Monday, May 20, 2019

A Boat Blue as the Summer Sky: First Outing of the Year

On Jacobson Park Lake with the boys and cousin Thomas
It happened: we sailed! Saturday was warm, hot by mid-May standards, but the breeze was fine, with baby gusts for extra interest.

Four in a boat just fits.

You see us with the mainsail almost fully extended -- an extra line (rope) tied high on the mast got in the way and prevented Christopher from fully hosting the sail with the halyard (rope that pulls the sail up and down). Just one of many glitches and lessons we had that afternoon, but it didn't dampen the joy of being out.

The jib sail -- the little one in front -- hasn't been put up yet. I was still getting used to being on the water again and wasn't ready for taking care of two sails, or the extra speed it could give us.

As it was, the water slipped by quickly. Noah tossed a leaf into the water and it spun behind us in a moment, a satisfying sight. I grew braver and Christopher and his cousin Thomas hoisted the jib sail, and they and Noah were silhouetted against a cloud of white sails.

Back the other direction, towards the sun and the fluffy clouds racing towards us, we somehow positioned the boat and her sails just right, and the entire thing hummed, a thrumming sound somewhere near middle C, as if the Kingfisher was a living creature lifting itself along with wings, and now she created a small wave off each side of her bow, the water curling and splashing to each side. These are the moments that make people who sail enormously happy, because at that moment they are at one with the wind.

Jacobson Park lake. Image courtesy Google Maps.

Docks make everyone nervous

It was time to come in. I was hoping to get my sister and my husband out for a turn. Noah, now at the helm -- that is, handling the tiller attached to the rudder which steers the boat -- the main sheet in his hand, steered us towards a fishing dock. We were moving fast. Suddenly I lost my nerve and thought we might hit the dock, so made Noah change course and steer for the main dock, where the paddle boats and kayaks launch. Paddle boats. Told you this was a small lake :}

We looked at each other. The boat was still moving so fast that had we gotten to the dock at that speed we would have smashed into it. So I told Christopher to take the sail in, that is, pull it down. He did.

The boat stopped far more quickly than I thought. About 30 feet from the dock.

Out paddles. My nephew hadn't paddled before, but confidently dipped in on the same side as Christopher.

The Kingfisher described a graceful circle.

There were fisherman on the shore and I know some of them were watching.

We were no closer to the dock. Already somewhat worn from the nerves of getting a 350-pound conglomeration of fiberglass, wood, steel, and dacron afloat and doing what it should with three tween boys aboard, all saying "Let me [do whatever]" and a lot of "Why not, Mama?", I was snappish, and Noah, who actually is pretty decent in a boat, having had two summers of sailing school, was snapping at me too. He'd never had this problem before, his little practice boat being basically a well-designed plastic bathtub called, aptly, an Optimist.

Learning to play in the bathtub, 2018. Christopher and Noah in sailing class.

Optimists ahoy! I told you they were floating bathtubs.
Actually, they move rather fast and can be raced.
There are no pictures that I know of to document this embarrassing moment, one of several that day. My sister and husband had set up under the shade of a sizable tree, and I just knew were lolling comfortably with my husband, and hanging out lazily while their children and spouse were doing doughnuts on the water a few hundred feet away.

I had the idea to make Christopher hoist just enough of the mainsail that I could spread my arms and hold it out to catch some wind, enough to propel us towards shore. So that's what we did and I looked pretty silly doing it, but we eventually reached the dock, navigating with the help of two people with paddles and Noah at rudder too. I suppose that was amusing to watch, and I am faintly proud of myself for thinking it up, although in retrospect we could have powered under the jib sail alone. Live and learn. I already said that last post. It won't be the last time!

Let's not talk about getting the boat in the water, or out of it

Okay, let's do, and laugh about it.

First, rigging the boat the night before for practice was a good idea.

Yes, I rig boats in a dress. Don't you?
However, leaving all the lines attached to make it easier to launch the next day does not make it easier. Quite the reverse. Too many ropes, too many helping hands, and too many tangles.

