Sunday, July 18, 2010

Yo, Giovanni

Above, Giovanni, a famous Boat Dude, wearing the sort of expression a Cap'n gets when some hapless other Cap'n ignores the Starboard Tack rule.

I got up at an uncharacteristically early hour, for me, in order to catch the beginning of the ebb and have the whole day to tack up toward Giovanni's bridge -- or no, that's ambiguous, the bridge indirectly named after Giovanni. The weather radio was still predicting wind from the west.

Made my coffee, took the picture on the previous post as soon as it was light enough, recovered the hook and groped out through the sandbars of our little cove (locally known as "Sore Thumb", a helpful commenter informs me). Penelope awoke in time to help me with the buoys -- I'm color-blind, or partly so, and it's hard for me to tell a green buoy from a red one at any distance, which is a serious problem amid the kinks and curlicues of Fire Island Inlet. Fortunately, Penelope's color vision is flawless.

She is not, however, so fond of heeling (though she enjoys high-heeling, and looks wonderful doing it). Once we cleared the inlet, the wind was blowing a nice fifteen knots or so, and we were pointing as high as the Scapegrace would go -- which is pretty high, bless her. So there was a bit more heel, of the undesirable variety, than Penelope could quite like. Seas were three feet or so, and choppy, which made for a bumpy ride, too. So Penelope wisely got herself wedged back into the vee-berth and went to sleep.

Now I normally don't love tacking the Scapegrace by myself. The winches aren't self-tailing, and there aren't even any of those nice cam cleats -- the jib sheets go around a plain old cleat, and securing them is a fussy process when you're trying to do ten other things. Moreover, cleating down the sheet removes your concentration, for a few seconds, from your steering, during which interval the S. comes smartly up into the wind, backwinds her jib, and laughs a killing little flirty laugh at you as you go back onto the former tack and try again. This leads to much swearing on the skipper's part, which in my case makes up in volume and copiousness for what it lacks in originality. (Fuck ... fuck ... FUCK! Double fuck! -- That sort of thing.)

There is still another wrinkle. The Scapegrace has a very useful traveller, stretching all the way across the cockpit, for the main sheet -- sorry, I don't have a picture -- which is a boon when you're sailing close-hauled. I find that if you haul the traveller all the way up to the windward side and then ease the sheet a little, the mainsail takes on a better shape, and the slot between tightly-boused jib and easier main is still wide enough to let lots of air through, and move us all along at a nice brisk pace.

You see where this is going, right? When you tack, not only do you have all the usual pain-in-the-ass multitasking that tacking always requires, but you also have to move the traveller from the former to the current windward side. Impossible. You'd have to be an octopus with opposable thumbs.

On this trip, I made a discovery: This is not a yacht race. Elegance is inconsequential -- though nobody, of course, ever wants to look foolish, even if there are no human spectators around to laugh. There are always the Naiads, and no guy wants a Naiad laughing at him.

Still. I think I have found a way to keep the Naiads' laughter down to a small not-unkindly smile, even though William F Buckley -- dead, and not a minute too soon -- might have sneered, curling his reptilian upper lip back from those horrible rabbit-like incisors he had. But the hell with the Buckleys, and all these over-funded Connecticut "yachtsmen". Give me the Naiads any day.

Here's my trick: You heave-to.

That is, you come up onto the new tack. But you don't bring the jib around; you backwind it, and bring the tiller smartly up so the jib stays backwinded, and there you are, hove-to and riding incredibly quietly, a downright halcyon upon the waves, going very slowly at more-or-less a right angle to the wind. I love heaving-to. It's fucking magic.

Now you have some options. You can relieve yourself over the side if you need to, or go down into the cabin and make some more coffee so you will need to relieve yourself in an hour, about when the next tack comes due. You can creep forward and untangle the anchor line, which you just scattered any old how all over the foredeck when you weighed.

Or you can catch your breath for thirty seconds, while William F Buckley and his ilk wonder what the hell you're up to; then move the traveller to the new windward side, at your leisure, and uncleat the jib and let it pop over to the new leeward side, and take off on the new tack like a bat out of hell, without ever having broken a sweat or said "fuck!" even once.

You learn something every day -- if you're lucky.


  1. Now, if you could only describe how to heave-to an investment portfolio.

  2. Mine sank a long time ago -- and it was even smaller than my boat, to start with.

  3. Where ya been? Still sailing? Keep us posted!