Tuesday 27 October 2020

Me vs The Boat...Part 4 - Maybe this time nothing will go wrong?

Need to catch up? Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here

TL;DR - We had a boat. We'd taken a lesson. We still didn't know shit.  

I had hoped that following an actual lesson, the nightmares about crashing into other boats, having the keel fall off, or being capsized because I couldn't throw my weight around properly would end after some training, but if anything I was even more convinced that we'd made a horrible error. It seemed that everyone I talked to felt that we would end up on the bottom of the lake before we made it to the other side. 

I should also say at this point that my husband in no way agreed with me on any of this. His take on the lesson had been all rose-coloured glasses and rainbows. He was still blissfully unaware of the dangers I was 100% sure were waiting for us. But we still hadn't really had our maiden voyage (unless you counted being 10 feet off the dock, which apparently he didn't) so I grudgingly accepted that we needed to try again. 

This time, at least, we appeared to have learned a little from our previous attempt and tried a different launch ramp that wasn't facing directly into the wind. Progress? This ramp had an easier overall approach, and a place to park and set up the boat that was much more accessible than the last place. But while there were fewer spectators, we did have a some people come out to watch us set up (why though?), and at least one woman took pictures of us and said it was nice to see more sailboats on the lake. I don't think she realized what a complete hazard to navigation we actually were. 

Like the time before, we got into the water fairly smoothly, and because no one sat on the fuel line, the motor worked (at least as well as it ever does). The weather behaved itself, and unlike every other sailor out there, I was ecstatic that there was no more than a breath of wind.

With a bit of effort and surprisingly little swearing, we motored out to the middle of the lake and prepared to raise the sails for the first time. We were entering new territory, which historically hadn't gone well for us on the boat thus far, but the sails went up smoothly, we were heading downwind and.... HOLY SHIT WE WERE SAILING!

The kids still complained about how slow we were compared to the grandparent's power boat, but I was floored as we watched the speedometer climb up to 3.5 knots. And if I was (grudgingly) honest, our big boat was much more forgiving than the tiny nightmare that we'd had out lesson on. I was feeling good. I was feeling relaxed. I was feeling bloody hot...it was 38 degrees outside!

To combat the heat we furled the sails and jumped in the lake. This part the kids really liked. We even had the foresight to make sure at least one adult was on board at all times. We may not have been good at the finer points of sailing, but I was not going to let us be those people who's entire group jumped off the boat and then watched the boat sail away without them. Idiots.

Overall, the first half of the day went beautifully. It was calm and relaxed, and basically lulled me into a false sense of security, and the mistaken belief that we were not failing miserably at this endeavor.

<--- see...lulled.

But eventually we had to go back, and going back meant beating into the wind, which had picked up considerably, and brought in some cloud cover, but had not in any way cooled off the day.  

Suddenly the day wasn't quite as relaxing, and every tack heeled us over to at least 15 degrees, and we were flying down the lake at 6.5 knots, which subsequently caused me to panic. Of course I had bury that panic deep down inside to keep as quiet as I could so I didn't scare the kids, which as it turns out, was not enough, because they were below deck and refused to come out. They also didn't like being heeled over.  

Now I know logically that 15 degrees heeled over is perfectly fine in a sail boat. It won't flip the boat. Academically I KNOW this.  But when it's happening it doesn't feel ok. Humans are not supposed to be tilted over by 15 degrees. It turns out I am able to handle 10 degrees, but as soon as we crest over that, I can tell. I don't even need to look. As far as I'm concerned, it absolutely feels like we will capsize and despite all the logic in the world, I panic. It makes sense....I have no real experience sailing, so I worry that I've done something critically wrong and whatever I do next will only make it worse, and I really just need it to stop. Now.  Please.

Let me give you an analogy.  

I don't love flying. Turbulence makes me very uncomfortable but whenever it happens, I watch the flight attendants. They fly all the time, and have probably seen more turbulence in a week than I've experienced in my entire life. So, it's safe to say if they are casually walking the aisles serving drinks, then whatever is happening in the air is fine. Everything is fine. If it gets a little bumpy, and my husband tries to reassure me that we probably won't die, I appreciate it, but let's be honest, he flies about as much as I do. He's not a flight attendant....what does he know? And so I watch the flight attendants. Maybe they put away the drink carts. Ok, that's a bit concerning, but we're probably still fine, they just don't want to accidently cover that passenger with ginger ale. But if they start buckling in and looking worried, you know you're in trouble. Because they know. They've done this a hundred times and can tell you what's normal and what's not.

