The “Straight Line”

I was talking to my brother the other day and he commented that our sailing from South Florida to Charleston SC appeared to be such a straight line. It was funny when he said this because, to me, the actual sailing on the passage was anything but a “straight line.” However, his comment forced me to go back and look at our track and admit that he had a point.

Our track from South Florida to Charleston

While our sailing direction—our boat’s heading and course over ground—was consistent throughout the 3-day sail. We encountered wind directions that ranged from a “close reach” (the wind coming off the bow or front of the boat) to a “dead run” (the wind directly behind the boat [off the stern]), and all points in between (beam reach and broad reach). Also we encountered wind speeds from almost being becalmed (<5 knots of wind) to >20 knots. This called for a number of different sail configurations from flying Hazel’s spinnaker for hours on end to hoisting her 3 fore-‘n-aft sails (her mainsail and two headsails).

When the wind is variable (as it generally is), It’s a judgement call as to when sail changes should be made. Too early and you may be overreacting to a very temporary change in the wind. Too late and you can be caught with too much sail for the given wind.

This second situation happened to us about 3:00 a.m. Friday morning when we were flying the spinnaker. After a quiet early part of the night with perfect 15-knot winds, the wind began to strengthen and was soon blowing a solid 20+ knots. Hazel started to surf down the building seas and it was clear that we needed to get the spinnaker down—and fast. When hoisting the spinnaker (raising it), it’s packed in a “sock—a long fabric tube so that it can be hoisted while still furled in the sock. Once the sail is hoisted (in the sock), the “sock uphaul” line is used to hoist the sock and thus unfurl the spinnaker. To furl the spinnaker, the process is generally reversed, that is the sock is pulled downward using the other end of the sock uphaul (which is the sock downhaul).

Spinnaker flying in benign daylight conditions (note the bunched up sock at the very top of the sail)

I italicized “generally” because if the wind is too strong (generally over 20 knots) it’s impossible to pull the sock down over the spinnaker—there’s just too much wind pressure on the sail. This was just the case at 3:00 a.m. with no land in sight, Hazel moving at a terrific rate of speed through the water with the whipping wind. Fortunately, we’ve planned for such eventualities and the solution is to “blow the tack” of the spinnaker. The “tack” is the bottom forward corner of the sail and it’s held to the boat with a series of clips, lines and “blocks” (pulleys)—as you might imagine there’s a bit of force on it when sailing.

The “tack” of the spinnaker in the upper right with arrow pointing to the trigger shackle

“Shackles” are used throughout the boat to secure sails to lines but in this case (on the spinnaker tack) we use a special “trigger shackle” that can be released while under load. A normal shackle is not released while loaded by a sail.

In this case, since the wind was too strong to pull the sock down and furl the spinnaker, my only option was to “blow the tack” of the spinnaker by releasing the trigger shackle. when this is done, the spinnaker is still secured at its “head” (top corner) and “clew” rear lower corner but its essentially flat and powerless and the sock can then be pulled over the wildly flapping sail.

In recounting this, I’m reminded of the AA aphorism that, “You shouldn’t judge your insides based on other peoples’ outsides.” What can appear from the outside to be a simple and straight course through life, often is filled with hidden twist and turns, joys and heartaches that we never see.

Our six days in Charleston have been filled with a festival, history, walking, food, getting caught in downpours and some boat projects.

Dodging the rain to make a Spoleto Festival performance (complete with our foul weather gear and dry bag)

From the history perspective, we toured the USS Yorktown (aircraft carrier) and USS Laffey (destroyer).

Rhett and the Yorktown
Jeez do I look like a typical tourist!

Yesterday we toured the Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens outside of Charleston. In addition to the beauty of the main house and formal gardens, Rhett and I thought the site did a very good job depicting the stark realities and cruelties of enslavement, including the North’s complicity in accepting all the cotton the South could supply to its mills. In addition there was a great talk by a local woman about exploring the Gullah culture.

There were also some nice trails around Boone Hall with lots of low country nature.

That’s a wood stork and a mother wood duck with ducklings. I’m not good on my snakes so please chime in if you know the species above (it will be interesting to see if Rhett wears a lot of sandals after that sighting!).

We are off sailing this afternoon! We’re not sure of our next destination. It may be Winyah Bay SC (46 nm [nautical miles] north of us), Cape Fear NC (110 nm north), Beaufort/Morehead City NC (200 nm north) or New England (way up there). While we’d love to take off on the long sail to New England, we’re watching the effects of the potential tropical cyclone in the Gulf of Mexico and what its moisture may do to the weather in the Mid-Atlantic early next week.

We figure we’ll get out sailing and then see how the weather develops and how we’re feeling.

Fair winds and following seas!

12 thoughts on “The “Straight Line”

    1. Yeah T. If there’s anything I’ve learned from long-distance sailing is that there is AT LEAST one thing that goes awry in the middle of the night…every night.

  1. Good stuff, Dan — love your look in front of the chopper. Might I suggest a 5-6 foot walking stick to complete the ensemble?

    Quick unsolicited restaurant recommendation: we really enjoy Moonrakers in Beaufort if you end up docking there.

  2. We keep rereading to look for the Chesapeake on that list of possible destinations……..
    just sayin’

  3. The Yorktown is my Dad’s Boat from Vietnam! I got to tour it with him when I was in college in Charleston in 1998. He had no idea it retired there and I was showing him the battery when he was visiting and he looked across the bay and said, “Is that my boat? Oh my gosh that’s my boat!” We toured it the next day. It was such a surreal experience seeing him relive his time on the boat.

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