Monday 17 September 2007

Everybody loves Onawind blue

At last OB and I have the beach to ourselves. Gone are the suicidal bathers that swam in the navigation channel, gone are the sunbathers that would use Onawind blue as a convenient backrest or table for their drinks, gone are the children who found it such fun to fill the boat with sand. Alone at last we no longer have to respect the areas designated to bathers and can launch from where ever we like, sail close to the beach and anchor in shallow water.

Calm weather has followed a few days of persistent easterlies, which, at their peak, reached 25 knots and kicked up great rolling seas. (I went windsurfing on my wave board and skittered over waves so large and menacing that just their whitecaps would have rolled Onawind blue. My stomach dropped at the thought of ever being in a small boat in such a blow.) And in these calm conditions I’ve at last managed to get some OB shots that are close-up, clear and not forced into fuzziness by the straining zoom.

And despite the migration of summer crowds back to the cities, compliments continue to rain down upon us. And why not—just look at those lines!

Thursday 13 September 2007

Learning to surf

Onawind blue and I were beam on to an unusually large green blue wave—just rearing up, when I heard a crack like a gunshot and the starboard oar came away from the boat, the broken thole pin still lashed to the shaft. I dug the port oar in hard and pedalled round like a bird with a broken wing.

The peaking wave caught us on the starboard bow. Onawind blue rose to it but she had little forward momentum and the wave pushed her backwards. Her stern caught and she started to slew to port, but I was in no mood to go over the falls and with three mighty, adrenaline fueled strokes to our single oar I manoeuvered her bows round and the wave passed under us.

I stowed the good oar, grabbed the one that had broken its pin and paddled, Indian style, flat out at the next wave. We climbed over it, her bows nosing at the sky before coming down with a crash.

‘What the hell am I doing?’ I asked myself as I paddled over to a buoy where I could tie on, bale out and take stock of the situation.

The day before I’d had a great sail, my father as crew. We’d sailed for a couple of hours on a deep blue sea in a brisk force three; long close reaches towards the horizon and back, ruefully mulling over the apparently insignificant details that change lives, carving our own mellow groove across the water.
We’d tied up to a buoy while I brailed up the sail, unshipped the centreboard and tidied the boat in preparation for the row in to the shore—the gauntlet that OB and I run every time we come in from sailing in a decent breeze.

Sitting in the forward rowing position with my father on the aft thwart the boat was well trimmed as we came through the waves. I pulled hard on to the face of a small roller and we started to surf. I expected the wave eventually to pass under us but Onawind blue just kept forging on. As the wave began to steepen OB started to broach, I rowed madly, the situation moving so fast I barely knew what I was doing. And then, in the eerie quiet of disaster, we were on our beam-ends and going over. My old man fell out of the boat, along with the centerboard, a lifejacket and a beer can, disappearing with a fat splosh. I followed a second later; an oar loom catching between my legs on the way out but miraculously missing anything vital. I went under thinking that OB was coming down on top of me but the mast impeded her from turning turtle. We righted her in a flash. She came up half full of water and I towed her out to the nearest buoy and tied on. It would have been impossible to drag her up the beach so heavily laden. I climbed in to bale.

She was less stable with so much weight in her and water briefly gushed up through the centerboard case as I hauled myself in. She was steady enough though and stayed head to wind as I sat squarely on the sole and bucketed out the briny. When she was empty I climbed out and we accompanied her in to the beach, one on each side. On the sprint towards the sand I lost the old man again as he stood in a hole and fell beneath the waves but my priorities were such that I couldn’t stop to help him. He clambered up the shore, bedraggled but with a game smile as I pulled OB to safety.

Later that evening we discussed the physics involved in the capsize; water particles in the wave moving up and towards the shore, others moving towards the wave and OB in the middle her stern trying to overtake her bows and the conflicting forces conspiring to turn her sideways.

I felt that with intelligent use of the oars I should be able to control the boat while she surfed. I thought about what an old hand had told me: choose a day with waves and row in and out until you get it right. I agreed—it was an aspect of sailing Onawind blue that was worth getting down pat.

The next day saw very light onshore winds with a swell from the east and, retaining a few misgivings, I decided to give it a shot.

I would go out with no sail, centerboard or rudder. Just the oars, the bucket for baling, a length of rope for towing or tying on to buoys and a towel stuffed into the empty centerboard case. The boat would be light and uncluttered—just as well if I was going to capsize.

Getting out was easy, rowing straight at the waves and slowing as I went over them so as not crash down too heavily on the other side. It was once I was beyond the breakers that I started to worry. I rowed in circles trying to judge the moment to return but every time I started larger waves loomed and I’d lose my bottle and turn back out to sea. I really didn’t want to get mixed up with these rogues. If I were going to practice surfing then I’d do it on something smaller please. I turned back out to sea and then the thole pin snapped.

Everything’s relative and my father’s view from the beach, where he stood with the camera, showed nothing too dramatic; it simply looked as if I was piddling about with the oars. He wondered what I was doing as I dropped a bight of rope over a buoy, baled and began moving the oars to the forward position, where I had two brand new thole pins.

When Onawind blue was shipshape again I forced some saliva down my adrenaline dry throat and headed in. I let a couple of waves pass underneath and then rowed hard to keep well ahead of the next one. As it caught up with me I felt the boat starting to surf and dug the oars in to brake. OB slowed down and the wave passed. I rowed hard again and then, though still a short distance from the land but with a wave threatening to turn us, jumped ship and pulled her in.

