Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lake Worth to South Lake, FL

We sailed today, a glorious sunny day, with the sky perfect blue and only a little bit of a ripple in the water, and steady fifteen-knot winds, right on our beam. It was, as they say, “a beam reach to paradise.” Not that we’re actually in paradise, right now. We’re in Hollywood, Florida, which is decidedly less glamorous than its California counterpart. But the sailing itself was paradise.

We woke up at dawn this morning, the first time we’ve done that in eons too, and sailed out of the inlet at first light. I knew the wind was going to coming from the west, shifting to the north later in the day, so I thought the sailing would be pretty good. But I was more than a little afraid of the Gulf Stream, six miles to port. We did feel it pulling us, at first. We were clipping along beautifully and heeling over like a witch and we were only going three knots according to the GPS! We finally figured out that we were too far from shore, heading into the edges of the Gulf Stream, which can run north as much as seven knots. So we reached back into shore, hovering around the 100-foot-deep mark on the depth sounder, and ended up going about six knots.

I was afraid, too, when we started sailing again. I was at the helm, and it was the first time we’ve actually sailed in more than four months, since we came in in Georgia. It’s always terrifying when you feel the wind catch the sails for the first time, and the boat heel over, and you realize just how much power your sails have. So much more than our little diesel has. And that power starts throwing stuff, and you, around the boat, and you feel this pit in your stomach, like, I have to control this gigantic machine? I’ve never had a feeling like that before in my life, before I started sailing. The closest feeling I can imagine is trying to ride a gigantic horse. I’ve never ridden horses before, but I always wanted to when I was a little girl, and the idea seems similar. Trying to convince this gigantic force of nature that it wants to do what you want it to do. You try to be smarter than it, or to find its groove and settle into it. When you can do that sailing, as I finally did today, you find your place.

The Master, our autopilot, wasn’t working today, which was partly why it was such a rewarding sail. It’s frustrating, sometimes, to think when you’re at the helm that you’re doing something that a machine could do much better, but it’s still fun when you feel like you’re sailing really well. But every time I think how if we were sailing more we’d probably already have invested the time and money into finding a machine that would steer well under sail--a sheet-to-tiller system or a wind-vane. I find myself rehearsing a mental list of all the things we still need to practice under sail: heaving to, man overboard drills, reefing, flying the spinnaker, flying the staysail, rigging a whisker pole somehow. I have to accept, though, that we are sailing, and we are making progress, and we’re heading into areas where we’ll be able to sail even more. We went sailing today for the first time in four months! That’s a great feeling. It’s great to feel like we’re recentering, even if we still have some kinks to work out.

So I hand-steered for about five hours today, and I’m burnt to a crisp now, and I fell in love with sailing all over again. Not all bad. Tomorrow we’re heading on to Miami, to reconnoiter with Sea Belle, and then perhaps, on to the Bahamas.

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