But my boat doesn't have flight attendants to tell me when things are ok and when shit's about to get real. It has me and my husband, and we're both pretty garbage at the whole thing, so as far as I can tell leaning over at 15 degrees we were pretty definitely going to die.  

So there we were trying to get back up the lake in more wind than I was happy with (although in reality probably a completely reasonable amount). We got pretty good at tacking, heeling over uncomfortably, then letting out the sail enough to pop back up to where we were happy. But this made for incrementally slow progress towards where we wanted to go. By the time we made it to where we could see the dock, we were exhausted. Panic takes a lot out of a person.
And then it started to rain. Perfect. I definitely needed the threat of thunder and lighting to add to my calm.

But the dock was close. It was so close. Fuck, it was too close. 

I knew from past experience on power boats, that you needed to approach the dock very slowly. I cannot emphasize this enough: VERY SLOWLY. Going into the docking process, my plan had been to stand at the bow, and when we got close enough, I would leap off and tie up, while my husband was in the back convincing our surly motor to obey him. Easy. 

What actually happened was that I stood on the bow and watched in horror as we flew towards the dock at alarming speed. Our conversation went pretty much like this:

Me: We're coming in too fast. You need to slow down

Him: I can't make it go any slower. It's already as slow as it will go!


Him: But I don't want to go backwards. 

The dock where we launched was very short (slightly shorter than the boat itself), which subsequently gave us very little room for error on the return approach. I was too far away to jump to the dock and had all but given up on the boat slowing down before we hit bottom. In the end we got very lucky that there was someone on the dock who offered to catch our line and slow us down, because otherwise we would have grounded. This whole scenario felt like it took an eternity, but likely lasted only a moment or two. 

Once we were tied up, I turned around to see if anyone had jumped to the dock to tie up the stern line. Turned out that no, there was no stern line, but my husband was hanging off the stern rails, half in the water. 


I learned afterwards, that in a herculean effort to stop the boat from running aground, he had leaped off the stern and onto the dock with a line, only to be pulled back off the dock and into the water by physics. He managed to grab the stern rails on his way down, and just hung there for a minute until he realized he could just stand up. 

Maiden voyage complete. 

Next, join our heroes for part 5, where a benevolent uncle tries to help these idiots learn the importance of never approaching a dock faster than you are willing to hit it....

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Me vs The Boat....Part 3 - Lessons in how not to sail

If you haven't caught up, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here

So just to briefly catch us all up, we got a boat, the motor is kind of shit, we haven't successfully done anything, and we are not at all good at this. 

It was time for some professional help. And by that, what I mean is that we booked a lesson and got handed off to a 16 year old girl working for the summer at a sailing club. This poor thing then got stuck in a boat with two adults, one of whom couldn't go in a straight line if she was tied to it. 

Because we were so late in the season, all the normal learn how to sail group lessons were fully booked and our only option was a private lesson. This was fine with me; it was a 4 hour round trip drive just to get there, so going every Thursday night for 6 weeks just wasn't an option. I thought that that if we just did an intensive solo lesson for a day, we would at least get the basics and maybe make it off the dock next time.

And this was technically true; my husband did pick up the basics. I picked up a new fear of jibing and a bone deep feeling of inadequacy.   

We were put into a tiny 14 foot dinghy, which felt too small for the amount of chop on the lake. Apparently it wasn't though, because just in front of us was a group of 4-7 year old kids who were also learning how to sail. They were going in a straight line. 

Our teenager showed us the ins and outs of making the boat go and then handed the tiller over the my husband. He did a perfectly respectable job of keeping us on course, and I did a perfectly respectable job of remaining calm. Up until we did the first tack. 

For those of you who don't know (and I counted myself as one of those until recently), tacking and jibing are boat words for turning. Boats have a lot of what I think are unnecessarily complicated boat words for things that already have words, but that will need to be a later post. Suffice to say, we turned the boat, which put the wind on the other side of us. The other thing that happens when you tack or jibe, is that the boom swings over, the balance of the boat shifts, and you can heel over. Heeling is another boat word for the boat tipping over and making you feel like you're going to die. 

At this point, the agile 16 year old would leap over all the shit in the bottom of the boat, sit on the opposite edge, and balance us again. She didn't look panicked, so ok, maybe I could deal with this. Don't tip too much, and I'm ok. 

