Sunday, September 28, 2008

Three Firsts

The boys and I went up to the lake this weekend for an overnighter. The heat is gradually diminishing, which is nice, and the lake is continuing to be amazingly uncrowded. Very few power boats-- I guess the gas prices and general unhappiness of the Economy is taking a toll of people wanting to schlep their boats up to the lake from the valley, then pay $$$$ to fill them up with fuel. In fact our slip neighbor at the marina told us as much-- He said it cost $100 to fill his big cruiser 1/4 full. Being a sailor has its benefits.

This trip was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, it appears that the mouse we found back in April of 2007 is, amazingly, still living on the boat. When we opened the boat up we discovered new droppings, and a roll of paper towels has been chewed on. I have no idea how the critter has survived in what is pretty much a closed boat. We don't leave food on the boat. I do know that water can get in the boat when it rains, and possibly insects fly in through the vent, but still. I'm going to have to get a humane trap in there next time we sail and set the little survivor free. Amazing.

The next noteworthy thing was that we did 3 things this time around that were new for either the boys, or myself. The boys swam off the boat in the middle of the lake for the first time ever, and I sailed out of our slip and back to to the dock without using the outboard, for the first time since I was a kid sailing an El Toro in SF Bay. I have never had the moxie to do that with my 19' cruiser, so that was an event.

First #1 -- Swimming from a boat

We launched uneventfully at the Sheriff's ramp and motored out to the middle of the lake right across from the dam. There was only a vague breeze, so I stopped the motor and told the boys to put their swimsuits on. They immediately got all excited and practically ripped their clothes off. Once dressed, though, they stood on the cockpit uncertainly, staring at the big green water; neither of them had ever swum off a boat in the middle of the lake before. I, however, knew the drill and leaped overboard into the drink with a whoop. The water was refreshing, the temperature perfect , and my grin soon got the rest of the crew in the water with me. The boys loved it.

I had thought about doing this for a while, but the combination of weather and opportunity never really gelled until now. However, because of my planning, before we dove in I rigged one of the fenders to a couple of dock lines tied together, and tied the other end to a stern cleat and threw the fender overboard. That was going to be our lifeline in case the wind picked up while we were splashing around. The theory was that we could grab 50' of dock line and hand-over-hand it faster than we could catch a boat being blown downwind of us. In Theory.

I have read plenty of accounts of smart guys like me streaming ropes behind as a MOB countermeasure only to find the rope too slimy from algae, or the MOB too tired or hypothermic to accomplish the required gymnastics. But I didn't think we'd need it it, we are all strong, and I was planning on keeping them close to the boat at all times.

As we swam I could see the fender gradually getting further away as Felicidade caught the small breeze, until the while blob was floating about 50' away. The boys wanted to swim to the fender; I was a little nervous but since there was still no wind, allowed it. I swam with them, though. Being that far from the boat made me nervous, and we were drifting a little too close to the lee shore, so I had them swim back with me. #2 Son made it right after me, But #1 Son was taking his sweet time. I told him to grab the line and pull himself in, but he said he could not find it. I though that was odd so I pulled the line, thinking to make it taut. Before long I was staring stupidly at the bitter end of the line while the fender receded into the distance. Doh! Served me right for tying it on with a sheet bend, I guess. But the lines were different sizes!

For a second I was tempted to swim for it, but reason prevailed (for once!) and I hustled the boys back onboard for a reverse MOB maneuver of sorts. I quickly got the motor started (I love that little Tohatsu) and we motored over to rescue the fender. The fender survived with no ill effects and was soon tied back onto the dock lines-- This time with two bowlines. We motored back upwind for more swimming.

After we had been in the water for about 15 minutes, out of nowhere a blast of wind kicked up. It was like the haboob winds that precede a thunderstorm down in the valley, except there was no dust cloud. There were some thunderheads in the distance, but nothing (I had thought) close enough for any kind of weather to impact us. Boy, was I wrong.

I quickly got the guys out of the water. Now the line with the fender on it was streaming straight back as the boat was hit by what felt like 30 mph winds but was probably more like 15 - 20. The water around us darkened and there were numerous whitecaps popping up as I hustled the boys back aboard. While I was waiting to climb the ladder, I could feel myself being pulled through the water by the boat. At that point I was very glad I had not let them swim out to the fender again.

I got back aboard, and let the boat sort itself out while I changed into dry clothes. We had plenty of sea room to start with but the lee shore was getting closer by the time I got dressed. I briefly debated trying to get a sail up, but wasn't convinced I'd have much room to maneuver off the lee shore if I had problems getting the sail up. I decided to err on the side of caution and fired up the motor. We headed upwind while I put 2 reefs in the main and rolled out a small triangle of jib. When we turned off the motor and started sailing, we were slightly overpowered, but man it was fun. We were flying!

About this time I noticed some lightning over the hills around the lake, and by the dam. Time to head in! We sailed to the marina and accomplished a gentle landing under power. Cocktail hour ensued for all 3 sailors (wine for dad, root beer for the crew). We wandered the marina for a while and checked out the huge houseboats with their plasma TVs and full bars. The boys enjoyed themselves immensely. After dinner we turned in.

First #2 -- Sailing out of the slip

The next morning found a gentle breeze blowing from the head of our slip straight back. I decided to try sailing out-- Without starting the motor for insurance in case I completely screwed things up. The boys endured a series of nervous exhortations from Captain Dad about what to do when we inevitably found ourselves piled up against the slips to leeward, but didn't seem too worried about what we were about to attempt.

We put the main up and cast loose the dock lines; I backed the main (it still had 2 reefs in it from the night before), and the breeze slowly pushed Felicidade backwards out of the slip. When clear, I put the rudder hard over and she turned like the well-behaved little Potter she is. It's amazing how much easier it was to back the boat under sail-- No prop wash to contend with. In a few moments the main started drawing and we were slowly sailing down the channel as I rolled the genoa out. It all went very smoothly and I admit to being ridiculously pleased with myself. I almost felt like a real sailor.

We had a nice sail out to Haystack Island. There were two other sailboats on the lake, which was unusual. We sailed slowly around Haystack and headed back towards the marina at about 1.8 knots under a poled-out genoa. While we did this I decided that since sailing out of the slip was so successful, why not try sailing back to the dock? An engine-free voyage for Felicidade -- What an audacious idea!

First #3 -- Docking under sail

As we reached towards the "no wake" buoys, one of the other sailboats caught up to us and overtook us. We had a nice chat and the boys enjoyed asking them if they had a bunch of "allergy" slowing them down-- I had told the boys earlier that the boat should have caught up to us quicker because they were bigger, unless the bottom was foul. The other sailors agreed that yeas, they probably did have a bunch of algae. But it didn't slow them down that much as they passed us. Before we went past the breakwater I rolled up the genoa and planned the approach.

The Sheriff's dock is this metal thing with strange protuberances jutting out and oddly-placed cleats. As we neared the dock (which was directly downwind) at 1.7 knots, I made a lasso out of one of the dock lines and got it ready by the starboard aft cleat. We approached the dock slowly, I threw the lasso over the dock cleat and snubbed it with the cleat on the boat as we came to a gentle stop. Woohoo!

Now I almost feel like a real sailor. If I can just figure out how to sail onto the trailer I will be simply insufferable.

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