Tuesday 10 July 2007

Late evening, drifting

I spent most of Sunday on the water, taking family and friends out for spins. I established that the rudder issue has been resolved, it was simply a question of taking the ‘rudder down’ rope to the rudder head rather than the across the sternsheets.

During the week I had also remade the forward thwart that incorporates the centreboard.

The original thwart wasn’t structural and (I think) it may have been the reason for the slight flexing of the sole just aft of the centreboard case which I witnessed while hammering to windward. This second thwart grips the whole case from either side and is very firmly cemented in place with epoxy and screws. The wind was too light on Sunday for any tests to be run, though rowing fast through motor boat wake still produces a judder along the length of the sole. My feeling is that this is relatively normal in any lightly built boat.

An hour before sunset I got to take her out on my own. I pointed the bows towards the horizon and had just settled into a long, easy rowing stroke when I sighted a friend paddling down the coast in his kayak. I turned the boat and putting some work into it sped over the smooth waters to intercept him. Kindly he agreed to my request, I passed him my camera and he took photos while I row-sailed around him.

After this impromptu photo session Onawind Blue and I got some distance on the land. I drank a quiet beer watching the sun slip down the evening sky while we drifted on the mirrored waters. I built the boat for moments like these and it wouldn’t surprise me if the glow of satisfaction I felt was discernible from the beach.

Friday 6 July 2007

Early morning, heading east

It seemed like one long battle to get on the water, not only work but also a few last odds and ends that needed fixing for Onawind Blue. I dismantled the famous workbench and, using some of the wood, knocked together a launch trolley with inflatable tyres and a stronger axle. It is probably still too light for long term OB transportation but it should get us through the summer.

I’d been researching politarp sail construction for a few days when Jean Martial came round. He said, ‘I know you English call your boats like women. Well you have built a little princess. Come, I have something for you.’

After a few minutes scrabbling about in a dark corner of his garage he appeared with a rolled up sail, dark orange. ‘I have this sail for years, somebody leave it here.’ He said by way of explanation as we took it the garden. I unrolled it on the lawn and lo, a balanced lug sail complete with wooden spars. I thanked him effusively and Martial replied, ‘She was waiting here for you.’

I measured the sail, ran to the computer to find that area calculator page, keyed in the measurements and got the result 73 square feet. That’s 10 square feet over the projected size of the main but nine short of the overall sail area of 82 sq ft so, I figured, fine as a single sail in the winter rig position.

The elderly sail, made of light Dacron in what was probably a startling orange, but now seems almost tan in the right light, looked great rigged on OB but bluntly raised the question of where and how I was going to mount the mainsheet tackle.

Since the build has officially finished and the workshop has been bundled in to what was already an untidy cupboard any job, however piddling, takes forever simply because my tools are so hard to access.

I mounted a pulley with a clamp cleat on a piece of beech and epoxied and bolted it to the sole and then, when I’d lagged the oar braiding with rubber tubing to stop it gnawing through the boat with every oar stroke, we were ready to go. With the next day free of obligations I decide on an early morning start.

In the event, despite a late night, I was too excited to sleep. I got up at 5 am and crept outside with a cup of tea. Preparing the boat amid the clamour of the dawn chorus I could discern the sound of breaking waves—the sea had grown in the night, but if it was less than on launch day I knew we could make it. The eastern sky was brightening as OB and I arrived at the beach; there was a clean swell from the south with the occasional wave breaking on the outside and a soft, warm off-shore breeze from the northeast.

There’s a technique for getting OB off the trolley, across the sand and into the water which I haven’t quite mastered yet. Employing all sorts of back muscles that I’m not supposed use I got her onto a pair of fenders that serve as rollers and pulled her to the water’s edge. I had a last quick mental check of the gear and pushed her out. Her bow lifted gracefully over the white water and I hopped in when we were through the waves, gave a few strong pulls on the oars to keep us out of trouble if a bigger wave came in, then lowered the rudder, slotted in the centreboard and sheeted in. And we were away, sailing. Carving our own clean path through the sea, bubbles fizzing down her sides.

I sheeted in further and turned east towards the rising sun, bubbling and fizzing myself on an upsurge of emotion at sailing my own boat. I wanted just to sail on and on but felt I ought to test her first. I tacked and that was fine, with no jib she is self tacking. The long lath tiller takes some getting used to though and we came out of the tack with a couple of sharp turns. When we were settled I tacked again, much more smoothly. Next I wanted to see if we had weather or lee helm, I let go of the tiller and Onawind Blue came up into the wind. Fine, I thought, weather helm. But then she tacked herself and started to bear away, going broader until she suddenly gybed and started heading up again. Then she tacked and bore away again. She was sailing herself in circles, I let her do a few circuits while I wondered what was going on.

It was the system for keeping the rudder down that was fouling things up. The blade doesn’t float up because of a taught rope attached to its leading edge and brought back in board through a hole in the rudder head. But to keep the blade in the water the rope has to be so tight that as soon as I let go of the tiller the rope pulls the rudder over to one side. Something to be remedied but I knew that for today, if I happened to fall in, Onawind Blue would simply circle me like a faithful hound.

