Tuesday, 29 January 2008
Foot steering and pinching
I had intended simply to go for a row. The sea was flat, the sun shining, there were no clouds on the blue backdrop and not a whisper of wind disturbed the palm tree whose branches have become my anemometer. All was as forecast but at the last minute, on impulse, I rigged the sails and stepped the masts.
I had rowed a few hundred yards off-shore unhurriedly weighing the left-right or straight-on-to-the horizon decision when I saw a gust carrying a cloud of sand down the beach, Sunday morning families enjoying the warm sun turning their backs to the wind, scooping up children and making for home.
I looked over my shoulder and saw a wind line about half a mile away coming from the southwest. This was the Garbí or Llebeig wind our prevailing on-shore thermal sea breeze and it was arriving with a bang as is normal when there’s a steady build up of still, hot air over the land. A couple of years ago a day like this would have seen me cancelling Sunday lunch and frenziedly rigging a 6.5 square metre sail on my windsurfer. Luckily I’d excused myself from lunch and I was already on the water.
Ripples forming and air stirring I set the main and mizzen, lowered the rudder and dagger board and then, as the body of wind pressed upon us, set off with a whoop from me and a chortle from OB as the water rushed down her sides.
The joy of sailing on the first gusts of a new wind is that the sea is still flat and, though the novelty of the GPS has worn off and I am freed from its tyranny, I tried to maximise our speed reaching out to sea. The wind settled at a solid force four kicking up a familiar foam-crested chop and I finally made up my mind where to go; I would beat up the shore and then enjoy a long downwind run home, it’s like climbing a hill for a toboggan ride—hard work but worth it.
I sheeted in the sails and found our course. I am more familiar with OB’s behaviour now and felt at ease as she heeled to leeward and chucked packets of water at me from the bows. A while ago I would have wanted a reef in this wind strength but now I tied a line from the tiller to the port forward thole pin and positioned my behind squarely on the side deck beside the opposite pin. This has proved the best position for trimming the boat on this course, it’s wet and bouncy but the forefoot stays in the water and I’m well placed to lean out in the gusts.
The balance of the boat was such that after a while she turned slightly to weather and started to pinch. I found that from where I was sitting I could hook my foot under the line from the tiller and, by curling up my toes, tweak the rudder and bring us back on course.
I will soon change the steering set up. Using blocks and cleats and a toggle at the end of the line I hope to achieve comfortable steering from anywhere in the boat and the option to cleat off the line whenever necessary. For the present my method of dropping clove hitches over the thole pins is somewhat clumsy, the hitches being difficult to adjust and to release under tension. Clumsy but functional and I was able eat as we sped along and I steered with my foot.
After a while on this wet point of sail a considerable amount of water was sloshing about the bilges. Moving my body weight to leeward to bale is, I think, asking for trouble so I usually heave-to to get the water out. But now I over tightened the sheets unhooked my foot and let her come up into the wind, OB slowed and pinched. I baled while she comfortably gained ground to windward.
With an empty boat I turned for home, a two-mile downwind ride before us. On this course the best place to sit is on the sternsheets, leaning against the mizzen mast. It’s very comfortable and, hoping to plane, I experimented letting OB take the waves on the stern or on her quarter, but the chop had such a short frequency that the bows were still buried in the wave in front as the following wave met the stern.
I came upon a kitesurfer, an old windsurfing buddy who’s moved on to kites while I’ve moved on to boats. I followed him to the shore where he passed the kite to his girlfriend then waded out and hopped aboard. We had a pleasant sail, he commented on how well OB sailed and told me he’d measured 15 knots of wind.
The GPS had spent the trip in the forward locker, when I came to look at it I was pleased to discover a new top speed—8.2 knots. A peak for sure, but it brought a large smile.
Foot steering and cold leftover spaghetti for those who forego Sunday lunch in favour of sailing.