Second, I was so nervous I gave my keys to my brother in law and forgot to get them back, gave my wallet to my sister and she stowed in the car where I couldn't find it, and I forgot to take my phone with its camera on the boat. That's why no pictures from within the boat.

You know if the road to the launch "driveway" curves before it gets to the water, you're going to have a devil of a time. It does and we did.

Unless you drive on the grass, there's no straight way into the water.
See all those colored paddle boats? Lots of them were on the water when we were. A kayak or two, too.

To drive a trailer backwards, WikiHow says first you make a strategy. No kidding. They describe the process in 11 steps.

You have to steer the car the opposite direction to the trailer to get the latter to move the direction you want it to. That messes with my mind something fierce. I could do it as a kid for some reason, but not as a 55 year old. Mmmpppffff.

It took three of us, with me switching out for my brother in law, and 20 minutes to back the boat in successfully. With people eating hot dogs and ice cream and cold sodas 10 feet in front of us and watching the proceedings, and one guy suggesting he could do it for us. We declined politely, though it was a nice offer.

Image titled Back a Trailer Step 7
Um, yeah.
Image courtesy WikiHow.
It took even longer to get out of the water.

You have to point the boat up onto the trailer. You know, nose first.

But the painter -- the rope that you pull the boat with -- was tied to the back of the boat, and has been since I got it.

So Curte standing next to the trailer had the boat painter in his hand, and I was paddling like mad to try to turn the right way round, and the wind was catching at the boat and turning it wrong way round.

We eventually did it, and packed everything up and went for a beer and sparkling water at Kentucky Native Cafe Biergarten with the family.

Ah, a Weissbier with my sister, and Noah relaxing with sparkling water and
hist book on a boulder. Nine of us around the table, the breeze laughing,
glasses clinking, no music, just leaves and voices. Perfect.

The cafe on a quiet afternoon. Image courtesy Google.

So there we are. As my brother in law said, it was a shakedown cruise. He was right, but it was worth it.

Friday, May 17, 2019

If you're going to have a boat, there's going to be a story

If it's a sailboat, there will be more than one story, and most of them will include moments of confusion, idiocy, dumb luck, smaller or larger pots of money, and maybe a swim you weren't planning on.

Of course I will roll this story out for you. That's another rule of boat stories. They must be told.

Here she sits in the back yard, the evening before we take her out for the first time this season. 

Yes, there's a boat back there, beyond the deck with the windmill palms I
grew from about-seeds 25 years ago and bay-laurel and the stick-in-a-pot fig bush, and
birdbath, and big trees, and that black thing the boys' trampoline in the way back.
Lot 'o stuff and doings in that space.

The boys, Aunt Susan, and I all rigged her up. That took a while. Aunt Susan is an accomplished sailor on ocean and lakes, and for a long while lived aboard one on Chesapeake Bay. She sat quietly with my mother on the back deck -- house, not boat :) -- and allowed as it was probably a good idea that we were rigging the boat today, and not tomorrow at the lake, which is at a public park, and where the appearance of a sailboat attracts curious lookers-on. "Best to do it now and not be embarrassed tomorrow".  Um, indeed. 

The boys and I tangled, untangled, and retangled all the ropes, lines they're called -- halyards and sheets and painter and an un-canonical bit of old nylon rope tied to a cleat to help people working alone set up the mast -- and tried to recall how to step the mast, fasten the stays, attach the boom, run up the mainsail with the mainsail halyard, and rig the sheets, with just hints when we hesitated and looked thoughtful for more than a minute or two. All these names attached to interesting bits of steel and rope and dacron, all looking nothing like what they are called! Of course there was blood. There always is; that boat trailer and I have an uneasy time of it, and I swannee it bit me. A trickle coursed down my leg, unnoticed until well into the rigging venture.