When I’d sailed about a mile up the coast the wind started to ease. I tacked and headed back then resorted to the oars. Row-sailing was good and she slid smoothly through the chop-less water. When the last trace of sine waves on the water disappeared leaving a mirrored surface I brailed up the sail and rowed. I reckon she does a boat length per stroke as I would have expected. On flat water I could discern some wake and bubbles issuing from the transom.

Before going back to the beach I anchored and lowered myself into the water for a look at how she floated. Swimming in lazy circles around OB and taking on water due to my jaw dropping at the stunning picture she made I noticed that, unloaded, her waterline is proud of the water, but it did at least look parallel to surface.

Her First Cruise.

I had a few chores to do throughout the morning but by 1 o’clock, and with a light sea breeze just kicking in from the south, I was free to go.

I packed food and quantities of water, spare rope, straw hat, life jacket, camera and phone and pushed out through the waves again. Launching OB is an adrenaline sport rather like windsurfing, though it’s adrenaline of the Oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-trash-the-boat variety as opposed to windsurfing’s Yippee-I’m-flying-and-in-no-real-danger kind. Through the waves, I scrambled aboard with relief at again having run the gauntlet and survived. The sail was still brailed up so when I’d rowed a safe distance from the shore I inserted the centreboard, downed the rudder, untied and hoisted the sail.

I set off westward towards the next town, the sail pulling well in the stronger wind. Lots of water had come up through the empty centreboard slot so as soon as we’d settled onto a reach I baled out the excess H2O. With more chop there was a deal more slapping which sent a judder through the sole and also, I noticed, gave rise to a bit of flexing just aft of the centreboard case which must be caused by leverage from the board itself. I think this may be remedied by making a wider thwart.

The tiller felt rather heavy due to this rope system which will have to be revised and the 'push to turn to starboard, pull to turn to port’ will hopefully become second nature with time. But, issues aside, I was having a ball. Onawind Blue’s no slouch with her 73 sq ft of orange lug sail, and as the chop pushed under her beam she seemed to whistle along. We did the 2 ½ miles to the next town and decided to head on to the next for lunch. Two kayakers stopped to watch as we neared Torredembarra marina. Coming round onto a new tack they gave the thumbs up and waved, and it wasn’t the sailing they were admiring.

The wind swung rapidly to the west, right on our nose. I sheeted in and bore up, easing off the tiller as the luff fluttered. I had thought that, with this sail, I might have to hide behind the maxim, ‘gentlemen don’t sail to windward’ but she went well. Sailing, I would guess, somewhere between 60 and 50 degrees to the apparent wind, she was comfortable and reasonably dry despite the chop. With my eyes flicking between the sail and the horizon we made good ground, clearing Torredembara’s headland and opening up our course to the next town; Altafulla. But I was enjoying myself too much to tack and when we eventually turned I saw that we had gone a long way out to sea, it seemed a good time to stop for refreshment. By sheeting in hard and putting the rudder right over we effectively hove-to, drifting slowly sideways I opened a beer and looked at the land, pale and distant through the haze. But not wanting to lose too much ground to leeward I stowed the half drunk can in the bilges, loosened the sheet and got back on course.

Staying close to wind I could see that we could pass Altafulla and make a cove just below Tamarit castle.

A 42ft Beneteau coming towards us under full sail bore away and passed to leeward, I watched with amazement as the sunbathers on the foredeck woke from their stupor and scurried below. They reappeared seconds later with cameras and, lining the rail, started snapping and waving. I waved back and then, with an achingly large grin, turned my attention back to the shivering luff.

At four o’clock I anchored off Tamarit and tucked into my sandwiches. I’d let out 25ft of chain and 100 ft of rope in about 30ft of water and OB, as always lifting her buoyant bow to the oncoming weather, was fairly comfortable in the unprotected bay. It had taken us three hours to arrive and with the breeze intensifying to around 8 knots and the odd white cap appearing I was anxious to start the journey back. Anxious and excited because it was going to be one long broad reach. But at first OB seemed rather unhappy with that point of sail, threatening to death roll a couple of times before I got my act sorted out and loosened the sheet.

After half an hour, passing the marina again, I gybed and, opening the sail fully, we ran home. The sea turned a darker blue as the wind climbed another knot or two but Onawind Blue still ran comfortably before it. Being thin the tiller was difficult and tiring to grip but by now I could predict what OB was going to do which meant we didn’t get any more sudden swerves or gybes but sailed safely on. After a long run perched on the sternsheets we reached home waters. Turning to weather to brail up the sail before rowing ashore the wind cranked up another notch and the white caps became more numerous. I had to row diagonally to reach my chosen spot on the beach but was careful to straighten up as we came through the waves so as to take them all square on the transom. We cruised in to the beach, missing some suicidal bathers on the way, and I pulled her up on to the sand.

With our long beat out to sea I reckon we’d sailed about 15 miles during our five hour round trip. The centreboard thwart and the rudder will have to be sorted before I go out again but apart from those two minor points I think I’ve got a fantastic boat and I couldn’t be happier.