We went back and forth for a while with my husband keeping us firmly under control, so of course it was decided that it was time for me to take over and utterly destroy any feeling of calm or confidence I'd so painstakingly developed. I'd gotten surprisingly good at trimming the sails, and I was feeling ok about it, so it was definitely time to ruin that. 

Going into it, part of me thought that maybe it wouldn't be that bad. I was very wrong. First, I was handed the boat at a point where the wind and chop had picked up quite a bit. Perfect. I was also told almost immediately that we needed to jibe. Ok. We'd done a few tacks, how much different could the jibe be? Turns out it was very different.  

What's also very different is that with a tiller (boat word for shitty steering stick) is that everything is opposite. Want to go left? Push the tiller to the right. Want to go right? Go left.  That day I learned that my spatial orientation skills are absolute shit. I just couldn't coordinate my brain and my hand so we zig zagged all over the place. Then she tells me it's time to jibe. Just push the tiller all the way over to the one side and we'd turn, the boom would swing, and we would be going the other way. Cool. 

What she failed to mention is that you don't push the tiller ALL the way over, very quickly. Nor did she mention that unlike the nice slow tacks, this turn would happen at the speed of an out of control cheetah. And finally, she definitely neglected to say that when these things all combine together, you need to gracefully leap over to the other side of the boat to shift the weight so you don't dip the fucking edge of the boat in the water. 

All of these things happened in rapid succession.

We began our jibe very...aggressively. The boat heeled way over, and then spun in very tight circles repeatedly, because rather than gently pushing us into the turn, I thrust us into it like a motivated gym rat, and held it there. My brain could not respond fast enough to that whole "go the opposite way you think you should" thing, so I just held the tiller where it was and hoped for the best.  Then instead of gracefully leaping to the other side of the boat to correct any of this, I flung my body to the other side, and smoked my knee into the tiller in the process. 

I should mention at this point, that while doing all this, I was definitely not supposed to let go of the tiller or the head sail rope that I was also holding. 

I most definitely did let go of everything. This did not help.

Somehow, and I'm not sure how because my full concentration was on not screaming out loud in front of the teenage instructor, she got us back on track and sorted out. She even gave me back the tiller despite my protests, but didn't make the obviously critical error of leaving me alone to my own devices again. 

We finished off the lesson, during which I tried very hard to internalize my terror screaming so as not to make a scene every time the boat heeled over even slightly.  I think I succeeded more or less. At the end, my husband executed a perfect J-turn into the dock, while I just tried not to fall while exiting the boat, because that was about all I could handle at that point. 

I was still pretty sure we'd made a terrible error and should probably sell the boat. 

Also, there are no pictures in the episode, because frankly I had other things to worry about than instagraming the shit out of my day. Like not falling out of the boat, which I didn't do, and consider the main win of the day.

Join me for Part 4 where we try again a few weeks later because I needed some time for my adrenaline levels to return to normal.

Tuesday 13 October 2020

Me vs The Boat....Part 2 - So far this is not going well

***I'm just going to apologize right now for the formatting errors around the pictures. I can't explain what is going on, why it's happening, or how to fix it, so know that I know, and it's not just shitty editing on my part. Sorry. 

If you haven't already done so, please feel free to check out Part 1 here

When we last saw our heroes, they were staring off into the sunset from the deck of their boat...which was still parked in the driveway, because that's as far as we'd gotten. But we had a boat!

And it was at about this moment that I was hit by an overwhelming tidal wave of anxiety. Somehow, it hadn’t really occurred to me until now that the “sailing experience” my husband claimed to have came from a trip when he was a pre-teen and reading books about how to sail. And my own experience made him look like a salt-weathered captain chasing a mythical white whale, as I’d only ever been on a sailboat twice, for a grand total of about 6 hours if I generously combined the two. What kind of incredible error in judgement had we made?   

But before I really get into the actual sailing bit, I feel like I need to address a bizarre phenomenon that I encountered during our initial boat acquisition process. Whenever I talked to people about buying a boat, I would get one of two reactions: Wow, that sounds amazing, you’ll have so much fun! OR Hmm, you know sailing is expensive and totally dangerous.  You’ll probably flip your boat, and die in the icy cold waters of I-told-you-so. And by the way, have you watched *Adrift (*or some other sailing disaster movie)? You should watch it...you'll never want to sail again!  (<--- What the actual fuck?)

