Wednesday, August 27, 2014

'More Pointers On Sailing without an Engine

You know, it's been about five years since I lost my engine in that big Gale in 2009. Those big waves ripped it right off the transom of my boat. You can read that story in Catalina Gale. Since then I've had a couple different outboard engines but they didn't do very well. It seems that every two or three months there was a problem with them: spark plugs, bad gas, the pull string breaking, carburetor and air filter problems, etc, etc... So I calculated the amount of time I've sailed without an engine and it comes up to almost four years. Wow! Well in that time I've learned some of my hardest sailing lessons. I can tell you it was not intentional that I learned them. If God had just given me a great working engine - I probably would have just taken it and forgot all the important lessons to be learned. In fact, with a great working engine I can almost tell you that I would NOT have learned these. And the question arises - do you even need to? My answer to this is yes - if you are serious about sailing, that is. The reason I believe it is important is because you never know when your dependance on an engine is suddenly going to get broken. The sea loves to get at you when you least expect it and challenge you when you don't want it. I'm not going to go into it as I've covered this story before in another article.

Basically the idea is that even great functioning engines can suddenly stop on you and if it was like anything like what happened to me it was when there was a huge surf and we almost got washed up on these jagged horrible rocks. If I hadn't had the sails ready o raise in a moments notice - it would have been too late and even the rushing harbor patrol wouldn't have been able to save us. Anyway, besides this, learning how to sail in light winds is a lesson most people won't learn because the temptation to just turn in the engine is too great. One night I saw a sailboat just drifting in the windless dead air out on the waves. They obviously had a problem with their engine and didn't know how to use the tide, waves and little bits of wind to make it back into the harbor. I was out at sea that same night and slowly sailed back to the harbor watching their boat drift up and down aimlessly and their sails flogging in the night air. Eventually I saw a harbor patrol boat come out to check on them. So that's a situation in light wind but what about sailing close hauled in a heavy wind coming straight down on you. Yes it is true that using your engine will help greatly when this happens. But what again if there is a problem with that? Have you tried tacking back and forth for what seems like endless amounts of time and face the dangers of getting pushed too close to the shore and trying to just make it another few feet before tacking so that you could succeed in getting where you needed to go. It can be nerve racking, I can tell you! Yet this situation may not even make sense to some. And this is because they've never experienced it and the reason for that is because of the all too wonderful engine. Now don't get me wrong - I am very much in favor of having an engine. I never thought I would hear myself say that but it's true. HAVING AN ENGINE can be the right tool for the situation but you should also study getting by without it because an engine does give you trouble sometimes and it will break down some day - just when you really need it!

     So are there any more lessons to be learned when sailing without an engine? I can think of the patience it gives you. And with this the lesson that at sea you can set a schedule and try to keep it but the sea sometimes will tear up your schedule and spit it back at you while laughing in your face. I say this out of experience. And these are times I had a working engine too. My advise when going on a sailing trip is to set a general time you expect to get back but always give a margin of time that may get stolen from you in case of crazy situations. And make sure to let your family or friends know this could be a reality. So with that I'm going to wrap this up even though there are many more things to say about it.

Thanks for your comments on 'More Pointers On Sailing without an Engine.'

PS: come see my main blog site!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sailing Without an Engine - AGAIN!

It was a beautiful evening, the stars were shining, the lights from shore glowed across the water and a healthy wind was blowing. The waves were just a couple feet high and didn't seem to bother Buttercup (my golden lab) who sat near me in the cockpit. But it had not been a bowl of roses getting out here:

