Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sailing, Sailing....



We learned to sail in the Caribbean when we lived in Puerto Rico – blue, crystal clean waters, smooth seas, beautiful weather….  We probably went out 15 times, which does NOT a sailor make!  We did get our keelboat certification – but personally I wouldn’t trust us in a sailboat by ourselves in anything other than perfect conditions very close to the harbor.  In Puerto Rico, we sailed large sailboats - 36 to 42 feet - and motored out of the harbor, before putting up the sails in open, calm waters - when there was wind.   While we enjoyed the time we spent learning to sail in Puerto Rico, we haven’t been out more than a few times in the last 8 years.   I’ve grown up around motor boats, but sailing is a completely different animal. 
(Our boat was T-47  "Turtle") 
Last week, we set out to change our course……and I agreed to crew in a RACE, in the filthy lagoon in Lagos, with strangers – on a small (17 foot) technical boat with a centerboard, in windy weather and strong wake around us.   Needless to say, I was a bit nervous as I stepped aboard. 

But the guys were wonderful and experienced at sailing, which alleviated my fears.  Within 10 minutes of being out, I was relaxed and loving it.  My role was to occasionally lower and raise the centerboard, move from side to side to help with balance and then hike out (lean way out of the boat holding on to a rope) when we were heeling.  I had the easy part. 

(And the race begins....) 
Basically I followed directions from the helmsman and just moved and pulled on different lines/sheets as directed.   After being caught in large swells right as we were close to a buoy (and rocks and land) and needing to jibe at the same time, we certainly felt challenged. 
(Hiking out as we prepare to go around the buoy) 

It also gave me a HUGE respect for the helmsman giving us the commands, especially in rougher waters.  The boat right in front of us went over and capsized.  After checking to make sure that they were fine and rescue boats were on the way, we continued on to the next buoy. 
(These ships look a LOT bigger from our vantage point!)
 To add to the challenge, the fishing trawlers were coming in, large ships were in the harbor and men on small canoes were working in the water.  Lagos has a TON of trash in the bay, so we needed to maneuver around that as well. 
(Notice the rescue boat following us!) 
 Dark brown water splashed over the sides of the boat often and we had a few times where we were completely covered in water.


  The hobie class boats were also out with their beautiful sails – and a few of them went over as well.

There were 22 boats in the race - 9 Hobies, 10 Lightnings and 3 Tarpon/GPS (smaller, lighter boats).  We placed 7th out of 10 in the lightning class – only because three of the boats didn’t complete the race due to capsizing. 

 We finished happy, and soaked to the bone – but much better for the experience!


The irony of it all is that we arranged to go out mainly because Charles had an opportunity to sail on a small Hobie, which he had always wanted to do.  However, his plans were cancelled at the last minute, so he helped on the bridge and I was the one in the water!!  I had a blast and came in with a big smile on my face!!    


Some of the many things I learned were: 
1) Yes, sailing gloves are definitely NECESSARY!!

2) My borrowed padded shorts were much needed and VERY appreciated!!  Who knew those existed?  
3) Bruises and VERY sore muscles are just part of the journey 
4) Sailing into the harbor where the staff helps bring in the boat is a fabulous idea 


5) Sitting around the Lagos Yacht Club after sailing with friends is  a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon! 


 It was challenging, exciting, exhilarating and I can’t wait to go again! 

**Note - Since I originally started this post, I had the opportunity to sail again and LOVED it!  Charles has now sailed twice on the Hobie and flipped it completely one of the times!  He has found muscles that he didn't know existed - but he has had a great experience and ready to go again soon! 
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A sweet family member requested definitions of some of the terms used above, so I decided to add these explanations: 
1.  Centerboard - a retractable keel which helps in stabilizing the boat and preventing it from going sideways.    (The keel is the center-line "backbone" at the bottom of a sailboat.  A sailboat either has a permanent keel or a centerboard.)   
2.  Hike Out - to lean out of a sailboat in order to help in balancing the vessel.  
3.  Heeling - to lean over to one side 
4.  Helmsman - The captain of the boat who also controls the tiller or wheel used to steer.  
5.  Swells - Large, deep waves
6.  Buoy - A floating navigational marker 
7.  Jibe (jibing) - changing direction with the wind behind you by turning the stern (back of the boat) through the wind.  
8.  Capsized - to overturn the boat completely
9.  Hobie Class boat - Small sailing catamaran with pontoons.  See pictures 9, 10 and 12 above.  They are the ones with bright colored sails. 
10.  Lightning Class boats - These are three person light weight boats (about 700 pounds) which are typically used for racing.  Most pictures above are Lightnings. 

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