Two students, Ten Knots

Water sports at Alum Creek State Park photo credit Megan Musselman, Columbus OH

Water sports at Alum Creek State Park
photo credit Megan Musselman, Columbus OH

Summer Sundays bring the learners to our sailing marina.  When the mission of the Association is ” To Promote the Sport of Sailing”, sailing education has to be foremost.  It is for Alum Creek Sailing Association…er…well…  ok, it’s a secondary effort, but the first of the secondary efforts.  Captain Morgan has the first say…ah…well…at the local watering hole, after sailing, of course (just in case someone ‘official’ is reading).  Anyway, I digress quickly… too quickly.

Adult learn to sail brought us nine new sailors this spring and I had two of them aboard Lifeline for the forth week of class.  Mother’s Day and Memorial Day weekend stretched our class out and this made the sixth week since we’d met.  That meant more time for studying the books between classes and these two swabs (Captain Ron says we all start out as swabs) had been hitting the books.  They were well versed with their vocabulary and understood directions in ‘the lingo’.  Port, starboard, windward, l’ward, tack, and points-of-sail all were understood quickly, though pushing the tiller to l’ward was something that needed some polishing up.

We beat our way upwind and since the wind was SSE we were generally headed toward the south end of the lake coming out of our inlet (getting confused yet?  ‘up’ is ‘down’ and ‘out’ is ‘in’). The tacks, or directions we headed the boat were toward the boat ramps across the lake and back toward the beach, alternating direction to work our way to the wind.  Each in turn, the students took the tiller to practice.  We were getting a good ride in the increasingly steady breeze.

The breeze made practicing what we had been discussing for week easy to accomplish.  Both of the swabs were able to swing Lifeline up to a floating buoy and stop within a boat hook’s reach (one never wants to actually ‘capture’ a navigation buoy).  Falling off the buoy for the last time we beat out into the middle of the lake for another exercise, as most of the power boats and jet skis were running along the shore lines.

“Crew overboard,” shout/throw/point (STP, yes the oil treatment commercials makes this one a bit easy to associate actions with).  Out went the red floatation cushion (so it could be seen on the water.  I demonstrated the figure eight method taught by USSailing.  If I had done so well two year ago I would have passed my instructor’s certification.  Twice we worked Lifeline around the cushion and twice we came right to it.  Then it was their turn and four times running we were right along side.  Then the quick turn, in turn, and still we were right on top of the mark with each effort.  Until the last…Try as they may we could not get close enough to hook the cushion when we wanted to pick it up.  I took the helm and still it was two more attempts before we were close enough.  But we hooked it.  All together we were more times successful than ‘knot’.

One note I emphasized.  The most common error in a crew overboard recovery attempt is to head directly to the swimmer.  Nearly every new helmsman will do this.  ‘Don’t’, I cautioned them, “you’ll miss every time.  Approach the swimmer on a close reach, at an angle, and just like stopping at the buoy, luff the sails and pull right up to them, stopping when they are along side.”

But even a more common error, especially this time of year, is every skipper and crew failing to practice this maneuver.  Drilling isn’t just for students.  Knowing how to recover a lost crewman is key to boating safety and the boat’s coordination.  Every skipper needs to know how his/her boat will handle in such an emergency.  The actions should be rote.

We finished our sail heading for the sun as it was hovering over our inlet.  We let the wind blow us in until the trees shadowed it from the sails, then rev’d up the motor and furled sails as we approached the slip.  Three hours, ten knots of wind toward the end, and two well exercised swabs made for one terrific day on the water.


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