailboat for the first time in my life. A coworker was kind enough to let us pick his brain over coffee the week before, and offered to let us come aboard for a quick sail, weather permitting. 

After work, we joined up with him, had a short adventure of locating the car, and headed over to Elliott Bay Marina. He gave us a quick tour and we helped him cast off. We motored out from behind the protective wall and onto the sound. The wind was light, but enough to move the ship, a Hunter 34 from the mid 80's. The light was beautiful and the clouds formed a soft panorama of endless variation. I was so occupied with the initial experience, the sensation and sounds of the waves shifting the boat, that I honestly don't recall most of the details of hauling the sails and adjusting the lines. We helped uncover the sail though, and once it was up, it was a surreal and ultimately calm setting. I'd been on a powerboat a few times, and while it's very similar in some senses, to me, the sailboat gives a greater feeling of harmony. We went out a-ways, taking it all in, and eventually, the wind gave up on us. We motored back, and arrived home shortly after, pondering our experience. 

My fiance (henceforth referred to as Sir, or The Sir), was surprised by the size of the interior. I, by how difficult it could be to orient yourself according to the little weather vane at the top of the mast. The experience was a wholly positive one, giving us a tidbit more perspective on what we were in for. Under light winds, the boat really hadn't done much. Sure, it moved, but it was all very relaxed at a top speed of four knots or so. The rest of the evening and Friday were occupied by last minute studying for our 101 course and listing more of my belongings for sale on Craigslist and at work. 


Setting Out

At 5 AM on Saturday morning, we woke up, took a quick shower, and headed out. We hopped in the car and headed for Bellingham with a short detour to pick up a rain coat and boat shoes I'd left elsewhere. Seattle's ridiculously inconsistent streets were unforgiving to us infrequent drivers, and it turned into an adventure of one-way streets, bus-only lanes, and no-outlet hills. In any case, we made it to Bellingham Marina with enough time to grab a microwaved breakfast burrito and a delicious scone before checking into our class.

We spoke to one of San Juan Sailing's staff, and she sent us on our way to our ship for the class, a 2015 Bavaria 41 named Wind Song. We soon discovered it was the newest and probably fanciest boat in their fleet which we'd chanced upon. We brought the food and our bags with clothes and so on down to the dock. The Wind Song is an absolutely gorgeous thing that has very little personality, in my opinion: a high-tech ship with a sleek hull and furling main and highly functional and roomy interior not unlike what you'd find in a modern Seattle studio apartment. It's all very impressive and comfortable, but also gives the feeling of a too-fancy hotel. 

Shortly after arriving on the dock, we met our classmates, another couple with relatively little sailing experience. I'll call them Leah and Franz. Leah had done some sailing in college and wanted a refresher, while Franz was just as wet behind the ears as us. Our instructor, referred to as Cam henceforth, arrived shortly after- I'd researched him a bit on Linked-In beforehand. He had an impressive resume of experience, but when he spoke to us, he was a pretty hard read. Overall, he had a laid-back air about him, with a serious undercurrent. 

After introductions, he went over what we knew, so far as terminology, stressing that the class would be about building on what we knew, rather than working through a static curriculum - there would be learning by doing and by making safe mistakes. I learned later on exactly what he meant by that. 

He showed us the basics of casting off, and we hopped aboard the Wind Song as he motored us out of the slip. The weather was gorgeous, sunny with heavier winds than my first sail. We'd be going where the wind took us within the San Juans, with no set agenda aside from covering the necessary material and finding somewhere to moor for the evening.

Spreading Our Wings, and the Little Fridge that Could

 We took turns going through the various positions on the boat (helm, jib sheets, main sheet) throughout the trip. I started out on the helm and held the boat into the wind as the main sail (a furling main) was brought out. The newer ship had a retractable sail, rather than one you haul up the mast. Likewise, the jib was unfurled and we set sail. 

If you've never been on a sailboat with ample winds, I can pretty much guarantee that you will be surprised by how much the thing tips over and how fast it will feel like you're moving when sailing close-hauled. Most sailboats of the size we were on go 6-7 knots at top speed. That's all of 8 mph. To me, it felt more like being on a scooter going 30. The boat also leans over somewhere in the vicinity of 45 degrees. This means you will be standing on the side of what was the bench across from you. Needless to say, it gets your adrenaline going. 

It also threw our fridge across the cabin. Sadly, I wasn't in a position to see it, but when we tacked across for the first time, leaning the boat in the opposite direction, there was a tremendous crash from down below. The fridge locker had had a weird little latch that had been jury-rigged on. We noticed it initially when we loaded it up with our dinners and lunches. Needless to say, it wasn't rigged well enough. Cam ducked below to sort out the fridge situation, occasionally popping in to check on us while we held our course. 

The fridge eventually got sorted, and we continued to practice tacking the boat around and adjusting the sails. Cam would wander off down below periodically, letting us try to sort things out for ourselves and popping in to help us out when we floundered. He picked out a course for us, the point of a nearby island and we sailed on over in that direction. Then, the wind died again. 

The boat tried, and failed, to continue making headway. The sails flopped uselessly while we looked around us. I've failed to mention it up til now, but the San Juan Islands which we were sailing near are absolutely stunning. Rugged little islands, densely covered in pine trees and nearly devoid of people were all around us after we passed the point. The only notable man-made structure on them was a day marker for the boat traffic. We ended up motoring over to our mooring point on a tiny island that was entirely a state park. And, as we arrived there and fixed ourselves to the buoy, the wind picked up again. 

Cam gave us the option of going back out for a last chunk of sailing, and of course, we took him up on it. 

Time to get back to studying, but hopefully I'll wrap up our lesson experiences in my next post.