Loose Cannon in a Fresh Breeze, April 2012
Saturday April 7, 2012
Responding to Mike Loughlin’s question on Facebook “anybody sailing today?”, I said “that could happen.” Upon further consideration, it became clear that I had made a tentative internal commitment. Soon after that I recruited Orion and Kerry to meet me at the boat by three. Once plans were firm I thought it might be novel to check the forecast. Hmmmm, sustained wind near twenty and gusts to upper twenties, I have sailed in a good bit more although not usually by choice. If it was really bad, we didn’t have to go out, and we could always shorten sail. A reefed mains’l and a jib can make for pleasant afternoon, in a fresh breeze. I arrived at Monroe Harbour a little early to get started mounting the bracket for the Velocitek speed-o-meter (since I still have not replaced the GPS). My traditional pre-sailing cruise of the parking lot let me check the conditions on the lake. The wind was definitely honking but the waves were small and there were a few other boats out.
Once Kerry and O arrived, and the knot meter was mounted we discussed the options and agreed that we might just sail on the jib, or put a reef (or two) in the main if need be. Kerry tied the halyard to the main and applied the appropriate amount of hoist to start the mains’l up the mast. The top batten has to be installed when the sail is high enough to take it, but low enough to still reach it. That way just in case we did want to use it, we would be ready. Knowing looks passed from face to face, everybody knew. The chances for a leisurely cruise around the lake are always very mature and intelligent to talk about, but everybody knew. Once in the lake, with the rudder locked down and the centerboard floating we deployed the jib and quickly accelerated to seven and a half knots. To those that don’t get this, realize that the theoretical hull speed (as fast as it will go) for a displacement monohull with a waterline of thirty one feet, is about seven and a half knots.
That was ok but seven and a half gets dull pretty quick when you know how easy it would be to double that and more, besides everybody knew. We cranked the mains’l up about half way, using the roller furling boom as a nonspecific reefing mechanism. That did not really help much as the main was twisted way off, our speed was not significantly better. The boom would have been dangerously low in the cockpit if the mainsheet were tightened enough to establish a decent sail shape. Consensus was reached to put the jib away and go to the trouble of raising the main all the way up, it was easier than reefing and fairly controllable, provided that close attention was paid and we didn’t push it too hard. So, after several rotations of the halyard winch, twelve and thirteen knots became the norm as we made our way across the lake on the under trimmed mains’l. Near the middle of the lake there was a wind line indicating something closer to a strong breeze, by steering a little higher course I was able to keep the speed consistent and control comfortable.
‘Twas fine sailing for a while, we were not racing and there was no one close enough to play with so, the first lap around our wide puddle in the swamp was uneventful. As we approached the opening to the marina’s east basin, it suddenly looked as though we were about to be boarded. A large Osprey dove and caught a speckled perch (the larger crappie common to Lake Monroe) a short distance off our stern and road the wind to mast height. I thought he was just using the wind off our sails for the extra pressure until he almost landed on the top of mast apparently with the intention of dining al fresco at his very own private twelve knot picnic table. I yelled and slammed the mainsheet with my hand, which shakes the mast, just as the osprey was about to touch down, and he reconsidered. I have to clean enough fish bones and bird shit off the boat already, If they want to eat and crap on my boat they will have to do it when I am not watching. It was unusual, majestic, and awe inspiring, even more so because the bird had a really large fish, kind of cool really except for the mess, the circle of life, where is Mufasa?
Based on that, which had to be a good omen, right?, and the fact that other boats were beginning to brave the twenty-plus wind speed, it was only natural to add more sail area, right? Jibing around to a beam reach, with a long line to the next tack (about four miles) Orion uncleated the jib furler and sheeted in. Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen knots, in just about that much time and I began to look for ways to ease up. Pushing hard in fifteen to twenty knots of breeze is fun and I am much more confident in those conditions. This was twenty to thirty knots of wind and the gusts were sustained. The main was well eased and the jib was under-trimmed such that only the bottom half of the sail was working, and we were making sixteen knots. We all knew, if the Loose Cannon goes out, we are going to do our best to make it scary. Ian (Ian Farrier the boats designer) has warned me about the full roach square top racing mains’l and it’s propensity to make the bow dig in, and I was listening, in fact I could see the words streaming across the bottom of my brain page. The cruising or single handed mainsheet that I was using is more difficult to release than the racing mainsheet and I was not interested in testing my survival skills on a leisurely Saturday afternoon. Before the next maneuver to a new course on the opposite tack, but after a couple of moments doing nineteen plus, we furled the jib and spent the rest of our afternoon under main alone. The wind seemed to be building anyway so we had plenty of boat speed without all that adrenaline. Thanks again Ian.