Building Hours In the Log
08 October 2014 | Tampa, FL
Previous posts have essentially focused on the boat and its preparation. I will wander over toward some experiences we have had in the time we spent sailing in the Tampa Bay area to learn the boat, practice together as a cruising team and to gain our confidence.
As I mentioned a while back - The Admiral gifted me with ASA lessons. Although I had sailing and boating experience - day sailing was about the extent of it. She knew that I had to digest the physics of sailing a large boat for her to feel comfortable with us venturing out beyond the safety of coastal and bay waters where the sea can be unforgiving. My ASA instructor was awesome. A 40 year sailing veteran, he sized me up quickly on a Hunter 36 for a few weeks and felt I was ready to put the Hunter 50 through the paces. As part of the instruction package, was a 5-day trip to Key West and back. Bob opined that he was comfortable with my knowledge and skills suggesting we forgo that folly (a bit boring is how he described it) and he would put me in some quick-thinking, tight places with lots of diverse traffic and much to pay attention to.
Day 1 started with a short 21 mile leg from St Pete to Beer-Can Island in North Tampa Bay. The Admiral was aboard but buried in her PhD studies in the plush V-Berth with the wi-fi hotspot and her laptop (more on that later). The goal was to get the feel of the 50 footer as a single-hander. We had good wind and weather arriving without incident. Along the way he ran me through and MOB drill by tossing a life jacket (without warning) over the side and announcing Man Overboard! I was like a hog looking at a wrist-watch...knows it a watch/can't tell time! I learned quickly that a Captain must pay attention to everything - I didn't see him throw the jacket overboard but quickly picked up what it meant when he smiled and said - what are you going to do? I won't go into the details of my action/response but let's just say we did it twice. I will, however, will share some hind-sight.
1. I was not completely aware of my surroundings - lulled into complacency by the warm sun, a beautiful day, that gorgeous vessel and my mental computations affixed to the next time I had to tack. This cost me 30-50 seconds of reaction time in responding to the simulated crisis vexed by keeping one eye on the jacket in the water and trying to compute the figure-8 maneuver to put the boat on the windward side of the "victim" so I could drift in and recover as I dropped speed and hove to. In 50 seconds, at 6 kts, the boat had put a good 200 yds between me and my "victim." If that jacket had been the Admiral - the easiest part of the recovery would have been getting to her...after getting her back on the boat - oh boy!
2. Location of the required rescue gear (lifeline, boat hook and bouy) were inconveniently dispersed around the deck - I looked like a Key-Stone Cop scrambling around between reversing direction and...then it came to me...start the engine! - STOP!...Bob said "NO! It's about trusting your skills and quick thinking."
3. Sail-control was challenging single-handed, even in 10 kts of wind with electric roller furling main (for a novice). Bob coached - just sail to your target, keeping it in sight at all times. This was a sloop-rig...and we now have a ketch-rig...hmmm...more practice.
4. Arriving at the target, I managed to put the "victim" on the leeward side of the boat but underestimated speed and over-shot (went by too fast) but I was able to throw the rescue sling with a fair chance of a human getting to it (until the line went tight with a snarl and the buoy proceeded to follow the boat as I went by while trying to spill wind and heave-to.
5. Finally - lifting the victim (another monkey-wrench Bob threw in) that weighs 200 lbs and is exhausted, cold and pissed - my first thought was - WHAT?...the Admiral weighs 120 soaking wet! Bob's point was I was not going to be able to lift an exhausted victim aboard who was too tired to climb the gunnels. With 6 ft of freeboard...that is a challenging climb for a well-rested lifeguard! So, after sailing off and a second approach, I snagged the jacket (victim) with the boat-hook; secured the "victim" to the boat and used the main boom, a block and the electric winch to hoist it aboard.
In total - this exercise took nearly 1.5 hours! Bob enjoyed a sandwich, a soda and a few god laughs while helping me "think through" the recovery. Damned good thing that wasn't the Admiral in the water!
Arrival at our overnight anchorage proceeded without excitement until...
Again, hind-sight on a "first anchoring" with a big boat. Sandy bottom, fluke anchor was my choice, but setting it was what Bob wanted to drive home. Tampa Bay is too murky to dive on your anchor and my first attempt was not aggressive enough. All-chain rode with a snubber and plenty of scope (at least 7:1) was the lesson learned. Yes, within minutes of saying I was good - Bob asked me to watch a fixed point on the horizon and assess drag...we were moving slightly. Overnight that could mean aground or worse. OK...second attempt and being aggressive with that reverse gear and feeling the "snatch" was an experience I will not forget. The rest of the evening, after a wonderful "Admiral's" dinner, was spent learning the art of setting the GPS and Radar for anchor-watch/alarm and taking a number of written exams for the courses. Ahhh - technology! I still awoke every few hours to check position, swing and drag. All was well each time - but it was a beautiful, light-breeze night.
