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…
You know, it was just one wonderfully warm evening last Tuesday when I stepped aboard Lifeline and prepped her to motor to the ramps. The prediction for weather was some increasingly heavy rain and I knew I was pressed for time. There was a temptation to raise a sail one last time, but I would have to bend the foresail back on. I didn’t want to take the time.
I snapped some pictures of the docks as I walked out and again as I motored away. Mostly empty, they seemed lonesome and the quiet about them unnatural. It was a good year. I was absent more than in the past yet those times when I came down there were always many others enjoying the marina and the boats. I sighed and turned back to the task at hand, motoring out across the lake to New Galena ramp on the east side of the lake. Lights hadn’t been installed in the new parking lot at the Hollenbeck ramp where the State’s marina is, and I was most definitely out ‘after dark’.
Half way across the lake, I decided I’d raise my keel board. I didn’t want to run aground in the dark only a few feet from a dock. It’s shallow on the east side, too shallow for my counterbalance of lead to be sticking down. Besides, I was motoring and didn’t need the counterbalance to begin with.
It’s fifty cranks of the winch handle to raise or lower the keel board. The handle rotates close to the wood edge of the companion way and I knocked my fingers a few times. I was alone on the lake, so being below wasn’t too big a deal. I had the tiller tender set to hold the rudder for a steady course for a few minutes while I worked the wire and wheel. That’s why the ‘bump’ was such a surprise when I lost my balance.
What made the boat heave over was the wind! The weather front hadn’t arrived with rain yet, but the wind ahead of it was stirring. I took another fifteen-degree push from starboard and lost my balance again. Holy cow! What’s going on?!
Back at the tiller, I could feel the wind blowing across my face, and Lifeline blowing sideways across the lake. I adjusted course to starboard, bringing the bow toward the New Galena channel, yet I was still moving sideways. I increased the motor speed and turn right again. I was still slipping sideways in this wind, and I couldn’t see any signs of it on the water in the dark. Another large gust caught the boat and heaved me over again.
Mindy was watching from the ramp and couldn’t understand why she could see the mast light seeming to drift toward the shoreline instead of the docks. She said later she was just amazed; right up until the wind hit her at the shoreline. Then she understood. She went to the truck and pulled the trailer down to the ramps. She was backing it down when I finally turned Lifeline into the docks.
Except that Mindy was on one ramp and I was coming in to the one beside it. There was no chance I was going to get into where she was and ‘drive’ right onto the trailer. Not tonight. Not in this blow. I jumped up from the tiller and grabbed the lines I had on the port side, bringing them onto the starboard. I tied off as securely as I could while Mindy brought the trailer over one lane. The wind was whipping up whitecaps on the open water and the exposed dock was being beaten about handily. I was grateful the wind didn’t let me pull in there. That dock might have gotten on the trailer before I could get the boat on it.
Now, the trailer down in the water put the winch out in knee-deep black and COLD water. I knew I wanted dry clothes in this wind since it was going to take two hours to get the mast down and everything rigged for the road. Mindy hadn’t even thought about being in the water so she was rather surprised when she turned and saw me dropping my trousers and kicking off shoes. She had grabbed the boat hook to push Lifeline out far enough to get onto the trailer while I snapped the winch strap to the bow. It was so COLD my ankles HURT!
I had Lifeline snapped to and hauled to the winch but she was still floating and beating herself on the dock. I jumped up onto the dock and took the boat hook from Mindy. She went to the truck and started inching the trailer up the ramp. It’s really difficult to push on a Catalina 22 with only the point of and/or the hook on the end of a five-foot aluminum pole, against a 25-knot wind! Little-by-little we made it, though, and Lifelike has but a couple degrees ‘heel’ she’ll sit with on the trailer this winter.
The rest of the night went smoothly. The rain didn’t come in ‘til we were near finished. The trees on the shoreline broke the wind once we pulled away from the ramps. The lights at New Galena gave us plenty to work under, and they were almost WARM with their halogen glow. The turnbuckles came loose, the gin-pole snugged tight, and the mast came down slow and controlled (thanks again, Kevin). We pulled away in under an hour-and-a-half, towing my mistress behind me with the help of my wife.
My trousers? Oh, no, I didn’t forget. Those I retrieved as soon as she hauled the boat out. Those overhead lights weren’t really warm…
(It’s really nice to ‘blow’ through a thousand words for fun. The other three thousand tonight went toward school)
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.
