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Wind Powered

Monday, September 05, 2011
This past weekend I took a course in Basic Keelboat Sailing from the Island Sailing Club.

The first day was pretty intense. We had 18-20 knot winds on the Columbia River, leaving whitecaps wherever we looked. As we headed out, we saw a sailboat motoring back that had a broken mast. The wind was blowing hard. Compounding this, as we were heading out in a nice little 24-foot boat for our first experience sailing - five green students and one instructor - our Mercury outboard motor quit, leaving us unpowered. Our instructor quickly advised us to raise the sails, which we did. As our jib went up and our mainsail was raised, we entered the real wind just outside the marina as I was handed the tiller. We were sailing a close reach, sort of by accident, and the wind hit our boat, heeling it over about 45 degrees. For five new sailors, the experience of having the side of the boat - up to the lifelife - fully immersed in the water while we scrambled to stay dry was unsettling, to say the least. Images of a capsized boat danced in my head as I mentally went over both my chances of survival (pretty good) and my odds of having to pay for the first $1500 worth of damage to the boat as I'd agreed to do in a waiver I'd just signed.

Eventually, after spinning the boat and generally looking like we were all new to this "sailing" thing, we got the boat under control and realized that having the boat heeled over that far is fun when you know it's supposed to do that. As we rotated through responsibilities of helmsman and controlling the mainsheet, each jib sheet, and an extra person to help winch lines, we learned more about how to communicate on a boat, how to tack, how to jibe, and how to control the boat in a reasonably competent manner. I left that first day exhausted but with a smile a million miles wide on my face.

the magical lesson boat

The second day was significantly less stressful. Our instructor noted that we were going to get all manner of sailing experience. Where the first day was extremely windy, with strong gusts, the second day was significantly calmer. After prepping the boat for sailing and passing muster with our instructor, we went out in the morning and practiced man-overboard drills until lunchtime, when we came back in. We took the test for ASA certification and I passed, thankfully. For a test that's 100 multiple choice questions, I stressed far more than I should have.

At that point we were faced with options. We could go back out on the water by ourselves, we could take our instructor with us, or we could simply head home. While one of my fellow students opted to head home, the remaining four of us pulled our instructor back onto our boat for a few more hours on the water.

This final trip was more interesting. We practiced man-overboard drills with an actual student volunteering to jump in the river; we showed how difficult (or impossible) it is to pull someone out of the water if they're not actively helping. Then, with a very light breeze going, we practiced tacking and jibing in front of the marina. At one point we watched Marine Assistance go out and assist what looked like a disabled boat; a line was hooked up and they started to tow the boat, but it looked like the power came back and the formerly disabled watercraft was able to self-power again. Then a little while later, as we were close to the mouth of the marina, I noticed another sailboat, sails lowered, motoring about 10 yards from us as if they were heading in. I remember mentally noticing the wake they left. Then, when I looked back a few seconds later, I was puzzled by the lack of a wake. I was trying to figure out how they stopped so quickly. At that point we all realized that, the way the folks on that boat were moving about, they hadn't planned on stopping. Shortly after that realization, everyone on our boat realized that, being (at most) 10 yards away from the stuck vehicle, we weren't moving in relation to them at all. Our boat was bobbing up and down, but we had lost the ability steer or really do anything other than sit there. We were stuck too, much to the surprise of the instructor.

Fortunately for us, we'd grounded on a soft, relatively new sandbar just in front of the marina at a maximum speed of maybe two knots. Our experienced instructor didn't really want to pay for a tow, so he had all of us lean out over one side of the boat while he used the outboard to try to swing us around. Our weight did the trick; the keel lifted off the bottom long enough for our boat to rotate and move away. We were free! The other boat, which we realized was stuck more or less where we'd seen the earlier disabled craft, wasn't so luck. Marine Assistance wasn't able to pull them free, as they were moving much faster when they got stuck. As we looked back, the Coast Guard came in with a bigger ship and was able to pull that sailboat free.

In all, the class was a wonderful experience. I had an amazing amount of fun and can safely say two things:
1) I want to take the next level class, and
2) I want a sailboat.

1 Comments:

Blogger Sarah said...

Well! I could've simply read this and then I would never have to actually speak to you at work! Someday we will communicate exclusively through writing. Just wait and see.

11:28 AM, September 08, 2011  

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