Log Entry: Finally a Sail
During last Saturday's "Pickle Race", the sailing club had plenty of boats and skippers to take the youth from the New Mexico Boys and Girls Ranch out sailing but was short on ground crew to set up the picnic for their return. So I and a few other folks helped some of the boats get launched and out onto the water, where they would travel to various buoys in a short of treasure hunt for numbered cards.
On shore, we joined "Dumbledore" in setting up the grill and volleyball net. About an hour before the boats were expected to return with the youth, we started hiding candy-filled plastic Easter Eggs, and about half an hour before the boats returned we set out the real, hard-boiled and dyed eggs.
In due time the young people and their skippers returned, the Easter Egg hunt was held, and a representative of each crew traded numbered cards for playing cards to make a poker hand to determine who won the big prize -- a large jar of pickles! That was followed by the picnic, some egg-toss and balloon-stomp and running games, tug o' war, and volleyball before the youth were well and properly worn out and ready to return to their ranch. The games were held in a relatively flat, sandy, and protected area that reduced the wind to a nice breeze.
By this time, well into Saturday afternoon of Easter Eve, the winds had come up to where the lake was a mess of whitecaps -- lots of "sheep in the meadow". Carol Anne motored Carguy's Catalina 30 south to Marina del Sur, preparatory to a haul-out, but even under motor with sails stowed the boat had a good heel. It was too windy to launch Carol Anne's own boat, the older Etchells, USA 125 "Black Magic", so I helped with putting away from the picnic and then with retrieving boats from the water and loading them onto trailers. Carguy's Catalina 30 was being hauled out on a modified trailer that had never been used before with the boat, so hauling out required ongoing adjustments to the trailer stands and pads that took quite a lot of time. I wound up attaching the boat to the front top post of the trailer and getting the sky ride on the boat as it left the water. It was well after dark when about ten of us dribbled in to the Big Food Express restaurant.
Sunday we did launch Black Magic from the Rock Canyon Boat Ramp. The plan was for me to solo-sail the Etchells south to the Marina del Sur ramp and then for us to load the boat onto her trailer. Carol Anne would help Carguy with preparing his Catalina for road travel while I was sailing south. The joy of plans, of course, is when they unravel just a bit.
Upon launch, winds were much lighter than predicted and I had to change a bunch of adjustments so the boat would move decently. But, after tacking away from the ramp cove and getting part way down the lake, the wind came up a bit to some nice sailing breeze. Then, I was joined for a bit by Constellation and her skipper, who expected the wind to freshen yet more. Soon I could see a wind line coming from the south, so I started making more adjustments and undoing some of the previous adjustments before the wind hit. And hit it did, increasing from about 6 knots to 15 in a minute and then starting a bizarre cycle of oscillations, gusts, partial lulls, direction switches, and general frustration and busywork covering the 6- to 24-knot spectrum.
Now, this is when a solo Etchells sailor begins to feel somewhat like a one-armed wallpaper-hanger. In a breeze. More wind. Less wind. Different wind. I got pretty tired of adjusting this that and the other (Etchells have rather a few this thats and others) as the wind absolutely refused to settle into a pattern or steady itself.
As I passed the narrow channel to the west of Rattlesnake Island, a pontoon boat and crew changed course to shadow me and perhaps get some good pictures. Apparently I was putting on a bit of a show for the powerboaters and campers.
Nearing Marina del Sur, I dropped the jib. With breezy conditions and with controls set for a single-hand crew, that greatly increased weather helm; I actually had to back the boat down and to the side to get moving again and approach the ramp. Finding a spot vacant on the windward side of the floating courtesy pier nearest the ramp, I went a few boat lengths to windward in the tight space between the boat ramp, a point of land, and Marina del Sur, where various powerboats were maneuvering. This was something that had to be timed carefully; if the sail were to jam and not go down I risked grounding or collision and even in the midst of lowering the big main I had to watch out for inattentive boat operators.
Getting the main down, I used the boats remaining bit of momentum to start toward the windward side of the floating pier and did a bit of sculling. A small motorboat had docked in the middle, naturally, leaving only a small space, but I was on target and began walking forward to take a dockline off the bow and secure alongside.
Wham! A gust hid and swung the bow over, grazing the end of the pier and then blowing the boat away from the pier before I could get a line off. Had anyone been on the end of the pier a line could have been taken and all would have been well.
But, no one was around and Black Magic was drifting toward a couple of boats and shallow water beyond. Once I was able to avoid the obstacles, I had two choices: go downwind away from the marina and raise the mainsail in the whitecapping breeze, or try to scull with the rudder in a circle to try to dock again.
I chose sculling as a safer/more controlled, albeit more exhausting choice. Sculling usually isn't viable in a good breeze but I was desperate and the water near the boat ramp was partially sheltered and not too choppy. So, stroke, stroke, stroke and around the boat came, although she didn't like being sculled directly to windward so I found that "tacking" and "sailing" at an angle of about 45 degrees to the apparent wind was what worked best. This time, at least, I had a good landing on the 20-foot end section of the pier that was available for the thirty-foot sloop and stopped Black Magic just a couple of feet shy of the motorboat's transom.
By then, I was pretty darn tired and had energy only to roll up and stow the jib (foresail) and secure the mainsail. Conditions were too windy (and at a bad angle) and I was way too tired to try to put the put the boat on the trailer, so that waited until closer to sunset, when winds did moderate, making the job far easier.
Even though the sail wasn't terribly long, I felt like I'd been through the wringer. I may have been in the early stages of a "bug" that got me later in the week, so that may also have contributed to the feeling of exhaustion.