Saturday, August 15, 2009

Smooth Sailing - If You Get My Drift

Tropical Strom Etau having passed, we headed for the lake on Thursday expecting mild conditions. We didn't realize just how mild they would be.

As we drifted from the dock, I had K take the tiller while I broke out our trusty "American Trader" canoe paddle to give a push off the dock and then paddle our way past some fish nets into the open lake. The only other sailboat on the water was a Laser, which had launched just before us and was sticking close to the yacht harbor.

The water was flat and were it not for the little bubbles of foam drifting by here and there, it would be easy to think we were not moving at all. The overcast was reflected on the surface making any attempt to peer into the lake a dizzying and dangerous illusion, luring one to peer ever deeper. The wind vane atop the mast drifted lazily about the compass. The sails sagged and were moved more easily by their own weight as by the barely noticeable movement of air molecules.

Crazy time to go sailing? Not at all. An excellent time to learn how read every hint of where there might be wind, try to see it on the sails, feel it on the skin, and to figure out how to get some forward movement from whatever puff one found. Near the dock it was a time to practice the OTHER ways to move a sailboat - paddling and "sculling" - working the rudder back and forth like a fish tail to propel the boat forward.

It was also a time to enjoy the natural surroundings. Striped mullet of every size were jumping out of the water. (Later, Mrs. Hakuta would tell K about a striped mullet jumping out of the water and striking a sailor in the eye, leaving a nasty bruise!). Black loons flew low and fast above the surface, hawks circled almost without effort, as if defying gravity in the still air. The sun was visible as a white disk through the overcast and its UV rays made its heat felt. So calm it was, I could rest my thermos cup of cold mugicha (barley tea) on the seat without fear of spilling it.

I headed for the north shore and a little village I wanted to investigate. At one end there is a small harbor from which jet skis operate, taking people on rides on a four passenger inflatable "banana". Jet skis annoy me. They are like a motorcycle on the water. Safer, yes, but just as noisy and polluting, and at least the motorcycle can claim to actually be used for going somewhere. Sailing, canoeing, kayaking, all offer transportation, but also a more cerebral, contemplative sport that brings one in touch with nature. Ah well, peak oil may take care of those gas guzzling pests soon enough, and meanwhile, I have the right of way.

Long, wooden, net-fishing boats with outboard motors sped here and there to check their nets in various parts of the lake. Not so noisy as the jet skis, and making short, yet purposeful, trips. Not so many decades ago, these were powered by sail and oars.

Off to the northeast I could see the signs of wind on the water, but I resisted a desire to turn toward them until I had finished investigating this section of shore. It had taken us 45 minutes to cross the lake - distance of less than 2 km.

We then headed for the ripples being made by the wind and were soon on a nice windward tack making some speed. We worked our way up the northeast end of the lake where it empties into the river until we reached a point where the bottom starts to get shallow. I elected to turn around before we ran the risk of going aground.

Returning was once again a bit boring for K, but not for me. In deference to the crew, however, I made some extra turns along the way just to put us on speedier courses that, while making the way home longer, would give K the illusion of more speed over the water. I also entertained her by cutting it close to the bamboo net stakes, missing them by a few centimeters.

Mind the fish net stakes.

The wind did pick up a little during our three hours on the lake. It seemed concentrated in the northeast corner, probably due to the topography of the hills. Good to know.

After we came in, I had a nice compliment on my repair job by Hakuta-san who got to see close up what I had been doing for all those hours I spent on it. And of course, after we put Bluesette to bed, the sun finally burned away the overcast, and the wind picked up a bit. Three Sea Hoppers had launched and were across the lake in no time. I'm not complaining. We had another good day sailing.

Bluesette can be seen against the far fence (left of center) as Sea Hoppers sail in the distance.

I brought home the pole we use for grappling the dock and will use it to make a whisker pole. With a change of the screw on head and a minor adjustment of length we will be able to switch back and forth from grappling hook to whisker pole (I hope). We'll go out Monday to test it out. According to the weather oracle, there will be more wind then. So far, the weekend has been beautiful, so I am hopeful.

Until next, sweet sailing.

1 comment:

Don Snabulus said...

Every voyage reinforces what a great idea it was to get a sailboat. Good on you!