On the water with Jim ‘Geronimo’ and Gary ‘boat-with-no-name’ on Alum Creek Lake near Columbus OH, July 19th, 2016
…until next time…
The sliver of orange that crested over the treetops gave credence to the possibility that this morning’s eclipse would be repeated this night. There was no real expectation. Like the anticipation of All Hallows Eve brings those who use spooky spoofs, so this creeping splinter of deep amber light seeped into the late evening sky. It teased with that hint of gray it had set with only twelve hours earlier. It is the October moon, hidden last night by the shadow of clouds and rain, come out to survey the wind and water upon which we were sailing.
The persistent breeze just north of west blew stiff enough for the racers to have hoped it would hold for a twice-round-the-course campaign. Gusty it was in the late afternoon dropping off in intensity toward evening as it steadied into a more even stream. I was there for the Night’s Light alone and this same wind that let the others give chase I gave over to Lifeline to pull me north. I trimmed the sails by sitting to starboard and heeling Lifeline over to keep a most northerly course. The wind in my face, I watched the moon over my shoulder, occasionally turning full to face it. It was as if there was a line from Lifeline’s bow to the bridge ahead, then to the moon. As the latter rose steadily into the sky, Lifeline moved steadily north.
It was colder this year than last. The darkness along the shoreline was as black, the moon not fully above the dust and deflection of a deeper atmosphere. Colder, as well, the crickets were quieter. Depending on their voices to warn me to tack wasn’t something to trust as I closed on the eastern shore. The wind rose a bit and gave Lifeline a lift. A few more degrees were all that was needed to clear a point ahead.
The causeway was busy and the wake noise of tires grew as a pounding surf. The moon was higher yet still not full bright so the lights and the noise were the gage for finding the causeway. I held course with care, then with concern, and finally with trepidation. Still I held longer, driving on forward dragging all I could from this northerly path. Now, yes NOW, … time to ‘about.
I let the wind do the work of taking the sails over and pushing them out away from Lifeline on her opposite side. I let the lines run until the course was reversed, then drew them up easy and snug. The moon was now high fully clear of the haze and it bathed Lifeline and I in full bright light. The cast-a-way cushion for crew overboard became a layer of warmth for my bum. I sat in the stern, my back against the ladder. Ahhhhhh…..the wind and the sails did the work.
The moon lit the night, fresh air filled my lungs, and the Spirit was refreshing my soul. Though I prefer to share this deck and the tides with those that I like and I love, this solitude is a respite that is no less than a gift from Above. As with all who seek to convene with their Lord in a manner of meditation, the journey to moments like this comes in the layers of ever spiraling work. The moonlight provides an occasion when full, but other nights likely do as well.
It begins with the commitment to ‘get underway’, the preps and the work on the vessel. There’s the journey ‘out of the channel’ and surveying all that appears. On the lake there are the boats, in the mind there are all those ‘other’ obstacles from the day and the week, and the month, …and the year that one must work to steer clear. Once ‘on the water’ the sails still need trimmed, the helm attended, and what may creep in from outside. A journey of the soul to touch the Veil and draw strength must permit other ‘boats’ to just pass in the night. As with Elijah in the cave, it is through the winds and the lightning and the storms we let pass that the quiet of God is allowed in.
So it was this night as I sailed down the lake, and the October full moon rose over Alum. In the quiet of the night, with an ever fading breeze, the peace I sought and required came. And my soul opened up, and battles were fought. Mud, water, and sludge were scrubbed away. As the moon bathed my body so God bathed my soul and in His mercy gave me vision and hope.
I find it necessary to bear solitude. However, I am the oldest of eight siblings and have nine cousins on one side of the family and thirteen on the other, so being part of a larger group is the norm for me. It was a gift to be met at the dock at 10p.m. by Reagan Cole, the crew of Sledgehammer, and several others with smiles and working hands. I’ve never not had to tie up my own boat. This night, I couldn’t get a hand on a line before they were all over and tied off. Thanks to all the Alum Creek sailors that bore a hand in securing Lifeline.
The moon is bathing the lake with its light
Chilled and still and reflected bright.
Suspended so high
I should be sailing tonight.
My vessel she rests in her silent slip
At her helm I captain a mighty ship.
Sound is her hull
Too short a trip.
Sails the breeze makes flutter and shake
Something within me likewise my muscles make.
Quiet and weak yet I still
I should be on my vessel making a wake.
The wind was light, so light the leaves could not be heard rustling and the flags waved limply from their steady staffs. The docks were quiet. Only one other crew was on deck in a marina filled with nearly a hundred thirty other sailboats. It was a Monday night so the absence of sailors after a full weekend was not unusual. The exception tonight was the boat club meeting at the top of the hill. Not even a quorum showed for that. The water was near still. There were some ripples from the breeze. They were small. Even the fish would make more of a stir.
