Caribbean Day Sail—The common expectation for a trip on a yacht rental in St. Thomas or St. John is to fly in and take a bareboat out for a week with another couple or two. Fine and dandy, but pricey and tricky unless everyone is a competent sailor or crew. The easier alternative is to take a half-day or full-day charter sail on a sloop, fetch or schooner. They leave in the morning and come back in the afternoon. They usually offer snorkeling at an anchored spot. Make sure they sail the damn thing, though. My wife and went aboard a 60-footer in Grand Cayman Islands where the captain never raised the sails, preferring to motor instead. Once under sail and having insinuated yourself with the captain, he or she will likely give you a turn at the helm. It’s exhilerating to sail at that level.
Substitute Crew—Everyone says they want to crew, but they can’t always make the Wednesday night or Saturday races. You can endear yourself to the racing set by serving short notice to crew. This assumes your schedule is clear and that you can move quickly. Let the racing team know that you’re available on two hours’ notice, and watch how frequently you get called.
Ice Sailing—Here is a unique, fast and dangerous adventure that is limited by geography and weather. Ice sailing clubs are active in New Jersey and New York, notably on the upper Hudson River. It’s hard to say how to insinuate one onto a boat. First, go there and make yourself known, perhaps helping with the equipment. For more on the history of the sport, check out my blog here.
Lunch Hour—If you work downtown near a harbor, chances are you can find a rental boat to latch onto for 90 minutes. Check out com for what’s near you. Once you make the first arrangement, you’ll be able to go back more easily the next time. If you’re ASA qualified by 101 or 103, you can take out sailboats of 22 feet and 36 feet. The smaller is more suited to lunch hour. Don’t worry about the time required to set up the boat. Advancement in boating technology has made today’s new sloops virtually ready to go. Make sure the engine is working well, though.
Videos—Hundreds of videos are out there on You Tube to show all manner of sailing, from how-to to harrowing races. Sailing Anarchy has excellent clips of races. The beauty of videos is that you see them quickly and bookmark sections that may be useful for further study. ASA has the best set of how-to videos. Review them before attending class. ASA also developed a nifty app through Brainrush that has keen challenges for points of sail, apparent wind, trimming, tacking/jibing, right of way and docking.
Virtually—Better than videos because they’re more lifelike. Virtual Regatta claims to be the world’s largest such community. These are video games for grown-ups, providing a rush without getting wet. Many other sites offer virtual sailing as well. You’re not likely to qualify for extreme sailing in the America’s Cup, but you can get your thrills with these games.
Mentally—While stuck in traffic, instead of checking your email start thinking about making a turn on a port tack. Consider easing the main as the wind builds. Sit off to one side to work the jib sheets toward better aerodynamics. Are all three sets of telltales flat and horizontal? Perfect! Time yourself to see if you can keep them flat and horizontal for 10 seconds. That’s longer than a cowboy can stay on a bucking bronco. Congratulations. HONK!! HONK! Oops, the light turned green.
Alone—The video above shows sailing around the world alone, which is a surprisingly popular idea. Children as young as 16 have done it. But it’s sufficient to sail a few hours alone. Commentator/explorer Lowell Thomas once said, “Separately there was only wind, water, sail and hull, but at my hand the four had been given purpose and direction.” Without interruption from crew, the skipper can relish every movement and moment on the water. Time flies with purpose and direction.
After a weather front passes, we get a day or two of brisk winds blowing 12-18 mph and gusting to 25 on the York River. The operating procedure is to reduce the sail space by reefing, in my case rolling the sails out only halfway. The boat can run on one sail half reefed, but it achieves better balance with two.
Here comes a group of two couples looking for excitement on the water. Todd Ruthemeyer and his wife Michelle are looking to buy a boat someday and leave Cincinnati for St. Thomas in the Caribbean. “Just for a year or so,” she stipulated. They already have a Sunfish to get started with the basics. They were ready for some extreme sailing.
