Suddenly Sailing - ASA 103

Suddenly Sailing - ASA 103

I’m going to stop numbering these entries, since it hardly seems necessary.

Last Saturday, we hopped out of bed before the sun came up, showered, and headed north for our next sailing lesson. It was pretty glum weather and didn’t get any better as we neared our destination. I had come down sick on Thursday and was still feeling stuffy headed with a sore throat and congestion to spare.

We arrived 20 minutes early and spent it enjoying the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever gotten from an espresso stand, assuming my tastebuds were still functional, and a peach scone. At the school’s office, we met our instructor, an older gentleman that I’ll call Jerry. After a brief introduction, we headed down with a dock-cart load of food and met our boat.

Again, we had a newer and bigger member of the fleet – A 2013 Jeanneau 44 Deck Salon. I was a bit disappointed by the presence of a furling main, as one of the more interesting 103 topics from our reading was reefing. Reefing, at least on a main sail, is the process of reducing a sail’s exposed area by lowering the sail and attaching the new “foot” to the boom. This is used when you want less power from the sail due to overly strong winds. I’m sure there are other applications as well. With the furling main on our boat, the sail size can be reduced by just rolling it up into the mast- convenient, but we definitely wouldn’t be getting to practice reefing on this boat.

After a few minutes, all of us were assembled and we made some introductions after loading our gear. All of us were up from Seattle- Tom was an older family man who had crewed a few charter sails with his friends, and Sam had last sailed during his ASA 101 course a year ago.

For this course, we spent a lot more time prepping to get underway. We did a check of the diesel engine and reviewed the boat’s systems. Some technical difficulties required a quick visit by the school’s maintenance, but before too long we were ready to set out. The 44 foot yacht was nestled in a narrow slip, with another row of boats directly across.

From my discussions with others and reading so far, getting in and out of the marina seems to be one of the most stressful parts of boat ownership. In a marina, you’re operating a very expensive vehicle with a huge amount of weight and therefore inertia, in close proximity to piers, pilings, and other very expensive vehicles. It was one of the skills we wanted to spend as much time as possible practicing for this class, so when Jerry asked for a volunteer, I stepped up.

All of my time behind the wheel for the ASA 101 course was spent while the boat was already underway. Getting a 44 foot boat clear of its little slip and home free definitely got my adrenaline going. That said, I had an excellent instructor to guide me through it, and the boat was also equipped with a bow thruster, a device that allows you to press a button and nudge the front of the boat left or right. Basically, it’s cheating, but I was happy for whatever help I could get.

The boat eased back well enough, but managing to swing the turn in close quarters without our momentum carrying us into the boats behind us was more complicated. Without Jerry’s guidance, I have no doubt that I would have had thousands of dollars in property damage on my hands. However, within a few minutes that felt like many more, we were motoring our way out into the main fairway of the marina.

We spent a while in the marina going down narrow fairways and swinging the boat in a standing turn. It’s quite remarkable how little space a boat that size actually needs to pull a 180 degree turn. You can almost pivot it entirely around in place, as long as you are patient, leave enough room for the stern to swing, and are carefully applying bursts to the throttle. We also pulled up alongside a slip and docked briefly before heading out. The wind was mild at best.

We put the sails out and practiced points of sail very briefly. Tom spent most of the time on the wheel for this exercise, and seemed to struggle with orienting himself. I certainly remembered the feeling from my ASA 101 course just a few weeks earlier. We also found that all of the working lines used to manipulate the sails during normal sailing ran to the set of winches in front of the dual wheels. Unlike our previous boat, which had the head sail lines on the rear/primary winches and the main sail lines on the secondary winches over the companionway roof, this boat had a layout more geared toward single-handing. With a class of four, it made for an inconvenient arrangement. The wind eventually gave up entirely, and we settled for motoring to our mooring for the evening.

