Lift Off

Sea trials kept me out four days.

The plan (I had a plan) was to motor a bit past the breakwater, to give the engine a good run under load (she’s been idling on the hard this last month and can’t have been happy with the low rpms), and then head back in to my slip for dinner, assess findings, and move to sailing on the morrow.

But there was wind on the water. The open sky and full sun made the day feel almost warm. The vast range across the bay, crystal clear, enticing. And, did I mention, there was wind?

I’ll just pop the jib, I thought.

And with that we achieved lift off.

For those readers who are not sailors, let me remark that the sensational difference between motoring and sailing a boat is like the difference between taxiing and flying a plane. Motoring is going, sure enough, and going is part of the equation, but subtract the engine and add in wind and the sum isn’t going of a different kind so much as of a different order. It’s a dimensional shift. Same boat, same bit of water; but with sails full and the vessel healed and hunting, the motion becomes fluid, intentional, animated. Think galloping horse and add soaring flight. Now place before your bows an uninterrupted horizon and suddenly aiming for the setting sun with the idea of achieving Mars seems perfectly reasonable.

But I get ahead of myself.

Wind was SE at 10 – 15. I put the boat on a reach; she healed gently, and soon our speed was 6 knots. She slid through the water as if her hull had been greased.

A few tacks later found the main going up, and then she charged. Winds in a “slot” east of the harbor increased to 25, boat speed went well over 7 knots. Rail down. The resulting crash below reminded me I’d not released the stove to its gimbals. A pot of lentil soup did a Jackson Pollock.

I put in a reef, tacked back and forth across the bay, working the boat but not paying much attention to position, and by 8 0’clock in the evening, found we were off Halibut Cove.

I’ll just tuck in and have a look, I thought.

The tiny public dock was empty. That and still water below a big, black rock mountain covered in snow erased any reason to return to Homer that night.

Next day very light westerlies allowed me to put the boat before the wind, set the autopilot, and rig the Genoa poles. What an advantage, autopilot. Flip a switch and suddenly one has a (silent) crewman at the helm; flip the switch again and he goes away. Magic. Especially helpful when there are so many new lines to run, get wrong and run again.

By now I have raised the main four times, but still haven’t got it right. I forget to release the lazy jacks or the sheet jams or the crutch bars are up or the tack from yesterday’s reef is still in and suddenly the boom is pointing to heaven. The running backs get stuck tight and can’t be released or my neat stowing solution for the spinnaker halyard succeeds in getting it wrapped around the head of the jib foil. So many mistakes absorbed without consequence by a forgiving boat (for now) on a gentle bay.

By evening we were off Bear Cove at the head of Kachemak Bay. Here we anchored behind a point on the NE side in 50 feet, sand and mud. Next day, I rigged the dinghy for its innaugural row and launched immediately. While in the middle of the cove, a small whale breached but a few feet away. In the afternoon, rigged the vang and restowed the aft port locker.

Departed next morning for the climb, tack over tack, back to Halibut Cove. And next day, Homer, where the bustling harbor with barely enough boat-lengths for my big bird to turn around reminds me why I left. Just time for this note and some groceries…

Please forgive lines all ahoo and sails poorly set in the below photos. We’re just getting going…

13 Comments on “Lift Off

  1. To go, just because you feel like going, and because you can…what could be better? Now that’s freedom!

    • Within constraints, like the boat has to keep floating; the engine has to start (it’s not quite 100% on that score), and the anchor has to stick in the mud. But yes, after being land locked since February, it was quite freeing to just get up and go because I could. Actually, it was startling to realize that I could! It also helped that there was somewhere extraordinarily pretty to go to!

  2. Great pictures. What’s your camera? I recently picked up a Nikon Coolpix P900. 2000mm lens point and shoot. Amazing and inexpensive.

    • Hey Mike, nice to hear from you. I wish I knew anything about photography. I use an iPhone 5, whose lense is the size of mouse nuts, and still it produces nice work. I’ll check out the Coolpix.

  3. As it should be. Great sailing. I plan to raise a toast to “Lift Off day” at the next opportune moment!

    • Thanks Jim. I’ll be having a Homer Brewing Company Red Knot Ale tomorrow evening. I’ll raise it to you!

  4. Looks like you have some MAJOR tide action up there.

    • Very true. Big tides in Kachemak Bay run 20 plus feet (I’m more used to 5 to 7 feet back home). But that’s nothing. Just north of here in Cook Inlet tides can run 30 feet.

      On one of my drives between Homer and Anchorage, a drive that takes one around the perimeter of Cook Inlet, I pulled over for a leak, and was startled by the flow in that bay. The whole of it, and it must be five miles wide, was ebbing at 6 plus knots. Looked more like the flow in some parts of the Columbia.

      Apparently Cook is also unique for its muddy/sandy bottom. At its head the inlet is extremely shallow and vast portions are dry beach at low water. But beware! Much of it is not walkable, but rather is like quicksand.

      Mike Stockburger reports that people get stranded out there regularly and drowned on a rising tide before the Coast Guard can get to them. Once a helicopter rescue attempt only succeeded in pulling the stranded man in two. He was literally stuck in the mud.

      Now the Coasties have a special water jet they use to spray around the legs/boots of the stuck person before attempting removal.

      Paradise can be dangerous, apparently.

  5. I’m outfitting my second boat now that I bought far away from home and it’s hard enough in a temperate populated area with all the amenities and west marine. Doing it in a small town in Alaska, I think I’d have a nervous breakdown with all the obstacles and challenges that involves! My hat is off to you Randall!

    • Laughing here. Yes, the process does have its challenges. Oddly, my most difficult issues have been with firms in the lower 48, the riggers mentioned earlier and then an outfit in Florida that sold me an Aquair 100 tow generator and informed me 10 days later (and only after I called and wrote twice) that it had not been shipped because Aquair had gone out of business.

      Homer, on the other hand, has seemed to be able to do anything. Most recent example to amaze me: I wanted to polish the fuel in Gjoa’s tanks. I wander over to the diesel dock and ask if anyone in town can do that. The guy points to a polishing get up (two huge Racors, an electric pump and hoses on a dolly) and says that they lend it out as long as I’ll replace the filters ($30). Damn. Back home that would be a $300 job.

      But yes, not fun times at mo. My brief days of sailing last week put the “get going” bug in me.

        • Hey Randall, my (new to me) boat is a 1986 Norseman 447 and I’m currently at the Ala Wai in Honolulu getting her ready to sail for the west coast (destination TBD but my ultimate homeport is San Francisco). I just read about your rough summer plans and looks like our paths may at least intersect this summer (if we don’t cross paths in person)!

          • Oh, that’s right. We’ve discussed this; sorry for forgetting. Handsome boat, the Noresman. I’m really fond of the Perry designs. Sailed a Westsail 39, a Perry boat, around Vancouver Island. Sweet sailer.

            Good luck w/the outfitting. And have a great time sailing back to SF. Let’s stay in touch. Would be fun if our paths cross.

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