N 34°48.295’, W 135°00.467’
For any of you reading this blog thinking that this adventure is all fun and no work or challenges, let me point out just one aspect of how sailing can suck sometimes. It’s called “sailing down wind”, and here’s a brief explanation of the concepts involved and how they can go terribly wrong and produce the worst night of your life or least the worst night of your life on a sailboat.
There are 3 principle concepts involved in sailing downwind: sail configuration, wind direction, and wave direction. Let’s start with sail configuration.
You basically have 3 options: a sail configuration known as wing-to-wing, which is a purest or old school method of sailing downwind; flying a spinnaker; or, putting out the headsail with a whisker pole. All three serve to function as a ballooned sail that captures the wind and pushes the boat forward. Simple concept. I particularly don’t like the wing-to-wing sail configuration because it requires way too much concentration on keeping the boat in a very specific angle to the wind so that both the headsail, which is flown to one side of the boat, and the mainsail, which is flown on the opposite side (thus affecting the image of “wings” on the boat), remain full of wind and flying on their respective sides of the boat. Any failure to maintain this exact angle, which has a minute margin of error, results in one or both of the sails collapsing and fluttering about in a most embarrassing manner (heightened by the presence of onlookers, aka gawkers). Since we hadn’t taken the spinnaker out of the lazarette on this passage yet, we didn’t consider this an option at this point, and as we had been sailing with the headsail out on a whisker pole, we went with that on this one particular evening a few nights ago.
Setting the headsail on the whisker pole is a simple matter of attaching the working line of the headsail to the whisker pole, which slides on a track built onto the mast, trimming the sail in and setting the whisker pole out over the water at a 90 degree angle to the mast. The whisker pole provides a solid construction that essentially prevents the sail from collapsing on itself in very light winds or when the correct sailing angle to the wind is not maintained. A great concept, in theory.
The next item of consideration is wind direction. The whole point of sailing downwind is that the direction you want to sail is the same direction that the wind is traveling. This precludes normal sail configurations which typically harness the wind from a close, beam or broad reach (angles of wind direction from the bow, bean or stern, respectively). No big deal, right?
Lastly is wave direction. Waves tend to follow wind direction, but not always. When they do, the ride is very smooth with the boat lifting and dropping in a smooth, predictable flow.
Ok, so now we have the elements of my story defined, so here it goes. We needed to sail downwind so we set the headsail up with the whisker pole. We had flukey winds of variable speed and direction (never a good thing when sailing) and not only were the waves not exactly following the wind but they were actually coming from two different directions. When waves come from multiple directions, whenever they intersect (euphemism for crash into each other) they tend to reinforce each other producing a pyramid-shaped wave that is bigger than either of the two waves that created it. Because the wind couldn’t keep the headsail full, thereby providing consistent forward movement, the headsail just kept collapsing on itself which would initiate a loud “thwack!” sound as the sail collapsed and the whisker pole careened into a shroud. And because the headsail couldn’t remain full and provide that forward movement we needed, the waves, coming from every which way, would rock the boat from left to right constantly. Standing at the helm felt like standing on a trampoline that was on a giant turntable set to 75 rpms and trying to thread a needle. Ridiculous!
But kids, here’s the real story! The person down below, trying to sleep, would toss and turn with every wave that hit the boat. But guess what else would toss and turn with every wave that hit the boat? EVERYTHING ELSE ON THE BOAT! That jar of curry in the galley that I had to bring because I tend to use a lot of curry in my cooking, sitting between the cumin and dill (spices and herbs are organized alphabetically, but you must have seen that coming from me), would crash against the cumin and the dill with every wave that hit the boat. Maddening! The person sleeping would find himself constantly getting up to find the source of one noise, fix it (stuff tea towels or some other soft, absorbent item next to it), get back in the bunk, only to hear a new noise that needed fixing. All in all, this does not make for a good night’s sleep, which, if you remember from a previous entry is less than 3 consecutive hours at a time.
Thus my ramblings on the pros and cons of sailing downwind.