First, you have to know that the ‘out haul’ is a line that pulls the foot (bottom) of the sail back along the boom. The wind will collapse the sail and make it a useless rag flapping wildly in the wind if the out haul is not properly set or breaks entirely.
Second, you need to know that Captain Ron’s axiom ‘if anything’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there’ is absolutely sailing gospel truth. Equipment problems occur when the dynamics of the wind, water, and wear-with-all of the sailors are mixed together in the constant change of sailing the vessel.
Finally, ‘it was a dark and stormy night’.
Lifeline and crew 1. Disaster 0.
My sister missed her fourth of five sailing classes in Alum Creek Sailing Association’s spring introductory course. Mary arranged to come to the lake on a Wednesday night to make up the time. Wednesday’s are good nights for beginners to come down because Wednesday evening is our club’s racing night. Mostly friendly, we usually put more than a dozen (last year two dozen) boats out on the water in three classes for a tour of the southern part of Alum Creek Lake over two-to-three hours, depending on the wind, of course. There are generally plenty of open seats for a new sailor to join a racing crew or ride along with the race committee or ride along with a leisure sailing crew for the evening. Mary was coming down for this atmosphere.
The weather was ‘iffy’ as storms were coming through all day. She and I talked on the phone at 12:30 and again at 3:30. Weather radar and reports showed the storm line and bulk of activity should be through by 6:00pm and clear off for the night while the wind remained steady at 10 mph through late evening. She lives two hours out from the lake and we wanted to make sure it would be a good night for her to get some really good experience. I thought it would be a great sail, and I told her so, though cautioned it might still be wet depending on the storm track.
I had to drive an hour down from work, shuffle quickly at home to change and gather some dinner and water for the race. My concern was that once the storms went through we would lose the wind in spite of the predictions and then Mary and I would be on the water in a hot, steamy, sweltering evening. I wanted the sandwiches because my stomach was already growling and the water because I would go through three bottles normally me. When I arrived at the docks, Mary was already aboard and getting comfortable and the other boats were mostly gone. We got under way with a thick cloud layer and liquorish colored cumulous hanging like fog and racing in all different directions below the layer.
The wind on the lake was easterly and steady as we motored out of the channel. We were going to have a good ride tonight. The other boats, seven of them tonight, were across the lake and heading back toward the outer markers. The Race Committee was squawking over the radio that the wind had shifted and they were repositioning the start. By the time they set up, the wind had shifted again, and was coming down from the north. They held the second start line and all the boats began the pre-race dance back and forth behind that line. The general fleet would go off first, all those not in one class of like boats and sailing on jibs and mainsails only (JAM). Second this night would be the Catalina 22 fleet, of which there were three of us. Well, two and Lifeline, as I didn’t register for the spring series. Our time and position wouldn’t count toward anything. The racing start does present a good opportunity to practice and recognize Rules of the Road and requires a lot of tacking so being a part of it is a good exercise for a new sailor. We would start with the Class. The spinnaker capable boats would sail the last start. There were two this evening. They would come up behind us quickly in a normal race. I would have to watch and maneuver accordingly.
The horns began announcing the starts, blaring across the lake even with the wind rising in its own howl. The out-of-the-north direction would have us running with the wind on the first leg, typically opposite of what we would normally do, but no matter to sailors, we sail the course given. What it did for Lifeline was giving us our best point-of-sail first and we kept within a hundred yards of the leaders. Tonight, looking at this and then at the speed indicator reading 4 mph, I knew the wind behind us was strong. Watching the boats in the JAM fleet make the first turn confirmed the assessment. They heeled over strongly as they rounded the mark.
The Catalina fleet approached the mark. ‘Second Wind’ was in front as usual. ‘Teak-keel-ah’ was a bit closer than Lifeline and made her turn. I followed the wind a bit longer on the run down the lake, putting Lifeline another fifty-yards off the buoy. Mary and I talked through the required actions for making the turn; we would bring the boom across the boat in a jibe and keep the jib on the starboard side. I began hauling on the mainsheet to bring the boom in closer for the maneuver and we started our turn around ‘A’ mark.
Ironically, I was discussing with Mary the importance of paying close attention to the wind when on a ‘run’ point of sail. We had the boom, and consequently the mainsail, out to one side (port) of the boat and the jib on the other side. Running wing-on-wing like this exposes the most ‘canvas’ to the wind for the strongest push on the hull. It also can be precarious if the wind shifts quickly and gets behind the mainsail. This can force the boom over in an uncontrolled manner and equipment can break. We were attentive to the fact that the wind we were riding was a steady down draft out of the clouds producing the rain that was following us down the lake, and following more quickly than that same wind would push us, of course. We donned our rain gear early on in anticipation and closed up the companion way to minimize the rain into the cabin. The maneuver around the buoy was text book. That’s when it happened.
Lifeline rounded ‘A’ mark buoy and we trimmed up the sails. The wind drove us hard over and I eased out the mainsheet to spill some wind and let Lifeline right herself a bit. The rain began pelting us too, and it stung a bit. But the boat wasn’t making way as I expected her to. What is that red line below the boom? It’s the out haul! It’s loose. Then I saw the block (the pulley) that normally holds the out haul in place dangling from the bottom of the loop of line. I didn’t have an out haul any longer and the mainsail was beginning to collapse along the boom.
I shouted over the wind and rain to Mary to go below and find on the port side seats a length of blue line I knew I had in my small stuff stash. She pulled the companion way boards out and went below, but was unable to find the line. I was turning the boat into the wind to luff the sails. I was thinking I would gather the boom in, tie off the clew (back corner of the sail) and secure it back to the end of the boom. Then we would simply fall off the wind and keep sailing.
