I could see the cat’s paws out there on the water as I motored out from the docks. It looked like a typical southerly breeze was blowing across the water. There were glassy streaks along both shores of Alum Creek Lake but the middle was ruffled like a little girl’s Easter dress. My timing seemed very appropriate.
We’d been sitting up on a hill in our sailing association’s pavilion just watching the 5′ x 8′ cotton national ensign for signs of a good, stiff breeze for the second day of our Spring regatta, the May Cup. Meanwhile, the smaller plastic flags and the leaves on the trees were rustling steadily. There was wind somewhere. I wanted to find it. I had additional plans for the weekend and I wanted to sail while I could. I couldn’t stand the waiting any more. I got up, went down to the dock where Lifeline was waiting for me, pulled the cord on the outboard, loosed the lines, and shoved on out of slip B2. The Commodore was busy with the race committee volunteers, trying to get the chase boat running.
It’s Alum Creek Lake, and local sailors know how the air can swirl and sneak away; once there, soon gone. What would it be for us this morning, I wondered. I motored out past the last channel markers and the breeze was steady on my face from starboard. I idled the outboard and turned into the wind. Up went the main, up came the jib, and ‘fu-wump’! the sails filled. I fell off to port and beat toward the New Galena ramp on the east side of the lake.
A roar of an outboard behind me and the Commodore and one volunteer brought the chase boat out onto to the water behind me. They saw the wind and called out to me. I shouted I was making 3 knots by my speed sensor. The Commodore shouted they would be right out. Over the radio he let the other crews and the rest of the Race Committee know to get ready and get under way as they headed back in to get the marker buoys for the course.
I kept beating across the water. There were some power boats out, but those nearest me were breasted together and seemed only to be drifting. The only roar of disturbance I had was that of the radio-controlled aircraft flying south of the dam. They sounded more like an annoying bumble bee than a roar. The wind might cover up the buzz if it picked up. I kept the starboard tack until I was past the other two boats then came about.
Now the sun was behind me and the shadow of Lifeline was on the water ahead of me. The sails filled on the opposite side of the boat and I was heading for the beach. The wind was holding steady. High above me, several thousand feet, there was a long and wispy line of clouds stretching from just a bit west of us, toward the east, then turning south until it was out of sight. It wasn’t a thick layer of cottony water, nor just a streak of white, but a foggy mix of milk and cotton that gave a ring of rainbow out about the ever rising sun. It was notably cooler than when I’d come out two quarters of an hour earlier. Not much, but notable.
I was approaching the beach and also noticed I didn’t have any company with sail cloth yet. I called to the others over the VHF to see if they were still coming, just so I’d know which way to turn when I reached the swimming area. Pulling my head back out of the cabin (where the radio resides) I saw the first of the other sailboats coming out of the channel, and I heard their reply. I jibed the boat and began running downwind.
Running with the wind makes it seem like the wind is lessened in force. Going the same direction at any speed and the apparent wind drops off to the difference between the combined vectors. Math lesson aside now, it got hot quickly, and Lifeline didn’t seem to surge forward as usual. The jib went limp and I had to push the boom out to catch what I thought was a sufficient blow to get me up the lake in a couple minutes.
Did I say it got hot? By the time I had sails trimmed for the down wind run the other boats, including the committee boat, were out on the water at the end of the channel. The committee boat was setting up the start line and finish line. Some of the sails looked like curtains, some were shaped like the air foils they needed to be to create a draft. I did say it was hot, right?
The sun was passing over the milky wisps of that cloud column. My shins started to feel hot. I went below to grab the Coppertone and smear it on (OK, Coppertone with an SPF of ‘4’ isn’t going to keep the burn off, but it keeps the burn ‘soft’ and I like the coconut aroma. It reminds me of Florida). The only reason my mainsail stayed bowed in its necessary shape was because I have full battens to hold it in that shape. My jib was still a curtain and the boats up by the start line all were flying curtains. I had a wake, but it seemed that was only from what momentum I had after the last course change.
Yes, in the end, about an hour later and when I finally got over (didn’t ‘sail’ over, just ‘got’ over) to the rest of the fleet, the Race Officer called the race off for lack of wind. A hearty shout of ‘aye’s went out from the crews and we started our outboards up, stowed sails, and motored back into the docks. We left the lake to the fisherman, jet skis, and beach swimmers this day.
But I did get some wind, and what a gentle ride Lifeline gave me on this morning sail.