Tag Archives: Alum Creek

“If anything’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there!” Capt’n Ron

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



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.


Morning Sail

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.

Sept 19th 2012 LLS

Under Way, Under Sail…and the Moon was absent

Tonight was the shake-down cruise.  The wind was up at 10 – 15 and gusting higher I’m sure.  Lifeline was a sturdy as ever under the strain of the sails pulling her forward through the water.  With full sail she leapt up to 5.1 knots, pressing forward and ignoring the ladder I left down and the propeller that doesn’t quite come out of the water.

Around the sailing circle we went, falling off on a starboard tack (wind from the right side), not testing a close haul but still beating upwind toward the Alum Creek beach.  I opened up the angle to the wind and reached (wind at 90 degrees to the right) toward the dam to the south.  No groaning or whining, Lifeline pounded the water, the bow wake splashing up onto the deck and the port side taking water over the gun’ls.  I opened up the sail more and ran down wind toward the Galena ramps.

A jibe is a maneuver that requires some extra attention.  The shift in the rudder brings the wind across the stern of the boat and the boom completely across the boat from one side to another.  Uncontrolled, it has at least caused damage to persons and boats.  At worst it has taken down masts and stays.  I had no such difficulty this evening.  I loosed the port side (left) jib sheet and let the sail fly.  I hauled in the boom until it was over the port side rail.  I pulled the tiller toward me and the rudder dutifully turned Lifeline to port.  The wind brought the boom over my head to the starboard rail and I eased the mainsheet out to run on the port tack and still downwind.  Trim the jib with the starboard jib sheet and Lifeline was pulling at the reins again.

Running with the wind has its disadvantages.  One is not feeling just how fast the wind is really blowing since one is sailing with it.  I learned the hard way when sailing in Florida and took to coming up into the wind, still shifting the boat counter-clockwise around the sailing circle.  The wind put us on the starboard gun’l as I trimmed the sails up taut.  We handled it well but I was getting tired in the cold that this wind was bringing.  I headed up into the wind and dropped the jib.  It took a bit more time than it usually does when I’ve knocked all the rust off my skills and by the time I looked up from closing the forward hatch I was blown another two-hundred yards up the lake.  Fortunately there were only two other boats on the water this night, and they were full of instructors and students.  I knew they would be alert outside their boats as well as in.

I pulled in the main and beat upwind on the port tack (wind from the left).  The wind gusted and put us on the gun’l once more.  I hiked up onto the deck with my feet on the opposite seat.  There would be no leaning backward, I had not rigged the tiller extension handle.  But the wind eased as I drew near the west side of the lake.  Down to the State’s marina channel we went, rounded the channel buoy, and completed the sailing circle.  Lifeline and I were back on the starboard tack and heading for ‘home’.

Another thirty minutes and she was tied up in her slip.  The mainsail cover was slipped over the boom.  I brought the jib sail in its bag back up on deck.  The bottom of its bag is vented and will let the sail dry through the coming days.  Navigation lights came on.  Cabin lights came on.  The motor didn’t want to go into reverse.  Hmmm… Thanks to Tom for fending me off the dock and giving me a good shove about when getting under way.  I didn’t rig the Cunningham yet.  I’ll have to do that before class on Sunday.  I did have to hand pump the bilge and the cockpit.  The scuppers were clogged.  It wasn’t the first chore I wanted to do this year but it wasn’t too nasty, what came out of the hull valve and lines.  It was just cold.

Last night I looked out the front window of my home and watched the moon appear full out of the clearing clouds.  A line of thunderstorms had gone through, tornado warnings were about the area, and racing was cancelled.  I thought I might see her bright tonight as the clouds cleared off, but she kept her distance ’til late and I left Lifeline to witness her passing overhead from the slip, should the clouds decide to give way.  A month ago, the snow was still melting, the air was still cold, and Lifeline was still on her trailer.  This night, we sailed under a cloudy sky, but the moon was there behind them, we know, and we sailed under her just the same.  I’m count’n it as the first for the year.  ‘Til Sunday, Lifeline… I’ll see you again then.  In four weeks, moon, we’ll come looking for your full beauty again.