As we headed out across the stretch of water, still but for the currents running through the channel, we took turns at the helm and enjoyed the company of the occasional porpoise. Jerry thought they were Dahl’s porpoises, and honestly, all we saw of them were the little finned mounds of their backs breaking the surface: there one moment and gone the next. At one point, a pod of twenty or so crossed paths with us, headed for some unknown destination. The cloudy morning had developed into a gorgeous blue-sky day.

We reached Eagle Harbor with plenty of time til dusk and roped up to a mooring buoy. The Sir was at the helm as we nosed up to the buoy, and I can only hope things will go so smoothly when we’re sailing on our own. The ship was secure within a few minutes, and we moved onto our next little lesson – operating the dinghy.

The process of getting the outboard onto the dinghy was a little precarious, but we took every precaution and had it bolted on in short order. Once that was sorted, Jerry took the four of us on a demo run, packed in tight on the little inflatable boat. Sam and Tom were quite familiar with motoring around in little boats, While neither of us had ever used one. That said, aside from actually getting the motor going, it was a very simple and fun exercise. We motored around Eagle Harbor for 20 minutes or so while a curious harbor seal periodically checked in on our progress. On the shore we could see a trail head with some kayaks pulled up on some nearby logs. Someday, I hope we’ll be able to make it back out there and have an offshore excursion.

Dinghy experience completed, we set to making dinner – another round of barbecued chicken with some simple sides. Overall, it was very uneventful, though it may be worth noting that barbecuing the chicken took an inordinate amount of time. I’m not sure if it was just inexperience with the grill, or if the grills on these boats are particularly inefficient. I was down below prepping broccoli and some sort of quinoa-a-roni the school had provisioned us with.

After dinner, Jerry conducted a review session, going over the high level topics of the course and offering anecdotes from his own experience. Eventually, the evening wound down, I took some night formula cold medication, and we tucked into our over-sized bed at the back of the boat.

We woke up to gentle waves and soft dawn light diffusing through the rear dead light. A simple breakfast of yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit was enhanced by fresh coffee, and after clearing out my sinuses, I was feeling pretty darn alive. We all took the test, another 100 question multiple choice affair. All in all, there were about a dozen questions that left me unsure. Fortunately, for most of those, my intuition was correct. Tom, Sam, and The Sir all passed as well, and after a few minutes spent preparing, we were underway. The curious harbor seal saw us off as we motored away from Eagle Harbor.

We headed up to Pelican Beach, just south of us, and each took turns practicing our mooring buoy approach. Then we headed back out, happy to see the wind was with us today. We unfurled the sails and spent some time practicing points of sail. Unfortunately, it was not exactly a smooth process.

It turns out, Tom was not just struggling a little with orienting himself in the water. He was borderline comically fixated on watching the wind vane. Jerry was incredibly patient with the entire situation, being helpful but eventually becoming exasperated as he continued to provide sound guidance. The Sir and I did fine, our previous lesson still quite fresh in our minds. We were able to focus more on orienting ourselves according to the feeling of the wind on our faces. Sam quickly got back up to speed as well.

Eventually, we moved on to the man overboard drills. For our purposes, two fenders tied together were “Oscar,” our ill-fated travel companion. Jerry took us through a quick demo – a person at the helm, a person spotting, and a person on each winch. The boat would swing onto a beam reach once Oscar plopped in, proceed until we were about 5 boat lengths away, then swing a 180 degree tack through the wind and  as we approached, and slack the jib then the main sail to slow us down so that the spotter could pull Oscar up.

It’s a somewhat complicated process, and definitely requires clear communication and teamwork. If one person fails to execute their role, things will probably go off the rails, especially with a bunch of inexperienced students.

As I worked the winch, we struggled through Tom and Sam’s attempts at the helm. When Jerry said to tack through the wind, they both swung the opposite direction, onto a broad reach. If I remember correctly, Tom managed to carry this on into the boat spinning through two accidental, but thankfully gentle, jibes. Meanwhile, on the winches, things weren’t going terribly smoothly either. There was only enough line on the main sheet to use one winch, which due to our inexperience, was usually the winch that needed to hold the jib sheet. To try and work around this, we sometimes closed the jib sheet cleat, which would cause complications down the line and earn us a sharp correction from Jerry.

