Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Sojourn Survived, A Lesson Learned

Kyle and I set out for Kingston at 10 AM. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the steam pouring from the stacks at Kimberly Clark was almost horizontal, racing south by southwest over the navy base.  White caps adorned the particularly dark blue water.

As I drove past Kimberly Clark bearing witness to these, I was in my mind rubbing my hands together with joy thinking this is going to be a great sailing day.  “We’ll cruise down to Kingston, have some lunch and cruise back”  The predicted wind was out of the north with a slightly westerly component, so coming home I wouldn’t have to tack too much. 

Now that I am getting a little practice, I’ve changed the order I do things.  I very quickly fire up the engine and cast off, waiting until we get underway in the channel to take off the sail covers and rig the sails. As we rounded the marker on Jetty Island, I had my first realization that it was blowing really hard! 

2011-02-19_10-41-34_476I’m new enough to sailing that heeling excessively makes me uncomfortable, so we started out with just the main, in a single reef.  We were only able to make four and a half knots this way, so after a few miles I rigged the jib and hoisted it.  We immediately picked up speed and heeled over.  The average heel wasn’t so bad as indicated in the photo, but gusts would frequently un nerve me.    2011-02-19_10-31-02_658

The wind relaxed as did I as we sailed past the Mukilteo ferry dock.  It was turning out to be a very good day and I was looking forward to lunch in Kingston, now less than 2 hours away.

Not long after I snapped these photos, the wind kicked back up and white caps appeared again.  We continued out of the wind shadow of Whidbey Island.

As Kingston, or at least the shoreline came into view, I could see massive white objects on the horizon.  After a couple of minutes of puzzlement, I concluded that they were white caps on rollers miles away and that if I could see them from here, they were bigger than than the ones we were now in – way bigger!  I told Kyle “I’m not going there.” Being already nervous myself, I was shocked to hear him ask, without a hint of fear, “why not?”  “Because those white objects on the horizon aren’t ships,” I replied.  “So?” He asked, clearly in a different, perhaps blissfully so, mental state than my own.  I agreed to stay east of the rollers and try to go to Edmonds and then evaluate.

The wind continued to pick up as we distanced ourselves from the protective wind shadow of Whidbey Island.   I was now sorry that I hadn’t pulled in the 2nd reef earlier and sorry I had agreed to go to Edmonds.  Then I was really sorry!  Within seconds, we found ourselves in even higher winds. The wind had shifted a little and we were directly in the blast coming down Admiralty Inlet. Then we took a wave over the bow.  Not a huge one, but enough to get me soaking wet as I wasn’t wearing my foulies.  For perspective, it seemed like a 5 gallon bucket of 45 degree salty water square in the chest.

Fortunately, I’m not generally given to panic, but down wind, I’m sure you could smell the fear.  Evidence of my fear would be that despite being quite wet in strong 40 degree winds, that I didn’t realize that I was cold for about an hour. Kyle on the other hand was still wanting to go to Kingston.  I had had enough. I fired up the diesel and had Kyle man the helm.  He headed into the wind so I could I drop both halyards.  The jib wouldn’t drop, so I had to go up on deck and pull it down.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t set enough throttle. He lost steerage and we found ourselves pointed down wind.  Kyle was yelling.  I couldn’t hear what he was saying but I knew. It was pointless to yell back; it was just too noisy. I quickly lashed the flapping jib to the deck with a dock line using my now numb fingers and worked my way back to the cockpit.  At this point I was thinking “Kyle remembers my man overboard instructions right?”  My man overboard instructions are simple for novice crew, which is everyone that has crewed for me so far – verify the radio is on 16, key the mike and repeat “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday man overboard.  Tell them you are either north or south of Everett, if you don’t know exactly where you are.”

Fortunately Kyle didn’t have to remember.  I made it back to the cockpit and got Sojourn going into the wind again, just leaving the main to flap. I felt it too dangerous to try to tie it. I have now raised lazy jack’s to the top of my to do list.

Kingston AbortedThe white line in the image was our intended path, the red line is my best guess to our actual path once we deviated and the blue lines are the wind. 

We motored back to Possession Point at wide open throttle for about an hour at 3.2 knots on the GPS. Kyle asked, “why aren’t we sailing?”  ‘Cause I’m chicken!” I responded.  Once we finally made it into the wind shadow, I set to dealing with the sails.  Both halyards had wrapped themselves around the shrouds.

Once the halyards were no longer fouled, we pulled the kill knob on the diesel and were under sail again.  Kyle went below and took a nap.  Clearly he was not pondering the same “what if’s” as I was.  I sailed past Mukilteo overpowered and on a close reach. From my experience earlier that day, I knew the main alone wouldn’t make much speed on this point of sail, so I left it that way.  We were making 5.8 knots, at least when the sensor was in the water, which it frequently wasn’t. 

For the first time in a couple of hours, I found myself relaxed, or at least not tensing every time the toe rail dipped into the water.  I’m pretty sure I was very close to rounding up several time as I found myself standing on the lee seat pulling the tiller as far windward as I could to keep Sojourn straight. 

I yelled to Kyle several times as we approached Everett, but he was sound asleep.  It was windy, but didn’t seem too rough, so I set the auto tiller to hold Sojourn into the wind while I dropped the sails. That was dumb as even if I didn’t need Kyle’s help, I should have had him on watch while I was on deck in case I went in the drink.  By then I was wearing my foulies and that was a good thing.  Sojourn dipped her bow into every couple of waves while I was trying to secure the whipping jib for the second time that day. 

Once inside the marina, I set the tiller brake and just enough throttle to maintain steerage and went below for a few seconds to rouse Kyle.  He came out and asked “why are we going so slow?”  To my self I said, “because we have a 20 knot wind pushing us into Sojourn’s slip and one shot to not harpoon the pier or my neighbor’s boat if we miss.”

That night I checked sailflow.  Point No Point reported a steady 30-34 knots the whole time we were out there.  Point no point is at the north end of the blue lines on the map above. 

The old man in the sea taught me a couple of things this day.  First and foremost, he affirmed who is in charge. Second, there is pilot’s saying “never go where your mind hasn’t gone 5 minutes before.” I try to abide by that, if on a slower time scale while sailing. Clearly I failed to do that today. I ended this day with a much greater respect for the power of the sea than I started it with.

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