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.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

My first major practice sessions

Man, this learning curve is steep!

So I’m learning how to drive a J/24. Yes, the first sailing lessons I ever took were on a J/24, but that was many years ago, and those lessons were just about the basics of sailing, and now I’m learning a whole lot of the finer points. For one thing, there are a whole lot more things to fiddle with to get the best performance out of the boat. The MacGregor that I’ve been sailing for the past six years has a boom vang, which we haven’t even really figured out, and it doesn’t have a traveler, or jib or spinnaker tracks, or an adjustable backstay. We actually do have a spinnaker, but it’s sitting pristine in its bag; we have never used it, and as best I can tell, none of the boat’s previous owners ever used it either.

So yesterday I got to learn a lot about all of these things. We were in light air, between 5 and 10 knots, and so something I had to add to the routine of tacking was also taking the traveler across for more efficient shaping of the mainsail. But probably the biggest part of the learning curve involved the spinnaker – maintaining the course of the boat in light and shifty winds in order to help the trimmer keep the sail flying. It’s harder than it looks.

I’m also having to learn a new script to add to what I already know. I already have the basic “Ready about. Ready. Helm Alee” and “Ready to jibe. Ready. Jibe Ho.” Now I have to learn additional dialogue, such as “Set pole,” “Trip,” and “Douse.”

Still, it was a glorious day. We were three trainees – me at the helm, a trimmer, Maureen, who had not done much sailing at all, and a foredeck person, Vicky, who was a fairly experienced sailor but who hadn’t done anything with a spinnaker before. We had two good coaches, Sue, the best female racing skipper in New Mexico, and Dan, the avid, experienced sailor boyfriend of Maureen. Between the two of them, we got a whole lot of great instruction, although it’s going to take some time to absorb it all. And we managed to operate that spinnaker without any major problems – we never got it twisted up or dragging in the water or some of the other things I’ve seen while on the committee boat.

After the sailing, there was the fellowship of sailors. We had dinner together, with talk and laughter, telling tales and swapping jokes, about sailing, but also about life in general, and weather and physics and electrocution and how Sue and Maureen had grown up in the same village and graduated from the same high school one year apart but didn’t know each other, and about what a weird place Los Alamos is, where I came from and where Dan and Maureen live.

I had intended to make a post to the blog immediately that night, but Rich and Sue don’t have a telephone. But we planned to have breakfast this morning at a place that has wireless Internet access. It turns out, that would have cost $5, but since I couldn’t get this computer connected, they didn’t charge me.

Then today, out on the water, oh, what a day! Sue and Dan were coaching Maureen and Vicky on Kachina (Rich and Sue’s boat), working on foredeck and trim issues involving the spinnaker, while Rich and I were on Alter Ego working on helm and tactics. We were working in extremely light air, between 3 and 5 knots, but both boats were doing nicely. We simulated match races on a short upwind-downwind course between two channel marker buoys. Alter Ego is a really sweet boat, if in need of a bit of cleaning and refurbishing (she’s been idle for the past year or so due to the serious illness of her owner, and Rich is now working on getting her ready to sell); in the light air today, all I needed on the tiller was one thumb and one finger. I could just make a slight twitch to keep her on course, even as the wind shifted, and rounding marks was oh so graceful. It was also especially satisfying to duck under Sue – known as the RGSC’s most aggressive racing skipper – and slip past when rounding the leeward mark, or to out-tack her getting to the upwind mark. We weren’t flying a spinnaker on Alter Ego, while Sue and crew were flying one on Kachina, but even downwind, Alter Ego was going faster.

As the day progressed, I discovered that I was seeing things more clearly. I was spotting wind shifts even before Rich did, and I was keeping better track of the marks. I actually felt like I knew what I was doing.

Today, the concept of me at the helm of a racing boat moved from the realm of “what if” to the realm of “possible.” I do have some homework – studying the rule book’s chapters on starts and windward mark roundings, and refreshing my knot-tying, especially the bowline. Next weekend comes the first really big challenge – the Frostbite Regatta. There will be three J/24s with crews of women training for the Adams Cup, and a whole bunch of other boats. I will be at the helm of one of the J/24s – I wouldn’t mind getting Alter Ego again.


Anonymous Dan said...

Good luck in the Frostbite Regatta. Knock 'em dead. :D

Mon Jan 23, 09:38:00 PM MST  

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