Wednesday, 24 October 2007
The hangover cure
Too blurry to feel much like sailing I couldn’t resist the strengthening wind. After a week of feeble puffs and pants from all directions it brightened my dull eyes just to see a steady, force three onshore breeze. Unable to miss a chance to further test Onawind Blue’s new rig I quietly prepared her for the water.
An easterly swell crossed seas with the southerly wind-blown chop and the afternoon sun reflected searing spears of light over the water. Keeping my back to the optical onslaught I rowed out, hoisted main and mizzen and sailed away on a close reach, my plan simply to try OB on all points of sail.
The limitation of not looking at the light meant that I favored the starboard tack and steadily we went out to sea tacking or gybing now and then for a short run on port.
I experimented balancing the sails on all points and found that she sailed herself best close hauled—good news for a boat that does plenty of windward sailing. Further off the wind I kept the sheeting angles equal and OB bowled along on the rising breeze. Going broad I raised the centerboard and kept my weight central trying to encourage OB to plane. On the verge of taking off she entertained me with an in-board water fountain that pumped thick gouts of sea up through the centerboard case.
Coming back up to weather the heavier tiller told me that we were over-pressed. But as we crashed over the water I found my face fixed with a wild grin. We reached back and forth carving a wide, frothing groove over the sea. I had to wrestle her round the corners as the larger seas smacked into her bows, slowing her sometimes to standstill. I sailed towards the beach remembering Allard Coles’ lines about the best heavy weather tactic being the avoidance of strong winds and seas. But at the point where I normally strike the sails and ship the oars I tacked and charged back out to sea thinking, ‘Just a couple more runs.’
I’ve learnt from windsurfing that last runs can be fatal and I knew that the longer I was out the heavier the seas would grow. Rowing in would be challenging but I didn’t want to think about that right now as I sat out on the side deck with spray cascading over the bows.
Then a gust hit and before I could release the main sheet the lee rail was buried and the gushing water forcing the port oar off its pin. With the main sheet released we came head to wind in a mass of crazy flapping canvas.
That hadn’t been a gust, just the wind notching up to a solid force four—and rising.
The sun disappeared behind clouds as I got back underway. The breeze was too strong for normal sailing and I had to spill wind to stay comfortable. The waves, at three to four feet, signaled it was time to head home.
Anchored well off I struck the sails and baled. While head down to the task in hand a mass of water crashed over the boat. I watched the wave’s back as it thundered on towards the shore—that one was definitely too big for us. Looking at the scene before me I was none too clear about how I would reach the beach. And then my family appeared. Only one thing would bring them out on an overcast windy afternoon and that was apprehension—an apprehension that I found infectious.
Reckoning that seeing their father and his boat getting trashed in surf would put my kids off boating, I decided it was more important than ever to land safely.
To that end I set off rowing down the coast away from my normal landing place.
Out walking the day before I’d seen a spot where water gathering behind the dunes during the recent rains had broken across the beach. The freak river had eroded the beach and a channel out to sea. This would be the ideal landing spot. There was a slight rip tide in the narrow channel and with the whistling crosswind it was difficult to stay on course. But the important thing was that the waves were barely breaking here and I landed without mishap on the low stretch of beach.
The spontaneous jig that I danced upon reaching dry land rather gave me away although I behaved as nonchalantly as ever in front of the children.
My partner kindly enquired after my hangover. ‘What hangover?’ I replied and looked back out at the sea; in four months of sailing Onawind blue I reckon I’ve had larger doses of adrenaline than in four years of windsurfing.
I know that I go on a lot about the issues of launching and landing in waves. It’s part of the reality of my sailing spot and is something that all craft from Onawind Blue through Optimists, Lasers and Hobbie Cats to speedboats and jet skis have to deal with. At one time or another I’ve seen all these craft come to grief in the waves (seeing a jet ski getting worked is a joy indeed) and I don’t think OB is any less suitable in these conditions than any other small boat.
The more I take her out in testing condition the more I learn and the faster my confidence in our abilities grows. On the open sea I’m beginning to suppose that her limit is around the top end of a force four. On sheltered waters she promises to be very worthy indeed.
Just to give an idea of the conditions we can get on the north-western Mediterranean here’s some footage of me fooling about on the windsurfer in an easterly force 5.