The Vendee Globe is the pre-eminent yacht race for singlehanded circumnavigations. Solo sailors race south from the west coast of France, they leave South Africa, Tasmania, New Zealand and Cape Horn to port and return to the west coast of France. The leaders complete the race in about 3 months. The race is held every four years and the current race is about 2/3rds complete. Meanwhile, I have just completed my own mini-version: 3 days, not 3 months and around Port Phillip, not the world. I sailed from St Kilda, leaving the Popes’ Eye and the Hovell Pile to port then returned to St Kilda.
Getting a yacht into or out of a marina is often a stressful time for the skipper. Yachts do not manoeuvre easily, the space is usually crowded, there are plenty of things to run into and break, including other yachts, and the wind and tide can play havoc. On top of that, yachts using engines to go astern are subject to propeller walk: the stern will be pushed to one side (port if you have a right-handed propeller) and steerage is almost non-existent. My own yacht suffered damage last year when another boat trying to exit the marina in a breeze lost control and bumped into our stern, breaking off the solar panel from its fittings at the pushpit. The panel went to the bottom.
Handling a boat single-handed is a great way to learn. I spent many years crewing on different boats over the years and what tends to happen in a well campaigned yacht is that each crew-member becomes very good at their specific tasks but does not become familiar with many others. This extends to all aspects of handling from entering and leaving marinas, sail handling, navigation and so on. The single-hander needs to be able to do it all.
I was on my own with a brand new Wichard backstay tension adjuster to install as the existing one had become unserviceable. To replace a backstay adjuster requires the backstay to be released. The backstay is obviously an important part of the standing rigging that holds the mast up. What was making me apprehensive was the wind blowing in the 20-30 knot range, gusting higher, over the port quarter. Even though the yacht was secured in the marina, there was enough windage in the rig, the furled mainsail and the mast to have her heeling slightly in front of the wind. Had the wind been blowing from the north, it would be coming over the bow and all load in the rigging would have been on the forestay and lateral shrouds. But that was not the case and the backstay was clearly under some load. I busied myself with other tasks hoping that the wind would ease, which it didn’t.
Nothing else for it but to get on with it. I’ve heard opinions that the best time to do a difficult task is now. Do not delay or procrastinate. I know of yacht skippers who never delay a departure owing to bad weather – they say that leads to constant anxiety, constant delays and prevents learning and experience that would otherwise stand the boat and crew in good stead. So get on with it: I rigged the mainsheet halyard to a line (of spectra – high breaking strain rope) and attached that to a deck fitting at the stern, in similar attitude as the backstay and tightening it with the halyard winch. I let go the backstay, replaced the adjuster and re-rigged the backstay, then let go the temporary line and halyard.
It is summer in the southern hemisphere. In fact, tomorrow is the summer solstice. I’m not planning to attend any particular ceremonies, sacrifices or druid knees-ups but I am planning to sail as much as I can during a break from matters of great pith and moment.
This year I have a new objective: prove to myself that I can sail singlehanded. This does not mean that I have to tie one hand behind my back but rather that I leave the dock with no-one else on board. Boat handling when single-handed has its challenges. This should be exhilarating. Or frightening. Or something of a disaster. Or, it may be successful. I haven’t left shore alone on a boat since my salad days in a dinghy. These days, I’m sailing the following (former) ocean racer:
Should be interesting.
You need to forgive my indulgence. This ‘sailing’ category of posts has nothing to do with actuarial topics. But, it has a lot to do with sailing.