Unfailingly, it was one of these two reactions.  And in answer to the question of whether or not I’ve pulled out the popcorn to watch a movie where people make incredible, and frequently avoidable, errors in judgement while not respecting the ocean’s power: No. No I have not. 

It's like asking someone who's about to take their first flight if they've recently watched Alive, and do they intend to become a cannibal if the opportunity presents itself?  Or maybe we can ask if the person climbing onto the bus has had the pleasure of watching Speed? Are you aware that by getting onto a bus you run the risk that terrorists have rigged a bomb onto it that requires a minimum velocity to avoid exploding?!? You didn't? Well, you should be more careful!

But I don't do that, because that is a fucked up thing to do. 

I digress. 

So back to sitting on dry land in a boat. 

Because our maiden voyage was delayed by a week due to the motor's stubborn refusal to work, I decided to take some time to clean and repaint the inside of the boat. As much as 70's-chic faux wood speaks to me, I wanted to lighten things up. 

For anyone that hasn't painted in a confined space, it sucks. So, so hard. Our boat, while it technically has a below deck area, does not have a below deck area I can stand up in. So I spent hours contorted into unhealthy positions to make brown "wood" a nice blue tinted white. It's much brighter and happy inside, although I'm still stuck with the plaid cushions, because frankly I'm cheap, and they are very expensive to replace.

I'd add pictures of the new paint job, but it's
honestly such a mess in there right now that it would 
just look worse.

Eventually, the motor ran, the paint dried, my anxiety was high, I was regularly having nightmares about crashing into things..... we were ready to go. 

We thought we were smart and scoped out our first launching ramp ahead of time. In theory, this was smart, but we'd neglected to account for the fact that the ramp was at the far end of the lake and the wind usually blew directly into it. If we'd known what we were doing (and we did not), we would have recognized that launching directly upwind was not ideal. Instead, we did not recognize this until we were past the point where it could be helped. 

We got the mast stepped and the boat in the water with what I would consider to be minimal embarrassment.  As is the case at most launching ramps we had an audience, and my husband, who is extremely adept at backing up trailers, made it look like (at least initially) we knew what we were doing (again, this was not true at all).  The boat was in the water and floating. Step one, check!

We started the motor and got ready to shove off. We could do this! And then the motor died. We can't do this!  A minute later we had it going again after I pointed out to my husband that no only was he extremely good at backing up trailers, but he was also very good at cutting off the flow of gas to the motor while sitting on the main fuel line. We could do this again!

Now, I'm not really sure how to convey to you as the reader how poorly this next part went. I wish I had it on video so one day I could show it to people as an example of what not to do, but I'm also pretty sure that if I searched "idiots on a boat" on YouTube I could probably find a clip from one of the beach bound audience members. A friend of mine said that she wished there was a "new driver" sign for boats that could could be put up when learning to sail.....just give us some space and don't make too much fun of us....we're trying really hard here. I think this is a great idea. Basically, please don't assume that I have any real skills yet, I'm just trying not to hit things. 

Which is about all I can say we really succeeded at that day. We didn't hit anything, and it's a fucking miracle we didn't.  It's also about the only thing we can really claim went the way it was supposed to that day. We didn't cause any property damage. Go team.

This picture shows a happier time, 
when we were still attached to the
dock and believed this would go well.

After pushing off the dock, we careened out into the narrow channel lined with boats that were much more expensive than ours on one side, and a dock that also looked pretty pricey on the other. We got about 10 feet from the dock and realized that we had basically no control at all. The motor, which was (and still is) finicky at best, would occasionally just shut off, leaving us adrift. However, even when it was on, we had very little steering capability because as we learned very quickly, the mechanism to lock the motor down in the water was gone? broken? somewhere? Honestly it didn't matter....as soon as we tried to reverse, the motor would kick out of the water and we couldn't steer out into the lake if our lives depended on it.  

I spent the next 10 minutes (eternity) standing on the bow screaming to either go forward to avoid hitting the boat near our stern, or to go backwards to avoid crashing into the very expensive looking private dock at our bow. This was all while getting hit broadside by the wind, because the only thing we'd managed to successfully do was get ourselves positioned perpendicular to the dock, which to be fair, was never our goal. Then we just ping ponged back and forth for a while, trying to get pointed in the right direction, all while attracting an audience, which is always very helpful in a stressful situation.  

