The Need for Speed or… Cruising in the Passing Lane
When we bought the Mirage 5.5 in 1985, I didn’t have a clue that I was interested in racing or performance sailing. Our test sail consisted of a short jaunt out on Lake Monroe during which we sailed several circles around a Spindrift 22. I suppose I should have known I was a little competitive when a 28 foot E-scow caught and passed our sailing canoe on Lake Fairview. I just hated it that this guy could catch us so easily. I tried everything I could to go faster but I know now that a fifteen foot canoe with homemade sails is not much competition for an E Scow. I have looked at sailboats from every perspective and have owned several (still own several in fact). I have been looking for something more suitable for cruising but still performance oriented. I have ogled the J105 and even talked to a sailing school in California about sailing one. I love my S-2 7.9 so we looked at buying a big brother S-2, the 9.1. Very nice boat, but not really enough of a step from the 7.9 to justify slip fees, lack of trailer-ability, and the gorilla size crew requirements. I had considered multihulls but not too seriously because they seem just not quite right. At S.L.O.B.S. Fest this year the F-27 trimaran owner got to show off a little of his speed when the wind was up and it was impressive. Richard Sturgis (the owner) suggested that I should check out the F-31 as it is supposed to be a giant step up even from the F-27. Naturally the thought of a giant step up from impressive captured my attention. So I searched and searched and researched and even took a demo sail on an F-28, the replacement for the out of production F-27. It was really cool, the wind was light and we scooted all over the North Fork of the St. Lucie for an afternoon, gleaning a microscopic bucket full of multihull versus monohull sailing. The F-28 sailed like a potato chip with a deep keel, accelerated like a motorcycle and was most enjoyable for my crew. Last week we found out there were summer rates available on chartering an F-31 so we packed up and headed to Jensen Beach for a couple of days and took advantage of the discounts.
It has been a while since we have done any cruising to speak of so we were quite rusty. Naturally we tried to pack light as we were only anticipating a couple of days on the water. So, when we got to the boat it only took twenty or thirty trips from the car to get everything to the dock. Keith, our host from The Finish Line, after noting the mountain of stuff we intended to pack onto the “Shady Lady” gave me a brief introduction to the motor, the electrical systems, and the marine head, so I was confident that we would not have any problems. Naturally, the first thing we did as we tried to move the boat from the dock was to drop the anchored mooring line in the water out of sight. (We suggest that a small float or retrieval line from the dock might be a valuable improvement to the tie up system currently in use.)
The Shady Lady ties up at a small dock near a large marina with an F-28 and an F-24. The opening that one is required to navigate to get to open water is extremely narrow when observed from the stern of a twenty-two-and-a-half-foot-wide trimaran. It looks even smaller when it is the first opening that one is required to navigate. Once we were on the other side of it, it appeared to be much bigger. Around the bend we came to the first set of draw bridges. I requested an opening using the VHF and got the rhetorical equivalent of “are you talking to me?” I was, so he opened the bridge and right behind that bridge was a railroad bridge that is normally open. Unfortunately it was even narrower an opening than the one near the dock! Denise said “Will this thing go through there?!” Having studied the charts I calmly replied that it must because that was the only way to get to where we were going. As we crabbed through it on the ripping tide I thought, I wonder if the board is down? We did not even rub the gelcoat; I was beginning to get confident. A little further we got to a fixed bridge with an amazingly large amount of clearance and a channel marker we were warned to give plenty of room. At that point came our first opportunity to put up a sail. We raised the main, then we raised the main some more, and some more, (Go Thor go). It is a big sail. Once it was up we sailed on just the main for a while, trying to get an idea about how the boat would do on just the main. The wind was less than 10 knots but the boat sails really well so I was ooh-ing and ahh-ing in short order. Tried to tack, got an excellent opportunity to practice backing. Got going again and tried tacking again, backed up again. On the fifth time I managed to maintain forward motion through out the tack so progress was made. You have to let the sail out. We unfurled the jib and sailed back and forth for an hour or so. It tacks very well with the jib up, no backing up at all. The afternoon was going out with the tide and we wanted to get to the intercoastal before we anchored so we headed for the next draw bridge. My VHF skills are obviously really poor cause I got the same kind of “are you talking to me?” from the bridge tender. In spite of my obvious lack of skill at transmitting my navigational intentions the bridge was opened and we were on our way once again. The next leg of our journey was through a cute little section of the St. Lucie called Hell Gate. Naturally I was overcome with a minor gastric emergency so Orion was allowed to take the helm and told to steer for the “greenies” (you know, those square green signs with numbers). He was doing