Sunday August 14, 2011
If everything had gone as planned today would have been a family day aboard Serendipity with Matt’s mom and step-dad, along with his younger brother and friend. One look out the window though and I could tell it probably wasn’t going to happen. They were expecting a warm sunny day with a light breeze, the perfect kind of lazy Sunday weather we’d been having all summer. What we were faced with were clouds, 25 knot winds, and choppy waves. Not the most relaxing of weather. So we rescheduled for the following weekend while suiting up in our foul weather gear for today. Neither of us really knew what to expect out there, but previous stormy days have taught us it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Motoring across the small space to the channel winds were a constant 25 with gusts up to 30. We had no idea what Lake Michigan might have in store, but we were sure it would be the same to worse than the smaller lake. Cruising down the channel everyone on land was in shorts and t-shirts and didn’t seem to be the least bit chilly. Fishing boats and other smaller yachts were passing by in the same gear and the wind gauge had dropped down to a mere 9 knots. Maybe we were wrong, maybe the sun was going to come out and it would have been a gorgeous day after all. Of course we were wrong (or correct), once we were back out on open water the wind kicked up to over 20 knots. Unfurling the headsail about 3/4 of the way we placed ourselves close hauled and set the autopilot. Personally I don’t completely understand going out on days like this if you’re not racing. We didn’t have a certain destination in mind or a certain time we needed to be anywhere. We were in other words, going for a pleasure cruise in a small craft advisory. Onboard Serendipity there was no finding the best point of sail, and no trimming sails to get the best speed. It was ‘let’s set the sail, set the autopilot and relax while the sky grows darker and the waves build higher’. Maybe Matt was just interested in finding out how the boat and autopilot handle conditions like this since there will be times when we’ll have to travel through it on our trip. Or maybe he was going through sailing withdraw since we hadn’t been out in two weeks and figured as long as it was safe enough for the boat to stay afloat he wanted to be on it. And since I love him I put up no complaints. Plus it was a little exhilarating when the waves began to build to 5-6 feet (a decent size for Lake Michigan) and we’d rise up the crest and fall down the trough, almost like a roller coaster ride. After awhile of watching ourselves go into the waves and appreciate how big they really appeared when in the trough, I rotated myself to face back and watch them roll out from under the stern.
Suddenly the wind changed direction by about 60 degrees to where we were now on a beam reach and the full force of the wind was hitting the sail full on and was enough to quickly heel us where we had a rail in the water. Without any direction from Matt I quickly jumped up to disengage the autopilot and change our course, but in the practice of being safe that day I had attached the short part of the tether from my harness to be clipped on by the companionway and when I jumped up to run aft I was quickly yanked backwards. Un-clipping myself I was able to get to the helm and put us back on a close hauled course, now heading almost directly East toward the shore. Matt was busy adjusting the sails and soon we had ourselves back on a calm enough path. I was actually kind of proud of myself for being able to act without direction, and was able to set my mind at ease a little bit about being on large bodies of open water in the future. Although I’m still learning and not quite a certified sailor yet, I don’t think I’m stupid enough to kill both of us.
Since we had been on our original course for awhile and lunchtime was getting past us, I forced Matt to go below and heat us up some soup since these waves were more than I could handle if I were to try and cook. Over our lunch we joked about how hard it’s going to be to do things on long journeys in less than perfect weather. I’m not going to want to cook, I’m not going to want to clean, I’m probably not even going to want to shower. Every three days I might gather enough strength to dip a wash cloth in a bucket of water and wipe myself off while being thankful that Matt can’t leave his now less than desirable wife because he’d have nowhere to run. All this talk of personal hygiene made me realize that I needed to use the restroom and was going to need to go below into the rocking cave to do so. Making matters worse, I was still all strapped up in my foulies and access to dropping trou was not going to be easy. I was lucky enough to have a drop seat in mine but could just see myself getting more and more nauseous while standing in the head trying to figure it out for the first time. Solving this problem I did as much as I could in the cockpit and then scrambled downstairs to go and get back up as quick as possible. I strongly suggest for you ladies to practice finding a way to go in foulies before you out in bad weather because it is not a simple task. At least not the first time around.
Once we were getting close enough to shore that we could no longer go straight we turned to go back to the channel. My non complaints from earlier were about to start rising up and both of us were starting to get exhausted while not enjoying our pleasure cruise as much anymore. When we got to the point by the lighthouse where we turn on the engine and bring down the sails, there seemed to be a glitch of getting the headsail furled properly. It would roll up about 2/3 of the way and then get stuck. We would then have to unfurl it all the way in the heavy winds and try again. After four attempts we were not making any progress and the decision was made that it would have to come off completely. This was a two person job, so after setting the autopilot with the engine on and now cruising South along the coast I dashed below to grab some rope and made my way to the foredeck to assist Matt. He was already lowering and unhanking it at quite a quick pace and didn’t realize that part of it had slid off the side and was dragging in the water. I rapidly pulled it back on deck before any damage could be done and sat on it while Matt wrestled to get the remainder down. Once we had it completely unattached I tried gathering it into a ball to bring back to the cockpit, but it was too big for me to carry in my arms so I gathered it in sections taking care not to let it catch on anything and rip and also making sure I didn’t trip over it and fall overboard. Before long we had everything secured and were able to make our way back in.
The weather changed dramatically when we had attached ourselves to the mooring as in all wind practically died. It was nice to have the calmness but it also meant that we were able to go to work right away attaching the headsail and raising it. Again Matt thought it would be best if I worked the winch while he hanked. Didn’t I just do this? I didn’t argue this time because I was feeling macho and thought I could get it all the way up on my own. Which I did. Then Matt noticed we didn’t pull the line to furl it first which meant there was no way to roll it once we had it up. So back down it went where the problem was fixed and it was raised again. I was able to get it about 2/3 of the way up this time before I forced a switch in positions. Sitting on the deck still in my foulies after we had everything squared away I was happy for the day we had. It may not have been the lounge around soak up the sun kind of day that I normally prefer, but I was tested as a sailor and I passed. It may not have been with flying colors but at that moment I knew I was on my way.