Washing inside and out

I started out to power wash the bottom of the boat.  A week out of the water and the marine growth dried and started to curl at the edges.  Last year I spent four hours with a garden hose and a scrub brush.  This year I had a better tool and the pressure washer was all ready to go.  The anomaly this night was that it ‘is’ night.  Late October, its dark at seven p.m. and  there’s a cloud cover.  One side of the boat was lit by the garage lights but they were no good for the bottom on the far side.  I started anyway.  It had to be done.

Washing the boat is a labor of love.  Not that oversexed sensual Hollywood driven physical passion most people think of when one says the word.  I’m talking about real love, that which is committed to the welfare of another.  That kind of love that requires effort at chores normally undesirable to perform.  Tonight I was bending over half-way or kneeling down, spraying mud and algae at an angle that was sure to ensure I would be covered in a good layer of it before I finished.

How often do we chose to ‘get dirty’ for love?  What makes caring for something, or more importantly someone, worth the time and effort to do difficult things to build, preserve, and/or repair that which we are loving?   Tonight’s boat cleaning means there will be less dirt, salt, mold and all around life clinging to the hull when spring comes.  It means when I take Lifeline to the boat works for her deck repairs we’ll be able to better see her ‘wounds’ without the camouflage’.  We’ll make better plans and therefore better repairs.  You see, once I started and slipped across the gunn’ls I saw how dirty the deck was.  So I kept going.  Bottom to top, Lifeline was cleaned with the pressure washer.

Most of us wash our bodies routinely.  Probably we zone out thinking we’re clearing our minds with television or video games.  There are still a lot of readers, if the commercials selling the electronic ones are a good measure.  A true washing of the mind requires…    ….that’s right… …silence and a lack of stimulation.  A few of us wash our souls in one way or another (that reminds me, I need to get to reconciliation in the near future).  Making those moral or ethical errors requires some contrition and a conscious effort to change our character.

Lifeline has her external and internal wash for the fall.  I’m still working on my internal one, but loving her in such a way was a good start.


What a finish!!

Often it’s exciting to finish a project, game, or celebration by ‘going out with a bang!’  Consider how we finish up our celebrations on July 4th with fireworks and even at the end of fireworks, these past several years there are even more fireworks in the last couple of minutes of the show.  As welcome as this excitement is, finishing the sailing season with a ‘bang’ is not a preferred event.  Rather, earning the horn as the first in class to finish a race is.  So went the weekend as Lifeline and I sailed in the Old Fox Regatta sponsored by the Alum Creek Sailing Association in Delaware County Ohio.


I’ve looked forward to this weekend since the schedule for the year came out in February.  It circles around my birthday every year and since I love sailing so much my wife gives me the weekend as her present to me.  It’s also the last major event of the sailing season and most of those racers in the Association come out, several people come into the area from out of town (this year one team brought their boat down from Windsor, Canada), and the race is managed by several more of our Association members who pitch in to support the event.  It’s not America’s Cup.  It IS the Alum Cup.  This year we sailed seven races over two days.

Day one was wet with dreary gray clouds filling the sky as a swift moving weather front brought plenty of wind to us.  The rain was steady most of the day.  The wind was only up around seven-to-ten miles per hour (the Weather Service doesn’t report in ‘knots’ for inland wind velocity).  The wind was shifty, though, and quite so.  With each passing cloud formation it ducked, swirled, and slipped past the sixteen sets of sails we had out on the water in a different direction.  Crews were constantly tending sails if they were to get the best speed out of their vessels.  ‘Crew’ for Lifeline meant just me.  If you’ve been following my stories for a while, you know I sail single handed, meaning solo.  So I was more than just ‘axles-&-elbows’ (my grandkids might read this) in working to maintain both a steady keel AND keep Lifeline on course and in the race.

The challenges added to the crews in such events include the mixing of several classes of sailboat on the water at the same time.  This isn’t the normal Wednesday night flotilla out to enjoy the weather while honing skills.  This is the reason several crews hone their skills, and this was OUR party.  We all wanted to show well against the out-of-town crews.  Competitiveness is at the fore and making best speed to get the horn on the race is the goal.  Everyone wants to be in first place here, even those like me who know we can’t.  There’s always a chance someone will make a mistake and being close enough is sometimes just enough to win a race.