Today my friend asked me to take her 30 foot Santana boat out (as she was away and needing someone to check on it). So I found her boat in the dock she had told me of and I set about to find the key. That in itself was a major job - as I couldn't find it - and so kept up the search until finally I remembered one little clue she had told me and I was then able to open the hatch door. Afterwards, I set about the task of getting the jib and main sail set. It was obvious it had not been sailed in a while, so finding the sails took me a while too! The next step was to get the outboard engine turned on, and this too proved difficult! In fact - I couldn't do it. I tried every trick in my 'engine starting' book but it would not turn over. So here I would go again - sailing without an engine! One big problem though: it was a downwind slip and how to get the boat out? I began formulating a plan to kayak out to the opposite dock on the upwind side, tie a rope on the dock cleat and then kayak back, attach the boat to the line and pull the boat out. Putting up the sails, I would then let go of the lines holding the boat to the dock and sail out. And that's more or less what happened after a first try mess up - the first trouble being that I only set the jib (sailing out under jib alone works with me Columbia 22 but not on this bigger Santana 30).
So once out on the water - I was exuberant (I mean after all that work I had almost given up!). It was my first time sailing a thirty foot by myself and though there was an additional eight feet from my Columbia 22, it really did not feel that much different.

The sun was now setting and as I got half way out the harbor, I knew I needed to get the navigation lights on. So I tied down the tiller in my usual fashion* (which I will explain below) and then turned on the battery and lights. But here again I was met with resistance. For every light seemed willing to come on EXCEPT the navigation lights! The boat even had some really cool amber cockpit lights that helped maintain night vision. That was all super great but without the essentials, I felt frustrated again! Thankfully I had thought ahead and put some emergency nav. lights in my backpack and now attached these to the port and starboard side and lit my lantern for the stern light. So, armed with this, I then headed out to sea. It was peaceful to be sailing over the waves again by myself. I had not been out by myself since I lost my mast in that storm about a month or so ago. And so after a pleasant sail over the dark waves, I returned back to the harbor and coming upwind, lowered the mainsail, and then cruised back under jib alone into the boat slip.

"Nicely done!" A friendly man on another boat yelled across the water. I took that as a compliment and was encouraged for all the hard work I had done to get the boat out today!

Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Scare Your Socks off! ***Sailing in Storms, Sailing without an Engine, & Night Sailing***

One Saturday afternoon after a nice sailing trip, a friend said to me, "What can be so exciting to write about on your sailing blog?"

Ok, that's a fair question! I mean, its definitely not Cape Horn with 40 knot winds almost every day and thirty foot waves - right! To the ordinary sailor in Southern California, we get good weather most of the year and if your like most, you plan your weekend to go sailing in the afternoon when the wind is usually fresh and there's plenty of light. And that's usually fun! But due to some unusual circumstances and some really bad luck, I found the key to high adventure - right out of my harbor! So this evening, as the sun was going down over the water and the wind was pushing my sails firmly to port, I recognized what those things were and thought you might enjoy knowing what they were - even if you wouldn't want to copy them!

So these are the very distinct keys to high adventure in your own local waters:

1) First, if your looking to increase your odds at finding adventure, sail at least once a week at night. A night sail will increase your odds for adventure at least ten percent. I mean, here's a good example. Tonight I did not really have any weather problems, the wind was steady and the waves were normal. As I was sailing back towards the harbor from out at sea, suddenly I was frightened out of my mind by what sounded like a lady crying out in pain or my dog being run over by the boat! It honestly sounded a little different than a human voice but nonetheless freaked me out! Thankfully it was neither as I was alone and my dog was safe and happily sleeping in the V-birth. But here's the question. What WAS it? All I can guess was that I must have scared a sea gull or a seal. I'm also pretty sure there was no one swimming there too! They would have been sure to of seen my navigation lights or yelled out for help. Okay, so would that have happened it I hadn't gone out at night? I think not. I guess its not exactly a positive thing to happen for the seal or bird but it sure was weird! I've gone out at night for three years and never had anything like that happen. Birds and seals are usually very aware of what's happening - much more than you or I. So I'm still honestly unsure of what it was. But it was a tiny adventure non the less. And this brings me to my second insight.

2) Second, do NOT use your engine for any reason except for emergencies. This alone will take ten years off your life! But after you get good at it, watch out because it gets exciting and it has its benefits. For one you are forced to become a much better sailor.

3) Third, sail each and every week in whatever weather may come your way; ie...calms, storms and what may. After a year of this, you will have some hair raising stories! Just be really careful, as you will no doubt have some adventures you may not want.

