I often have a grand vision. I was imagining getting to the shore early, washing the boat, doing some engine maintenance, setting up the sails and running rigging, and maybe sailing if time allowed. But a warm sunny day with good wind can blur a lot of boating priorities. Or focus them, depending on your perspective.
I got up basically on time, which is not always the case. I crept around the house at one-third speed in a bleary haze looking for sailing things. Jenn and I loaded the car and then crept around the neighborhood, also at one-third speed, in search of drive-thru coffee. Every place had a 30-car line and the traffic in general was insane. I thought it might just have been the nice weather and people feeling the end of the pandemonium, but it turned out that every reasonable egress from the neighborhood was blocked by construction (or something) and I guess everyone was just ambling in circles and clogging up the surface roads. After about fifteen minutes of driving, we drove directly past the house again, having traveled a net distance of approximately zero feet. We eventually found a way to the expressway, where we could creep toward a bridge at one-third speed.
Our velocity was slightly better in New Jersey, but it still took a while. I tried to logically think through the boating priorities on the way down and talk them over with Jenn, but by the time we got to the marina, I was already in the mood for a petty rebellion:
We started the process of loading in the equipment and rigging the boat. I feel like I’ve gotten better at this over the years, but there’s always some hitch. I unfolded the neatly flaked jib on the foredeck and clipped on the tack. I carefully followed the foot aft and tied on the sheets. The predicted wind was around 3kts, but of course it bumped up to 15 when the time came to actually raise the sail, which we have to do before we can furl it. Jenn pre-fed the pre-feeder while I pulled the halyard, and it soon became evident that it was hopelessly twisted. The wind whipped the convoluted fabric while I pondered how it was even possible to hourglass a jib. I briefly thought of Rimas, blankly staring a thousand yards beyond the upside-down storm jib lashed to the forestay with jute, but quickly snapped out of it. I asked Jenn to take it down, untied the sheets, sorted out the sail, and then put it back together correctly, raised it, and furled it in.
The mainsail was next, which is always fun because I get to use The Big Screwdriver.
The Big Screwdriver, aka The Sword, aka The Big Mamou, aka The Wakizashi, aka Mjölnir, aka The Screwdriver of Damocles, aka Wonderboy, aka The Big Mother, aka The Vorpal Screwdriver, aka La Espada, aka The Compensator, aka The Big Boi, is the best tool for dealing with the internal velcro inside batten pockets, and is a pleasure to use.
The rest of getting that sail on is kind of annoying, mostly because it involves some fiddly bits of aluminum that need to get screwed into the mast gate to keep the slugs from falling out of the mast track. But it was fine, and I went as far as to rig up the first reef and reef it down. By that point I had already given up on all of the washing and spring maintenance and was fixated on a shakedown sail, which seemed like it would definitely require a reef..
As we motored out of the creek, it sure looked like it was raining behind us. This wasn’t predicted either. I pulled up the weather radar app on my telephone to try to figure out which way it was headed and whether or not it was severe, but I couldn’t understand what it was telling me at all. I asked Jenn to confirm with her weather app, since I thought maybe mine was malfunctioning, but it was the same. As far as we could tell, it was just a storm over the middle of New Jersey that was stalled and dissipating.
This is not what storms usually do around here. I looked up the weather discussion of this to try to figure out what was happening in the atmosphere, since making sense of the weather is a general boating priority of mine.
Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Mount Holly NJ 645 AM EDT Sat May 15 2021 .SYNOPSIS… A large area of surface high pressure will remain near the region into late next week. A trough in the upper levels of the atmosphere will cross over the region Sunday into Monday. && .NEAR TERM /THROUGH TONIGHT/… No big changes with the morning update, only minor hourly temperature/dew point adjustments. The cut off mid-level low located near southern Delmarva will open up and drift eastward through today. However, a weak short wave/vorticity impulse will approach the area later in the day. Meanwhile, a weak surface trough will remain in place across the area as well. There will also be some weak instability today with CAPE values generally less than 500 J/kg. The combination of the lift from the surface trough and short wave aloft, along with the weak instability will allow for scattered showers and a few thunderstorms to develop. A couple of more short wave/vorticity impulses will move across the area overnight, however, instability will wane after sunset with loss of daytime heating, so shower activity is not expected to last much longer after sunset for most of the area.
