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Old 12-05-2010, 19:05   #1
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It's Only Wind

my wife and i had been talking about taking sailing classes for a few weeks... so, after a bit of calling around, i'd managed to get us enrolled in a basic keelboat class at a nearby sailing club. at this point, we were about as wet behind the ears as could be - we'd been out on a friend's 36 footer once for about two hours prior to taking the class. that comprised the full extent of our prior sailing experience.

our instructor was great, but the bottom line is that there's a LOT to learn in just a few hours out on the water. we spent most of our time near the marina, practicing tacking and jibing and talking a little bit about points of sail. by the final day of the four day class, we were ready to actually head out the channel and spend a few hours sailing in the bay.

on that particular day, the wind was such that we could sail close hauled down the channel without having to tack - on a 10kt day, it was a pretty mellow and fun introduction to the san francisco bay that we'd heard was a sailor's paradise. at any rate, by the time we tied the boat up at the end of that final day of class, the wife and i were feeling pretty confident - this sailing stuff didn't seem all that hard, really.

so, when the club pitched their membership package at us, we signed up. a flat monthly rate got us unlimited access to the catalina 22's that we'd been using for the class - all we had to do was go online and make a reservation and if there was a boat available it was ours for the day. one of the only caveats was that because there was no additional charge for reservations (aside from the flat monthly fee), a fine was levied if we made a reservation and flaked on it without canceling 24 hours in advance.

this seemed like a reasonable measure to keep people from gobbling up a bunch of "maybe" reservations. so, fair enough. we figured the more sailing the better, so we signed up and made a reservation for the very next weekend.

the next saturday rolled along and turned out to be one of these once a season days in the bay area where the wind was not just stiff, but truly ridiculous. trash, tree branches and small pets were blowing across the road as we drove down to the sailing club. this was starting to seem like a bad idea... but then again, we didn't want to lose our 50 bucks.

i figured surely they'd want to protect their boats though - i was fully expecting that we'd walk in the door and be greeted with a friendly apology denying the two newest and greenest members access to a boat and sudden death. turns out i was wrong.

"are you sure this is a good day to take the boat out" i asked. "we've only just finished classes, and this'll be our first time EVER out on a sailboat alone"

"you learned how to reef, right" came the reply.

"well... yeah"

"ok, so you'll be fine. throw out a handkerchief sized bit of jib, double reef the main and have fun."

the missus and i exchanged glances, but figured we were in no position to argue.

after a serious adventure getting off the dock, we made our way out into the channel.

close hauled, i figured... that's what we'd learned, right? except this time the wind had shifted directly abeam. while we'd spent plenty of time talking about the technicalities of sail handling, in retrospect i don't think we talked at all about sail trim. or at least if we did, the wife and i both missed it.

"i'm not sure we're doing this right" my wife says as i grind both the main and jib sheets in tight.

"close hauled - that's how we're supposed to go out of the channel" i assure her.

uh huh.

the farther we got out of the channel, the more we were exposed directly to the full force of the wind. we were easily heeled 60 degrees or more, and were both now sitting on the windward toe rail.

"that keel's made of lead - there's NO WAY we'll flip over" i promised "but maybe you're right... let's try adjusting the jib sheet and see if we can improve things just a bit"

"can't do it" she says "take a look at the winch"

we were heeled over enough at this point so that the winch was skimming along under about an inch of green water.

a big gust hit, and the tiller suddenly felt a little lose. i tried to steer, and then realized - the rudder was fully dry.

the next moments are a bit of a blur in my memory, but somehow we ended up rounding up which righted the boat and one way or another got us pointed in the opposite direction. since we'd changed tacks, we had to rethink our trim, and then we discovered the magic: all we had to do was ease the main, and pow: upright again! on the way back in, we both played with trimming and easing the sheets and seeing what a direct and obvious impact it had on our degree of heel.

man was i feeling stupid at this point...

anyhow, we somehow managed to get the boat back to the dock without any further incident. after being out in the bay, the 25 knots or so in the marina suddenly seemed pretty mellow. i know stats like these tend to get inflated the more a story is told, but i truly believe it was gusting to 50kts in the channel.

the best part of the day though was on the way home. personally, i was a little sobered by the whole experience. this whole "if you can sail in the bay, you can sail anywhere" thing i'd been hearing was starting to make a little more sense.