an excellent job too, until we ran aground. Trading one emergency for another I popped out of the cabin in disbelief, looking in all directions, confident that my son had screwed up, but no. The greenies were all right where they were supposed to be. How could we have run aground? Every channel marker was exactly where it was supposed to be, except…. that one way over on the other side of the river. The chart, where is the chart, let’s see, hmmm, a dog leg, I think they call it in golf. Hell Gate they call it on the St. Lucie. Sure enough, there was a 3 on the chart right about where we were sitting. Well hell, the boat has a lifting dagger board and kick up rudder, no problem, the engines was running, let’s back up. O.K. fine, now forward to turn, why isn’t the prop turning? THE PROP IS NOT TURNING. Try reverse, whew O.K. the prop turns in reverse, well it did for a minute. THE PROP IS NOT TURNING. Tide is ripping, sails are down, the prop is not turning. “Get the hook out, drop the anchor”,”now?”, “yes now, throw it. PUT IT IN THE WATER!”, “Is it tied on?” Splash. It was tied on, and I was glad. What to do?, well first I have to finish taking care of my gastric emergency, then I’ll look at it. A close visual inspection revealed that I did not have a clue about what the problem was or a tool to try to visually inspect a little closer. What we had was a cell phone, in fact we had two of them and we were pleased. The Finish Line was still open, and we discussed the symptoms, and the President, Steve Marsh hopped on his trusty power steed and came to our rescue. The problem turned out to be that the linkage had become unattached and Steve had it fixed in a jiffy. He left us with some tools, spare parts and encouragement and we were happily on our way again. An hour or so of motoring through the “Crossroads”, where the inlet, the St. Lucie and the Intercoastal waterway connect and we found a nice place to drop the hook for the night. After cooking burgers, doing the dishes and watching the stars we crashed, Thor commandeered the v-birth, Denise and Orion made nests in the main cabin and I slept on the trampoline. Air flow was a little restricted in the cabin but on the trampoline I actually needed a little more cover than I had.
Thursday was decision day, as in how many nights did we really want to spend out on the boat? We decided to see where we were at noon and then decide. We headed North, first to the next drawbridge, and again we got the mildly disgruntled bridge tender, but this time we began to get a clue. There are so many drawbridges in the area the operators want you to call them by their bridge name. Du-uh! Our problem was we did not know what the bridge names were. They weren’t on the chart, the signs that we needed to see seemed to be always on the other side of the bridge so we began to listen to the radio and write down the bridge names so we wouldn’t be quite such obvious novices on the way back. Once under the bridge it was time to set sail, the wind was light, less than five, but with the main and screacher flying, we began to zip along at about 3.5 on the knot meter. We would watch the water moving by the boat and everyone agreed that 3.5 was not realistic. Between the Indian River Bridge and the Jensen Beach bridge is a 10 or 12 mile stretch that had a couple of channel markers exactly five miles apart so we opted to calculate our average speed and check the accuracy of the knot meter. As it turns out, 5 statute miles in 41 minutes is about 7.3 miles per hour, which calculates out to be 6.3 knots. We knew that 3 to 3.5 was not right. By noon we had made the Ft. Pierce inlet, a little over 20 miles in 3 hours. I was beginning to like this boat. We discussed our options for staying out an extra day, the boys were all for it. Denise and I considered that maybe a nice short trip would be a better way to break back into cruising, we have been out of it so long. So we made plans to find lunch and head back to about the same anchorage, which should allow plenty of time for swimming, and then be close enough to get back to the marina in time to do all our chores before check out.
The Fort Pierce City Marina had a cute little Tiki Bar where we had lunch while the breeze freshened enough to keep us comfortable. After lunch we headed south in a little more wind, maybe ten average, because there were hardly any white caps on the river, the F-31 came alive when the screacher unfurled. Sailing a beam reach at 5 knots on the main instantly became 7.5 knots when the screacher unfurled and 8.5 knots when the screacher was trimmed a little. If the knot meter error was consistent then 5 becomes
9, 7.5 becomes 13.6 and 8.5 becomes 15.4. This was why we came. As we headed down the river we noticed it was taking a long time for the bigger power boats to catch up.
When they did they really had to pour it on to get by; you could here them crank it up. What a blast! The wind built a little more and the knotmeter got as high as 10.8, (calculates out to 19.6). Incredible. As I watched the water go by the end of the ama I noticed that I could not get it in focus unless I turned my head. The wake off the transom didn’t come together for a couple of boat lengths. I was astounded. When we passed the same five mile stretch we had used to calculate our speed going North we did it again.
This time Shady Lady covered the 5 mile distance in 21 minutes, that brings the average speed to 14.3 mph or 12.4 knots. That is what I call cruising. Gee whiz, what if I knew what I was doing, or what if we’d had a spinnaker, or both?! I’ve got the fever, no doubt about it.