My 7 year old was huddled below deck in the fetal position with a bag of chips just waiting for it all to be over. I'm shocked we ever got him back on the boat honestly.

After a lot of yelling, divorce talks, and a briefly considered plan to jump ship, swim to shore and just walk away, I managed to hop back onto the dock and pull the boat back in manually. And yes, for reference, that's how far we made it on day one: I could jump back onto the dock from the deck of the boat. 

With some help from a kind stranger who didn't even make too much fun of us, we figured out why the motor didn't lock down (a problem that was humiliatingly easy to fix once we read the instruction manual) and got the boat back on the trailer. I was more or less ready to sell the boat by the end of the day.

On the way home I unilaterally decided that we were not stepping foot on our boat again without taking lessons. But that in itself is a saga best left for another day. 

See you all for Part 3 where we learn about sailing lessons and how bad I really am at spatial orientation.   


Tuesday 6 October 2020

Me vs The Boat...Part 1 of probably a few

It’s never really a good idea to pick up a new hobby because YouTubers with no kids and disposable income did it successfully this one time. Well, in some cases maybe; you want to take up crochet and need a tutorial? Have at it. Have a channel where you open up and play with toys? Sure. (This for some reason actually happens, click here to read about it)

But that’s not what we did. We bought a sailboat. A cheap sailboat, so that if it goes up in flames on the water, we'd just let it burn. Like most of our toys it’s only slightly newer than I am, but that’s ok….she still floats. And
this new adventure came with only one significant problem: We didn’t know how to sail.

Again, if you’re picking up crochet, having zero reportable skill isn’t really an issue. If you’re absolute shit at it, the worst that happens is your dish cloth looks like it was done by a spider on hallucinogens. If you’re not good at sailing, however, you can sink. Or crash. Or capsize. Or, if you’re really talented, maybe you crash, capsize, and then eventually sink. In flames. The possibilities really are endless.

What I really wanted was the tropical paradise that can come with sailing. The idea of living on a well-equipped catamaran in the Bahamas sounds magical. More importantly not dealing with our quickly approaching winter sounds even more magical. (It's possible that I’m actually a 75 yr old snowbird, and maybe I should look into a trailer in Arizona? Fewer sinkings.)  And yes, I know that it isn’t all suntans and happiness, but I’m living vicariously through the internet. Let me be. 

But even I was able to rise above the over-edited YouTube bliss enough to realize that jumping from my landlocked home, to a full time on-camera sailing career was unlikely, and frankly not something I would even really want. But the allure of sailing still held. 

I had really advocated for this whole insanity about a year ago, but also recognized the general futility of the whole thing and more or less moved on. Meanwhile, in the very quiet background, my husband plotted. Then, this spring, he started sending me posting of small sailboats for sale. No lead up, just "here's a boat". Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had lost some part of my mind. 

The first boat we really liked on paper. After a few back and forth emails with the seller, I asked about the condition of the interior, as he'd posted no pictures of the inside and made no mention of any issues. He said it had "a little water on the inside, like most boats do". Um, ok....please define "a little water". Approximately 30 gallons over the last few months. Now, I'm not an expert, but I feel like the water should be primarily on the outside of the boat. What you have is a floating bath tub. 

Also, your boat is sinking. 

Then we went to see one boat that I’m not sure had seen the water in a decade. Maybe once upon a time, but not anymore. It had a hole in the hull that the seller told me probably wouldn’t be an issue because it was probably above the water line.…and that wasn’t even the worst problem it had. The drop keel had bubbles of rust that burst if you touched them, and had completely seized. I don't think a team of elephants could have pulled it down into a usable position. We noped out of there pretty quickly. 

The next closest boat was a 900 km/10 hr drive, but thankfully ended in a perfectly good condition 1983 Macgregor 25 ft sailboat with no motor, because that had fallen into the lake the day before. Happily this saved us a fair amount of cash, but meant another trip to another town to pick up a used motor that was only a few years newer than the boat.  This was then followed by a few more days of work taking the motor apart to try to figure out why it wouldn’t start. Turns out that outboard motors don’t like their telltale tubes blocked by large dead insects. Who knew?

But now we had a boat and a working motor. Step one complete!

We were ready to go sailing.

Although the term "sailing" could probably easily be replaced by "doing an absolutely shit job of navigating our boat off the dock". 

Stay tuned for part 2 of this sailing saga, where we revisit our heroes at the beginning of the 'evolution into pro sailors' montage.