Adventures of s/v WILD HAIR


Our land life took on form, solidity, routine. We had mastery of a limited set of skills. We had habitual expectations of others and ourselves. Going sailing, we let go of our attachments to our roles, views, and rituals. We persist because we are growing in this shapeless and dynamic world.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Points of Sail

WILD HAIR is like a magnificent animal and it gives me immediate feedback when I ask it to perform. Stronger than the human frame, the boat will do as I bid. But, if I am careless, headstrong, or too eager in my bidding, the boat will comply but I will pay a price.

Everything related to comfort as we sail depends on the direction and strength of the wind in relation to my course heading. If a day is exceptionally mild with winds less than six knots and seas rippling at less than one foot, I can motor smoothly and confidently straight into the wind. If the wind blows in a strong breeze of 27 knots and the seas kick up to 13 feet, I can still sail peacefully, but I must sail away from the wind to be comfortable in these conditions. Were I to turn 90 degrees and sail across or into the 27 knot winds and 13 foot seas instead of away from them, the motion of the boat would be nauseating, equipment would be strained, and progress would be slow.

As a general rule, if my destination is 30 degrees off the wind, I can motor-sail comfortably into 10 knots of wind; if I’m headed 60 degrees off the wind, I can sail into 16 knot winds; if I’m aimed 90 degrees off the wind, I can sail happily in 21 knots of wind; and if I’m pointed 120 degrees or more from the wind, I can sail smoothly in up to 27 knots of wind.

Each day in my life as a sailor, I analyze the wind and seas in relation to my rhumb line. Some days, the heavens smile upon me and give me ideal conditions to reach my goal. More often than not, I have a choice to make: wait days or weeks for winds to subside or pick a new destination. Choices are confounded when my course circles around a point or an island causing me to experience a variety of angles to the wind. Then, I must gage the length and degree of discomfort I am willing to accept. Wild Hair’s log book is filled with miserable accounts of days we failed to heed common sense.

I believe Dave and I have been slow to consistently evaluate our level of comfort based upon the wind’s direction, adjusting the timing or tactic of our departure, for two reasons. First, we thought of ourselves as optimistic, enthusiastic, go-anyplace sailors. Put another way, we were na├»ve and hadn’t been spanked enough. Second, we were hard workers with a stubborn and pride-filled puritan ethic; we thought we could or should tough it out. Time and experience have proven that this is a dangerous attitude on a sailboat that quickly transforms a lifestyle of play into one of work—hard, uncomfortable, exhausting, dangerous work.

So, Dave and I are doing our best to learn this lesson deep in our bones. Alternating as captains, whoever is in charge on a given day must describe for the other the compatibility of the day’s heading to wind and sea conditions. Whoever is crew for the day has the right to eject the captain’s plan.

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