Saturday’s rain didn’t dampen the use of the spinnakers by the Wavelength or Daysailer fleets.  The former is larger and faster than the Catalina I sail, the latter is smaller, and as I sail and they sail, some are faster than my Catalina is as well.  On the course, we were starting the Catalina’s and the Daysailers together this year.  Skippers signing up verses Skippers showing up and racing were only at a fifty-per-cent ratio this year.  Dodging each other on the course was just one more skill crews had to exercise.  With less than a boat length (twenty-two feet) between Lifeline and Lady Rose, a Wavelength called ‘Wave Equation’ bore down on us with their spinnaker flying.  Both of us watched from out helms for two reasons.  Behind us, Wavelength would take the wind from our sails and we would slow down.  But going between us?  That would be a gutsy move since her skipper couldn’t know how the wind would gust.  It appeared he would chose to do that, closing in on my starboard quarter when I hollered to him “which way are you going?”  Either Lifeline or Lady Rose would give way to this faster boat to avoid a collision.  Both of us ended up suffering from a loss of our wind.  Wave Equation closed on Lifeline and as expected, she slowed.  Then, the skipper veered off toward Lady Rose and passed her on her starboard side.  Wavelength wouldn’t split the difference, but she took a shared of wind from both the other two boats.  No matter to Lady Rose or Lifeline, we were both bringing up the rear of our respective fleets.  Just some excitement as the three boats jockeyed to cross the finish line.

Old Fox II

Sunday would wake bright, cooler, and clear but with increased wind behind the Saturday’s front.  It would be a great day for sailing.  The wind blew up from the south, so the cold was unusual.  It must have been blowing ten-to-twelve at the start and it would grow through the day.  The direction of the wind let the Race Committee run the course the length of the lake with few shifts of the windward mark and a full one-mile course out and back.  The performance boat class and the Wavelengths would run twice around while the JAM fleet, Catalinas, and Daysailers would make a single loop for each race.  The races were faster, the wind blew harder, and the crews would have to work quicker to earn that horn this day.

Lifeline and I were behind from the start of the day.  The motor was stuck in reverse so I couldn’t motor out.  And I was late arriving to begin with.  A radio call to the Committee boat let them know I was present and why I wasn’t near the Start Box.  That same call got me a tow from 2nd Wind, one of my Association shipmates and a competitor in the regatta.  Kevin and Doug came over and pulled me from the dock about a half mile to the end of the channel where I asked them to release my line so they could make the first start.  Did I mention the shifting wind?  I had them let go the line while I was still in the lee of the trees and the peninsula that bounds the south side of the channel.  Never the less there was enough of a swirl to push me toward shore while I raised my sails. ‘BUMP’…Lifeline was aground on the bottom.  Fortunately, I have a swing keel and have had enough experience to know what that BUMP meant.  My second challenge of the day was to raise the keel to get free of the bottom, trim the sails, turn the tiller and rudder, and get away from the shore.  Mission accomplished without too much excitement, I trimmed the sails and ran downwind to the start.  It looked like the Committee was having some issues getting the buoys set for the course so I would make the start.

The wind was blowing strong enough that I was making four mph with the mainsail out full and my number one (smallest) jib out front.  It was a great ride and all were seen to be making nice bow wakes as we sailed up and down the start line and beyond.  The end of the start line seemed close to shore but the Committee assured us there was plenty of room to the bottom for us to make turns down that way. ‘BUMP’… and Lifeline was spinning on her keel for the second time this day.  Now, I’m about twenty yards from the other shore of the lake and the wind was blowing full on the sails and the hull.  I loosed the sails sheets, jumped to the fore of the cockpit, reached down and cranked up the keel,””BLAAAAAAAAAH”” ….went the start horn….off the bottom drifted Lifeline, trim the sails, come about through the wind, crank the keel board back down (class rule, my keel board has to be down) look back at the start line and make a course for crossing it,…  here comes Lady Rose again, duck behind her…oops, there’s the Committee boat,….head Lifeline up…. Miss the Committee boat (by a foot?)…drift on past before being able to trim and really get into the race.  Oh, bye-the-way, “I hit bottom over at the end of the line” I said as I passed, “about twenty feet off the buoy.”  Off I sailed.  Last again, but last is third this weekend, even if the Daysailers did pass me.