"that was pretty wild, huh" i suggested

"yeah, i guess" she said.

"you guess? - the f#$%ing rudder was out of the water!"

"so?"

"so i couldn't steer! thats was an INTENSE experience!!"

"i'm not sure i'd describe it as 'intense'"

i was truly surprised at this point... "really?" i asked.

"don't be overly dramatic - it's only wind"

we've been sailing together since then, and i always smile when people caution me to "enjoy sailing, but don't push your wife too hard".

turns out i married pretty well.
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Old 12-05-2010, 19:18   #2
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only wind

I wish my wife had that attitude. As soon as the boat goes past 15 degrees she gets that deer in the headlights look and dissapears below decks.
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Old 12-05-2010, 19:26   #3
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good story, could see it in my mind, but like others I now prefer to heel less and reduce the drama
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Old 12-05-2010, 22:03   #4
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Thank you for the story! You married pretty well indeed
You don't mention the club's name but I guess you went out of Richmond. Just in case you need to rethink your trim or reef in the future, if the wind is out of the Gate you usually have quite protected area on the leeward side of Angel Island...
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Old 12-05-2010, 22:25   #5
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Thats the funniest story ever

Probably a great way to learn not to be terrified of 25 knots, going out in 50.
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Old 12-05-2010, 22:45   #6
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I heard there's a club in south africa that only cancels its begining keel boat courses in sustained > 50 knots. Seems insane, but in some of those windy places that's just what they do out there. It's honestly made me want to go there to take some courses.
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Old 12-05-2010, 22:51   #7
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I heard there's a club in south africa that only cancels its begining keel boat courses in sustained > 50 knots. Seems insane, but in some of those windy places that's just what they do out there. It's honestly made me want to go there to take some courses.
How about waiting for Santa Ana winds?
It might be strong enough for'ya
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Old 12-05-2010, 23:51   #8
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oh... I LIKE yer wife....

and welcome to sailing the bay ; -)

and remember... wind is your friend!!
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Old 13-05-2010, 01:57   #9
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How about waiting for Santa Ana winds?
It might be strong enough for'ya
I love sailing in those. I just wish they would come on a schedule. And the last time I had a week off for dinghy sailing and the Santa Anas were blowing, the whole damn state caught on fire and there was ash and smoke everywhere.
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Old 13-05-2010, 05:24   #10
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Sailing S.F Bay is great training, but don't believe if you can sail the bay you can sail anywhere. Although I get the feeling it maybe true for your wife! Slipping outside the gate during some snotty winter weather, or the ocean in general is quite something different. Somehow I get the feeling your wife will get you through it though!........i2f
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Old 13-05-2010, 07:31   #11
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Your wife is a keeper for sure! Love this story, thanks for sharing! The fact that you went out there and basically taught yourselves sail trim is incredible and was my second favorite part of the story. You handled it but now that you understand sailing you can start honing your own instincts and not just listening to the instructors.

You two are sailors for sure!
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Old 13-05-2010, 07:52   #12
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Good story and good wife, sounds like you have fun!
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Old 19-05-2010, 21:11   #13
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well done u 2 !! great story telling (i could see the winch handle in the water), glad that wasnt my wifes first experience,wed have a caravan about now if it was !!!
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Old 19-05-2010, 21:26   #14
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I've been out on SF Bay the last few weekends, and can only say, "You ain't seen nuthin' yet."

Around here, you can pretty much figure on putting a reef in about two weeks ago and keeping it there until September.

Here in SF Bay you can always see the gusts before they hit you. Learn to stand by on the traveler and ease it the moment before your rudder starts to rise. Forget everything they taught you about monitoring the telltales. In these waters, you watch the wind and monitor weather helm. Try to remember that pressure on the helm is your fault, not the wind's. If you can learn that lesson, sailing SF Bay becomes a breeze. Literally.
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Old 20-05-2010, 07:03   #15
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LMAO...... Superb story... with that classic 'understatement' I hereby declare your wife an 'Honourary Brit' of the highest standard....
Keep em coming... the tales of your adventures....
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