Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Laser sailor. Occasionally I even give into the temptation to make fun of other kinds of sailboats. I'm ashamed to admit I have even used phrases like "pontoon boats" and "training wheels" to denigrate catamarans. In my defense I only did it to annoy a certain sailing blogger from the other coast. (Is that a defense? Probably not.)
So how strange it was that on my vacation last December at the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands I found myself drawn to the dark side. I felt this weird attraction to sailing catamarans. By the end of the vacation I was (almost) hooked. Very strange.
Part 1 of the strange affair came when I took my wife out for a ride on a Hobie Wave on Saturday, our first full day at BEYC. I wrote about it at Tillerwoman's Rules. My wife never sails with me. My wife doesn't like sailing (she says.) But there we were blasting around North Sound on the Wave and she was laughing and having fun! On a catamaran! So that did at least prepare me to start thinking about the possibility that perhaps I ought to keep an open mind on the question of whether or not there might be some merit to catamaran sailing. But don't tell Joe.
Part 2 of my strange affair with cat sailing came on the following Tuesday when I signed up for something described as "Hobie Cat Out of Bounds." Like every sailing resort I have ever been to, BEYC has a defined area for dinghy and beach cat sailing. It's basically the waters that are in line of sight of the watersports center staff, so if that bald old fool with the English accent who takes out a Laser every morning gets himself into trouble they can see him and go out and tow him in. But on Tuesday afternoon there was a trip to "Out of Bounds!" Woo hoo. I had to be part of that... even if it was in boats with training wheels.
On Tuesday morning I did my husbandly duties by going sea-kayaking with Tillerwoman and then I took her for a ride in a Boston whaler. I was beginning to think she really does like boating after all.
Then, after a somewhat alcoholic lunch, I showed up at the watersports center a few minutes before the supposed start time for the "Out of Bounds Experience!" only to find that the instructor in charge of our adventure (whom I had not met before) was already briefing the other participants. Hmmm. How did that happen?
So I never really discovered the instructor's name. I think it was James. As far as I could gather the plan was to sail upwind past Saba Rock, across Eustatia Sound where the evil kite surfers play (don't get me started) and where we real sailors are not usually allowed to go. Then we would all gather near Eustatia Reef until James would lead us through a secret gap in the reef and out into the Atlantic Ocean. Then a long downwind roller coaster ride past Richard's Branson's private island, Necker. There was some mention of a stop for a drink on some sand spit out there on the wild, wild ocean but I wasn't listening too closely and figured I would just follow James, or whatever his name was. Then round the NW corner of Prickly Pear Island staying in the channel to avoid another reef, back to BEYC and return to my stash of rum.
At least that was the plan.
There were six Hobie Waves in all. James (or whatever his name was) on one. Two boats each with a couple on. And three of us sailing single-handed: the guy who won the second Hobie race on Sunday and who seemed to know what he was doing; me, who had no clue what he was doing; and a lady - her name was McGill and she called herself Lil but everyone knew her as Nancy.
So we all set off in a stiff NW breeze to cut through one of the two narrow gaps past Saba Rock and then out in Eustatia Sound. I think James said some final words about trying to stay together. Fat chance. Poor guy. He really was herding cats.
It occurred to me as I set off upwind that I had never sailed one of these machines solo before. I had always had the trusty Tillerwoman as ballast on my previous Hobie adventures. But what could go wrong? It seemed that I had little to worry about because "guy who won the race on Sunday" and I were soon through the gap and beating up Eustatia Sound. The wind was significantly stronger up there than in the more sheltered "in-bounds" sailing area and there was a nice steep chop somewhat reminiscent of my home waters on Narragansett bay.
I looked back. James seemed to be having trouble herding the other cats. One of the couples caught us up but the other couple and the lady known as Nancy were definitely lagging. So we noodled around trying not to get tangled up with the evil kite surfers and their razor wire kite strings (don't get me started.) Eventually James managed to corral all six cats into approximately one group and herd us through the invisible gap in the reef.
On the other side the waves were significantly bigger and there was some crazy dude standing up in a tiny little motor boat taking photos of us. Ahah, the BEYC resident photographer. Buy a picture of yourself sailing a tiny little pontoon boat on the big scary Atlantic Ocean for 35 bucks. Upwind it's all open water from here to the Azores, people.
James waved vaguely in the direction of the Turks and Caicos Islands which I took to mean that we could start sailing downwind. Woohoo. What fun! These little boats with training wheels were a hoot riding down the waves. "Guy who won the race on Sunday" and "the lady everyone knew as Nancy" and I were soon way ahead of the other three boats. Actually "Nancy" was in the lead, and "Guy" and I were sort of following her under the possibly mistaken assumption that she knew where she was going. It did occur to me that we were heading a bit too far to the north. Was she really going to make a break for the Turks and Caicos? Shouldn't we gybe soon and head for the corner of Prickly Pear? What did James say about stopping at a sand spit?
I guess the boats with two people on board were inherently slower downwind (something to do with physics I suppose) and James was doing the the prudent thing by keeping an eye on the tail-enders. Still, I would have been a bit more comfortable if I was sure that "Nancy" knew where she was going, but I assumed there was safety in numbers and that I had better stick with her and "Guy". Eventually "Guy" and I both figured out that we ought to wait for James and the other boats so we gybed and waited near the shore of Prickly Pear. James caught us up and admonished us for missing the sand spit we were supposed to stop on. What? I saw no sand spit. Geeze with all the spray on my sunglasses I could barely see the bows of my little pontoon boat. In any case, I figured James ought to be worrying more about "Nancy" who was still heading out to sea on starboard tack and, if somebody didn't stop her, probably would make landfall in the Turks and Caicos... in about three days.
The two boats with the couples on caught us up so our little party (minus Nancy) rounded the point of Prickly Pear Island and started sailing up the channel into North Sound. (I did remember that part of the briefing.) Apart from the fate of Nancy, things seemed to be under control again... until the mast of the boat being sailed by one of the couples came crashing down.
Uh oh. That's a problem. What are they supposed to do now?
I have to give it to James. He was calm in a crisis. Cool as a cucumber, he took out his VHF radio and called up BEYC to send out a rescue boat to tow in the de-masted catamaran. Guy and I carried on sailing so I never did quite see how James managed to deter Nancy from her apparent plan to break the Hobie Wave single-handed long distance passage world record while he was also looking after the disabled boat and crew.
Of course Guy and I raced each other upwind across North Sound. He was damn good and I couldn't catch him but I more or less held my own.
Went back to our cabin and showered and sat on the deck and drank some rum and chilled out for an hour or so. Bored Tillerwoman with a blow-by-blow account of my exciting afternoon and by telling her about twenty times why the Hobie Cat Out of Bounds Experience! was the best thing ever at BEYC. I was beginning to be strangely attracted to these little beach cats. What is wrong with me? I am a Laser sailor. (At least I thought I was.)
Wore my brightest Hawaiian shirt to the West Indian buffet dinner. Was complimented on my shirt by attractive young woman. Saw Nancy (thank God she was still alive) and tactfully complimented her on her downwind speed. Listened to very mellow steel band.
And so to bed.
And dreams of long rolling waves... and cats. How strange is that kitty?
Sshhh. Don't tell Joe.
To be continued...