When I was taking flying lessons in school an instructor told me to write down everything about the lesson. By writing down the events of the flight, the student was supposed to reflect both on the successful aspects of the flight as well as the aspects that needed improvement. I have brought a similar mind frame to sailing. Not necessarily because I need a certain level of experience but because I want to be a better sailor. After each sailing adventure I take a few minutes and write down some specific details such as times, location, type of boat, and any sailing partners. I also write down less specific information like what went well, what needs more practice, and other random musings.
One such random thought has turned out to be rather important. After a sail around Barnstable Harbor I wrote in my sailing log that I thought Tiger was faster on the starboard tack than the port tack. After the last sail where Asya and I found ourselves essentially at the mercy of the tide I reread the entry about thinking our boat was faster on one tack than the other. It suddenly dawned on me that the boat wasn’t slower on one tack than the other, but one tack happened to be against the tide while the other was across or with the incoming tide.
The importance of this is less about knowing how to sail faster but knowing the factors that are effecting your boat. To me this was similar to learning the differences between tacking Tiger solo vs with a crew member on board. It took some time (and many arguments on the boat) to figure out, but after some reflection on what was and was not working we got to a point of understanding how to handle the boat. Like with most skills things need to go wrong before you learn how to do them right. One just needs to be willing to learn from ones mistakes, and take the time to absorb those lessons and apply them to the next sail.
Tides weren’t something that I paid much attention to this summer. When planning a sail or a time to sail tidal flow was a factor just not a large factor. The first time we took Tiger out in Barnstable harbor there was plenty or wind, plenty of time before low tide, and still plenty of water depth to sail comfortably. Also in our favor we didn’t venture out to the mouth of the harbor. Recently we learned the magnitude of all of these factors at a time when we had none of them.
Around mid October Cape Cod was experiencing a longer than normal Indian Summer which means the weather conditions stay pleasant well into October and air and water temperatures are still pleasant enough with a wetsuit. This particular day was also a little abnormal since the winds were out of the south rather than the north as they had tended to be. This meant smooth seas both in the harbor and out in Cape Cod Bay. The temptation was irresistible. In the back of my mind I was thinking that this would be the last Tiger sail of the year so was more anxious than normal to take her out. The tide was already going out when we launched but we had several hours before low tide. So, we played it safe and set conservative time points to turn around and head in.
The sail itself was awe inspiring. Asya and I were all but rendered speechless by our first outing into Cape Cod Bay. We rounded the tip of Sandy Neck and headed west toward Sandwich, MA. Soon we could clearly see the Sagamore Bridge in the distance, but we also hit our turn around point. We snapped a couple more pictures and tacked back toward the harbor. From our turnaround point to the tip of Sandy Neck took less time than we had planned for so I decided to stay out and sail around the shoals at the opening to the harbor. In hind sight that was a dumb idea.
We ended up in a part of Barnstable harbor where even before low tide a kayak draws too much water. Tigers rudders didn’t stand a chance and soon enough we had to walk the boat across the shoals. Not a good ego moment, but a good learning experience. Eventually we got the boat into the dredged channel leading from the Bay into the Harbor, but were promptly met by our friend the tide again. There was plenty of draft but the tide was moving so quickly that we couldn’t make any forward progress. In our minds that was due to wind direction, to stay in the channel we were virtually head to wind and tacking Hobie Cats in tight spaces isn’t the easiest thing to do, surely not against the tide. So we beached Tiger and opted to walk her around the tip of Sandy Neck. There is no great way to describe the tide. The amount of water moving by and the force of it was absolutely incredible. In fact we rounded the point saw the sails fill with wind, jumped on the boat and went no where. There was just enough wind to fight the current. At least we weren’t going backward. The real odd thing about this was that the tide was moving so quickly that if we looked at the sails and the water we believed we were sailing, the sensation was exactly they same. But, then we looked up to the nearby shore and realize that we weren’t moving, very disheartening.
We were held captive by the tide for about an hour, while the sun went down, before the tide changed and we had just enough wind to make it back to the boat launch and pull tiger out in the dark. We did have a flashlight with us which was nice, but it wasn’t nearly powerful enough to do anything worthwhile, and in MA boats of our size aren’t required to have running lights at night, just a flashlight, so we were compliant but I don’t think either of us felt safe with our little flashlight. Our planned three hour sail ended up being five hours when all was said and done. But, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The sailing was incredible and the lessons learned where equally valuable. And now I have a much better appreciation for the effects of the winds and tides.