I could hear soft conversation between my mother and Aunt Sue until it came time to figure out the traveler. Then the boys and I were truly stuck. Lines dangling like they shouldn't be, the boom drooping, nothing neat and tidy as it was when the guys from the Association had helped me last summer. Then she roused herself to come and help and we all huddled next to the stern, poking rope ends into blocks and hmmming. I was about to give up and go find the directions when Aunt Sue gave the fish eye to the whole mess, untied something I'd done, and we got it fixed up. Good. Because the instructions are online somewhere. No comments about me should have already found and read the instructions before beginning the process. No fun, that. I wanted to see what I could remember. Not nearly enough. Nor the tots, either. Oh well.

A little glossary

to rig = to set up everything on a boat so it's ready to sail.

a line = not something you write, but a rope on a boat. Off a boat it's a rope, on a boat it's a line. And there you are.

a halyard = hail the yard? Maybe in days past. It's a line that you pull to raise and lower the sail on the mast.

a painter = not to do with artwork at all. It's the line that you use to tie the boat to something.

a sheet = this one always made me laugh. Haul in the sheet! It's a line attached to a sail, that you pull on to control the sail and thus speed up or slow down the boat

a mast = the very tall pole of steel or wood that sticks pretty much straight up from the boat. The sails are attached to it. When you step it, you're taking it from being a long pole laying on top of the boat, and fitting it to a holder on the boat deck and raising it to perpendicular. That'll give you muscles. You try lifting a 20-foot something and setting it upright, holding it by one end.

a boom = not a noise, unless it hits your head, which it can and knock you flat. It happened to me once as a child and I probably got a goose egg bump from the impact. It's the pole that sticks out from the mast a few feet up from the deck. It holds the bottom of the main sail and can swing from one side of the boat to the other, depending on where the breeze is and where you want to go. Depending on where you let it sit, your sail will catch wind, or it won't. The sail sits in the triangular space between the mast and the boom.

a block = a pulley through which a line is run. There are blocks all over the place on a boat that carry lines from one spot to another. Even this little 11-foot boat has, let's see, 5 or more. I can't remember. Should be able to. Oh dear.

a cleat = a piece of metal shaped like a letter T that's bolted to a mast or a boom or the deck of the boat and about which you wrap the end of a line in a figure 8 to hold the line in place.

a traveler = a setup with a steel line and a pulley or two at the stern of the boat that helps control the boom. You'd don't absolutely need one, but mine has one and it sounds very boaty and nautical and all.

bow = front end of boat; stern = back end of boat; hull = the boat itself if you took everything off of it.

I probably left a lot of piece parts out, but that's what we we worked with and it was enough. Rigging took the greater part of an hour. Sure wish we had had pictures, but we were too involved to think of cameras.

Oh, did you know that most fiberglass boats have plugs, like bathtub plugs, only tighter, and if you don't plug your boat on the outside and plug the drain on the deck, the space between your hull (the boat proper, that floats) and the deck on top of it will fill with water and your poor boat will sink? Good to remember. I think somebody in the association sank last year or the year before, or was it a story I read in a boating magazine? Anyhow, memorable. Must remember to plug both before we set out tomorrow.

The roundaboat route to the back yard

The boat spent the winter in one of the barns at Curte's parents' farm. How it, and the SUV, both got stuck in a weather creek and had to be pulled out by Don on the farm tractor before it could get into the barn is another story for another day.

Anyhow, getting it out of the barn and to Paris, KY for repairs was its own little adventure. You see, the trailer wasn't in good shape when I bought it. The first place I took it to for repairs deals in cattle trailers, and horse trailers, and hay trailers and such. Not usually in battered trailers for an 11-foot-boat owned by someone wearing a dress and driving not-a-truck from the bigger town down the road. Wonder if things would have gone better if I'd arrived in the Ford 4x4 with the contractor's box in the back. Should have. I got taken for a ride, quite frankly. Three months's worth of one. At least the bill wasn't too high. Probably they felt guilty.

In any case, I couldn't get the trailer off the SUV hitch without a screwdriver used as a lever, or a crowbar, and usually with the help of a guy with big arm muscles. Wadn't going to work. So I had to get it to Paris.

