Last week we transitioned from the Basic Keelboat practical lessons to the Basic Coastal cruising lessons. So we’ve moved on from, how does a boat work to, if your sailing here’s some more advanced techniques you need to be aware of to operate a boat safely. It was an interesting transition. We know the points of sail, we know the basic parts of the part. In fact when we got there, it was just the three of us and the instructor, and the instructor said, “You guys get the boat ready.” We got there, it took us a minute, but we all knew here’s how you connect the foresail and the mainsail to the halyards and sheets, we knew where to check to make sure there wasn’t too much water in the bilge, there were a couple of things that we needed to be reminded of, but we got it ready. It felt good once it was done, but it was a challenge.
When we started, out the wind was good. I thought, great, it’s going to be an awesome day of sailing…10 minutes after we hit the water, the wind was gone. So, any movement on the water was with the aid of the engine. Which happens in sailing. Everyone talks about either motorsailing, or just running their engines at some point to keep moving in a passage. It’s louder, it stinks, but it gets you where you need to be.
It turns out that for us, that was more of a blessing than we knew. We did two new things last week. First was anchoring. Second was a man overboard drill.
Watching the sailing YouTubers, Gone with the Wynns routinely (it seems) includes a scene about anchoring. They make it seem pretty easy, drop the anchor, run the engine in reverse, yep the anchor caught, shut off the engine, have a cocktail. Part of the ease is practice, they’ve been doing it for five years now. Part of it is the boat, they have an electric windlass to raise and lower the anchor. There’s a reason they make it seem easy.
So try to picture this. It’s 88 degrees, no wind, so it’s hot and a little uncomfortable. We motor over to a shoreline near the dam on the reservoir so we have a good place to practice anchoring. Killing the engine does not stop the boat because you just drift at that point, so we kept the engine running. Matthew pulls the anchor out of the cabin. We carry the anchor, the chain, and the rope to the bow. Remember, there’s no wind, so the headsail is lying on the bow. It covers everything. The instructor is telling me to tie the rope for the anchor to the bow cleat. I can’t find it under the headsail, we are drifting toward shore, Sandy recognizes this and backs up a bit, then runs us in some lazy circles, until I do find the bow cleat. I finally have the anchor ready to go, but then Sandy has to reposition the boat so that when we back up, we aren’t backing in the dam. Finally, the anchor is thrown overboard and Sandy gets it set. It was a little stressful. Everything having to happen quickly so that we can be safe. I do think there was an advantage to no wind, but it was still pretty stressful in the moment.
I really can only imagine what it would be like moving into an anchorage with heavy winds around you and the boat is rolling while you are trying to make sure that you are set and not dragging the anchor. The amenities of a larger boat will ease some stressors, but then create additional stressors. Nothing is really “easy” even in the best of conditions.
Even the man overboard scenario was a bit stressful. There’s minimal wind, so we had to try and get the boat to a beam reach (the wind at 90 degrees to the bow) and try to tack to start a Figure 8 so that we could position ourselves properly to get the flotation device out of the water. It’s hard when there’s not a lot of wind, and even though it was just a flotation device that was in the water, you want to get it back as quickly as possible. The upside to the whole scenario is that there weren’t even waves, except for a wake from the other boats, so keeping an eye on the man overboard was pretty easy. Matthew was begging to jump over for this…I think he just wanted to cool off!
Even though things seem like they should be easy, easy is relative. The first time is always a challenge because you don’t know what you are doing. So, you’re getting stressed. Which then adds to the difficulty. Things aren’t ever quite as easy as they seem, even when you think they should be. Some of the challenges, like finding a bow-cleat to tie the anchor off on won’t be an issue on a larger boat, but then again, on the 22’ boat, you don’t really have to adjust the boom vang or worry about a top lift as much. There’s going to be trade offs on boats…just like in life.