“Uh, guys…gu…*blurb, glurg, blurb* Guys… GUUUUUYYYYYYYSSSS!” I am charging along, full sails flying in a beautiful 15 knots of wind right on my nose. Andrew and Leslie have my sails perfectly trimmed, and I am balanced on the knife edge of my longest water line – the round spot on the side of my hull where the longest part of me is stretching through the water. When we can balance here, my ride is smooth and I pick up all my speed. These new sails have me rocketing forward, pointing exactly where we want to go despite the fact that the wind is very nearly directly from the same spot. That’s when I hear Grin yodeling in distress.
I look back and see Grin surfing the edge of my bow wake, skittering right and left. The tow rope that attaches him to my stern is tugging his nose downward and precariously close to the water. “WHOA!” I say, looking upward to my full sails. “Guys! I think we need to slow down.” Andrew looks at the GPS and realizes we’ve broken through Grin’s 7.0 knot towing limit. 7.4…7.5…7.6, the speed just keeps climbing. Captain glances back at Grin and this rattles loose Andrew’s desire to keep going fast. He bounds to the winch holding the big, forward sail at its perfect trim, and he releases the rope to blow off steam. Leslie tugs the roller furling rope on the other side of the cockpit and the furler spins clockwise to haul in the sail. I fall off my course and slide downwind to a different heading.
“No…we need that sail. It pulls my bow into the wind. Roll in the smaller forward sail, maybe that will help.” They do this, and put some of the bigger forward sail back out. We drop back to 6.8 and get right back on my line. “Wheph! Are you okay Grin?” But, as soon as I finish my sentence, I look back and see Grin fighting to keep his nose up. We look at the GPS and we are already accelerating 7.4, 7.5, 7.6…
Leslie releases the rope that holds the mainsail up to its perfectly trimmed spot, angling the sail to a less efficient spot and letting the wind flow past without catching. We slow to 6.8 again, and Grin looks a bit relieved. “I think it’s time to reef the main.” Leslie says.
A couple days ago, we escaped the clutches of inertia and cast off from Langkawi, Malaysia to aim for our first landfall in Thailand a short fifty miles away. Within five miles of putting Langkawi to my stern, the water cleared and if I looked down, I could see almost the entire 150 feet below my keel. Bubbles rolled off my bow like orbs of blown glass. We were all excited to try out my new sails, but this was not to be. The further we made way from the coast, the flatter the water became until you could shave your beard in its reflection. In our longing for one breath of wind, my sailors had put out all my sails, but soon we were slogging back and forth in an almost imperceptible swell, making zero forward movement. I look back at Grin, his tow rope is completely slack. “Come’on! I’m so bored! Attach Kitty and I to the bow, we will pull Sonrisa to Thailand.”
Andrew relents and fires up the engine. Leslie dangles her feet over my bow, taking pictures of colors that pool in the oily swirls of a becalmed ocean.
We make our first landfall at Koh Lipe Island. A small tourist outpost with clear water, white sand, and a town built almost entirely of hotels, restaurants, knickknack shops, and massage spots for tourists. We are treated to an incredibly colorful sunset. Grin escorts Andrew and Leslie to shore to explore town and find their ceremonial first meal of real Thai Food – which here, they just call “Food”.
This feels like a momentous occasion, so Leslie orders prawns that are every bit as big as a lobster tail, and as sweet and delicious, too. It comes with a sauce made of lime juice, cilantro, garlic, fish sauce, Thai basil, and a lot of hot and tiny orange chilis. Andrew enjoys curry served inside a young coconut. This is paired with a sweet, creamy Thai Iced Tea (which of course they just call “iced tea” here.) Even after the whole mug is emptied, Leslie slurps at the remnants as the ice cubes clatter and melt in desperation to cool the heat to her prawn sauce. Andrew makes his way through his curry stating with wonderment “this isn’t as hot as I expected it to be at all.”
This dinner is followed up the next day with a Green curry enjoyed on the beach. Andrew and Leslie are officially baptized into the superior experience of eating delicious Thai Food with their toes buried in sand. “I’m might be ruined to Thai food anywhere else.” Andrew declares. And this is just our first stop. We have many, many more beaches to eat Thai food in our future.
