Hoisting the Sails!
25 April 2016
Well it's taken me over a year, and I suppose by anyone's standards that's a long time, but this weekend I bit the bullet, took a deep breath and began work above decks that didn't involve cleaning, sanding or painting - I began work on the sails - making sure they were in good enough shape to actually head out for a sail. Making sure they all still worked!
It was a big deal.
I could offer up a lot of excuses as to why it has taken so Long to get this far and some of them would be quite reasonable, but the simple truth of the matter lies somewhere between really not being ready yet and the big bad monster of fear.
We made a bit of a party of it and a good friend (thanks Boyd!) arrived, complete with the fortifying six pack - not my regular drink but in this case the perfect accompaniments - and I set about Investigating what was what, what pulled up what and what it was all called.
Armed with a previously prepared and beautifully laminated guide to the correct names for everything top-side (because what I lack in sailing know-how I more than make up for in administrative skills) and an attitude of curiosity - the best learning tool known to man - we began with the main'sl.
The sail creaked and groaned its way slowly up the mast as we guided it between the back stays, clearly feeling as rusty as I did!
I breathed a sigh of relief then, that it went up and looked quite okay. I don’t know what I was afraid of – maybe that it would have had creatures nesting inside who would have nibbled holes in it or something. It was a huge relief to find that nothing bad had happened at all during the year the sails had sat, protected (I hoped) in their various covers, while I came to grips with the enormity of the task left to me, of learning everything I needed to know to keep sailing alone.
It was a little like riding a bike after a long time, if we didn’t think too hard and acted on muscle memory, we could locate where each halyard was and where it needed to be tied off. But more than just remembering, this exercise was also about learning. We are learning new names for things, correct names - like ‘topping lift’ instead of the rope that pulls the top part - because this time we are getting things right. So in amongst all of this fear-facing stuff there is also a sense of new-ness.
It’s like learning to sail all over again, only properly this time.
Reflecting on how it was, five years ago now, when we arrived in Albany, proud new owners of the amazing Argos, we really knew nothing. But in addition, I had no real interest in the sailing side of this adventure. It wasn’t my ‘thing’ and I was happy to acknowledge that I was just coming along for the ride, hoping to fulfil someone else’s dreams and take a bit of time to recover from a pro-longed period of ill-health. I wasn’t worried about learning how to do everything as I knew I never would be sailing alone. I helped in every way I could and was always out on deck doing what I was asked, but I never worried about understanding it all, or knowing intimately what was what – I never pictured myself being the one to say, ‘it’s a lovely day, let’s head out for a bit of a sail’!
But it’s all different now and this time around I am acutely aware of how amazing it is to have people around me who know so much – I have the most incredible opportunity to actually learn to sail this vessel – properly!
So I took the next step.
Putting up the mains’l was only the start. Once hoisted we set to looking at how it functioned and we could straight away see something was quite wrong.
While we were in the Whitsundays, in 2014, the boom was raised to create more head-room on deck – an idea gleaned from our friends on board the Joshua C Tallship. It had been measured in a fashion and raised but even I could see that it wasn’t right – the mains’l could not be pulled tight – no wonder we had not been able to sail up to the wind very well!
We were just talking about the need to have the boom lowered back down again when our lovely ‘neighbor’ Kym came by, having seen us playing with the sails. Another very experienced sailor, he shook his head at the idea of raising the boom without adequately checking how the sail would work – and as we all looked and talked we could see other ways we could get the sail up fully - by removing a shackle and attaching it directly to the blocks – and better yet – by swapping out the wooden blocks and replacing them with smaller stainless versions. This would allow the sail to stretch tight and allow us to actually sail up to the wind……something, needless to say, we have never be able to do and thought the fault lie with the boat when in truth it had more to do with our lack of knowledge in how to actually sail!
There were a few other issues to address – the fact that that sheets could not be properly pulled down and needed another block to run through, some fairleads and some clamcleats need to be replaced (yes, more new names to become familiar with) – and we were ready to progress to another sail.
Argos has 8 so this was not going to be a simple afternoon’s (or one six-pack’s) work!
We finished our beers as the sun began Its colourful descent and began to flush the sky with the same joyful hues I was feeling for having begun what had felt like a necessary but never-the-less daunting task.
Having faced the fear and tackled the first sail, I felt so much more confident of managing the others. And like so many other times, nothing came of my fear, instead, faced with reality, it so quickly dissipated and once more I was left wondering why fear ever takes such a hold of us when it’s often so hollow.
On Sunday morning we got up and set about tackling the next sail – the fore sail. This one was easier – I wasn’t feeling as anxious for one – and something about getting the mains’l up the day before brought a sense of I can to the table!
Almost immediately both Liam and I could see that something was wrong – the sail had been tied to the boom with the rope OVER the reefing lines!
Of course, before the previous days learning from Boyd and Kym none of us would have noticed the fault – and in fact I realised with a shudder that we never had worked out how the reefing worked and while we did get reefs into our sails, we had clearly not done it properly – and probably made sailing harder for ourselves than it had needed to be! The funny thing is, it took only one afternoon for us to learn more about sailing from these two good friends than we had learned in the previous few years since buying Argos!
So we untied the sail and re-attached it, leaving the reefing lines free. Happily it too was free of any kind of damage and we soon had it hoisted – when we were again joined by Boyd who helped us tackle the next couple of sails – with freshly brewed coffee and Tim Tams this time instead of the previous days’ beer!
We are not quite finished. It has been very windy since then and we need some more calm wind-free days to continue this task – but we have only one jib, the two rarely-used top sails and then the square sail to go and then we will have looked at everything and we will be ready……yes, we will be ready to go out for a sail.
The thing is, it’s not really the sails that needed to be ready but me. I can see that now. And I am happy to say that I am. I am not the passenger any more – I have come a long way since deciding to sell my house and car and give up my job and follow someone else and now it is my dreams I am fulfilling and the funny thing is that sometime during this past year of recovering, sailing has become my dream. I think about getting out on the ocean, I think about places I want to go, I think about how I can set things up so it is easier for me to handle…..I think about things I want to do for myself and they all involve continuing this sailing journey.
It’s a radical shift and one I would not have thought would come. I was happy to the passenger until I needed to take the wheel – now it is different – and dare I say it? I think I have been becoming Mrs Argos after all!