What happened was the wind and rain grabbed Lifeline’s bow and forced us over the opposite direction. The boat was headed back toward the buoy while I had my head in the companionway directing Mary to the line we needed. I felt the boat heave, looked up, and steered away from the buoy. Mary handed me the line. She found exactly what we needed. Then she did exactly what a new sailor should dutifully do. Mary grabbed the jib sheet and trimmed the jib to gain way on the boat. Except in these conditions, the jib was pulling and the main was not pulling so well.
The boat did what is should do with the forces of wind, rain, and jib only applied to it. The boat turned toward the dam only two hundred yards away. “Let go!” I shouted at Mary. She eased the sheet out. The sail was still full. “Let go!” I shouted again. She eased the sheet out more. “No!” I shouted again, “let it go!” Finally she released the post jib sheet completely and the jib luffed, slapping and smacking itself loudly in the wind like a forest fire crackling through dry timbers.
With the jib luffed I could make some way with the main and the boat steadied out parallel to the dam and toward the beach several hundred yards away.
Now, do you remember there were boats behind us? Yes, of course, the first time I get Lifeline to a mark ahead of the spinnaker fleet and around before they arrive behind us and now I’m heading back into their course of sail. I could only hope they saw Lifeline was in distress and forgive the ‘intrusion’. I managed to keep some way with the main and hold the course toward the beach. We cleared Lifeline away from ‘A’ mark and the spinnaker boats. Once they were aft of our beam I forgot about them and turned my attention toward the out haul repair.
Now, there is a commercial for a popular male enhancement drug airing on television these days, where the block for his main sheet breaks and he calmly goes below, acquires a life vest nylon strap, takes the boom in his hand and ties the block back in place. Then he continues to sail off into the sunset, completely in control of his ‘vessel’. Yeah, that’s all bull-shit. Don’t believe it.
I couldn’t get Lifeline to point into the wind and luff the main sail. When I let the boom sheet out the boat fell off toward the dam. The wind had her bow and wasn’t going to let us turn her. I had to pull the boom in over the boat hull, tie off the back corner of the sail, keep the tiller steering us toward the beach, while the wind heeled us over against the sail I was trying to repair. I tied a knot in the end of the line first, put the tiller between my knees to hold course, slipped the line through a ring on the back of the boom, and let the knot catch on the ring. Then I fed the line through the clew (the back corner) of the main and pulled as tight as I could, and tied it off with two half hitches. This knot is a slip knot and would tighten on the sail as the wind pulled on it.
Now, I called to Mary and had her trim the jib. She managed just fine and we had Lifeline back under control. We came about through the wind. My glasses were covered in water and I could only see as through a light fog. Mary was now the eyes-on-the-water for this crew. The rain continued as we rounded ‘A’ mark once again and headed up wind. We were closing on two of the boats, or so we thought. We were pretty excited until we realized they were packing in sails and heading back to the marina. The weather was too much for them to manage. Wisely, they were taking the safe action for their comfort level. If Mary hadn’t been with me, I’d have been doing the same. But together we corrected our problem and sailed on.
The rain abated and the wind held relatively steady. We beat upwind toward the ‘B’ marker buoy having to tack over twice to make the required port side rounding. Once over past ‘B’ we took a steady course toward the State marina on the west bank and ‘C’ mark. Rounding ‘C’ put the wind at our back again, and we set the wing-on-wing configuration we started the race with. All the other boats were finished and the line of the fleet was heading into the channel. The committee boat was still sitting at anchor.
“Race Committee, this is Lifeline.” Wait thirty seconds. “Race Committee, this is Lifeline. You don’t have to wait for us; we’re not registered for the race.” “Lifeline, “they came back, “what’s your sail number?” “Lifeline sail number is 4909, and I am not registered for the spring series.” “Thank you, Lifeline.” Still, the wind was such that we sailed past the orange painted barrel used for the start/finish mark as they were pulling up the anchor for their boat. I thought it would be a good sense of accomplishment for my crew, as hard as she worked. But, as those of you who read regularly already know, it did my ego good as well.
I asked Mary if she was ok and if she was up for more. With the rain gone and the wind holding, conditions were good for maneuvering. Getting a hearty ‘ok’ from her, we worked through ‘heaving to’, a configuration that lets the boat ride parallel to the wind and drift with the wind at the same time and gives the crew respite from the work of sailing, especially in heavy winds. I probably should have gone straight in with the rest of the fleet given the out haul issue, but it had held through the storm and the finish for the race, giving me some confidence in continuing the sail.
Completing the heave to maneuver several times, we pointed Lifeline into the channel. The wind being from the north/north east made me wonder how far into the channel we could sail. In our inlet one never knows how the wind will swirl between the trees and fingers of the marina. And, getting into Lifeline’s slip? That requires a two-hundred-seventy degree turn. But the wind was kind to us in the marina. Swirling, dying, reviving, and then steady as we passed various points along the shore, we worked past the docks. The wind gave one last gust to us and the requisite push we needed to make a one-hundred-eighty degree turn needed to get to the slip, and we drifted right up to the dock to smiling faces of slight admiration for having sailed in. Dock lines came over and we tied up, chatting happily with our shipmates as they passed by with congratulations to Mary for her presence and efforts as we stowed Lifeline for the night.
We found the pin and the U-bolt for the out haul in the cockpit. I was grateful. Seems they didn’t pop out over the water after all. Must have been the ring cotter that snapped and let go when we made the turn at ‘A’. I have spares of those to remake the proper fitting on the mainsail.
Thanks, Lifeline, for a great ride!
Captain Ron review on IMBD.com (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103924/)
Captain Ron on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KROce5gc0Y