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Friday, October 24, 2008

October 25, 2008-A Day Spent Sailing Hard

“How much wind will that sail take?” A voice from the back of the boat.

The man on the foredeck hears the worry in her voice and he’s irritated. They are sailing downwind on a full main and he’s just about got the kite hooked up. What she’s really asking is, “Do they really have to put this up now?” She is alone at the back, steering, handling the mainsheet and she doesn’t like the looks of the sky. He doesn’t need her to try to talk him out of it now.

“How much wind do they have?”

“Fourteen point five.”

“I won’t put it up in over twenty and I’ll take it down at 25.” Some bravado in that answer but mostly in-your-face refusal to give in to the reality he doesn’t want to admit. But it’s a matter of long standing policy on the boat anyhow, since the 80’s. Hoist if it’s below 20 and take it down if it goes over 25; standard policy.

Anyhow, he’s not giving any slack and she knows it and she doesn’t say anything else but he knows she’d welcome a change in the decision; they don’t have to do this, it’s grey and windy and more wind coming, maybe rain, and the sky is dark and low and there are the rocks of a lonely shore ahead. But he wants to look at this sail. They set out to do this. He doesn’t give in easily.

He judges: We’re OK, we can do it, the wind is not too strong and we have the time.

They hoist. In fifteen knots of wind the kite goes up and fills with a crack of crisp nylon. They trim the sheet and guy and the boat is steady, surging. The woman steers. The man grabs the Nikon and has only time for a couple of shots.

“We’re getting there fast” she says.

He looks ahead; it’s true. He makes a quick mental assessment: Too little time to get set up to do the jibe, no time to get ready for it. Can't do it slow and easy. When the lee shore is coming up fast you can’t relax. Then there is the #3: It’s got to go up next and it is on deck but on the wrong side and not rigged. He decides against the jibe; no need to push into a disaster.

“We’ll drop now and then jibe around under main.”

“How do we do it?” She knows but wants some reassurance. She is still tense.

The wind is twenty.

“Steer down some, let the guy go forward, you give me halyard when I can take it, and I’ll pull the sail down behind the main”; standard procedure if you’re not going around a mark, which they are not.

The sail comes down without problem and he crams it into the forward hatch but wind blowing through the cabin blows the sail back up in his face. He throws the bag on it and that holds it down long enough to slam the hatch.

Now they jibe the main; it bangs over. The wind is strong.

But then they sail into the wind shadow of Koh Sup and the wind stops. The tall rocky island which they picked as a mark for the day’s sail blocks the wind entirely.

The boat is coasting, mainsail slack.

He shoots a couple more shots with the Nikon, then they come out on port tack and the wind hits them hard again; the waves are big. They’re heeled well over with just the main. He decides to reef. No argument from her but there is no reef line on the sail. He’ll climb up and run it through the first reef cringle.

“Only with your harness on!” her tone indicates she’ll brook no discussion, and he knows she is right.

She heads below “I'll get it!” He waits.

She comes up with two harnesses and they both hook up. He climbs up on the boom and runs the reef line, then jumps down. It's a risky move, but he lands OK.

With the reef line led they work together to reef the main, as they have so many times before, and it goes smoothly, quickly.

Now the man decides that he doesn’t want the #3 headsail. It’s too big, and if they have a problem they could damage the new sail. He calls for the #4.

The woman notices something else: “The hydraulics have blown!” He looks at pool of red in the aft cockpit which tells the whole story. There is a serious leak, one which has been there before but they have not been able to find it. Some is running down into the main cockpit, spreading.

“Keep your feet out of it.” He yells, and he drops the pressure then ducks below to get a roll of paper towels and some tools. He mops up the oil and checks the fittings where the oil is coming from but can’t tell for sure in the moving boat, having to duck his head as she steers and the tiller swings over his left ear and there’s water flying around, but he think it is the vang, not the backstay, so they can still use the backstay, they can still put the pressure on the backstay they need to go upwind. He makes some adjustments and tells her, “I think it’s Ok, I’m going forward to put up the #4”.

“Will the hydraulics hold?”

“I think they will. Can you come up on the foredeck and help me get the #4 up through the hatch.”

“OK.” She engages the autohelm and he ducks down below again.

From below he pushes the heavy sail up the hatch and she is there on the foredeck above his head and she pulls the sailbag on deck. Then he runs aft and up the ladder onto the deck and he goes forward to hook up the smaller sail. She is steering again.

Immediately he gets drenched by several waves which sweep over the foredeck. But the sail is rigged and they hoist. The boat settles down with two sails driving it forward. The speed goes up. They trim in. They look around to see where they are; they need to tack.

But he decides he wants the #3 down below, off the deck. He tells her this and she agrees and he starts to push it down the hatch; water pours out of the bag into the boat as the end of the bag enters the hatch.

“Can you go down and move the spinnaker out of the way to keep it from getting soaked?”

“Yes”.

He waits on deck until she finishes, and then he dumps the wet sail below.

A glance at the shoreline off to leeward.

“Let’s tack!”

The woman gets back on the helm and says “Ready about!” It is the command, not the question.

“Ready”.

She puts the helm down and he works the sheets, the runners, anything else that needs it. The tack is sloppy; the bow stays into the wind too long. He yells, “Hey, don’t go back!”

“Sorry, I tripped.”

The man looks back and sees she is trying to regain her footing while steering the boat back onto the course. She succeeds and the sails fill.

Now they are on starboard tack and working to weather. They start to think about the course ahead; ten miles upwind to the next anchorage. They discuss options. Stop back at Nakha Island or carry on to Laem Khat, or go the small island where they have been before?

They decide to carry on but leave the final decision between Laem Khat or the island open; they can decide later.

The boat is moving well upwind. They begin to enjoy the sail. Up till now it’s been a lot of work but now they can just sail easily. They drink water. They tack a few more times, he steering between tacks but trading jobs with her on the tacks so he can work the jib sheets while she steers. The tacks are better.

The tension of the morning slips away, now it’s just an easy slog to weather.

At 17:00 they enter the protected area behind Laem Khat. It is calm. They haven’t been there before but it looks good. They drop the anchor and they are tired. It’s been a long day of hard sailing. They sit down and have a cold beer. They feel their muscles aching. They wait for a while but they have to get moving again to fold the sails and clean up below; all part of a hard day’s sailing.

That night as they have their meal they wonder if they can work this hard any more; are they getting too old?

But, they will cross that bridge when they come to it.

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