The First Sail

My first real thought once I launched the boat from the dock was, “I’m finally sailing a real sailboat”. All my life I had been on these smaller boats like canoes and kayaks with make-shift sails just trying to harness the wind a bit to move peacefully through the water. Now I finally had my own boat and although I was using the motor to get out of the marina at the time, I would have a sail up in no time moving along using nothing but the wind.

Being new to using everything on the boat this first time was a little intimidating. I had already made some mistakes getting the boat in the water and didn’t want to make any more that would cost me any money in the long run. I was still pretty upset that I had broken the mast crutch on the stern of the boat from trying to raise the mast in the parking lot. “At least it wasn’t anything that would have stopped me from getting out today”, I thought in an attempt to ease my mind about it. Once I got out of the marina I opened the motor up a little bit to see what sort of speed the little 7.5 hp motor would give me. It really wasn’t too bad at all as the bow lifted up and a wake began forming at full throttle. I motored out for a little bit, checking the steering sensitivity and getting a feel for the throttle and some of the sweet spots it had. I was headed for a cove next to the marina. I knew there were a few mooring buoy’s there and was just going to use one while I got the main sail hooked up and double checked everything before heading out. This would be my first time trying to catch a buoy and I really wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I did an initial pass just to see how close I could get and how much time I would need to jump up and try to grab it with the boat hook. As I came around the second time I realized that the boat hook was under the starboard cockpit seat and As I was still a few meters away I jumped down and scrambled to get it before the buoy floated by. Scrambling back out of the companionway I managed to hook the mooring line just in time from the stern and pulled the boat to a stop. I walked the line up to the bow and wrapped it around a cleat. “That really wasn’t that hard”, I thought as I thought about some of the YouTube videos I had watched where people were saying it was tricky to get when trying to do it on your own. Once that was secure I lowered the keel down as far as it would go. I could get the locking pin to line up properly so I decided to leave it for this trip as it would be safer anyway if I happened to hit anything. Next I put the boom on the mast and fed the main sail through the boom. I tied the clew of the sail to the end of the boom as tight as I could but I think I should get a block or something to be able to get some more leverage on it. After that I tied the head of the sail to the end of the halyard, fed it into the mast and hoisted it up. My one mistake here was not getting the jib sail ready at that time. I thought I would try to sail first with the mainsail and then when I became confident with that I would put the jib up and try that as well. I should have gotten it ready there because once I started there really wasn’t any stopping when by yourself to try to figure out another sail for the first time. But, with the mainsail up I unhooked from the buoy and was ready to go. The only problem was there wasn’t much wind in this cove I was in. I ended up starting the motor and going out a little way before the wind started to pick up. Once it did though, it was the perfect day for the test sail. The wind started probably at about 4 knots at around 11:30 am when I started. That was enough to get myself moving and to adjust some things as I went without having too much speed. I was able to  keep a fairly steep tack going into the wind as I headed across the bay. IMG_20150823_160627

About an hour in the wind started to pick up more as I got further out into the bay. probably about 7-8 knots and I was getting the boat moving fairly quickly I thought for only having one sail up. I was getting more confident and decided to try to perform a tack to go the other way. My first attempt was an utter failure. I pushed the rudder all the way over but as I got just past the wind everything stalled and I was stuck facing the wind. I managed to sort of use the rudder to paddle myself back into my original position and got moving again but I couldn’t help but laugh at myself and hope nobody saw me attempt that from the shore. I realized I just didn’t have enough speed because I was trying to tack too close to the wind so I adjusted my course accordingly to get some more speed. Once I had picked up a bit more momentum than my first attempt I tried again. I pushed the rudder over the boat turned a little faster through the wind and the sail filled again on the other side. Now I was tacking up the wind in the other direction. Pretty good for the second try. As I headed back up the bay I managed to tie a rope to the tiller bar to keep me going in the right direction. I had looked at a number of people using the sail and some bungee cord to set up a sort of autopilot and I will be making this setup in the future but for now just tying a line so I could take a few minutes at a time off the tiller was working for me. I was able to pour a nice cup of coffee and sit back and just take it all in at this point as I headed back across the bay.IMG_20150823_160637 I also had time to take a few pictures at this point and I noticed there were about twelve more sailboat at different stages of leaving the marina behind me now. Some of them had only their head sails up and seemed to be gaining on me. As a couple of the sailboats past me I thought I should try to get my head sail up. I tied off the tiller bar as best I could and headed to the bow of the boat to see if I could get the jib set up. It was at this time I realized I should have set it up before hand because I would get the sail rolled out, then have to come back and adjust the tiller. Then I would get the lines run back to the cockpit and have to come back and adjust the tiller. After that I realized I had also rolled the sail up in a way that it would take me too long to get the luff of the sail fastened to the head stay before having to return so I decided to give up and just settle with the mainsail for the day. I also noted that some of the boats that were passing me we
re much larger than mine. Some of the were 30-40 feet as opposed to my little 22 foot boat. I’m guessing bigger sails equals more speed. There were some other boats that were moving the same speed as me so I decided I wasn’t really going as slow as I thought, especially for my first time out.IMG_20150823_142938

I was able do a couple more tacks up the bay  before it started getting a little late and I decided to head back. Going back was interesting because the wind had really picked up with some good gusts and I really started to move with the wind going back to the marina. When I got back just outside the marina something really strange did happen. I think it was a combination of a gust of wind and a larger wave pushing me sideways but the boat did a complete 180 deg. turn on me without me being able to control it. I think this would have been avoided it I had the head sail up instead of the main and was traveling a little more on an angle to the waves instead of almost straight down with them. It worked out though, because I was just getting ready to drop the sail anyway, so once I spun around I just dropped the sail and shoved it down in the companionway. I motored back over to the mooring buoy and hooked on again. It was even easier this time as I had the boat hook ready to go. Once stationary I packed the sail up, took off the boom and got my lines and fenders ready for docking.

After all was said and done and the boat was back on the trailer, the mast was lowered and I had it parked back in the driveway at home it turned out to be a really good day. Nothing really went wrong except the mast crutch and I learned a bunch of things to make the next trip out much better.

Some things I think I will keep in mind as a single-handed sailor for next time;

  • Have your sails ready to go before leaving. My mainsail is now wrapped around my boom so, once it’s attached to the mast I just have to remove the boom cover and hoist the sail. No messing with feeding the sail up the boom. The head sails are now packaged so I can clip them on to the head stay and run the lines back to the cockpit without even removing them from their bags. This way they can be hooked up and ready to go and secured in their bags without having to worry about them catching some wind and blowing around until I need them.
  • Have something you can eat while using the tiller. I had brought some hot dogs with me and a camp stove but I hadn’t realized that there was no time to be able to cook when by yourself unless I was going to go in and anchor somewhere. Next time I will bring sandwiches and other smaller things like fruit to munch on for the day trip.
  • I will eventually need to buy a set of dedicated blocks and line for raising and lowering the sail as using the main sheet line and boom vang blocks is rather time consuming to keep running the lines when they could just stay set up if I had a dedicated setup.

With the maiden voyage out of the way it was now time to focus on some improvements on The Venture King. My next task was to replace the electrical disaster that the previous owner had tried to install.

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