A Glorious Spring Day

A Glorious spring day, the daffodils were out in abundance, the sun was shining, a cool breeze made cycling to the boat a pleasure. I was enjoying the country roads, dodging the flies and other insects that were trying to get under my eyelids and up my nose and into my mouth. I reached the boat and leisurely unpacked my things and undid the tarpaulin, a task all the more quicker now that the second tarpaulin had been stolen. I was preparing to sail today so I made the boat ready, but the tide was racing in and I had to climb on board long before I was ready and the rest of the preparation had to be done in a cramped and messy cockpit. I secured the tiller hoping that it would hold the rudder in place on her maiden voyage; I unfurled the main sail and secured it to the mast. I was trying a new system today instead of the normal way a Bermudan rig is set up with a mast and boom, I was dispensing with the boom altogether hoping to make the rig less heavy aft and therefore less dangerous. I did not know if this system would work it is not normally done, but I took confidence in seeing that a similar type of rig exists on boats that are sailed on the Persian Gulf and traditional Arabic Dhows still use them today. This system is called a ‘lanteen’ rig, it has a triangular sail that is connected to the mast and the free corner is connected to the mainsheet, as in the Bermudan rig style. Having no boom means there is no ‘shape’ to the sail, it flutters in the wind when not sheeted in. A boom helps the sail have a flattened shape, and makes it a highly effective power engine, catching the winds and making the most of them. Without a boom it is like a flag blowing in the wind the energy is dissipated until you pull in the mainsheet which tightens one corner and gives it s curved shape enabling wind to spill out easily. This makes the sail safer as more energy/wind is lost; having a boom makes the sail hold more wind making it more powerful and therefore easier to capsize with the inexperienced like myself.

As the tide was coming in I connected the pulleys and sheets and tidied everything as much as I could by throwing things from one corner to the other corner as I searched for missing items, the wind had picked up and black clouds where thrashing Scotland only a few miles away across the estuary. Sea fishermen had set up their gear on the shore opposite me, I could not sail now even if I wanted too, but it was a blessing as the wind picked up to a force 5 or 6 and we were bouncing around as the swells and wavelets, as a present from Scotland, came fast and furious. The wind swung me on the mooring chain, it came on strong and increased quickly, very soon there were white-tops hitting the shore shooting bursts of surf over the fishermen; the sun had gone and we were now a lee shore; it was a different scene from the beautiful weather when I had first arrived.

I still tried to put up the sail in the wind and found that if I pulled in the mainsheet from the beginning I stopped the ‘flag’ fluttering at its corner, this made it a lot safer as it was whipping around the cockpit like a Whirling Dervish, and the metal fixing was making it a lethal weapon. It took me a few tries of getting the mainsail up but when it was up it looked ok. I let go the chain that connected me to the mooring so I could put some distance for me to sail. I was not going to let go totally but have a length of rope connecting me to the mooring so I could get back when needed. All I wanted to do was to see how the mainsail performed in such winds and if I could tack without a boom.

I let out the rope for about 15 meters and I drifted with the tide which by this time was starting to ebb, I was side on to the waves getting bounced around and soaked by its spray as it “slapped, slapped” against the hull causing surf to hit me as it was carried by the wind, also it had started to rain heavily that made the sail wet and heavy pulling the mast backwards. The wind was on my port side so when I pulled in the mainsheet the sail took effect and the boat immediately started to move forward, the boom-less sail worked fine, but now I was running out of rope and starting to pull on the mooring chain. Fearing that I should pull-up the mooring or break the rope I tried to release the mainsheet and let the sail flutter. The wind was now behind me pushing the sail against the mast and shrouds, this was “running” with the wind and although I was happy that it worked also, it was not what I wanted right at this moment! I had to release the main halyard and bring down the sail altogether, in doing so the tide brought me backwards and saved the mooring.

My second attempt was to try and reef the sail, what followed was a clumsy attempt of rapping the foot of the sail around itself then tying both ends to stop it unfurling I then took up the tension on the main halyard. I did not really know what I was doing as I never had expected these conditions on my first attempt but I thought to give it a go as it is in such conditions that one needs to reef. I tried out my attempt and the sail looked a sorry sight, baggy and limp, but when the tension was taken up on the mainsheet, she did its job and I could manage the sail more easily.

By this time the sea fishermen had gone home it was too wet and too windy even for them. I admitted I could not do anymore too and took shelter in the cabin and waited until we bounced on the sea bed and then fried out. I packed up in the ever dimming light and struggled with a lock that would not open on the cockpit locker. The wind never abated and it was an icy wind that made work slow and uncomfortable; as I tried to cover the boat with the tarpaulin it was blowing away like a kite. I finally got on my bike as it was dark and cycled 10 miles home, tired and cold and ready to do the same tomorrow hoping that it will be another glorious spring day.