The weather guessers said a storm was coming. “Everyone get ready!”
“eeeeeeYYES!” I thought, so loud I must have shouted it. “Should be good sailing tonight!” And it was.
I got out on the water late, motored most of the way. Conscious of my instructor tag I thought “I’d better make a good example of seamanship.” Pride commeth before the fall, and I tried to raise my mainsail with a bungee cord still attached. Of course, one of my fellow instructors shouted over to me and squared me away… …with one of his students sitting next to him at his helm. Oh well, an example of what NOT to do.
The wind was terrific, blowing 8 – 10 knots from the southwest. Radar had the storm line building north of Alum Creek Lake and moving east. We would enjoy a truly good night of steady breeze.
Single handing, that is, sailing the boat alone, is quite a challenge and it keeps me moving. I raised my sails and fell away from the wind and was staring straight down at the other three Catalina 22’s, and they had right-of-way over me. I wove through them at less than the length of our boats and turned up into the wind. I would start from behind already.
Crossing the starting line and getting the lines set, I tacked (turned) away from the other three boats in my fleet. The other two fleets would be coming behind them and I wanted to avoid having them take my wind. All the following boats would be bigger and ‘shadow’ me, causing me to slow. It was a good move. Chasing all the lines on my boat to trim two sails was keeping me turning and twisting around and the attention ‘inside’ the boat made me lose track of what was ‘outside’ the boat… …the two leaders in the Catalina fleet were well ahead of me. Approaching the first mark, they were coming down wind at me while I was still moving up toward the turn buoy marker. They rounded the mark first. I wouldn’t catch them the rest of the night.
I turned close to the buoy, tied off my tiller to keep my rudder steady, and moved to the bow to put out the ‘whisker pole’. That let me keep my foresail to port, and with the main sail to starboard I was ‘wing-on-wing’ running down wind. And here comes the rest of the fleet.
Kaotic, the Commodore’s vessel, sailed well up wind of me and I only had a little flutter as she went by. Another boat came close aboard downwind of me and as she’d gain speed to pass she went into the wind ‘shadow’ of my sails and slow again. Since I wasn’t really ‘in’ this race (not registered) I spilled some wind, slowed, and steered behind her. Like most of the rest of the fleet, she glided past. But there was plenty of wind for all of us and this was a terrific ride!
Rounding the next mark put me right ahead of two of the larger boats. It’s not so much their length and displacement (tonnage) that bothers me, but their sails are larger than mine and being downwind of them slows me tremendously. I had no choice but to let the first one pass, but I maneuvered upwind of the second and kept my speed up. There is something eerie about hearing bow splash behind while looking ahead to avoid what’s in front.
Rounding the third mark there was little excitement on the final upwind leg. Second Wind and Teak-Keel-Ah were so far out in front I couldn’t tell who crossed the finish first. But Lady Rose, starting five minutes behind with another fleet had caught me and pressed me for the same patch of water at the finish line. She ‘port tacked me’, crossing against my right of way, but she had plenty of room to do so. No harm, and certainly no foul. She fell in behind me for a bit of follow-the-leader, her skipper Phil Verret and I both instructors at the club and John Beck being Phil’s ‘ace’ for the night.
The next hour was spent gliding northward, changing the foresail to fly the Donate Life logo in support of organ donation and watching the storm line build. The magnificent panorama of nature that gave us such a terrific evening was at once something to be grateful for and something to be constantly watched. When the gray of the clouds turned a smoky dark blue and the thunder rolled down Alum Creek, it was time to jibe around and beat back to the slip.
A bit of tuning of the rig and changing out a few lines for more appropriate sizes and lengths are in order before next week when the summer series begins.
(The author sails Lifeline a 22′ Catalina out of Alum Creek State Park. Find more info about Alum Creek Sailing Association at http://www.alumcreeksailing.com and good directions to the lake at http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Portals/2/parkmaps/Alumcreekparkmap.pdf. Come join us on Wednesday nights!)