We combined a Lesson Cruise with an Event Cruise on a chilly fall morning that warmed as the sun rose. David Poling brought his son Mason to go over the four sail reaches that exploit the wind’s power.

Sailing in late fallWe zoomed down the York River on a 9 mph northeast wind that provided numerous opportunities to feel a close reach vs. a beam reach. The first is the primary reach and feels tight on the helm. The second makes the helm feel looser.

David brought his new-to-him 28-foot sloop to York River Yacht Haven from Wilmington, North Carolina. Since these waters were new to him, we sailed far out to the Thoroughfare, a zany slot between Goodwin Island and Dandy that has vexed boaters for years. The red and green channel markers were seemingly reversed by the US Coast Guard, but for good reason. People got so confused and ran aground so frequently that the Coast Guard simply pulled the day marks altogether to discourage transiting.

Sailing in late fallMore significantly, they pulled the Tue Marsh Light platform for some inexplicable reason. It was a prominent mark to show the end of Goodwin Island as it reaches out into the river entrance. Without it, boaters run the risk of running aground in three feet of water. I’ve asked for an explanation, to no avail.

Wind clocks around

When we turned to come back, the wind died and clocked around to a western angle and then resumed from the northeast. All of that was a great teaching experience for David. He works in bridge design and thus had an intuitive knowledge of the wind’s force on a sailboat.

Sailing in late fallWith us were CeCe Hess and several of her girlfriends from the College of William & Mary. They celebrated CeCe’s 21st birthday with food and drink and chat. When they went up to the bow of the boat to hang out, it provided David with a new sensation of balance. The boat suddenly took on a new dynamic with all the weight redistributed for perfect balance.

One result is that you can take your hand off the wheel and it will keep sailing straight. Normally that’s not the case, since the default position is to round up into the wind if you take your hands off the wheel. It’s a relatively new safety feature of modern boats, so that a single-handed sailor will have a fighting chance to get back if he falls overboard.

Big spinnaker

Later in the afternoon I helped Paul Schoch test his new spinnaker on a 1995 Swan 41 that he bought in Annapolis. Paul is retired Army Special Forces. He took my WALT sailing course years ago and bought a 30-foot Hunter. With his fiancé Kim on the helm, we set about raising the chute and tying off the tack and the port clew. I went back to the cockpit to run the sheet and Paul raised the chute. The most magnificent sail you can imagine blew outward like a parachute in splendid red, white and blue panels.

Sailing in late fallWe sailed a few miles from the Coleman Bridge toward Wormley Creek. Then we gybed by dousing the chute, flipping it over the forestay, and setting a starboard sheet. From there we sailed under spinnaker toward the Severn River, running another mile or so. The sun was setting over the York on the last day of Daylight Savings Time as we motored back to port.

Let’s go sail

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