We up anchor and move five miles more to a second beautiful anchorage in this area, this one so remote that no lights interrupt the downward cast of the stars. A clear night opens a canopy of sparkles above us. With all recent efforts to acquire a stand up paddle board faltering, Leslie refuses to admit defeat and instead clamors atop Grin’s front bench, converting him to “Stand Up Paddle Grin.” Andrew and I watch as she paddles into the inky darkness, dipping her long stand-up paddle right and left. Soon, all we can see is green phosphorescence glowing in their trail and sparking as Leslie sloshes her paddle through the surface of the water.
The next morning, we carry on and as we round the island to open ocean and I gasp with pleasure. Just exactly what I’ve been waiting for! White caps occasionally lap forward and shimmer across the open basin, a steady whoosh of wind in front of me meets my ears. 12-15 knots, upwind. This is a perfect scenario to really put my sails to work! “Hup, hup, hup!” I command. “Get off your lazy arses and get these sails up!” Andrew and Leslie scurry to attention. Andrew’s the Captain, I know, but I’m the ship, and what I say goes. Andrew tugs on my working sheets (ropes) for the two headsails while Leslie lets loose on the roller furling line. My furlers spin, spin, spin with a satisfying “zzzzwuuhhhhwuhhhhwuhhh” and those crisp sails flutter about while Andrew cranks the winches to bring the ropes tight. Leslie goes on deck and uncovers my main sail from its protector, attaches the halyard, and unties the sail so it is free to hoist. My heart is in my throat as the main sail climbs my mast, the folds falling away until it is one bright white slat catching wind and sun and a little bit of salt spray.
Back in the cockpit, Leslie pulls the choke lever on the engine, cutting off fuel. Yanmar chugs to a stop and we all pause for that delicious moment when rumbles cease and is replaced by water rolling off my bow and that strange silence of wind driven forward momentum.
“YAAAAAASSSSSS!” I squeeze my eyes closed and feel joy gurgle from the very bottom of my keel all the way up to the wind chicken atop my mast. Andrew and Leslie set to fine tuning my sails and my course. “When in doubt, let it out.” I remind Andrew, who loosens my large forward sail lets it fill with wind then slowly tightens it until we all feel the pressure build. I roll onto my hip and really start to glide. We accelerate 4.5…5.5..6.5…and balance at 6.8 for at least an hour. Leslie clamors around with the go pro. “Make sure you get my good side! No, my other good side!” Occasionally, a wave hits my hull, bounces up and soaks my photographer. She squeals and laughs as she tries to wipe the hair that is blowing around, soaking wet, then sticking to her face.
It’s about now that Grin starts to feel a bit desperate. Once we reef the main sail to Reef #1, everything balances out again for a while until the wind pipes up and now white caps are consistent across the whole basin. 20 knots. My speed increases again to 7.5; Grin is crying out “TOO FAST TOO FAST!” So we shorten to Reef No. 2, we go faster and faster, Reef No. 3. We find an equilibrium here until the wind softens an hour or two later and we slow to 5.5. From my stern I hear: “Boooorrrrinnnnggg! Too slow.” So, we open more of the headsails and reach 6.0. We shake out one reef and make the main sail a bit bigger. We speed up until the wind softens more. “Come on guys, I know we can go faster than this!” Grin whines, dragging his belly in seafoam. Full sails out again, we are cooking along at 6.5 until the wind builds and we find I am back up at 7.4, 7.5 “TOO FAST TOO FAST TOO ….. *glurp, glurp, glurp* FAAAAAST!”
Grin keeps Andrew and Leslie scuttling about trimming and adjusting sails all day long. “If you could just keep me right at 6.8, that would be perfect,” he explains. Easier said than done. I love this though, look at all the attention I’m getting! Even better, we have tested every configuration possible for my new sails. And they all stand the tests we ran them through.
That night, as we laid anchor at our next stop, the Island of Koh Mok, Andrew fixed the crew Gin and Tonics to celebrate. “Man, Sonrisa. If only we had these sails when we were trying to sail upwind to the Galapagos. I’ve always thought you just weren’t very good at sailing up wind.”
I scowl and pout a little bit. I am excellent at sailing up wind, when I am dressed with sails. My old sails lasted a long time, but toward the end they had really stretched out to be more of a pillowcase than a sail. “Well, if you weren’t so cheap I wouldn’t have had to sail with Windbags.” There. That set him straight.