By the time I took to the helm, I’d seared into my mind that I would be turning through the wind, and was pretty aggressive in loudly communicating my intentions. And we still had a mess on our hands. This was a situation that happened numerous times – the acting helmsman would say, “Ready about!” And the crew would bark out, “Ready!” and then Jerry would point out that actually, we weren’t ready because we needed to switch the lines on the winches. Bless Jerry for not making one of us play Oscar’s role after we screwed this up for the umpteenth time.

In any case, I eventually got through my practice runs for the man overboard drill. We managed to recover Oscar. Everyone was a bit frazzled by this point, so we stopped for lunch with The Sir at the helm, slowly working our way back to the school.

I was spotter for The Sir’s man overboard runs. As we approached Oscar, I would walk up the side deck with the extended boat hook and snag the knotted lines between the fenders to “save” Oscar. On our second run, things went awry. I was out front as we approached, pointing, but the bow came over too far and ran Oscar right over. As soon as I shouted this back, things got quite serious and Jerry took over, slacking the lines.

Oscar had simply disappeared. It’s very easy to forget exactly what’s below the waterline. This ship had a fin keel, a relatively narrow but long extension below the water to counterbalance the boat and sails. And depending on where Oscar was down there, he was either wrapped around the keel or tangled up in the prop. In either case, the ship could only move by sail or risk fouling the motor. It was a tense few minutes, but eventually the boat slowed and Oscar resurfaced. Man overboard drills are at the top of my list of things to practice once we get a boat of our own.

We sailed back on perfectly suited winds, the boat heeled well over as we approached harbor. It was exhilarating, and less unnerving than my first experience on the Bavaria. Before we entered the marina, we got in some anchoring practice. Then, we set to refueling the ship, visiting the pump out station, and finally putting her back in her slip. All easier said than done.

The wind was blowing lightly onto the docks and I was at the helm for pulling up to the fuel docks. Things went quite smoothly, though I don’t look forward to learning how to do this someday on a completely different boat, sans bow thruster. I was able to more or less pull up parallel and allow the wind to push us in, correcting for the bow as it tended to swing in first.

The approach at the pump out station did not go as smoothly. The Sir was dead-on in bringing the boat around, but through a mess of miscommunication, the lines didn’t get secured in a timely manner. Tom had offered to hand the bow line down to me and didn’t until we had nearly run out of dock. I don’t remember exactly why, as everything happened very quickly, but the end result was Jerry intervening and preventing a minor disaster.

We spent the next several minutes on the pumpout dock. For the uninitiated, this is where you remove everything that you put into the ship’s toilet by using a suction hose on the holding tank ports. I had the good fortune of being stuck acting as a patch for a leaky fresh water hose. It didn’t improve the smell any, but also didn’t involve looking at swirling human excrement through the pumpout hose’s little window.

For our departure, I was on roving fender duty, where you use an inflated rubber cylinder as the last line of defense between the boat and thousands of dollars in property damage. The pumpout dock had high, uneven edges, and the wind was blowing onto the dock. As the boat began to move forward, the fenders that normally protect the boat became trapped between the dock and boat and rolled up. With the fenders laying on top of the dock and the boat also trying to roll my fender away, we cleared the dock by inches.

We had a few more close calls, but managed to bring the boat back intact. We wrapped up the lesson, leaving the ship as we’d found it, and received our official certifications before hopping in the car for the drive home.

All said and done, the lesson was a great experience. We strengthened our core set of skills and learned some new ones. We now have a foundation of knowledge that we can build on with continued practice, until we’re able to feel comfortable crewing our own boat.

For the future, maneuvering around the marina and tying off with only two people are also high on my list of skills to practice. And we still have the ASA 104 course coming this spring. And we need to find and buy a boat, and find a slip at a marina, and insurance, and so on. There’s a lot ahead of us at this point, but we’re slowly making progress.

Thank you for taking the time to read through! If you have any questions for me, or just want to hang out with some cool folks, feel free to hop on the Creaturista Discord server!