Three of four days looked like the picture above. I had a wonderful sail over on Thursday evening. There was a SE breeze, steady for two of the three hours I needed for the sail along the Catawba Peninsula (Lake Erie, south shore) and across the water to South Bass Island. That breeze left when the sun went behind the cirrus clouds stretching out in front of an eastward bound summer thunderstorm. Up came the engine and down went the sails. I wanted to be in the harbor when that came through, and was successfully moored inside the break water along side Tec ……..
Last year I went to sail and Mindy and I had some fun. This year I was there to work and there was a lot less fun. I spent two days on a 15′ Boston Whaler setting marks for the centerboard fleet. The first day was spent at anchor, a lot, as the engine on the first boat ran out of gas (who let this sailor run a motorboat, anyway?) and the second boat’s engine quite while idling. I ended the first day wearing my t-shirt on backwards as I walked the 100 yds to the showers. 2nd day it rained, stormed, lighting showers, and more wind than the ‘big boys’ would handle. Many of them weathered the storm in the lee of Rattlesnake Island’s east shore. Day three went well for the sailors, but for us in the motorboat it was a day to try staying IN the boat as all the power boaters, throwing wakes up 3 and 4 times the freeboard of the motorboat, sped past at the high speeds one may assume a power cabin cruiser is capable of. Sea sick? Thank God (no really! Thank God) No!
Time ashore was the highlight of the weekend. I slept in the comfort of the Put-In-Bay Yacht Club’s chair indoors while the storm passed and we waited to see if we could go out after. I shared dinner with friends in the evenings, as the sailor population was amply filled with Alum Creek members. The Rum Party volunteers? Alum Creek, led by the inestimable Allison Foreman. Phil Verret was about, the Varvarosky’s, the Pyors’, Brent and Sharla, of course, and several of the ‘younger’ members, not all of whose names I know yet were pouring beer, soda, and rum punch by the pitcher, taking tickets, and hauling out the trash.
Bob and Chris Shepherd managed the regatta for I-LYA. Thanks to them for their great work.
Saturday, after waiting out the rain, the docks were filled with sailors anxious to burn off the energy not spent on the water racing. The deck of Maelstrom became party center for Alum Creek sailors. It started about nine and went until… well, I don’t know how late it went. When the ‘second shift’ arrived with a ukulele and five more strapping young men, I took my aging backside ‘down’ to Lifeline’s cabin just astern of Maelstrom. Last thing I heard was some rock and roll song shouted across the water as I fell off to sleep. Thanks for inviting me over, folks. It was nice to be a part of the party.
Sunday morning was great for sailing while the fleet was out. It turned into a typical summer day on the lake, and the air went straight up if there was any moving at all. I motored all the way back to East Harbor State Park on the east side of the Catawba Peninsula. It was a rough ride across the chop of the Western Basin. A couple of hours unstopping the mast and stowing gear, a couple more driving back to Columbus. My bed at home hadn’t felt this good since I returned from my last deployment.
See you next year, Bay Week. Until then…the Old Fox is coming….
Alum Creek Lake is a reservoir created from the ravine cut by Ice-Age glaciers in the central Ohio, USA. Water has run through it since the ice sheet melted and sometime in the 1970’s the Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Ohio, County of Delaware, and the City of Columbus decided to close off the end of the valley and make a reservoir for the growing populations. The benefit to over four million visitors each year to the ‘new’ lake is the hours of recreational camping, fishing, and boating recreation we all participate in so avidly.
The key terms for the story I’m telling today are ‘ravine’ and ‘valley’. The wind over and across the lake is dependent on the shape of the shallow bowl the lake exists in and the trees around it. The stronger the weather front crossing Ohio the stronger the wind over the lake, and consequently the reverse is also true. When the overhead winds are so light the lake gets only the swirls and wisps from the various up-and-down drafts created by the sun and convection off the water.
Wednesday evening I’m single-handing Lifeline out as usual, later than normal and catching up with the other racers. I’m not registered for the series and I do know I want to stay away from the start/finish line and any points of sail I know the others will take from that marker on the water. The wind is from the southwest from the low-pressure area passing over Ohio, and it is running ten knots. The flags on the yard up on top the hill were waving in the breeze but not standing straight out, as they will at fifteen knots.
A peninsula of sorts runs along the south side of our channel with a small ‘bay’ opening to the south side and all of this land and the trees lets some breeze through but mostly gives us some ‘shadowing’ from the full-on wind coming from the south and west. I used this area to raise my sails full and then maneuvered out into the broader part of the lake.