Their friends Jennifer and Jason Schafer went along for the ride and had a blast. She is an electrical engineer for Amazon and he is a double E for Google. They served in the Navy on aircraft carriers. “I was on the George Washington and Jennifer was on the Nimitz.”
I asked about rough water. Jennifer recalled, “Oh yes. We were rounding Cape Horn in a storm when the seas were so high as to lick the lifeboats right off the side of the ship. The high seas also took out a Ram launcher” for missiles. “It was an exciting experience.”
Jason said his experience in storms was different. “They usually tie down the planes on the deck, but sometimes they take them below deck.”
The water is alluring, and so is speed. Jason said, “The fastest ships in an aircraft carrier group are the aircraft carrier and the submarine. We could get up to 38 miles an hour in a ship weighing 189,000 tons. Amazing! At that speed we have to stay inside the ship, but I got out to see the rooster tail. It rose up over the fantail in a spectacular arc.”
Jennifer said, “When the seas were calm, the moon was especially bright on the water because it’s the only light out there. You can see the prop wash behind the ship and it’s luminescent, all sparkly with phosphorus.”
Michelle took the wheel and learned the resistance theory of holding the helm so it doesn’t turn upwind.Todd ran through the Close Reach and found it somewhat overwhelming in a reefed situation. We turned sharply out of the wind to a beam reach and headed downriver on a flat, speedy run.
All day long we tacked and shifted position with swift aplomb. We practiced the collision course and a few boating rules of the road as other vessels came along. It was invigorating on every level.
Let’s Go Sail
Here’s a Polynesian update on that rickety pontoon sailboat Hakulai that was last seen towed out of the York River in May after two weeks on tour in Yorktown. It’s called a canoe boat but it’s more like two kayaks lashed together.
With crews changing every month, the boat set out from Polynesia to recreate a round-the-world tour that apparently is part of its history. Yorktown was on the East Coast leg of the trip. The web page hasn’t been updated since March, and the Facebook page since May. “We are voyaging 60,000 nautical miles to more than 100 ports and 27 nations.”
John Raines, a marina colleague, sent me a more recent video that shows the boat transiting the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway. That followed a landing in Washington and perhaps New York but I can’t tell. Then they proceeded up to Maine and Canada. The boat is scheduled to head back down the coast to Florida before transiting home past Africa to the Pacific.
Let’s Go Sail
On a day when the winds went from flat to fresh to stormy, we went sailing the Great Outdoors on several levels.
First, our crew thought it would be fun to sail under the Coleman Bridge. That’s intriguing because while the boat clears the underside by ten feet, the illusion suggests it’s much narrower. As we approached, the twin spans began to swing open, which was weird because that only happens for the US Navy. Yet there wasn’t a Navy ship in sight.
I radioed the bridge and he said it was a test. “Come on through, Captain.” So we did. The drivers stuck on the bridge were likely annoyed at having to wait for a sailboat to transit. Then the bridge got stuck open! That last ten minutes. As we got near, we waved cheerfully as if to say, “Thanks for waiting.”
Next we saw our daily dose of dolphins, but they were few and far between. It was almost as if they were playing us as opposed to playing for us. One couple, Kevin and Shelia Meyers, spent the entire three hours lounging on the bow of the boat in a serene and romantic setting.
Chris Culp had his parents aboard, and we could see off in the distance the SS Cornhusker at Cheatham Annex pier. “We use it for training stevedores because it has two cranes. I’m an officer with Navy Cargo Handling Battalion.” I asked why it came through the bridge under tow a few weeks ago. “I don’t know why since it’s fully powered.”
Years ago Chris transited the bridge three times on destroyers to the Naval Weapons Station. I was under the impression it was to unload stale munitions and load fresh, but no. “After a ship arrives at Norfolk [Navy Base] they have a week to settle in before they come up here to unload weapons for safety purposes. They don’t want ships clustered down there with weapons aboard. When they get ready to redeploy they’ll come up here to get a new set, not necessarily the munitions they unloaded. The stock is rotated.”
