The wind forecast looked great…… and it was just as predicted! How could I pass up an opportunity to sail??? It blew a steady 15 to 20 kn in the Bay with gusts averaging 25 kn; the highest I was able to read via the anemometer while out sailing today was 29 kn. I decide to reef in advance as I typically do so when single-handling with predicted gusts of that magnitude.
It was a typical summers day in the Bay Area. Sunny in Sausalito at my point of departure. Fog near the Golden Gate Bridge.
I turned on the radar prior to departing the dock in Sausalito as I could see the fog over the central Bay. I wanted to be prepared in the event that the fog dropped to the surface of the water. I’ve seen that phenomenon on many occasions. I prefer Radar to “blind” guesswork so as to avoid running into things… boats, buoys, land masses, etc. Fortunately, I didn’t need it today.
I enjoyed single-handling today. The boat sails so very well and I felt rewarded by efforts. There were, however, three happenstances that are worthy of comment.
Firstly, as I was motoring out the Sausalito channel towards the Bay, a skipper contacted the US Coast Guard with an emergency. It was clear the skipper, though calm and collected, had no idea how to use the radio to hail the USCG and to provide basic information. He made it clear that they had “lost their steering mechanism” and later indicated the “steering cables weren’t working.” We also learned that they had lowered sails and were “drifting.” In my opinion, lowering those sails was a huge mistake and could have proved fatal. One MUST learn to steer with sails. Keep them up! You can maneuver around as needed and even dock with sails. Now, it might be difficult if you’re missing a rudder, especially in the ocean with big wavs, but in the Bay it should still be manageable. I suspect that the skipper had a boat and very little experience or little to no formal training. The USCG hovered in a helicopter while a USCG motor vessel was on its way. I don’t know precisely what happened but I heard a USCG officer state “…..I think your autopilot might be on.” It happens. The autopilot is inadvertently activated by someone “playing” with the chartplotter. The first impression is that the steering mechanism has seized up. It’s the first thing to check if faced with a dilemma. If it’s not the autopilot then there are other possibilities. One has to work through the potential causes to solve the problem. Still, leave those sails up and put someone in charge of actually sailing while someone else evaluates and remedies the steering issues.
Secondly, as I was pulling out the main sail, carefully balancing my furling out the sail and tightening the outhaul, it seemed that I lost control and the sail, out much farther than I expected, was billowing as I was head to wind with the autopilot and engine maintaining direction control under power. I maintain vigilance as to what is going on outside the boat during this exercise of pulling out sails while on autopilot. In order to recover, I cranked the outhaul to my reef point then proceeded to furl in the proximal part of the sail…..except….it didn’t work! It seemed the furling lines had no effect whatsoever on the sail. I suspected the mechanism was broken. The first thing I wanted to do was inspect the furling mechanism. A quick survey…no traffic…plenty of sea in front of me. I climbed out of the cockpit and went to the mast. I noticed immediately that the furling line had come off the furling winch mechanism. I have no idea how that happened and will ask the prior owners of the boat if they can help me understand the mistake that I might have made when pulling out the sail. A quick fix……slide the line over the winch and back into the slot. Everything else looked fine. Then, I was able to return to the cockpit and furl in the sail as desired. I considered myself to be rather fortunate as I imagine it could’ve been worse!
Thirdly, and lastly, I uncleated my main sheet from the cockpit to let out the sheet to move out the sail and sail off the wind away from the GGB. As I uncleated the sheet, I noticed a little something fell from the cleat into the cockpit. It was a little hex nut! Inspection revealed that the nut had come off of bolt that was holding a steel loop the sheet passes through at the cleat and that part to a mechanism at the base of the pulley system. I probably could have repaired it underway had I had help on the boat but I decided best not to worry over this matter at the time. I removed the bolt and put it with the nut in a safe place in the cabin. I was fortunate to not have lost these little bits. I was concerned about the asymmetric forces on the cleat as it was now twisted. So, I took the sheet out of the cleat and pulled it to a secondary winch and used those winches on opposing sides of the boat as needed to control the main sheet depending on tack. Once back at the dock, I secured the boat, got out my tool set, and repaired the piece. As good as new! For the time being!
In all….it was a tremendous day to sail. I learned a lot. It’s time to go over every inch of the vessel to ensure that she is ready for the upcoming sailing season.