A lesson learned – sail!!
24 September 2010 | San Jose, Spain
Wow! We "crossed over"!! If you look at our location, we are no longer on 'east' longitude, but a 'west' longitude, starting today! We must have passed over the prime meridian today.
We are 3 nm north/east of Cabo de Gata. This cape is considered 'the big one' around here. It is the de facto point where Spain turns the corner and starts heading towards Gibraltar (from the direction we are coming from).
Yesterday we had a rough motor from Aguilas to Garrucha. It was only 15 nm, but there was no wind and a leftover sea that made for a lot of rolling. Fortunately we were able to drop the anchor in the Garrucha harbor and make a quiet night of it.
Today we took off on a 30-miler to get close to the cape so we could make a run on it the following morning (tomorrow). The strategy is that the wind will be lightest in the morning so that our transit around Capo de Gata will have as calm a sea as is possible.
That certainly was the case today. We started the day motoring with a very calm sea. But as the day wore on the wind gradually built. By the afternoon we were motoring into 20k and a heavy swell (maybe 10-12') with smaller wavelets breaking on top of those. The speedo was showing 4.5 - 5k - slow by our standards. An hour out from our destination I noticed the fuel gauge was reading low. To save enough fuel for our final assault on Almeria tomorrow, I called for a reef in the main and the full jib.
After setting the sails I was surprised to see that we were actually making better time with the sails than when we were motoring. Sure we were no longer heading directly where we wanted to go as we had to tack into the wind. But the speed jumped from 5 to 6.5k, and the sail was a lot more comfortable.
I have known for a long time that having sails up in a strong breeze will help calm the motion of the boat and make for a more comfortable ride. And when the waves are really steep and the boat is slamming a lot, motorsailing has proven very effective. But I had forgotten that with these smooth swells we could make better time AND have a more comfortable ride of it by turning the motor off, putting the bow 45 deg. to the waves, and just sailing. So that was a lesson I had to relearn.
It is so easy for us to get lulled into the idea that the motor is the most effective way to get from one place to another. It is amazing the number of boats we see motoring downwind (with no sails up)!! It must be our 'motorhead mentality' we grow up with. In our vessel's case, we have a 54 hp Yanmar diesel. But the sails are capable of generating a lot more horsepower than that under many, many conditions!
So for those of you taking notes at home, note this: if the sea is (relatively) smooth, sail; and if the sea is rough, motorsail.