It was five weeks since I last sailed Lifeline, the longest sailing drought of any year since we became partners on the water. It was three weeks after Bay Week on Lake Erie before I got her back in the water, and that was two weeks ago. I was anxious and frustrated; lacking focus in most things, I did, fighting for sleep every night. Life was keeping me busier than I had been in years. This night I was putting it all aside. I was going sailing.
The night was a significant choice because the moon would be full, the third ‘super moon’ of the summer. The light of the night rose through the tree branches shedding an amber glow on the remaining leaves. Clouds that earlier would have blocked the light were now positioned to reflect it even as their counterparts in the west glowed with the setting amber of the sun. For a moment… only for a moment… the sky was completely glowing.
It had been five weeks so I was taking my time with the preparations. I was avoiding the ‘hurry’ of a racing night and lacking the urgency of having a class start within a short time. I could take my time. The moon would be waiting. The wind was holding, if not rising still. I folded the sail cover and laid it in the cabin instead of throwing it down. I took an extra pause to firmly tug on the knots in the lines. The main halyard fouled around the mast. It required attention. I had two lines, neither long enough to untangle the halyard alone. I slowly, deliberately tied a sheet bend, tossed one end over the starboard spreader, and watched it fall down the other side. The halyard, properly rigged, now running free.
Norris and Kyoko were the other crew out. They helped me get under way. The motor ran well for having been quiet itself for so many weeks. Another boat was coming in. The noise of both motors held us to hand signals. The channel opened up before me. Lights were already blinking ‘out there’. Another sailboat, some fishermen as well, and two power cruisers coming in slowly. I put Lifeline into the wind and hauled up the sails. I let the wind take her as I turned off the motor and pulled it from the water.
If there is a dream that is sailing where the wind gently pushes the boat onto a heel and the boat gives the balanced response of hugging the wind, this was the how the rest of the evening passed. Lifeline fell off to port and I trimmed up the lines as I felt for the wind. I let my hands, my arms, and my face seek the same embrace as the boat had felt. Once I was in the wind’s arms, I brought the boat over to nestle in on the opposite tack. The moon seemed to be breathing the wind down onto Alum Creek. Lifeline and I settled in for an intoxicating visit.
I took the summer off from school for a mental break. Three years of study, every quarter, every semester, working a new job and learning about that, and trying to make the household run as it should… nope… time for a break.
Then, I threw a wrench into the cogs. Well, maybe the more domestic of you will better understand if I say, ‘I put a fork into the garbage disposal’. Yup, that’s it. I bought six laying hens.
Now, before I get you thinking I’m going to talk about the craziness of the summer that WASN’T a mental break, or thinking I’m going to talk about chickens, let me tell you here that this is about figuring out what I lost in all this entropy. (Sorry) Chaos.
I haven’t been sailing.
Sailing is my respite. Sailing is where I’m doing and thinking a thousand things at once about the boat, yet there is order and expectation that if one tiny change is made the boat will sail better, safer, even prettier. Sailing is where the din of the entropy wanes and the order of the Divine Initial Aims can be seen to be at work, in spite of all that we humans do to block it out in the name of our progress and civilization. Sailing is where I go to find my own Divine Initial Aim. And, when the torrents of the wind and the waves remind me there is such a thing as entropy, that even in nature there is a torrid of energy that pounds against me, I know and trust Lifeline because of all the time and effort I spend with her, keeping her strong, keeping her well, for just such moments. I trust my vessel. I trust the routine created in the times less torrid and less chaotic to see me through the other.
I was reminded of this indirectly and unknown to them. Carin put out a note on our yacht club’s message board she was looking for a small day-sailing boat to ‘dink around in’ on her weekend vacation with friends. I happened to have one sitting in my driveway… sitting in my driveway for four years, waiting for me to get some time to fix her up and get her ready for sailing with, and I hope by, my grandkids. Some of them are old enough to do so, now. But, you know already, I bought chickens, and building a coop takes time, and money.
But seeing Carin’s request, I thought it would be nice to see the small boat used. I wrote her and she responded with all the glee one can see in a modern email/text message. We arranged to have her come by and see it. That meant I now had to make time to work on the sailboat. I came home on Monday and began power washing it. I started after supper and it was a cloudy night. Darkness came and I was still washing. I stopped, finally, when the lights from the garage door were brighter than the dark around me, and I could no longer see the boat.
Tuesday brought sunny skies and Carin was due at 6:30. I got home at 6:00 and pulled out the sails, laying them out for her to see. They were in fine shape. I draped the spinnaker sail, a greyish-blue, over the truck. It’s a fine cloths and laying it on the ground would damage it. The anchor, the lines, the equipment, all in decent shape save for the halyards left on the mast and exposed constantly. None-the-less, when Carin arrive and Regis followed, we three stepped the mast and rigged one mainsail. Cleaned up and rigged, she looked wonderful, my little boat, and that’s when I was reminded of what I had been missing.