I have trouble differentiating destroyers from cruisers. “The mast is canted on a destroyer, and cruisers tend to have two masts.”
Big Boats & Small
Back to smaller boats. Chris’s father Caroll had a 22-foot Catalina with a swing keel, so he had no trouble on the helm of a 32-foot Hunter. “We used to charter in the Caribbean,” he said with his wife Donna next to him. “We sailed a 50-foot ketch from St. Maarten to Curacao with a Dutch couple. The weather got pretty severe, to the point that I nearly had the bowsprit dipping into the waves. It was a lot of fun.”
We talked about American sea history and Chris reported, “The USS Constitution is more than a tourist attraction. It’s still in service as a US Navy ship and is manned by the Navy.”
The winds picked up for the afternoon run. Todd and Joy Needham drove in from Charlottesville just to be on the water. “I have a 23-foot Precision off Lake Huron, on a bay,” he said. “We went to St. Maarten for three years running to watch the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. We sit out on a friend’s balcony to watch, and we go out on a catamaran to watch closer. It’s great to see 200 sailboats under sail, in all classes. The fastest is the Phaedo, a hydrofoil cat that can reach 50 miles per hour.” Later he sent me links to Facebook and Sailing World magazine to expand on the wild speed of Phaedo. It’s simply amazing.
Ice Fishing & Sailing
Todd rides snowmobiles in the winter in upstate Michigan. He was familiar with ice sailing on Lake Huron. “I don’t see much of it, though, since the ice has to be smooth. I see lots of ice sailboats in people’s yards, for sale. Mostly we see people ice fishing, but that can be tricky. Even though the ice gets two feet thick, it snaps and cracks. That’s how you wind up with ice floes. Or it just opens up completely. My buddy lost his ATV that way. He had to fish it out but was lucky since it was in 16 feet of water.”
With that, I crossed Ice Fishing off my Bucket List.
With us were Rob Spain and Sara Elizabeth Timmins. He works as a recruiter of engineers and other professionals for a huge energy company. We chatted about the balloon accident in Texas where 16 people died when the rig hit high-power lines. It looked like it exploded.
“I doubt it since it was just hot air, not gas,” Todd offered. Well, it clearly caught fire. Rob added, “Most people don’t realize those high-power lines are not insulated like regular wires. That way the electricity travels faster and farther, without impediment by the sheathing. So it’s not something you want to come in contact with.
I crossed off Hot Air Balloon from my Bucket List.
Rob and Sarah were sailing to familiarize him with the excitement. She hopes to take a series of ASA sailing classes all at once during a week in the Caribbean. Rob said, “The deal is that I’ll do that with her in return for her hiking with me in the back country of Yellowstone.” Isn’t “back country” an oxymoron? “No, they have campsites and other amenities for regular visitors. The back country has potential encounters with black bears and grizzlies. The black bears eat people food, but the grizzlies eat people. My plan is to open a can of tuna and plant it in the backpack of another hiker to divert the grizzly’s attention.”
Rob said hikers sometimes leave behind an occasional canister of food for others to use, especially in an emergency. “However, the bears have figured out how to open the lid even though they don’t have opposable thumbs. They’re pretty clever.”
I crossed off Back Country Hiking from the list. Sailing never looked safer.
Let’s Go Sail
Three days of rain on the York drove nearly everyone off the river. On the other side of the world, eight international teams raced in St. Petersburg, Russia for the sixth stop on the 2015 Extreme Sailing Series™ eight Act global tour. After four days of racing in the heart of St. Petersburg, it was The Wave Muscat who mastered the River Neva race course to claim their fourth Act title this season. You can see the Peter and Paul Fortress in the background as they sail 40-50 mph on a comparatively narrow river. Lino Sonego Team Italia saw the team break through from mid-fleet to claim second, with Red Bull Sailing Team finishing third.
To see the video, click here.