Sailing After the Storm

Hurricane Arthur brushed passed New England on the 4th of July.  Obviously the best choice of activities for the 5th was to go sailing!  Well, maybe.  Winds were on the stronger side, blowing steadily at about 10 kt and gusting into the 20 kt range.  Conditions were on the border of not being a good idea given the gusty and variable conditions.  But, our desire to go sailing over powered my caution.

DCIM100GOPRO

Nothing bad or dangerous happened (aside from trying to beach downwind, not sure I want to do that again).  But, even though nothing broke and Asya and I came back still speaking to each other I’m still not convinced that we should have gone out that day. Before we launched I was mildly uncomfortable with the weather reports.  They were the strongest winds that we had sailed in, and the wind seemed confused, blowing from one direction then gusting from another.  Conditions were such that we both felt overwhelmed from the beginning, and a couple hours later when we put back in we were frustrated, which isn’t a good way to end a sail.  In hind sight I wonder if it would have been smarter (and safer) to have stayed on the beach and simply enjoyed the view.

The upside of going out after the storm was that we learned where our current wind threshold is.  I’d say 25 knots maximum and a 10 knot gust factor is all that I am comfortable with at this point.  Yes, the veteran Hobie sailors will probably say at those wind speeds the fun is just starting, and they are probably right, but I am just not there yet.  And that being the case, I’ll continue to be a wimp and push the limits only a little bit at a time.

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First Hobie sail of the season

Hobie 14
First Tiger sail of the season.

There are still a good number of projects that I want and need to do to Tiger to spruce her up this season.  The last day that I had off I had the option of staying in the driveway and doing some of the projects that I have planned, or go sailing.  With clear skies and light winds it is easy to see that I would chose sailing rather than boat projects.

The light winds were actually rather frustrating because they were light and variable.  When the wind would go calm both the boat and I became confused as to where the wind would start up from again.  More than once I was caught off guard by and accidental jibe when the wind direction suddenly changed.  All of the wind challenges were complicated by the reality that Hobie cats are notoriously difficult to tach.  Tiger would end up in irons (probably my fault honestly) and the wind would die down so my tricks for getting her out of irons wouldn’t really work because the wind wasn’t in our favor, and often changed direction which only complicated the situation.

Hobie 14

Of course, all of those difficulties with the wind aside, taking Tiger out was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.  Who wouldn’t want to spend a couple hours laying around on a boat while causally sailing back and forth across a lake?

Lessons learned

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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.

Wind and Tides

Hobie off Sandy Neck
Sailing in Cape Cod Bay

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.

Sailing in Cape Cod Bay
Sailing towards Sandwich

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.

October Sailing

Sunset sailing Hobie 14
Sunset in Barnstable Harbor

Summer with Tiger was simply too much fun, so as it became apparent that summer was ending and fall was upon us we decided drastic measures needed to be taken to extend the sailing season.  Wetsuits were added to our sailing gear.  Honestly, as we progressed away from sailing on lakes and spent more time in somewhat open water we should have added some level of protection earlier.  Better late than never though.  With the addition of diving booties and a wind breaker there are times when we are almost too warm.  It is a little complicated trying to find cold weather gear for Hobie Cat sailing.  On the one hand the boat is rather wet, on the other hand the boat is rather dry so there is a bit of a balancing act that needs to happen.  Personally (thus far) a full body wetsuit, diving booties, and windbreaker under my lifejacket have done the trick.  I also wear a hat which definitely helps even though it is an Aussie hat rather than a wool cap but it is better than nothing.  Even with a bunch of gear I highly recommend not pushing the cold line.  If your out on the water and start to get fatigued and cold now you’re in a situation that can get ugly quickly.

All disclaimers aside the sailing on Cape Cod in October has been wonderful!  Since most of the tourists are gone for the season and most moorings are either empty or have been removed sailing has been excellent.  We have been sailing out of Barnstable harbor and have discovered a new playground.  There are a few things to look out for, primarily tides and sand bars but with a shallow draft boat that hasn’t been too big of a problem.  So this late in the sailing season we aren’t quite ready to winterize the boat and hang up the wet suits till next year.

Hobie Cat mast step

Flipping Tiger

Part of dinghy sailing is being able to handle a flipped or capsized boat. Prior to Tiger the only boats I had sailed were full keel boats that essentially don’t capsize.  So the idea of a boat on its side is not comforting to me.  Asya on the other hand has flipped lasers for fun as a kid, so I suppose we are the two ends of the spectrum.

Rather than sail scared of the eventual capsize and not explore the true capabilities of our boat I decided to tackle my fear head on.  Primarily I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to right the boat on my own, but to prove I could right it on my own the boat needed to be on its side.  That part proved more difficult than expected, in fact I wasn’t able to overturn the boat solo which in itself was comforting.  But, with Asya’s help we eventually got Tiger on her side.

Returning Tiger to upright was easier than I had expected.  Since this was simply a trial we didn’t have any sails rigged which definitely made the maneuver easier but the goal was achieved, we could right our boat!  I than repeated the maneuver solo, that proved a little more difficult.  With the reduced weight on the lower hull and less force on the upper hull I had to work a little harder to get the boat upright but was able to right Tiger without too much difficulty.

Aside from being proud that we were able to right our boat we are much more confident sailing the boat.  Now that I am less afraid of an overturned boat I am much more comfortable on the water.  That comfort is absolutely the prize for confronting my fear of our boat on its side.  I am not looking forward to our first pitch poll experience but at least I am confident we will be able to get our boat upright afterwards.  If by chance you are reading this and still haven’t flipped your dingy yet, I highly suggest that you do, the confidence it gives you is worth the few nervous moments.

Crew on a Hobie 14

Hobie 14 Sailing Cape Cod
Sailing in light wind on opposite sides of the boat.

Most who are familiar with the Hobie 14 know that its optimum weight is pretty low, around 155lbs.  So by having two people on a 14 one can easily call it overloaded.  Asya and I have proved it.  When we are both on the same side of the boat in calm wind the hull we are over has a tendency to submarine.  In the past we have fixed the submarine problem by staying on opposite sides of the boat and keeping the boat level that way.  That all changed on Mashpee Pond a couple weeks ago.  We finally got enough wind in the sails that we both needed to be on the windward hull in order to keep the boat level.  Further more we needed to shift our weight backward to keep the leeward bow out of the water and thus prevent a pitch-poll.  A very cool feeling as we finally felt like we were actually sailing our little boat, rather than coxing along an overloaded dingy.

By and large the 14 is intended to be sailed solo, at the very least the size of the trampoline and single trapeze suggest that it is a one person boat.  But our experience shows that having two people on a 14 isn’t a deal breaker.  Certainly no hobie cat speed records will be broken with a crew on board, but the boat is plenty fast enough to have fun.  And who wouldn’t want someone on board to share the fun with?  That being said, sailing a 14 with two people definitely requires coordination and care to make sure the boat can actually handle the extra weight.  Personally I wouldn’t be comfortable carrying to much more weight on Tiger than we already do.  So, if you are inclined to have a crew on your Hobie 14 please do so carefully and be sure you know how your boat will handle the extra weight.