Old Fox III

So here we go for the second race, same scene, right down to running aground again at the end of the line.  This time I thought I was turning soon enough and I was actually into the turn toward the line when I hit.  This time I HIT, not BUMP, but HIT…Lifeline healed, the sheets were already free as I was coming around through the wind.  Both sails luffed loudly… I swore…. This time the heel of the boat freed me so all I had to do was get the sails trimmed to come back under control.  I looked over at the line and the last boats were crossing.  2nd Wind was at the Committee boat and Lady Rose was well behind.  By golly (my grandkids might read this) I’m gonna’ make the start THIS TIME!!

I port tacked the fleet, again.  Port tacking the fleet means everyone was going to their left and I was trying to cross them by going right.  Imagine everyone coming to an intersection of six-lane road and there’s no traffic light.  And in these vehicles there’s no making a stop and then going again.  It’s a game of chicken.

Lifeline leapt in the stiffening wind, the sails filled and we were moving faster than we had since being up on Lake Erie.  2nd Wind was going to beat me to the line and I would have to give way but Lady Rose was well behind the line and I would clear her with no trouble.  I saw 2nd Wind’s bow cross mine and I steered Lifeline behind her.  I cleared her hull by inches and headed back up.  YES!!  Then, “STAR…BOOM!!!” and there was a Daysailer alongside my starboard rail with a two-inch penetration in her gunn’le and a four inch split down the side of the hull.

Both the Committee boat and I now focused on the damaged boat and her skipper, we checked to make sure he wasn’t hurt.  A few choice words and angry comments, (no swearing by her skipper was heard) and the Daysailer skipper trimmed his sails, recovered a steady keel and sailed out away from the Start line.  Lifeline followed.  Another couple of minutes and more assurances, some comments about how this was the first accident to affect his fifty-five year old boat, and off he sailed to the State Marina to tie up and look.  I followed in Lifeline to the channel buoy before turning around while the Race Committee’s chase boat went over to follow up on the skipper and see to his needs.

I sailed Lifeline back over to the Committee boat where it was suggested that since I had hit another boat I was invited to withdraw from that race.  Of course, I did without hesitation.  I brought Lifeline about and sailed back across the lake checking her out as I did.  All seemed normal and I considered pulling in at the State dock myself.  Not relishing an encounter with the boat and skipper I had damaged, I came about and hove-to.  With the sails set to let me drift safely with the wind and back across the lake, I crawled up to the bow and looked over the side.  I had some paint and wax scraped off the prow but no other damage.  I went back to the cockpit and watched the race I was disqualified from finish up.

The day was made for sailing and that we had a regatta with now fourteen boats racing made for a beautiful sight on the lake.  We would see many pictures later that night from Association members that took photos from the shore and from their own boats that displayed the colors of our sails and hulls against the colors of the leaves on the shore.  It was a wonderfully bright sight to experience. (Find AlumCreekSailing on Facebook for photos)

Drifting across the lake was a good idea.  It allowed me to relax and run the situation of the crash through my mind.  ‘BUMP’ again,… the shore behind me was closer by fifty yards than the shore I’d been watching.  I couldn’t help but laugh, (yes, this time I laughed) as I once again loosed the sheets and cranked up the keel.  I came about and sailed out a hundred yards then hove-to again.  Drifting back across the lake I noted the wind rising, this time by the look of the waves.  There was white on top of the rollers coming up the lake.  I needed to change the sail configuration for the next race.  I headed the boat into the wind and reefed the mains’l down to the first set of cringles.  I fell off the wind, set the jib for a beam reach, hauled in the main, and the mainsheet slipped from my hand.  Lifeline pitched so hard to port and back into the wind that I almost went swimming.  “Race Committee, Lifeline.  Lifeline withdraws from the remaining races due to wind velocity.” “Boat calling, say again your sail number” they replied. “Sail number 4909 withdraws due to wind velocity.”  “Race Committee copies.”  And the regatta was over for me.

The wind continued to climb in velocity and claim more boats.  One Daysailer’s jib broke.  One of the other Catalina’s that had joined us lost a pin on its backstay and withdrew immediately. (the backstay helps hold the mast in place and without it the mast might come down, especially in this wind).  2nd Wind was on start for the second or third race when the rudder snapped in two and left them spinning in circles in the wind until they could get their sails down.  One catamaran would withdraw and the other two would blow over sending the skippers into the water.  But the big boats loved the blow.  They and the remaining Catalina, ‘Born to Wind’, and the eventual class winner, kept on sailing, the performance and Wavelengths flying their spinnakers full for two more races.

