At times we were going so fast I felt like we could outstrip that tractor. And then for a few seconds she planed. You can’t expect a boat with a petite transom and pronounced stern rocker to plane, you need a wide, flat surface for that, ‘a straight run aft’ as they say. For a few brief moments she rose out of the water onto her aftermost third and zipped along.
But fun as all this was I had other plans. On those long, mainly sleepless, hospital nights last year there was one thing I used to think about while attempting to tire my brain to sleep. It was this: If caught on a rocky, lee shore in a vast amount of wind—on the north side of Cap de Creus in a Tramontana, for example—how would I configure the boat and, thus configured, would she sail to windward? The conundrum usually had the effect of keeping me awake all night, wide-eyed, spooked and mentally wrestling my small boat off the rocks. Often it was relief to see the nurse coming noisily at dawn with her tray-load of needles.
The strategy I developed went as follows: Deploy sea anchor or anchor depending on depth, drop and furl mainsail and lash outboard of the starboard thole pins. Drop mizzen, adjust mainsheet attachment and hoist on main mast. Sheet in and get the hell out.
At sea on this particular morning there was a ‘safe’ offshore wind and more than enough of it to test not only the practicalities of making the change over but the critical windward question as well. In a ‘lee shore’ situation it would all have to be done pretty slickly so while I looked for an exposed, windy spot to anchor I had a quick mental rehearsal.
The operation seemed to take a while amid angry, flogging sailcloth and with the boat slewing, griping, tipping and tilting. But eventually I hoisted and set the mizzen sail on the main mast. Suddenly madness evaporated and it was a quiet Sunday afternoon. The wind still blew emphatically but gone was the racket and the white knuckles. The boat pottered calmly along.
Mizzen sail on the main mast and mainsail tied outboard of the thole pins
In the next gust I tried to point up. I found myself instinctively moving back towards the stern. I normally sail to windward from a position well forward. But of course, I thought, with nothing set on the rear mast it would be my upper torso that acted as a mizzen sail. We were sailing close-hauled and making ground upwind. Coming up to tack I unbuttoned my shirt and held it out behind me for more ‘sail area’ and round she came. I made tighter, faster turns than usual not wanting to risk getting caught in irons for a moment. When a lull came I had to bear away or stop but with plenty of wind she was tracking along fine. I kept hacking away at it and after a while we had sailed right up under the cliffs where there was barely any wind at all. And there I anchored and had a celebratory swim.