Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Before he was fired from his job as anchor of CNN's NewsNight, Aaron Brown always ended each broadcast by reading the weather report for the following day from the Chicago Sun-Times. The forecast was always one word, an adjective, that was off-beat and kooky but surprisingly informative, a word such as "peachy or "illuminating". For example, I see that according to the Sun-Times website yesterday's weather in Chicago was "meek" but today it will be "yummy".

Winds have characters like that. Saturday's wind in New Jersey was by no means meek or even yummy. How shall we describe it? Lively? No, way too tame a word. Frisky? No, still not strong enough. There's only one word that will do: vicious.

You see what I mean? A sustained 15 knots with gusts of anything up to 30 knots that would come in from any point of the compass from west to north. Unpredictable. Aggressive. Vicious.

I was originally planning to sail in the Brant Beach regatta at the Jersey shore. But the weather forecast on Friday was calling for 35 knot gusts at the shore on Saturday and I figured there was a chance that the regatta organizers would call it off on the morning of the event. Or, even worse, keep the sailors hanging around for half the day and then call it off. In any case, I was feeling in more of a mood for play than competition on Saturday so instead of spending two hours driving to Brant Beach I took the much shorter drive to our local reservoir.

On the drive I was feeling under the weather. Still a bit ashamed of ducking out on the regatta, of being too lazy to get up at 5:30 in the morning to be able to arrive at the regatta on time. Legs more than a little tired after Friday's 8 mile run that I had started at a faster pace than I could maintain and had run out of steam at the 6-mile mark. Hay fever from grass pollen playing havoc with my sinuses. Not to mention suffering from lack of sleep because of the wind howling in the treetops around our house all night long.

How would Aaron Brown describe my mood? Melancholy? Bummed-out? Murky? I like murky.

When I arrived at the lake the surface of the water was covered in whitecaps and huge gusts were sweeping down the lake. Nobody out sailing except for a couple of windsurfers. I unpacked the Laser and started rigging.

Anyone who has ever rigged a Laser will know that one of the trickiest things to do in a blow is attach the clew of the sail to the outhaul. Basically you have to hold the boom in one hand, grab the clew of the sail which is flapping wildly with your other two hands and then attach the hook or shackle to the clew with your fourth and fifth hands. After struggling for about five minutes with my grossly inadequate allotment of two hands I finally got the damn thing hooked up.

I stepped back to take a breather and then one of those vicious 30 knot gusts came in from the side (I had the boat head to wind of course) and knocked the boat (and the dolly it was tied to) over on to its side on the grass. The sheet was running free, the vang wasn't yet attached, but there was still enough force in the wind to "capsize" the boat on land. Hmmm - that's never happened before - sailing in this wind is going to be interesting.

A windsurfer who was rigging a few yards away came over with a worried look on his face and asked if I needed any help. Oh no, I told him nonchalantly, it's easier to rig it this way. Who was I kidding? Actually, I did discover it is much easier with the boat on its side with the mast horizontal to attach the clew tie-down strap. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

I managed to complete the rigging without further incident and headed out for a sail. At first I found it almost impossible to keep the boat upright and moving in this wind. No sooner had I trimmed the sail properly and balanced the boat than one of those 30 knot gusts would hit me from a random new direction and I would be scrambling to keep the stick thingie pointing at the sky. After 30 minutes or so it started to become a little easier, only a little, and I started sailing with more, a little more, confidence. I consoled myself with the thought that although I may not have been sailing well, at least the experience would serve me well for sailing in slightly less vicious winds.

I practiced a few gybes and tacks but it was the beating that turned out to be the most adventurous endeavor. Once I was hiking hard with toes under the hiking strap there was no defense against a sudden slam-dunk header. The boat heels to windward, my body goes underwater and the soles of my hiking boots are pointing at the sky. I've learned from experience that if I hang like this for a few seconds the boat will right itself and I can start sailing again.

After about 90 minutes of flailing around I went in for a breather and a snack. Some of the windsurfers told me that they were planning to sail around to the next bay in the reservoir so I joined them on the trip. We headed downwind to the entrance to the bay and then beat up through the narrow gap between two headlands. The wind was being channeled through this gap and was even stronger than nearer the launch area.

Man it was hard work beating up into that bay, but worth it. Even stronger winds and bigger waves for wild planing reaches. What a fantastic afternoon. A couple of other sailboats were out now but none of my buddies from the sailing club. It was their loss.

On the drive home I was feeling terrific. A good day on the water will do that for you. Those aches in the legs from a too-hard run had disappeared and been replaced by that satisfying all-over ache that said I had just sailed a Laser all-out for several hours. Hayfever, what hayfever? Sleep deprivation, no way, I was pumped up. Later that evening I saw on a sailing forum that Brant Beach YC did call off the regatta on Saturday because the winds were too high. Yeah. For once I made the right decision.

WWAS -- What would Aaron say? How to describe my mood? Exultant? Ecstatic? Buoyant - yes, there's a good nautical word. Buoyant.


Anonymous said...

good stuff... it's days like that one that keep me into it just for the sheer yee-haw factor... they also make me wonder if I'd look too stupid wearing a dive mask and snorkle...

joe "blowing in the wind" rouse said...

Vicious? You haven't sailed SF Bay have you? 15 knots....hahahahhaahahahahahahahaha....a a mere breeze. How about Hawaii between Maui and the Big Island? Now Brah dats some da kine wind! ;)

Pat said...

Way to go! And 15 to 30 knots in a Laser probably is vastly tougher than another 15 knots in a big keelboat.

Fuff said...

Sounds like fun. Sailing has got to be the best hay fever cure.

Tim said...

Good stuff! Hot Dog! as a Texan friend of mine would say.

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