Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 4

For those who want action, here it is.
You might notice some things in this chapter that don’t quite match what you saw in earlier chapters. Don’t worry about it – I’ve been going back and making adjustments based on some events in later chapters. As for technical details, right now, the racing boats featured in this chapter are not modeled on any particular boat, but are rather to be taken as some fictional generic class of small racing boats.
Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 4
Stopping briefly at a café for coffee and breakfast burritos, we went down to the docks and readied our boats, setting up the mainsails and jibs ready to haul up, and then we shoved off. In a turning area near the docks, we raised sail. The breeze was stiff but steady at about 12 knots, from directly across the bay, and I could get a good feel for it as Pierre and I circled each other, tacking and jibing through the points of sail.
“Race ya,” Pierre said. “Upwind-downwind, from here to that marker buoy off the bait barge and then back.” He indicated a course almost directly into the wind, across the bay.
“You’re on!” I sheeted in my main, made a quick jibe to bring my boat parallel to his, and we were off.
Because the marker buoy was directly upwind from us, we couldn’t set a course straight for it. Our small boats were designed for racing and could sail closer to the wind than most boats, but even the best sailboats can’t sail straight into the wind. Thus, the first leg of our race would involve tacking, taking a zigzag course toward the buoy and then turning about it as closely as possible before making the return trip. We started out both on starboard tack, with the boats’ right sides facing the wind, so we were headed to the left of the buoy. Pierre, to my left, was just about even with me, each boat making an occasional surge to get a wee bit ahead, but neither of us clearly in the lead. My sails cast a slight wind shadow on his, occasionally slowing him down, but I knew we couldn’t stay on this tack for too much longer, or we’d be sailing away from the buoy.
Quickly, I tacked, peeling away from Pierre’s boat and taking up a new course on port tack. Almost instantly, he tacked, too, coming up parallel but now to my right. I was ahead of him, but he was gaining on me. I tacked again, and our mainsails snapped taut in unison.
We tacked again onto port, and I realized I was falling behind – only by half a boat-length, but Pierre was edging ahead. Off to the right, I noticed water looked different; the little ripples in the surface of the waves were just a tiny bit fuzzier looking. Perhaps there was an eensy bit more wind over there. Pierre tacked to the left behind me, but I kept the same course. I would be sailing wide of the buoy, but if there was more wind where I was going, I could go faster, and on the return I could be sailing on a reach rather than close-hauled, which would also mean higher speed. It was a risk; the speed gained might not be enough to offset the extra distance traveled. But I certainly wasn’t winning the tacking duel, so I headed off to the right.
I felt my boat lift as it reached the higher wind; now I was really flying. Too late, Pierre saw that I had found improved conditions and tacked over to the right side of the course. He was even with me, and then he was falling behind. I kept my course; if I tacked too early, I wouldn’t be able to make the buoy without tacking again. I had to calculate when the new tack would take me just past the mark.
Pierre found the higher wind, and his boat picked up speed. He was gaining on me, but I held the lead. Finally, I reached the point where I could tack, and I was zooming toward the buoy. Just as had been the case with my boat a moment before, Pierre couldn’t tack yet if he wanted a straight shot at the buoy.
I whipped past the corner of the bait barge, where commercial fishermen could load up on baitfish before heading out to sea, under a screaming crowd of gulls hoping to nab a bite to eat. A gust of wind clobbered me in the face with the stink of dead fish and sea lion droppings. I nearly loosened my grip on my tiller, but I recovered quickly. Pierre, meanwhile, had tacked and was coming up on my stern.
I reached the buoy and jibed around it, loosening my sheets for the downwind run back to the starting point, water splashing up into my face from the bow of the boat. I could hear the whooshing of the water as Pierre came around right behind me, but before he had finished rounding the mark, I had my sails sheeted out and set.
Now the jibing duel began. Pierre was behind me, but that also meant he was upwind. If he could get directly upwind, he could block some of the wind with his sails, slowing me down. My challenge was to keep ahead of him and also keep out of his shadow. First to the right, and then to the left, I jibed, ducking down each time as the boom swept across the cockpit. It became a game of prediction, of trying to read each other’s mind, to guess the other’s actions before they happened. I have always felt in tune with my boat and the water, and now I felt even more in tune than ever. On the downwind run, the sailing was much smoother than it had been on the beat upwind, giving the illusion that the boat had slowed down, but in reality, I was flying along. Pierre kept trying to work his way into my wind, but I was able to anticipate every move, and by the time we had reached the starting mark, I had pulled an additional boat-length ahead.
“Whoo, what a run!” Pierre exclaimed as we brought our boats about and slacked the sails. He pulled his boat alongside mine and reached out for a handshake, giving me a slap on the back as our boats pulled together.
“Yeah! That was fun!” I agreed. “But going by that bait barge was a little of a challenge.”
“Hey, just getting back at you for that sofa. Let’s have another round!”
“Sure, but let’s take a different course this time.”
We spent the rest of the day racing many different courses, all over the bay. In addition to upwind/downwind courses, we ran triangles and multi-leg courses. Before we knew it, the sun was sinking toward the horizon, and we brought our boats back to the dock to put them away. In the golden glow of the setting sun, as the wind abated, we spread out our sails on the pier and carefully rolled them up and put them into sail bags to protect them, and then we locked them up in a shed near the dock where we rented space to store our equipment. As we headed up the pier to shore, I became aware that Pierre was holding my hand. I wondered when that had happened.


Blogger Tillerman said...

Just discovered your blog and this fascinating story of the Wizards of Winds and Waves. So original. Looking forward to future episodes.

Wed Nov 02, 02:45:00 PM MST  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Thanks for the compliments. I was working hard to keep the sailing parts authentic without bogging down non-sailors with a bunch of tedious details. I hope I got a good balance.

Wed Nov 02, 11:42:00 PM MST  

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