This past Monday, I posted three lists of everything we thought we had to do to accomplish three goals: first, launch Meander; then, conduct a shakedown cruise; then, embark on our first major trip.
I say I posted these lists this past Monday. But it would be more accurate to say I wrote the lists the previous Thursday and scheduled them to be posted automatically this past Monday.
This “dissynchronization” is necessary because the small, remote marina in which we found, bought and boarded our new floating home is virtually out of the line of sight of most of the nation’s cellular providers. So every time my wife Pam and I want to check our email or our phone messages—or access our blogs to post our latest insights—we have to leave the marina and drive out to the top of a hill about four miles away to park in the shadow of two communications towers. To work around this obstacle, I have started writing a few posts in advance, and then driving out to that hot spot to upload each with scheduling instructions.
The downside to pre-scheduling one’s posts is that one never knows whether what one has written on Thursday for an appearance the next Monday will be substantially changed by events occurring that Sunday.
But I digress.
SO. . . This past Monday, I posted three lists I had written the previous Thursday of everything we thought we had to do to build up to our first major trip.
But this past Sunday, we tossed the first two lists overboard and went out for our very first sail in Meander.
It turned out that the well-past-overdue task of pumping out our holding tank (more on that here) simply could not wait for me to get all the way through our list of “Preparations for First Launch.” Fortunately, that errand required nothing more than a short trip under motor power to the boatyard next door, and a mercifully uneventful application of the suction hose at the yard’s pump station.
Okay, not completely uneventful. But the tactical error I alone made with the hose while under vacuum pressure resulted only in spattering my own face and clothing with minor amounts of watery ordure. All innocent parties in the vicinity remained unbesmirched.
Once that was over, we were back in the wind and on the water. And the wind and water told us that all the engine stuff we had yet to learn, all the freshwater and sanitary systems, all the batteries and the lights. . . all that could wait. Because although we didn’t yet know enough about Meander’s systems, the one thing we really did know is how to sail her.
So we motored south out of Cockrell Creek and into Ingram Bay. And while I manned the helm, Pam wrestled with Meander’s sails.
On any sailboat equipped with an auxiliary motor, the helmsman can make the crew’s sail-raising task easier by using the motor to head directly into the wind. This causes the wind to come from directly forward of the boat instead of over either side, which in turn keeps the sails being raised from filling prematurely with air. Because when they are finally and fully raised, the air filling those sails can pull a fifteen-thousand pound sailboat through the water. But when the sails are only partially raised, that same filling will fight any crewmember’s best efforts at getting them completely up.
So as I tried to motor into a modest ten-knot wind that was swinging slowly from the northwest to the northeast, Pam went forward to the mast and applied herself to the main halyard. This is the line that raises the mainsail, and the sail went up without a hitch.
Then Pam turned her attention to the headsail. On Meander, we have a roller furler, a clever device that keeps unused headsails stowed in a tight roll around a sailboat’s headstay. The headsail is unfurled for use by pulling on one of the two lines on a sailboat known as jib sheets. (Why are these lines called “sheets?” I have no idea. If you had asked me five years ago to point to a “sheet” on a sailboat, I would have pointed to the mainsail and observed, “That sheet is big enough to cover any ten beds I ever slept in.”)
The wind continued to veer to the northeast, and flowed over Meander’s starboard side (making this the side “to windward”) as I chased its changing direction with the bow of the boat. Assessing these conditions correctly, Pam moved to the port side (the side “to leeward”) and pulled on the jib sheet.
And out the headsail came, down the port side of the boat, filling beautifully (and, thanks to the superior skills of the helmsman, not too violently) with the wind blowing over the starboard side of Meander.
Then, just as Pam tied the jib sheet off on its cleat and I killed the engine, the wind backed again to the northwest. Crossing the bow, it turned the port side of our boat into the windward side.
And the headsail, so beautifully filled out from the port side, flopped into an awkward position toward the boat’s centerline. And the changed wind pushed us off the course it had been encouraging us in just moments earlier.
This condition is called “backfilling the jib.” At ten knots, it’s not particularly dangerous. And for some maneuvers in certain conditions, it’s even useful.
But in “condition-free” conditions on the open water, it’s mostly just a thing in which the wind catches you and reminds you who the boss is. A thing that other, more experienced sailors will point to from the shoreline or from other boats as they laugh and shout, “Just you wait. It gets worse.” A thing to be vaguely embarrassed by, and then to recover from.
And recover we did. With a quick change of lines and a course correction, we straightened Meander out nicely enough. Then we put in a few miles of easy, peaceful “getting-to-know-you” sailing, up and down the Great Wicomico River and out to the threshold of the great Chesapeake Bay, before heading back to our slip in our little marina out of the line of sight of most of the nation’s cellular providers.
Back to our slip to apply ourselves to those lists we abandoned just for a day. Because if we’re ever going to step over the threshold and into the Bay, we’re going to need them to get ourselves ready.
Meanwhile, Sunday was a wonderful reminder of why we bought this boat in the first place.
All photos: Pamela Webster