Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Adventures in Sailing! - TRYST

This post went pretty long. The last part of it is the best part if you want to skip around.

My first sail of the season took place this past Saturday aboard a 35-foot custom cruiser called the TRYST. The owner and captain of the boat bought her about a year ago after she circumnavigated the globe with her previous owners. The interior is beautiful, all dark wood that is probably a pain to keep clean. The exterior, in the words of his ex-gf, looks like a potato since it has a coach house (instead of a open cockpit) in the middle.

Originally the trip was going to be a 10 hour day sail from Grasonville, MD (just over the Bay Bridge) to Annapolis and back. It was cold, about 40 degrees, with a north wind blowing around 18 knots or so. We were all bundled up pretty tightly.

After we got out into the open I took the helm while the captain and one other tried to get the sails up. The headsail went up easy but the main was stuck. It took about 30 minutes or so to free it and series of 'perfectly executed technical maneuvers' that were neither perfectly executed nor very technical. Out of practice I am.

Once we had the sails up it was pretty smooth until we were going to turn the corner into the main part of the Bay. I wasn't paying any attention to the GPS chart plotter and instead just looking at markers. What I didn't see was that we were smack dab in the middle of some shallows. The depth fell to 5' or so pretty quick so we were in immediate danger of being stuck. Luckily we were able to avoid that particular awesome situation.

Then my best moment of ineptitude for the day happened. I wanted to tack and head toward Annapolis up the coast but the captain asked that I head towards the opposite shore first before we tacked. Tacking requires setting the sails differently and he wanted to keep it to a minimum if possible. Not being able to see the wind vane, how the sails were set, or feel the wind on my face it was hard to tell how close to he wind we were sailing. I assumed we were already pretty close so that turning any further north would cause us to tack so I kept us pointed in the direction we were heading in. Well, as it turns out I was wrong and we could have turned up into the wind something like 60 degrees more than we were. The net effect: we sailing south for 45 minutes rather than north west. So that was awesome.

After the course correction we sailed for another couple of hours. At this point we had been out on the water for 7 hours or so, 6 of those hours under sail, when the wind decided it was done. It dropped from its awesome 18 knots to like 5 knots or so, which isn't much for my 5000 pound Catalina, let alone a 21,000 pound boat like TRYST. We decided to fly this huge parachute like sail called a drifter. Drifters are a pain to set; lots of things can go wrong. I put on a life vest since I was going to be up at the bow pulling the sail out of the bag. One nice puff at the wrong time and over I'd go. We had to pull the sail out of the bag and restuff it since it had been put back incorrectly. Once that was done and everything was hooked up properly the sail come up pretty easily. Pretty straight-forward really.

Unfortunately, it didn't make a huge difference. At the piddly 3 knots of speed we were making we were 5 hours from anything. So after 30 minutes we made a decision to abandon going to Annapolis and instead head to Tangier Island back to the east under power. This required pulling the drifter down. It came down pretty easily luckily.

So the next few hours were pretty uneventful. We made it to Tangier around 4 pm and found a restaurant about 1/2 mile away from where we docked. Good food, looked like a cool place during the warmer months. We made it back to the boat after dark and started the 3 hours trip under power back to the dock. Our eta was about midnight. Originally, we were to be back at 9 pm.

After a somewhat eventful motoring involving mistaken lights, hard to find markers, and a car on a remote island that we argued about what it was for an hour, we were finally in the channel and could see the dock.

The channel into the marina his boat resides in is very narrow and tricky. Compounded with the near impossible challenge of seeing day markers at night against a well lit shore line and you have a recipe for grounding. I was up on the bow trying to find a series of three markers that were very close together marking the narrowest part of the channel. The wind had picked up again so it was bitterly cold and the tide was coming in. We were able to pick out the markers and were between the three of them when I felt the engine cut out. The captain tried to restarting it several times but to no avail. We were adrift in the narrowest part of the channel being pushed towards a red day marker we had just passed.

We dropped the anchor to give us time to look at the engine and try to get it started. After checking the usual suspects the Captain decided we needed to get a tow back to the dock that we could fricken see a mile away, if that. However, before that we had a more immediate problem. It turns out the anchor, while it stopped us from drifting, was let out too far and now we were slowly swinging towards a marker. Two of us pulled the anchor in tighter to try to get the bow to clear the marker but in doing so we pulled it up too far to where it started to slip. The captain made the call to just pull the anchor up all the way so we would slip past the marker and just get stuck in the mud instead.

Well, we slipped past just fine. He called Tow Boat US - an adventure of its own - and we were told they would be there by 2 am. We all went down below to get warm and eat. Eventually we noticed we never did hit the mud and instead kept drifting further and further from the channel where the tow boat was going to look for us. So we set the anchor again and waited.

Eventually the tow boat showed up and took us back to the dock. By the time it was all done and over my 10 hour day sail to Annapolis turning into an 18 hour adventure to Tangier Island. While it certainly wasn't my brightest point in sailing, I learned a lot and had a good time with it. The group was a fun bunch and we had enjoyed each others company.

I also learned a few things, which is always good. The most reassuring thing was watching all the same crap that happens to me while docking, putting up sails, or just really anything was happening to a captain that had been sailing and building boats his entire life. Even experienced people crash into shit when docking. :)

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