The Great Wander

One Family's Journey to a New Life

Sailing is fun…when there’s wind!

Grandad said, “When I tell you, push the tiller until the bow is pointed at that point, I’ll trim the mainsail from there.  We can’t sail into the wind, so this is called tacking.”

I said, “Yeah, if we pointed the bow directly into the wind, we’d go backwards, right?”

Grandad, “No, we can’t sail into the wind.”

Me, “I know, the wind would just push us backwards…”

There was a look of frustration on my grandfather’s face at the point and he just dropped it.  I didn’t understand that sails operate like the wings of airplanes.  The sails use lift to pull a boat, it doesn’t push the boat the way I thought it did.

Fast forward 40 years, Skipper, “Prepare to jibe!”

I’m thinking, wait, there’s wind?  But I respond, “Ready to jibe!” 

Skipper, “Jibing”

Me, “Umm, how did you know that we were jibing and not tacking… I couldn’t tell that there was that much wind.”

Our instructor, John, looked up at the telltales on the sails and said, “well, there wasn’t that much wind, but the tell tales were moving just a little bit from the aft.” 

His answer made sense, but really, we couldn’t see or feel much wind at all on us.  In reality, I think the current was moving more than the wind was moving us.  Our first sailing lesson was ok, there wasn’t much wind, so there wasn’t much sailing.  When I described it to my brother, he said it made him think of the movie Tommy Boy, being in the middle of a lake with no wind.

But it was still a good experience.  Transferring the knowledge of looking at a 2D diagram of sailboat and applying it to an actual boat lifted the veil of confusion!  It was much easier to figure out where the clew was, what the battens are, as well as just being able to walk on a deck.  The boat was about half the size of anything we are considering buying, but it’s where the sailing school starts you.  Our first six practical lessons will be on the J22, a nice little 22-foot J/Boats monohull. 

It was also great to see what the instructor was talking about with the figure eight knots being zip tied.  Seeing that made things a little more real.  There’s still a lot to learn, but it was a good start.  One thing we did learn as well, though this wasn’t a lesson from the instructor, is the importance of weather planning when sailing.  The wind that day might have been 5 knots, with a few gusts up to 10 knots, but before we schedule our next lesson, I’m using the app Windy to determine the best day to schedule the lesson so that we can have a good day of wind.

I know that as we progress through our lessons we’ll get a lot more out of it, but even now, I feel like the look of frustration on my grandfather’s face would transform to a smile of satisfaction knowing that I now understand why you can’t sail into the wind.

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About Me

An English diarist and naval administrator. I served as administrator of the Royal Navy and Member of Parliament. I had no maritime experience, but I rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and King James II through patronage, diligence, and my talent for administration.


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