It had all gone well, but did I have the cojones to do it again.

I probably wouldn’t have gone for a second run if there hadn’t been a well-disposed soul on the beach with a camera. It seemed worth it to get some footage. This time I also managed to avoid surfing anything too large but caught a little wave which brought me neatly in to the beach before dumping the bows into the sand.

I know that Gavin stipulated in the plans that the light Trow was designed for sheltered waters. Unfortunately my patch of Mediterranean, although sometimes very calm, could not be described as sheltered. But Onawind blue doesn’t seem to mind; actually she seems to have embraced all the conditions that have been thrown at her. It’s me that's been worried sick.

Here are a few short clips of the action, taken with my Nikon coolpix. The first one shows the first run in.

This shows OB tackling some waves head on.

And finally our second run with a little surfing.

Monday 3 September 2007

The Onawind blues

It has been so long since I posted that not only had I forgotten my blogger password but also, having eventually accessed the site I found the blogger interface totally unfamiliar. It has taken me two days to post but here at last is a long overdue update of our adventures.

My dream of a lazy summer sailing Onawind blue didn’t materialize and hot sticky days working in Barcelona had me in the no-sailing dumps. But with a long busy August drawing to a close I have at last managed to get some sailing done, albeit with the single sail.

The wind has generally been light, except for one memorable afternoon with 12-15 knots from the southwest. The sun has shone and the Mediterranean has sparkled as Onawind blue’s brave little bow has slid through the water.

The backlog of friends and family waiting for promised rides has been dealt with and none of OB’s guests has been dissatisfied—the aura of good vibes surrounding a homemade boat never failing to bring a smile to those who sail in her.

I’ve improved my launching and retrieving techniques to the extent where we now both enter and leave the water, if not with elegance, then at least without looking a complete mess. I’ve sailed back to the beach, rather than rowed, a couple of times which, with the rocks just below the surface, the narrow navigation channel, the suicidal bathers and the unannounced steep rogue waves rolling in from motor yachts’ wake is invariably a dry throated affair.

We haven’t done a capsize test due to lack of organization and now the cameraman has gone off to India to make a documentary, (you can follow his adventures at Besides, with a small shark and a manta ray swimming on this stretch of the coast, it hasn’t been a summer for hanging about in the water. The shark, with a fishhook in its gullet and a harpoon wound in its dorsal fin, was eventually dragged from the sea near Tarragona while onlookers hurled insults, buckets, spades and flip-flops. The authorities took the fish to Barcelona aquarium where it died shortly afterwards. Poor sod.
I had another long solo cruise to Tamarit on the windy day. With a strongish breeze I was glad that OB was under canvassed. She sailed beautifully on the 5 mile beat, having some grunt in the sail improves upwind performance and generally makes for a more immediate and decisive boat. Off Torredembarra marina I was hailed by an Argentinean in a Zodiac with the words, ‘Is that an Iain Oughtred design?’ I hove-to and we had a brief chat about small boat design and building then separated with me shouting, ‘Take a look at The Invisible Workshop.’ above the wind. Once round the marina we had a clear reach to Tamarit. I was now about a mile from a very pretty cove locally known as ‘El Waikiki’. Access isn’t easy from the land—a 15-minute walk through pinewoods keeps the crowds away and the beach is the perfect place to camp for the night. But it would have been a cold, hungry night for me with nothing more than swimming shorts and a damp tee-shirt to keep me warm, a couple of life jackets for bedding and nothing in the food locker except a few of litres of water. I tacked and loosened the sheet for the long run home resolving to try and organise a night’s camping at ‘El Waikiki’ before the end of September. I made it back to my launch spot after a four hour round trip.

Now that the holidaymakers are heading back to the cities the workshop will come back out of the cupboard and hopefully we’ll get some pressing jobs done.

The light scantlings that support the thole pins have been severely gnawed by the epoxy coated braiding on the oars. Lagging with sections of hose hasn’t proved an effective or pretty solution and something more permanent will have to be found. A split has appeared in the mast step, I think this was caused by leverage from the mast when we capsized. It will be awkward to put screws in the step so I hope that filling the split with epoxy will do. There’s also a thin split in the after end of the centerboard case—a result of the centerboard being slightly warped and me forcing it in and out of the slot. The board is much easier to insert now that the case has split so again I’ll fill it with epoxy rather than trying to close it up. I also need to address a few other signs of wear and tear; the skeg gets a severe sanding on the beach with every launch and really needs more protection than the large epoxy filet that I gave it. The anchor chain rubs on the gunnels and people and gear have added a few bruises here and there.

I still need to make a new rudder and yolk but most importantly I must get the sails made for the complete rig. I’m tossing up between getting them professionally built or buying a sewing machine and trying myself. Realistically I think it will be quicker to go to a pro while I get on with the spars.

I hope that when I do break out the workshop again, unlike with blogger, I will remember how to work with epoxy and use my tools.

Here are some pictures from the last month.

This photo from regatta day turned up. The two windsurfing rigs weren’t very satisfactory either practically or aesthetically.
Here’s a lateen rigged boat seen sail in Barcelona’s large harbour. It’s a very attractive sail and in some distant future I might be tempted to build something along those lines, but please don’t tell the family!
OB’s launch trolley.
Rowing with my girl on a summer evening, mmm… what could be better?