Okay, now that we're clear on the basics, let me give some instructions before you go for it. When sailing at night, always make sure you have navigation lights and a couple flashlights handy, an extra lantern and a fog horn. After escaping being run down by big party boats many times, I'm glad to tell you one of these will help save your life! One night I put out my lantern, flashed my lights, turned the boat so my navigation lights were obvious and the party boat still didn't see me! So I finally blew the fog horn a couple times and that worked! Thank you God!

Now if the fog horn did not work I could have gone on my VHS radio and hailed the boat on channel 16 and then used my oars to seriously get out of there! I know, yes you would have put on your engine by that time. But you would have never learned that rowing a twenty foot boat and larger is actually possible and will get you somewhere if you're persistent. Really when you think about it, I would never had that problem if I was using my engine in the first place and wasn't sailing at night. Its true that a temporary calm put my sails out of action and slowed me down to almost a standstill. So you say, how fun is that? What can be learned by such foolishness? Well, I'll tell you. One of the first things I learned after losing my engine, was that the wind becomes fickle after sunset. It sometimes takes half an hour to an hour for it to come back - but it usually does. After this, you have a couple hours before the GREAT CALM happens. So this means that if your not using your engine - make sure you get back before then! Now how did I learn this lesson? By sitting patiently for endless hours without wind is how! So you must be thinking, 'isn't it just better to learn from your mistakes? Now that I know this, I can still use my engine - right? Well, not if you want to learn how to sail in very light winds and how to save your life if your engine DOES ever happen to fail. I'll tell you, one year on a nice evening, the wind started kicking in and gusting and I did what every normal sailor does and took down my sails after getting safely into the harbor. My engine then proceeded to die and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why. So what to do now with the wind gusting twenty knots down the channel and with the inevitable just waiting to happen! I needed to figure something out fast! Well I tried raising my sails, but I couldn't get into the wind like I wanted and with the gusting winds, the mainsail just got stuck. So did the jib. You'll be happy to know that even with the mainsail three quarters up and the jib only up partially, I was able to crawl away from hitting the docked boats and get back to my slip. But it was scary and REALLY stressful! Now from plenty of practice, I know how to sail into my slip even in a storm and using an engine is just one more plus.
One more thing about night sailing: Know the 'Red Right Returning rule and your buoy and harbor entrance lights. I'd say its pretty important to know coastal navigation too. But for sure its MANDATORY to go out with someone who knows what they're doing first, as its really easy to get lost at sea at night and not know where the harbor is. And sailing in fog is a whole different monster.

Now about going out in storms, my first advice after having been in several of them is to carry storm sails. A storm jib is a good beginning. Second, have safety harnesses available to clip into when it gets rough. Attach a safety line from the bow to the stern in which to clip the harness onto. Third have a good boat with a good keel. Have safety lines running around it from bow to stern and learn all you can about heavy weather sailing from books and video's before you do. My final suggestion is to go one step at a time and if you get scared - really scared, turn back. Of course it's good advice to have someone go with you who knows what they're doing - but good luck finding them!

Now if you're seriously reading this and are going to do what I said, than you are definitely crazy! I only do it because I love sailing at night, I lost my engine in a big storm and I want to be ready and know what to do when the worst happens. If this article really challenges you to try these things please realize that you are at your own risk and that it can be dangerous. Just read some of my stories - you will see! To tell the truth, I learned all I have (which is not much compared to some) by lots of mistakes. IT'S THE MISTAKES THAT TEACH YOU BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE! Hopefully you will go slow, do your homework and ask advice (please, please email me too) and don't make the real costly mistakes!

So these are the three ingredients to making yourself a real adventuresome soup. If sailing in storms and without an engine are too much, try just sailing at night! There's nothing like it! The sea is so dark and mysterious - that alone will scare your socks off the first few times! I remember having this fearful feeling that after having just gone a little too far out to sea, and the boat would just sink. The keel would find a way to come off or something bad would happen! Exactly my point. When you come back and all is well, you'll thank me for a real level one adventure!