The last real sail I had was back in June, under the full moon. I watched the sunset and the moonrise took photos with my cell phone cam and drifted about as the wind fell off for five hours. July brought a motor adventure with family aboard to watch the fireworks. Where July met August, I trailered Lifeline up to Lake Erie and sailed over to Bay Week on South Bass Island. For some, that might be a summer. For me, it was long walks in a hot desert between oasis’ and drafts of cool water. Last year I was on the water twice a week, including the afore mentioned events. Two years ago, I was on the water four times a week, teaching and racing and socializing. This year has been so different.
There’s time left to change all that. There are two weeks left in August, and two months, minimum, after that to spend on the water. There’s even time to go back to Lake Erie if I want to. Yes, I’m back in school. Yes, it has become even more intense at work, now that I have an idea of what my new job is supposed to be. Yes, the chickens need a yard to exercise in and windows, and their boxes filled with straw, and… well, you get the picture. And I’ve probably reminded you of your own chores by now. Stephen Covey told us in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to take time to sharpen the saw. He meant to take a break from driving the machine of our labor to tend to the details that keep it running.
Not so oddly, we were told this long ago by a greater Teacher, “Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath” yet even many of those professing faith forget and fill their Sabbaths as they fill the rest of the week. We need, we all need, to take a step back and let the wonder of the Divine Initial Aim reveal itself in our lives. God said, at least once a week, though we are called every day. He gave me a sailboat to use on that day, so I could spend time with the Ship’s Carpenter.
The little sailboat rolled out of my driveway Thursday evening, after we tested the hull for leaks. She still needs a few pins to fit the rigging properly. The halyards need soaked to clean them up. Some Sailkote on the blocks will make the pulleys run more smoothly. And the lights on the trailer need attention. These are all chores of love and relaxation. Carin’s enthusiasm will make those into a labor of love and she’ll have a good time with her friends on the boat.
Where will you make time this week to meet your Maker and learn or be reminded of your Divine Initial Aim? I wish you well in His presence. Pax Chrisiti
11:17 am 8-29-14
Carin texted me from Michigan “Pretty sure the rudder is still at your house. Can you confirm?” All the work, all the effort, all the fun we had… she pulled the boat all the way to Michigan… oh… damn…”In the corner of the garage, nice and dry.”
Wednesday evening I was sailing with the racing fleet, because I could as well as to let them know I was still about the marina. The extended winter and the lateness of getting Lifeline on the water, as well as focusing on graduate school kept me out of the Spring Red Cup series of racing. This is my social group, though, and I missed my shipmates. I wanted to be on the water with the fleet.
This next night, Thursday, is for the broader community, though, and for my shipmate Vicki who is managing our Learn-to-Sail program this year. I did the same two years back. Supporting the LTS Chair is important to Alum Creek Sailing’s association goal of promoting the sport. It’s a good excuse to get down to the marina and onto the water, too, as if I need one of those!
There are thirty new participants in this, the second program of the season. Vicki needs ten skippers and boats. We provide her with eleven, and that leaves me without anyone to take aboard when they are all spread out across the teams’ vessels. I’m single-handing, again. (maybe I have an off-putting aura?)
The other skippers have some teaching to do but I just have myself. The wind is light. The flags on the mast up the hill are wafting lightly. There is no breeze in the marina. My gas tank is back home in the garage, waiting for me to fill it. Lifeline is in her slip, in a ‘crook’ of the docks, by design. I’m not sailing out. I’m not motoring out. Looks like I’m sculling her out to the channel.
Sculling? That’s rocking the boat side to side, letting the shape of the hull and the weight of the keel move the boat forward. It is a small boat technique and Lifeline is just on the upper cusp of being a small boat at twenty-two feet long and two-thousand pounds. At two-forty myself, I constitute ten-per-cent of Lifeline’s displacement and that is plenty of weight to rock her from side-to-side. It takes me ten minutes to go the hundred yards to the channel.
There’s a westerly blowing this evening and the line of trees along the channel draw in plenty of draft from it. I immediately raise both sails at the end of the docks and I’m being pulled along directly. The speed tack reads half-a-knot. It’s a nice, gentle pull. The other skippers with their charges are motoring out and the lessons begin as to the right-of-way of sail over power is raised to their crews. Some motor ahead, others are still coming from behind, others are already to be seen on the water, mainsails up and drawing. All are heading north up the lake.
The wind is gentle and steady. I come to port. Turning left the sails fill. The breeze is strong enough to keep the sails full and the sails are so balanced tonight I can take my hand off the tiller and ride. Picking up my cell phone I have the chance now to take some photos of the activity this evening.
The sun was setting and a couple of the boats turned back south toward the dam and the inlet. I kept Lifeline pointed north with a couple others. There was something to be seen or done yet this evening and I wanted to know what it was. Onward we road the wind.
Day was done. Gone the sun, from the lake(s), from the hills, from the sky. All was well. Safely rest. God is One.
All the other boats were at the south end of the lake. Ralph had La Vita heading back past Lifeline, leaving her and I the sole traversers near the causeway. We came about and waited….
I stayed out late. It was the first day of my vacation and I had no reason to go back in a hurry. A couple hours later, Lifeline and I were still sailing with the moon as our companion.
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.