Ah, the ol’ weak short wave/vorticity impulses. They’ll get you every time. Regardless, we continued on.
I was happy to see that the bear silhouette was still hanging out in the marsh by the mouth of the creek. I have no idea why he’s there or what he’s doing, but he’s been there for a long time and I appreciate him.
The wind on the bay was around 10-15kts, gusting to maybe 20. It was from the southwest, which almost never happens here, and we motored way out into the bay so that we’d have ample room to raise the sails (just in case I also managed to twist up the main). We made a hard turn to starboard to head into the wind and hoisted the main without issue, shut off the engine, and we were finally sailing again.
The wind was on the verge of being more than I’d prefer for a shakedown, but it did provide plenty of shaking down. I considered not deploying the entire jib, but we hadn’t gotten the tightest wrap on it when we’d furled at the dock and I figured that I’d have to unfurl it all and then bring it back in a little (which is the preferred method anyway, as I understand it), but I just let it all go and trimmed in. We were off.
Before we were even done accelerating, a little O’Day was on our starboard quarter with a good head of steam and a fatter angle on the wind. I wasn’t prepared to race someone within moments of putting my sails up for the first time this season, but I really wasn’t prepared to be passed, so it was traveler up, tighten the jib sheet, mind the tells…
She got pretty close, but I was leeward and sailed my line. Instead of ducking us as she got to within a handful of boat lengths, she came up and matched our course, and then we eased away. By the time I was ready to tack to head down the bay, we were quite far ahead, and although I prepped Jenn for a crisp tack, it wasn’t really required. We had plenty of room, and they did not tack to chase.
We continued tacking down the bay, almost to Oyster Creek, soaking up fresh air and sunlight. There were few boats out and even fewer powerboats, so despite the wind and fetch, the waves weren’t too bad.
Things were going smoothly and I didn’t want to push my luck, so when it came time to start heading back, I decided to chicken jibe. I wasn’t completely sure if Jenn knew what I was doing, so I was mostly paying attention to her and talking her through what to do with the jib sheets, but I did reach down without looking and take the mainsheet out of the jaws of the cleat as we came through the tack. I continued the turn and realized that the boom wasn’t going out. Within a few moments that felt like a few minutes, I realized that I’d never taken the pigtail off of the boom.
Fortuitous originally had a boomkicker and (I presume because the boomkicker does a poor job of steadying the boom when the sail is down) a pigtail—a short length of wire attached to the backstay that could be clipped to the aft end of the boom to secure it. I got rid of the boomkicker and replaced it with a topping lift, but the pigtail is still there. I only use it over the winter, and had forgotten that it was still attached. I gave Jenn the helm so that I could investigate. The small brass eye snap at the end of the pigtail broke off years ago, so I had it tied to the boom with a short length of cord, which I could absolutely not untie with the sail loaded. I decided to cut it off and asked Jenn to snug up the mainsheet so that the boom wouldn’t go flying. When she focused on that, we turned about 45° and almost crash jibed with me standing on the lazarette wielding a knife. These minor moments of swashbuckling really add to the flavor of sailing.
I pushed the tiller back with my foot, cut the cord, and let the main out. We sailed a broad reach for only a short time before I realized that sailing wing and wing would get us there in a straight shot, so after all that, I jibed the main back anyway and we continued on dead downwind.
We wound up sailing past the creek a bit on the way north, then came about and fired up the engine (partially to make sure that it would start) and motored back up the creek. I wasn’t really worried about the engine per se, but I was slightly unsure about the state of charge in the batteries. It was fine though, along with almost everything else. The rain held off, and except for the mishap with the pigtail, everything worked as expected. We even eased into the slip without any trouble, which is always a little surprising after a long winter without sailing.
I still have chores to do, and proper maintenance is an important part of boating, but I am entirely at peace with my boating priorities. We needed to get out there and soak up some sun before futzing around with the impeller and boat soap. I’ll get to that other stuff, but it will go more smoothly without a complete lack of sailing looming over my head. For now, it’s just good to be sailing again.