Leg #2 took us about 23 miles to another quiet anchorage at the mouth of the manatee River. Again, uneventful sailing in a 10 kt breeze on a broad reach. Bob pulls out the pocket-chart update and says - "I want you to go into Manatee River Channel under sail to the anchorage." I looked at the chart and said - "it's a pretty narrow channel?" His reply was "yep - and 25 yds off each beam it's so shallow that birds can stand up in the water." We were about a mile from our first tack into the River channel and a quick check of the winds and GULP!...12-14 kts. OK - smaller sail/jib; reduce speed; maintain control and keep the nose and stern between the markers. We went into a 3-leg (zig-zag) channel doing 5 kts in a 50ft boat where I could spit on sand-bars to each side. "Not bad" was Bob's comment as I emerged from the narrow channel into the small bay beyond. Another quiet evening at anchor (got it right the first time) after turning a few recon circles to assess scope between other boats and choosing a spot - kind of like a dog that turns circles before he final lays down. More written testing; another awesome feast prepared by the Admiral (who hadn't been on deck once since we set sail) and small talk with the "crew." Bob sends me to bed with the following line: "Tomorrow-I'm going to put you into some ship-lane traffic." Great! - I dreamed of Jaws, the Titanic, White Squall and U-571...must have been the fish? The hind-sight observations were:
1. Know your boat's strengths and limits. Know your own. Practice! That's what Bob was pushing me into - practice. He was watching to see if I would conservatively opt out of sailing in and use the engine - for safety sake? He was right there (but not as a Captain giving direction - but as a life-guard watching for signs of waning confidence, fatigue and failing skills) with me wondering what he'd do if I ran her aground in the tricky channel maneuver. I was game and felt good about it.
2. Leverage the wind; trim sail to suit - Conditions were ideal to sail into the slim channel - close reach, steady wind, clear day, high tide - Bob had timed it perfectly. He knew these waters - Little did I know? Regardless - it was an invaluable confidence building event.
Day #3 Winds precluded us from sailing out of the river channel but we were headed out into Tampa Channel. I could see at least 3 large cargo vessels stacked up inbound beyond the Sunshine Skyway coming in and two going out in the Tampa Channel NW of the Skyway - these things were BIG. Winds were up in the 12-14 range; sunny and a bit cool. Remember the Admiral in the V-Berth?...Still there -immersed in her studies - we would see her soon.
Expecting to negotiate ship-lane traffic was daunting enough - Bob required me to stay in the channel so there was no avoiding the traffic. He pointed out the Tug towing the huge barge and the nearly invisible 300 ft cable between the two - a day-mare of dismasting (at night) between these two was a momentary unpleasant vision. Approaching the narrow Skyway channel, I elected to orbit twice to give way to two cargo vessels plowing up the channel toward seeking Channel-Side in Tampa where they would load or unload. Finally, we were pointed at Edgemont Key to do a loop around the south channel approach, out into the Gulf and back in through the Edgemont Channel where the ships passed - all in all about 20 nautical miles to our next anchorage.
By this time, I was comfortable with sail handling, trimming and reading the environment. Winds were out of the North around 13 gusting to 16 ... so a beam reach outbound (west), Close reach after the turn north and then back on the opposite beam for the trip back into the Bay. Between the ship wakes, the beam reaching with 3-4 ft seas rolling us a bit on the westward leg and then the 6-8 ft swells in the gulf from the north. No sign of the Admiral - when I checked at the first nav turn, she was napping. Little did I know she'd been queasy all morning (again - failure to pay attention to all aspects of the boat (and crew)! On our northward leg, on a close reach, we were heeled at nearly 30 degrees with the port gunnel in the water. Beating into the chop and spray. Each tack was a quick-change of direction - I was getting the hang of this...This was sailing! Again, time passed quickly at the helm while below, the nausea was grinding the Admiral (still in the V-Berth) to a nub. Later, she said it felt like 3-weeks!
We emerged from the more "lively" Gulf water and hit our last leg toward our stop-over point up the ICW (parallel to the Skyway Bridge into Boca Ceiga Bay, then back through the Dick Meisner Bridge under I-275 into Pinellas Point for anchor, dinner and more testing. Toodling in relatively calm conditions up the ICW through Meisner Bridge, Bob and I decided we were hungry. I voted for egg salad. Bob went below to fix a few sandwiches - not knowing that the Admiral had emerged from the V-Birth and was laying exhausted on the settee just beyond eye-sight of the bar. The smell of egg salad jolted her awake and catapulted her to the head where she emptied the remains of her already empty stomach sore from retching for the last few hours while Bob and I were having the time of our lives on deck.
1. A captain must be conscious of conditions of boat and crew...especially if crew is defined as your wife, on her first sail, and sick! That oversight took a while to recover from but the Admiral was a good sport about it - She made it clear she was miserable for a while. Thank goodness for Bob being there - there could have been a hanging! (I could have blamed it on him since he made the egg salad sandwiches?) but, I squarely accepted my responsibilities as all that my boat and crew does, or fails to do - yes - my fault!
2. Over-powered: Looking back - I probably should have reduced sail area during the "beat" north. Clipping along at 6 kts is invigorating but heeling, rolling and bouncing at 30 degrees was not a comfortable ride...especially if you happen to be in the V-berth.
3. The Admiral's observation - note to self...not the V-berth! In our Ketch, it is principally used for storing things we don't need while sailing. Our crew cabin, the salon and the aft-master cabins are best for working, sleeping and lounging under sail.
Day # 4 in next post.