Saturday, November 12, 2005

Late season sailing

Some of the most special sailing times are very late in the season when the sky is cerulean and there's a 8 to 10 knot breeze... It's cool and dry and clear and it's a lot like a drink of cold water on a blistering day.

The other thing about late season sailing is that it's a surprise most of the time. I know I leave the house with a sort of ambivalence about the whole thing because most of the 'comfort' systems like hot water or any water at all for that matter, are winterized. The head is winterized, and all the snack food's off the boat (listen - if you're reading this from North Carolina southward, trust me, winter's a pain in the boat).

When you arrive at the boat, though, and there's a breeze and the temperature is actually kind of comfortable there's nothing to be done but go sailing. Some of my most memorable days sailing have been late fall and very early spring.

Most of my northern compatriots willingly turn their boats into badly designed storage sheds for the winter, and more often than not, on land to boot. Not me. I haul my boat one winter every 5 or 6 years. I do short hauls in the summer.

Normally, I sail with a small cadre of friends on January 1st if the boat is up for it. Well, the weather, too. Since 1980 or so I've only missed 4 or 5 winters because either the boat was out of the water or there was a gale or other really bad weather (one year I set my boat on fire, but that's another story).

So you might wonder a couple of things. For instance, why don't I, like others, put my boat on land like a beached fiberglass whale? Well, a boat is designed and built to be supported throughout the entire hull. Putting a boat on poppits, especially improperly, is moving the support from a huge area to 5 or 6 very small areas. I've been under my boat while it's on land in a breeze and to see it wobbling around and jumping up and down on said poppits is pretty scary. More than that, there is flexing in the hull that can't be good for the boat.

If you have a wooden boat, you've probably been told not to leave it out for the winter. Not only for support of the hull but also to keep the wood wet and the seams tight. I think the same applies to FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic) boats, except for the seam thing.

If you have a boat and you want it out for the winter, make sure the poppits are properly set. The yard may or may not do it right. They should be set so that there is a bulkhead or other transverse support behind it. If you see the hull bent in at the poppit, it's not right. And you're putting undue stress on the hull. Fix it. Or have the yard do it.

Today, boats are engineered to bear some pretty high loads in specific ways. It makes them less expensive to build and in most ways, much stronger than their predecessors. But it also means they're not strong in ways they weren't designed for. Such as held up with poppits.

The other reason I don't haul the boat is that I can't sail it. Let's face it, people ski. That's cold and wet. Winter sailing is far more civilized - I have a heater below (kerosene, Force 10) that holds the chill off, and of course, Yukon Jack, the official drink of Inertia, doesn't freeze.

So today's sail would have been long and slow for the summer. But as a special treat on a cool fall day on the Hudson River, it's incredible.

No comments: