Thursday, December 15, 2016

Suddenly Sailing - Suddenly Docking

The Wonder of Deadlines

Once we had the boat fully reassembled, we did a lot of dawdling. There were some minor engine issues, and the wind instrument needed replacing. We waited for parts and put off getting the wind instrument up, worried about sending The Sir up the mast in less than ideal conditions... which seems pretty silly in retrospect, now that we've done it a few times. Regardless, anxiety and fear of actually practicing maneuvering were the unvoiced motivators behind our slow start to sailing. 

It was deadlines, more than anything, that kicked us into gear. Our sublease was up at the end of September, and the boat was going to need to move to another slip, one way or another. We called over The Sir's brother, Zeke, to be an extra set of eyes and hands for our maneuvering practice. 

It's a little like Parallel Parking... on an icy hill, with no brakes

Our first attempt at maneuvering practice ended in us sitting around in the marina, wishing that the wind hadn't picked up. There wasn't much wind, but we didn't want our first practice round to end with us bumping into a quarter million dollar yacht and losing our insurance. So, Zeke spent two hours commuting, and then we had sandwiches and called it a day. I consider myself courageous, but a couple knots (a knot is about 1.15 mph) of wind, expensive boats all around, and a lack of experience with the physics involved were enough to discourage both of us.

The next time we made a go at it, it was dead calm. We each took turns at the helm and puttered around the marina at a snail's pace. Moving a boat is actually incredibly simple. Blackthorn has a tiller, rather than a wheel, so you push it away from the direction you want to go, but aside from this, you simply point the boat and engage the engine. Current and wind definitely have an impact, but if you have some speed and the forces aren't too great, it's very easy to get where you want to go. It's getting in and out of the slip that are the tricky parts. 

At a marina, you'll usually have a boat worth an ungodly sum of money sitting within smacking distance. On floating docks, there are large pilings that stick up well out of the water at the end of your finger pier. The boat needs to be backed out of its parking spot. However, the bow of the boat is lighter and will begin to swing in one direction or another once it is untied. This can be amplified a great deal by wind. To counter this, we leave some ropes running from the bow looped around cleats on the finger pier that can be kept taut and then pulled through and back onto the boat when the time is right. Once the boat is backed out far enough that the bowsprit (a seven foot pole sticking out Blackthorn's front) won't punch holes in anything or snap and bring down our forestay, then we put the boat in forward gear and turn it out into the center of the fairway. To date, we've had little trouble departing the dock. On one attempt, a stern line wasn't released at the proper time and created a minor crisis, but we were able to quickly resolve the problem. 

Bringing the boat back in is much more challenging. There are books and lessons and seminars about this topic. Ideally, you can bring the boat to near a standstill and then slowly cruise in within a few feet of the finger pier. Someone can then step off and begin securing your lines. Throw in some wind or current and you have a very complicated operation on your hands. Wind will swing the bow faster than the rest of the boat, causing it to turn, and current will make sure that you're always moving in some direction. The boat needs speed in order for the tiller to steer it, but you can't go into the slip at high speed. The boat also doesn't really turn while in reverse. All of these maneuvers must be performed while in close quarters and surrounded by other boats. Thankfully, we practiced on calm days and could get a feel for how she maneuvered without too many external factors.

We did a few runs around the marina on two separate occasions, alternating at the helm. It was tense at times, and I'm far from confident in my abilities, but there were no incidents. At the end of September, we moved to another slip for the next month. The conditions were not ideal, but not too rough, either. Zack took the helm, as he had had the most time on it so far. A friendly neighbor on the pier helped to ease the boat along the finger pier it was being blown onto, and we quickly had Blackthorn moored in her new home. 

A thing worth noting about my experience with Blackthorn and sailing. I'm a moody person. I get grumpy, and I'm stubborn. Combine that with my complete inability to suppress or hide my mood and The Sir's acute ability to notice and compulsion to try to resolve any issues, and it can be pretty disruptive. Sailing together, or even just helming the boat around the marina, enables me to instantly set aside those issues. Teamwork and communication are so critical to our success in operating the boat that there is no room for a foul mood. I can be upset, hungry, and/or in pain, and those all go right out the window while we're dealing with whatever situation is at hand. When I was practicing martial arts, I did not have the same experience with being able to just set aside my problems and mood. It's a bit of a random observation, but it's one more thing that I appreciate about our new lifestyle.