‘Fewumph!’ (that’s how I spell the sound a sail makes filling with wind, hard and fast). Actually, I have the two sails up and full so ‘Fewumph! Fewumph!’ as they both filled and pulled. Suddenly I’m holding onto both the main and the jib sheets and somehow the tiller and Lifeline is hauling keel and transom to keep up with her own sails. The boat heeled over nicely and behind me I heard the wake splashing loudly as a school of fish breaking the surface of the water. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!! Lifeline was so obviously overpowered I let slip the main sheet to dump some wind, and it stayed like that most of the next forty-five minutes.
I was across the mile of open water the south end of the lake offers in only a few minutes. Sometime during the outbound tack or the return trip, I noted five point seven knots on the meter. Pretty good for a boat that she only designed for five. It was all I could do to get her about in the wind. The jib wrapped around the forestay on two separate turns. I caught it both times. The disaster of a useless piece of canvass acting like a wind anchor was escaped with the help of Providence prompting me to ‘look up’ while coming about and jibing.
Back in the lee of the small bay Lifeline settled onto an even keel. My arms were already sore from pulling so hard and they were relieved being able to release the jib sheets as I luffed up (steered into the wind) to let the wind out of both sails. I flipped up the lever on my jib halyard (line that pulls the sail up) and the foresail’s weight caused it to begin its downward fall. I moved promptly (I don’t ‘leap’ any more) to the bow and pulled it down, un-hanked it from the forestay, and stuffed it down the hatch. Back into the cockpit I went, pushed the tiller over, trimmed the still-fully raised mainsail, and headed back out into open water.
‘Fewumph!’ went the main. Lifeline responded with a gentle heel to port. The speed tack read three point two. The rest of the evening was the iconic dream shown in videos and running through peoples’ minds when they think of sailing. Her mainsail doing all the work, Lifeline glided across, back, up, and down the lake with the rest of the fleet as each class finished in turn. Kaotic brought the Commodore past, he at the helm and his ‘admiral’ tending the rest of the crew. Second Wind sailed past with her crew in their persistent efforts to conduct her more efficiently. Reagan hailed me from Sledgehammer as that boat’s crew enjoyed a relaxed after-sail across the blue and gold glint of the lake in the now setting sun.
No pictures to aid in the telling of today’s story. Look to the next entry for some visuals only 24 hours later.
Fair winds, all!
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.
Looking on this photo I can appreciate the lack of clarity it presents in my post. However, I wonder if it was any clearer to my 4 y/o grandson when he spent an hour one day continually returning his gaze upwards towards this lighted portal.
It was First Communion Day for his siblings, four of them in their blended family receiving. The little one was with his ‘Mamie and Bawpa’. He was unusually calm, according to the stories we heard previously. I watched him closely, between watching the others just ahead of us and still participating in mass. His gaze was usually ‘up’ toward the outstretched arms of a Risen Christ.
Did he know that? I wonder. Time after time over the hour I’d look at him and his gaze was up. Oh, not always, but he didn’t busy himself with his normal fussing or turning of pages or squirming out past the two of us on either side. He was calm. He was nearly still. And he looked ‘up’ a lot.
Now, you have to know how I struggled in the last two years over the changes in the mass. I don’t care for some of the words the ‘experts’ translated, I don’t care for the opportunists’ ploys to push the rituals back to pre-Vatican II in the changes, and I don’t care that the Church documents say that the organ is THE most appropriate instrument for music at mass. What’s with those ‘old men’ in the Vatican, are they tired of hearing us sing from the pews? Are the voices of the masses resounding to dissonant on the altar they have to be drowned out?
Don’t get me wrong, this is a whine, not a rant, and only to point out that the words, the music and for this case, the décor about a Catholic church building is about catechesis, about teaching everyone who views the statues, glass windows, stations of the cross, and crucifixes. I’m a teacher by profession and I studied learning psychology and the means to use as many mediums as possible to get an idea so deeply imbedded into someone they would change their behavior because of it.
The Catholic Church has been using its churches in this fashion since just after the turn of the first century A.D. (see the link below). So much for my whining.
My grandson knows. Beyond any means I have for teaching him, God can reach into his heart through the work of an artist neither of us is likely to meet. There, in front of the boy, way up over his head was a white image opening His arms to him.
I may not care for the pundits, but I’m a fan of the catechist artists forever.
For a catechetical tour of my parish church building, St John Newman, Sunbury OH;