Taking The Tiller: Out on the Water

A good sailing weekend makes up for lost time on the hard. From Kitty Martin's "Taking the Tiller" for May 8, 2008

We may have been a little late getting Magdalena, our Tartan 30, in the water this year, but a recent weekend helped to make up for lost time. I left work on Friday just before 5 so I could meet Charlie on the south side of the Padanaram Bridge, which he went through at the six o'clock opening. I tracked down our friends, Kurt and Pam, so we could all climb aboard. Pam had been on a boat a few times in her life, but she'd never been sailing, and Kurt couldn't remember the last time that he'd been on a boat.

I took the tiller while Charlie raised the main. I'm a bit rusty on the rules of the road, so he had to remind me about staying in my "lane" as we motored through the channel. Once the sail was up, we shut the motor off and enjoyed a perfect early evening sail: about 10 to 12 knots of wind, flat seas, and warm temperatures. Pam came below with me to help fix drinks and snacks, but she quickly realized-even in good conditions-that she was better off abovedecks. But she enjoyed herself all evening and kept saying aloud "I'm sailing!" Kurt took the tiller a few times and handled the genoa. The wind died with the sunset as we ghosted back into the harbor. I took the tiller as Charlie dropped the main and grabbed the mooring. This was our first sail of the season, but we'd practiced some motoring maneuvers in the harbor the previous weekend, so I felt pretty confident despite having an audience. Fortunately, I was spot-on, and Charlie grabbed the mooring with ease.

The next day, Charlie, his brother-in-law Brian (one of Magdalena's co-owners), and I got the 3 o'clock bridge for a mid-afternoon sail. I let go the mooring, as I did the previous evening, and I'm fine with this, even with the dinghy tied up to it. It was breezier and choppier than the evening before, but still quite nice. Brian took it easy that day, so the work was left to Charlie and me. I again motored through the channel while Charlie raised the main. Even with the tight spaces and number of boats, I'm OK with this, I think because I'm more comfortable with the boat in general this year. After all the work we did on it this spring, it really feels like ours. And Charlie can feel the difference in the way the boat sails with the new main. I have to admit that I can't discern a difference, but we sure look good!

After we let out the genoa, Charlie decided that he wanted it hauled in a bit, so he told me to grab a winch handle. Before I unwrapped the line from the cleat, he reminded me to keep tension on the line as I cinched in the genny. And when I was done, I got my first "very good, dear," of the day from him.

After a while we decided to drop the hook at Nonquitt, a favorite spot for a swim and a beer. Charlie hauled in the genny and asked me to drop the main, which I did, but too slowly and awkwardly. Another lesson on better technique soon followed. Before I dropped the anchor, Charlie and I went over it first, because it had been a while, and I never truly felt comfortable with anchoring last year. My problem then and still now is that I can't really tell when the anchor hits the bottom. The water's not all that deep there, and it seemed like that rode paid out forever. But it all worked out, and I got a lecture on scope and the mechanics of a Danforth. I said I'd like to discuss anchoring again when we're not on the boat so I can figure out the concept when not under the pressure of the moment. Charlie went for a swim while Brian and I lounged in the cockpit. When it was time to leave, Charlie retrieved the anchor while I handled the tiller and engine: my second "very good, dear." The sail back to our mooring was slow and uneventful. The conditions were so calm that Charlie decided to go through the bridge with the main still up. Maybe this isn't standard operating procedure, as the maneuver generated some commentary, and I'm not sure the bridge tender's expression was one of approval. But we were on a roll, so Charlie decided to sail up to the mooring, and I retrieved it neatly on the first approach: my last "very good, dear" of the day.

Sunday dawned way windier than we'd expected. We were on the fence about sailing, because it would be Julie's first time out this season, and we'd have Brian's sister, Kathy, aboard, who's not a sailor and who's prone to seasickness. But around noon, the wind abated some, so we decided to get the 1 o'clock bridge. My brother-in-law, Dan, had come up from Newport to do some work on his 29-foot Legacy, which is just a stone's throw from Magdalena's mooring, but we hijacked him for the sail. I guess work can always wait. Dan, Charlie, and I planned to meet the rest of the crew on the other side of the bridge. Before leaving the mooring, Charlie put a reef in the sail, which ended up being a very good idea. I've only watched him do this once before. It doesn't look like rocket science, but I still want a lesson in it. Chaz asked if I wanted to take Magdalena through the bridge, but I declined, citing wind conditions.

After we picked everyone up and headed out, it was blowing at steady 20 knots, and I wondered briefly if this had been a good idea. And Dan commented that he was glad to have a mooring on the north side of the bridge, as the bridge and causeway offer great protection. But the boat handled beautifully. Maybe I am starting to notice a difference with this new sail. It was a rollicking ride and not the best conditions for Kathy. In fact, at one point, she got really quiet and a bit pale. We'd already been out for a while by then, so I suggested we turn around for her sake, and nobody argued. With Dan aboard, I didn't do too much work that day. Now that Dan owns a powerboat, I think he misses pulling on lines. The wind had died somewhat by the time we were ready to go through the bridge, and though I thought it was still too windy, Charlie sailed through again. I think he was showing off. Charlie sailed up to the mooring. It wasn't as smooth as the prior day's attempt, so Dan helped me get the line around the cleat.

The new main is stiff and slippery, so flaking it down is a little trickier than it was with the old main, but the crew's learning. The old sail cover doesn't fit over the new sail, so we use a line with a series of half hitches to secure it, which I've been practicing. I've also been brushing up on my figure eights and bowlines. I don't think the perfect knot will ever be my forte, but Captain Bligh--er, Charlie--insists I become competent.

All in all, I found I had to relearn quite a bit during our first weekend on the water, but I also realize that it came back pretty quickly, and I'm much more comfortable aboard than I was a year ago. I wouldn't describe myself as a sailing pro yet, but I've made strides. I've also discovered that I'm retaining what I learn and understanding the mechanics of sailing much more now that I'm an adult; whereas pretty much all I remembered from sailing lessons when I was 11 or 12, is that you push the tiller in the opposite direction of where you want to go.

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