First, though, out of the old tobacco barn. That barn is frequented by woodchucks, who burrow in the earthen floor and get everyone pretty frustrated with the big deep sudden holes. There was such a sudden hole mawing right in front of the boat's trailer when Curte and I walked in out of the sunshine. It's always brown light in an old barn. Brown and dusty. The boat was also blocked by random equipment, some unused fencing, and the big orange Kubota farm tractor with the ginormous mowing machine attached to the back and the front bucket loader. 

Curte climbed up on that thing, remarked that it hadn't been run in a while and that he didn't quite recall how to start it. So he played with buttons and levers until it rumbled up loudly  -- he looked up and aside at me that moment with one of those not-quite-expressionless Oh, My glances that he has that always makes me laugh -- and the tractor belched me a cloud of diesel fumes to breathe for a few minutes. Some more tests of levers and the mower lifted out of the way and the front loader bucket rose up with the whine all big equipment seems to make, and Curte lurched the tractor into movement and drove it out the double doors. Dang, those main wheels are big. I'd forgotten how big. Bigger than the old red Massey-Ferguson with the smokestack I'd mowed a field with once. Was I proud. Was it fun! Nephew Ethan does the mowing now, or Ben. I might ought to ask if I can sometime. Or maybe not.

So we maneuvered it out of the barn and hitched it to the SUV, and Curte told me to ride slowly to Paris over Hume Bedford Pike, with the flashers on for safety. We thought I might pop a trailer tire.

What it's like to see your boat following you. Every time I think of what it would be like to have
 the mast come through the back window. Not a pleasant thought.
Thank Heaven for no traffic. You'll find out why.
Most Kentucky horse farm fencing is now black. Used to be white
and the state was known for it, but that's a lot of painting to be done.

So I did. Here we are at a crossroads on one of the few cloudless mornings we've had all spring, the hedgerows high with wildflowers.

I made it to Mastin's and we leaned on the SUV and discussed the situation. They had a look at the hitch. It was indeed very broken, and the wrong size for the trailer and for my SUV. I was lucky, they said, that the hitch hadn't come undone, leaving me to drag the boat by its safety chains. 

Good heavens. We could have wrecked. Or the boat could've hit someone following too closely behind, which is practically the norm and which makes me both affrighted and truly m-a-d mad.

Anywhoo, we didn't wreck, they fixed the trailer in a night and the car got a tune-up and I drove the boat, singing (me, not the boat) down Paris Pike back to town on a second gorgeous day and got her snugged into the garage with room and to spare. At least until we put the bikes and the mower and the seed spreader in front of it.

Washing and polishing

Nah, you don't want to hear that story. Like running seams on a petticoat, it's a lot of handwork. Like a seam, all there is to look at afterwards is what should be there, a straight, neat seam, or a clean boat whose still scratched sides at least reflect a little of the greenery around it.

A boat should have a name

Our boat came to us named Sanity. That's what's in torn lettering on the stern. While I bought the boat indeed because I wanted some sanity and balance and some of the fun I remembered as a child to share with the boys, we don't need to advertise that, so a new name was in order.

Christopher thought Insanity would be good. 

Noah wanted Fishercat.

You can tell a bit about the boys right there.

I thought of SS Minnow, after Gilligan's Island.

Image result for gilligan's island
Courtesy, "Little-known facts about 'Gilligan's Island' and 'The Brady Bunch'".
Noah was worried that this would be an "inauspiscous" (inauspicious -- we practiced the word) name. I am inclined to agree, especially when I think of leaving a plug unplugged in the boat. 

We have settled on Swallow, after the lovely little dinghy in Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome, a classic in England but not well enough known here in the U.S. (More about her, and the version you can perhaps still sail on Coniston Water.) Funny to think that our Swallow is smaller than the original, which was small indeed!

Image result for swallows and amazons
John, Susan, Titty, and Roger (in the bow) in a BBC adaptation of the book. Image courtesy BBC2.

Tomorrow, Heaven and the heavens willing, we will be out in her, and I will have a camera.