Saturday, July 11, 2009

On Learning to Sail - the racing shortcut - June 06

The general consensus among the sailors I’ve met is that racing is a great way to quickly build your sailing skills. Considering the stories I’ve heard about screaming skippers (you know who you are) I wondered if one simply had no choice but to figure it out fast. I wasn’t sure I liked the idea but Mike insisted that it was time; which is how I came to be crewing for Jim Chambers on Snowfox in the Wednesday night series. I warned Jim up front, “I don’t know what I’m doing half the time and if you scream at me I might just scream back. Or I might cry. I am a girl after all.” Jim assured me that he isn’t a screamer, that I would do fine and that I’d even learn something in the process.

We’ve now completed the first half of the series. Jim isn’t a screamer, I have done fine, and I have learned a lot. Such as:

1.) Racing involves drinking beer and race boats don’t have heads. This doesn’t appear to be a problem for the men aboard, but I’m not a man. Therefore I’ve learned to make sure I’ve taken care of business at the last possible minute prior to leaving the dock, pace my beer consumption, and pack the boat up quickly when we get back in. Yes, there is a bucket aboard, and I’m sure it would suffice in an emergency. But I’d rather not, thank you very much.

2.) Race boats have dozens of sails and dozens of lines attached to them. My boat has a jib, jib sheets, and a jib halyard, a main sail, main sheet, and a main halyard. That’s it. Jim’s boat has a main sail, a jib, a reaching sail, and a spinnaker, that I’m aware of, possibly more. Each of those sails has four dozen lines extending from it, each with a different name, and each a different color. And this doesn’t count the dozen or so lines that are just coiled and lying about waiting to be used for some task or other. It’s important to learn which lines are where and what color they are so that when you go to a different boat you’re confused and have to start over with a whole new set of different colored lines in different places.

3.) Translation takes a minute. If you’ve been sailing for 30 years, or 20, or five, or even just a year or two, you don’t have to stop and think about the terminology anymore. I’ve only been sailing for a matter of months and I have to stop and do a quick translation in my head when someone tells me to do something. “Furl the jib and cleat it off!” First, I have to determine if I’m being given this order or if it’s being given to one of the people on either side of me. Next I have to go over the terms. I know what the jib is. Furl it means to wrap it back up. I do that by pulling on a line. Which line? The jib furler. And that’s the blue and white one? NO! The tan one with blue flecks? NO! The white one with red flecks? Bingo! So I pull until the jib is all rolled up then cleat it off. That means hold the line in place, so it goes in this little thing here and I pull down to make it secure. Got it! What do you mean bring the jib out? I just got it furled!

I’ve been having fun though. A few weeks ago I got to fly the chute for the first time. (Wow, did that sound like a real sailor or what?) The first few times I went out on my boat I didn’t want to cleat the jib sheets down because I liked feeling the wind in the sails and holding onto the sheets seemed the only way to get that feeling. The first time a puff whipped the line out of my hand (good thing I was wearing gloves!) I gave up that notion. But controlling the spinnaker feels the same way and I loved every minute of it. I warned Jim that he’d have a hard time getting me to do anything else, and I meant it. Right up until the following week when there was actually a little bit of wind and I discovered that a little bit of wind means a little more work. Which also means stiff hands and a stiff neck. I still loved every minute of it, but I also didn’t complain when it was time to jibe.

The best part of it all is that I’m really learning. Last weekend I took my boat out with only the kids for crew – which meant I was the only person aboard who had the slightest idea (literally) what was going on. Of course Mike was sailing his own boat nearby and my cell phone was in my pocket just in case. But I did fine. And I continued to do fine, even when Mike sailed his boat off in another direction after assuring me that I could handle it. And I did. I sailed my own boat across the lake and even managed to put it back in the slip without injuries to crew, boats, or myself. I DID IT!

Not-Quite-Captain of her own ship,
Amy Thurman
s/v Write of Passage

1 comment:

  1. Go to West Marine and buy the "Little John Urinal" with the "Lady Jane" attachment. It will be the best $16.00 you ever spent and will solve your beer-drinking-while-racing problems for good! :)

    --Melanie Neale