Friday, July 29, 2005

Man Overboard!

Finally! A decent depression has arrived a little to the north and east of The City, bringing clouds and rain - but also some decent breezes, which we haven’t had for quite some time (at least a month, I think). Mr. S and I agreed to meet after work at a nearby cove and hire a nice fast dinghy, for Mr. S’s second sailing lesson.

Arriving at the cove, I was introduced to Mrs. S – very pretty, but with at least two serious defects: she hates (fears?) both fish and the sea, and so, her role was to be restricted to spectator and dog-walker. I rather hoped she wouldn’t watch us too closely – if she wasn’t used to the normal hazards of dinghy sailing, she might see a simple capsize, and think I had drowned her poor husband.

Our launch was fast and fairly smooth, although a little delay in putting down the centerboard very nearly saw us forced onto a lee shore within the first 30 seconds or so – with me trying not to shout...“yes, it would really be quite useful now, in your own time of course, Mr. S”. The breeze was good, and once our sails were properly trimmed, we fairly flew across the water on a beam reach. Mr. S was grinning broadly when I handed him the helm. At first, the speed and responsiveness of the boat were too much for him (he had less than two hours of steering experience, and we were sailing the nautical equivalent of a rally car), and we left the worst wake – looked like we were drawing sine curves in the water. Then a gust caught us – and over we went. I had been a careless crew, and was briefly caught in the rigging, as well as dropped in the sea. Wouldn't it be ironic to be trapped and drowned by a lifejacket?

Mr. S had been told what to do in the event of capsize, and he did it: clung to the transom and awaited rescue. Climbing onto the centre board, righting went very smoothly, and I resumed my seat as crew, waiting for Mr. S to board and regain control. This did not happen: although he returned to the tiller, there followed the most extraordinary sequence of tacks and gybes as we spun about like a top. He drew my attention to the rudder – it was the lifting kind, and had been allowed to rise till it barely touched the water at all. No wonder he couldn’t keep a course – effectively, he had no steering!

Things went more smoothly for while, until, during a tack, we had a near-capsize. Surprised to find the boat righting itself (with water pouring into the cockpit over the leeward side, I was already climbing over the high side to stand on the keel), I turned around to congratulate Mr. S on his success – and found the tiller swinging idly, with my helmsman bobbing 15 metres astern – man overboard! Taking control, I continued the same course for a while, then tacked back to make the rescue. Perhaps I should not have made so much ground to windward, because I still had plenty of way on as I turned upwind to collect Mr. S: I caught him as he went by on the windward side, yanked him in over the transom, and returned him to his post, none the worse for his dip, which he took very calmly.

To be fair, he did very well indeed. The wind was variable, which meant he had often to react instantly in order to avert capsize – and although I think I used my weight pretty effectively, his lightening-fast turns into the wind probably saved us a swim on more than one occasion. After some confusion about which was a tack and which was a gybe, he got pretty handy at changing course – we beat to windward, and spent a while at a narrows in the inlet where the funneled wind was at its strongest. This meant fast sailing, less than a minute on each tack, turning at the last second to avoid the rocks of the shore, and dodging some windsurfers (who often got up and planing – pretty good conditions). Excellent practice – there is nothing like a hard beat to windward for perfecting tacks. After a while, I tool the helm, and showed how we could use our collective weight to take the power of even the stronger gusts without having to change course or dump wind from the main sail. Mr. S got to enjoy hiking out – his back actually touched the water at one point.

Our evening ended with a nice fast run downwind to the landing beach, where Mr. S turned us neatly head to wind, stopping us dead in the shallows. Sails dropped and trailer loaded, Mr. S returned safely, if damply, to his wife and dogs. Future sails are planned: he asked about sailing to a nearby town. We couldn’t do that in a little hired dinghy: but I know of a couple of other sailing folk in our office – perhaps we could organize a 1 or 2 day charter some weekend? The coast here is really a fantastic place to sail – full of interesting islands and inlets, dolphins to play with, and the odd passing whale to remind us of our insignificance.

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