I'm committed to getting the "Learning to Sail" series of posts out of our hair before the end of 2016. So, let's march through this. We last left off in August of 2009, with Andrew and I having just finished our less than perfect, but truly awesome weekend with friends chartering the SS Poo in Catalina, California. The next few posts will fill you in on what happened next.
2009, 2010, 2011 - these are the middle years. The years where the newness and excitement of learning the basics wears off, and we had to settle into work, practice, and patience. We knew what we were supposed to be doing, but we had to push ourselves along through tedium, doubt and competing ideas. We would get up, go to work, go to the gym, go for a walk, update our spending spreadsheet and then go to bed -- every day. On weekends, we would race on Heeling Art or we would take Windchime out for a sail, squeeze in some mountain biking or time with friends and family. It was not glamorous or exotic. This is a dangerous phase of time for the execution of a dream: a cozy, comfortable life.
Every now and then, though, Neptune likes to throw a curve ball to make sure you don't get too sure of yourself. One of Andrew's best friends from college and his wife wanted to join us on Windchime for a weekend of sail camping on Lake Mead. We packed the cooler and checked the weather. 75 degrees for a high, 60 degrees for a low, winds light and variable" (translation, no wind) on Saturday, with 10 knots on Sunday morning (translation, perfect!), building to 20 Sunday night (translation, boisterous, but ok with a reefed sail). Even with that, we weren't worried about the 20 knot winds, because we would most likely be home by the time the higher winds piped up. This will be a great weekend.
The free wheely-cooler I scored when I was suckered into a grocery delivery subscription wobbled down the uneven wooden docks. How did they know what I needed most was a free wheely-cooler for sailing trips? Windhime tilted beneath our feet then rocked in her slip as we clamored aboard. The noontime Spring sun made us happy and warm while we motored out to our favorite spot on the North side of the lake. We spent the evening with our toes in the sand, eating freshly grilled cheeseburgers, and cooking marshmallows over a camp fire. The stars were out, and the weather was calm and beautiful as we went to bed.
Tucked in our narrow quarter berth, Andrew and I awoke to the sound of Windchime's hull rubbing against sand and the wind swooping mightily through the rigging. It was an angrier sound than I had ever heard before. 4:30 a.m., it is still dark. We peek out of Windchime's companion way hatch to see what we are in for. The wind has come in from a different direction than anticipated and we are now on a lee shore (meaning Windchime was being blown onto land). We had a stern anchor set and it was dutifully pulling backward trying to hold Windchime off the beach. It was working, but just barely. Since the beach was nothing but soft sand, we decided to wait it out until first light. We laid back down in bed, but did not sleep. The wind howled and moaned, Windchime's ropes pounded and clanged against her mast. It was a fearsome cacophony.
At 6:30 a.m., we sneak out of bed and fire up the engine. (Thank you old reliable Atomic 4!) Reverse is not strong enough to move Windchime backward against the wind. Her bow is nestled in the sand on shore, so we can't move forward. Yelling over the wind, we decide we have to pull Windchime along her stern anchor rope away from shore and into the wind and waves. At first I try to pull by hand, but I can't budge her. Andrew tries to pull by hand and we barely move. So, we wrap the anchor rope around her winch and winch her slowly away. Somehow, our friends slept peacefully down below.
Once we get ourselves free of shore and the anchor up, we headed into unprotected waters. Windchime's light little bow began being tossed up and down, right and left. Water splashed up and over her hull, dousing Andrew and I in the face. Our friends peeked up through the hatch with curious eyes. "What's going on?"
"Oh, the wind piped up a little bit," I say casually. "We are going to head in. We'll have breakfast at the marina."
Inside I am thinking, "Holy smokes. We've never seen wind like this before! These waves are huge!" Luckily, the wind was from the North and we were sailing South, so this meant the wind was behind us for smooth(er) sailing. Small mercies.
We tried to get a reefed main sail up, but it was impossible to get Windchime into the right position to let us hoist the sail. We would try to motor her into position, but the wind would shove her light little bow this way and that, and before we knew it, we were sideways to wind and waves with a half-hoisted sail flapping around. It was disconcerting to try and fail to steer Windchime in the direction we wanted to go. The weather forced us to acknowledge we did not have control and attack the problem a different way. We motored downwind all the way back to the marina, luckily for us that strategy held out...this time.
Once we were back in the marina, we made pancakes in our slip. Our friends seemed to have had an excellent time, and everyone was safe and sound. Windchime is a stout little boat with a reliable engine that held true in that moment - partially because Andrew takes care of her engine pretty well.
We get home that night and the news is reporting heavy wind/weather to continue. "Gusts to 4o Knot winds were clocked at the McCarran Airport and Lake Mead." 4o Knots!
Nature's plans change often, and weather prediction can be a little….inaccurate. We read books, watched movies about storm sailing, and we thought we could imagine what heavy wind on the ocean might feel like. Even before this day, I knew venturing out of a marina means taking risk, but I hadn't experienced it first hand. There is no one there but you to hold the tiller/steering wheel. When you don't know what to do, you have no other option but to try something. But, before this day, I told myself "There's nothing to worry about, we will watch the weather and only go in a good weather window. And also, if the time ever comes I will rise to the occasion."
Even the lake felt crazier than I had imagined, and I knew it could never compare to 40 knots on the ocean. It was disconcerting.
"We have some thinking to do." I tell Andrew. We take our evening walks and I count off on my fingers a list of questions I demand that we mull: "What happened? What could we do better? How did we get into that situation? What would have happened if our engine didn't work? How could we avoid getting into that situation again? How could we manage better so that our anchoring on a lee shore wouldn't force us out to sea in bad weather? If we are forced out to sea in bad weather, how do we sail our ship rather than rely on the engine to keep her pointed right? What does this mean for the type of boat we should buy?
Andrew grumbles because he doesn't want to admit that things were not under control; He doesn't want me to get scared and chicken out.
"I am already scared. YOU should already be scared. If you aren't a little scared about sailing the oceans, you just don't get it." The longer he tells me "everything was fine," the more anxious I get until I stomp my foot like a petulant child and tell him: "IT WAS NOT FINE. Either brainstorm solutions with me, or forget it."
He sighs, and we get to work on my list of things I want to learn/figure out/analyze.