The day would finish in the shelter back at the marina.  The conversations were full of sea stories from many of the Association members as we waited for the return of the rest of the fleet.  I’d meet the skipper of the Daysailer I’d struck and we struck again, this time a deal for his reparations.  He asked me to pay for the rub-rail only, as he does his own fiberglass repairs.  We talked about what we did and didn’t see and why neither of us could change course to avoid the issue.  Both of us knew we were too close to the Committee boat to make a change.  And with me on the tack that was supposed to give way, I put Lifeline in the wrong position.  We parted with a handshake and I had some pictures to add to my collection.

The conversations continued as we ate lunch from Saturday night’s party leftovers.  The chili tasted better today than last night, after two days on the water.  Didn’t matter what it tasted like, what mattered was that it was hot and there was plenty of it.  The awards were passed out, and I accepted third place in the regatta with regrets.  This year it was just about showing up.  I was happy to show up and support the club, but Lifeline and I know we are a cruising team.

The weather guessers in Ohio were calling for a drop in temperatures to near freezing with snow and rain for three days running.  The Monday following the regatta was the last warm day for a week, so Mindy and I changed our plans and hauled Lifeline out for the season.  She’s sitting on her trailer in pretty good shape, better than when she started the season for the work done this year.  She has an appointment with the boat works for the winter as we spend some time to get this forty-year-old boat some much needed hull work.  She’s given plenty this year in inspiration to our family and friends, and I hope, to all of you.

Thanks for sharing our adventures this year.  I hope you’ll keep following as we begin next year with the work on the boat and the planning and studying sailors do up north in the winter.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/alumcreeksailing/   See several dozen photos by at least three different photographers on the Alum Creek Sailing Association’s FB page


Silver Solo Sail

It was quiet.  The breeze was more than I’d seen since the last full moon over Alum Creek, which isn’t saying it was much.  It just wasn’t making any water lap against the hull nor sails slap against the rig.  It was just enough to pull me along at a knot-and-a-half up the lake.

There were fewer crickets tonight, and they were quieter as well.  I could hear them on both sides of the lake at the same time tonight.  An owl was hooting between the dog park and the camp ground.  It seemed loud, until the train on the tracks three miles away sounded off as it passed each country road.

Lifeline didn’t glow as she did last month.  Tonight the moon was shrouded behind high cottony clouds that had held a line over the lake all evening.  The back of the front just wouldn’t push through for some reason. That just made for a softer glow from above as I came about to head back.

The wind just went away.  Lifeline glided along at two knots, then one point eight, then one point five, then one…and it kept gliding along.  And I started hearing hooting from the other end of the lake.  Now, I have no idea what was happening back at the marina, other than they were having a very, very good time.  The hooting I was hearing wasn’t another owl, it was the rising and falling of voices having fun.  I laughed to myself.  At one end of the lake it was so quiet a hoot owl could be heard across the water.  At the other end, a bunch of night owls were hooting to be heard clear out in the middle of the lake.

The moon must not have wanted to be left out.  With the revelry from the woods and a clearing cloud line, and the wind bringing Lifeline back to two knots, out came the moon from behind her shrouds, shining silver onto the lake and reflecting off the rainbow of leaves ashore.  The scene was one of Lothlorien in the Fellowship of the Ring.  This is what Tolkien saw that inspired him, I’m certain.  Lifeline reflected the same, her decks glowing with the magic spilling down from the sky.

I’ll miss this over the next couple of months, the quiet of the solo sail under the full moon. There’s nothing like this, whether here in Ohio, or down in the Caribbeanon a sailboat, or out in the ocean on the deck of a great big navy ship.  The Light made to rule the night is ever watchful in her waxing and waning.  She’ll be there in April, waiting to shine on us and the water again.

[Wordpress always uses the keywords and suggests other web log entries similar to the one I’ve written to be shared and/or linked to.  Tonight it suggested most of my last two months’ entries.  So, incase you missed some, enjoy scrolling backwards for a while.  Fair winds, Shipmates]