Coolin’ Up – Another Sailing Season

November is a capricious month in Maine, prone to going from September to December without much notice.  I had been stretching the sailing season this year since I was home more, but the combination of frost in the mornings, short days, and the demands of work finally pushed me over the edge, and I decided to take her down to Mike, who will haul Tycha and store her.

I went for it on Friday, figuring a strong northerly and a fair tide would sluice me out of the river.  I was more than halfway down when I remembered to turn on the motor, which I didn’t need but the bilge pump would.  Both batteries were dead, and I could start me no engine.  So I turned around and battled my way back uptide and upwind, past The Gut in South Bristol, past the shipyards of East Boothbay, up through The Narrows in the thick of the tide and the dying of the sun.

With sunset, my wind faded, and I managed to ghost her (it’s full moon, so I had enough light to see) back to my cove, 7pm and shivering, but I had to row her in.  Thank God I had the dinghy with me – not usual, but I would have needed it to get ashore at Mike’s – and I simply rode it ahead with the bow line under my heel, and stroked again and again until I had enough momentum to bring the 35’ heavyweight into the dock and tie her off.

Saturday morning the wind came up early and Tycha was pulling at the traces, water splashing over the dock and the lines tugging in a fresh westerly.  Knowing I was underdressed and underequipped for the strong predicted wind, I nevertheless trusted me and Tycha under whatever conditions the sea could throw at us.  Hubris.

Down the river again – but with a fresh battery and engine power in reserve – and the wind was strong but certainly handle-able until I came out of the lee of Heron Island; then 30+ mph of wind bore down upon me without advance notice.

Too much wind – it doesn’t happen very often, and it’s a little hard to describe. Suddenly a challenging but calm sail turns dangerous and heart-pounding, with the rigging shrieking, the boat on its side, difficult to maintain a course, and breakage or swamping a real possibility.  My body tenses, hard and short. The noise is overwhelming – the whistle of the wind, the sails flapping, the hardware jittering and clattering, the thump of the waves on the boat, the thunge of the sea (I stole that from Annie Proulx).  Why hadn’t I put on my safety vest with its harness?  Why hadn’t I worn my boots?  I turned the engine on, I will admit, and took the one angle I could take in the confused cross-chop of the whitecaps and swell the wind was already setting up.  At this angle, the waves were sending gobs and plumes of spray over the cockpit, and I was drenched wave after wave in that phony ‘throw a bucket of water at him from the wings’ Hollywood way.  I was laughing, but shivering too – this is November and close to freezing.  Things break in this weather.

There was nothing to do in such a wind but angle her out to sea to get some sea room, and then try to handle her.  As I avoided the Devil’s Washbowl, cleared Trumcap’s rocky point, and headed for the White Islands and the open sea(thank God that was the angle I could make), I couldn’t help but hear the whispers: Fool! You are the only one stupid enough to be out here in these conditions.  Don’t expect any help if you are thrown off or lose a sail.

I had furled the jib, which you can do from the cockpit (though with difficulty in this wind), but I could not leave the wheel to get the mainsail down since she was pitching so much and had to be kept at a precise angle to the wind.  The dangers are: don’t stop! if you stop, you cannot steer, and are at the wind’s mercy and can be knocked down (so the sails touch the water).  Fittings can break in these conditions.  I wanted to be angling downwind, but with the full mainsail up, that was too dangerous.

So I did the only thing I could – keep her headed out to sea at about 45 degrees to the wind.  After 20 minutes or so, the first blast abated – not much, but enough to get her through the eye of the wind (with the help of the engine), coming about onto the other tack.  In this tack, I could angle downwind, and I flew back (at more than 8 knots sometimes, even though under main only) through the Thread of Life and into John’s Bay.

Sheltered by the peninsula of Rutherford’s Island, the screaming winds were no longer accompanied by the choppy seas.  I was able to fly right up the bay into Poorhouse Cove to wave hello to my Dad’s grave on the slope of the Harrington Meeting House – “Thanks for the gift of sailing, and here’s to you at the end of another season” – before climbing up the wind again past Witch Island to the mooring field outside of Mike’s.

As I turned off the GPS for the final time and pocketed it, I noticed that the odometer had reached exactly 1111 nautical miles for the year.  That’s a pretty good amount of ‘therapy’ (as Mike calls it – he’s right, it is my most expensive and most effective therapy) given the business constraints of this year of years.  Sorry to put it away, but therapy is over until spring, and I must turn my attention to the task at hand: cleaning up our act for the coming decade.


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