The Bliss of Sailing

Sailing is great fun! Look at all the aerobics you get to do. Have you noticed the shape you get in from all the sailing? How about that tan! Power boaters are usually under canopies or pilothouses, drinking anything from beer to martinis … and that’s underway. Wait till they dock up. The drinking really begins when the captain can join in. That’s when the good stuff really starts flowing. No aerobics on powerboats – there boats stay flat and go, go, and go.

            Sailboats are different. We heel over (lean), the drinks usually fall over and, listen to this, we have plastic cups to drink from.  Power boaters have real glasses! You can hear the ice clinking!! On sailboats there is not much drinking. This is due to the fact that when sailing we heel, or tack, the drinks. If not getting spilled, they are mixed up from moving to the other side of the sailboat. It’s times like this that you’ll read about in the newspaper; a boater was rescued from the water. It’s possible that it was a guest or crew member aboard a sailboat that was chasing his drink before both were launched overboard. When we do get to our destination, you never see us on deck drinking or otherwise. We are usually below sleeping to regain our strength. Aerobics knocks us out. Then once we do regain our strength, its back on deck and look out… we’re fixing, adjusting, and tightening everything in site. Then, you guessed it, back to sleep. When we are back to ourselves, we are usually sanding down teak, varnishing, or oiling it. We do break out the alcohol, but we have wine. We are reserved. How reserved, I don’t know.  If you remember, we’re drinking out of plastic.

            Now, let’s get serious. It’s not like that at all. Well, some of it is, but generally not. Sailing is just that – sailing through the water, and with some people it gets through to their hearts. I’ve sailed from Montauk to Bermuda, taking 4 ½ days and, on some of those days, there was not a need to even adjust the sails. I’ve gone to Block Island and Nantucket needing to only attend the sails (winching and adjusting) rarely. It’s once you get through the “Boot Camp” and venture out on your own that you realize how mellow sailing really is.

With a powerboat, as the weather changes and the waves get bigger or smaller, they just adjust their throttle. Our throttle is those sails, Main and Genoa. As the wind picks up, our sails are either reefed (brought in some) or taken down to only one sail. And with the opposite (wind easing), we put out more or even bigger sails. All this action is physical. Do we do it all the time? No, but as weather fronts roll by, it definitely keeps us busy. So when we have a sailing trip that is just perfect, we don’t forget. How often is the weather perfect? Sea conditions? Wind? All this has to come together to achieve that perfect sail. Who has patience for that? Because, it doesn’t come that often. Usually something is off. Well, we’re always waiting for that perfect sail. Sometimes it seems like a long time, especially if we are just drifting with no wind. You know and I know we have engines, but we’ll wait and just drift with sails up for a puff or two to come along. I don’t know why we don’t just start our engines. It can’t be the fuel usage. We only use up to a gallon an hour. Even at full throttle, we don’t use much fuel, and to tell you the truth, we don’t go that fast either. That could be the reason, or I think we just like our surroundings and want to savor the moment as long as we can. We are always rushed on land; I guess this is our break.

            It’s a great feeling to be out on a sailboat, not worrying where the next fuel dock is, but only looking forward to that next breath taking harbor or cove. To be out for days sailing, offshore, seeing whales, dolphins, tuna, flying fish, and then hundreds of miles later, pulling into an island harbor people normally take planes to. It’s not that difficult. It’s almost easy. The hard part is having the time. Oh, that so precious commodity.

            There are sailboat clubs and associations that hold races, which include not only racing sailboats, but a “cruising” division for the rest of us. Here is where you hone your skills by knowing your tides and currents to add a boast. Tweaking those sails to get every bit of knotage out of them. Tacking (oh no!) as efficiently as possible to pull ahead of others and take every advantage. This “racing” builds knowledge and know-how in all weather conditions from race to race. Some are long (Around Long Island Race) and some are short (around a few buoys in a bay), but in all, determination to be more efficient, faster, and quicker, comes from your growing racing knowledge which in turn makes you a better sailor. Hey! Did I give away a secret or something? To give some examples, you watch the surface of the water for wind puffs, the skies for changes (dark clouds coming in or different formations).  Your electronics help by giving you other information about your last sail adjustment, i.e. did the knot meter on board show a plus or a minus to your knotage before? Is the depth sounder showing quick depth changes that might slow you up, caused by undo currents or wave action? This awareness gradually becomes automatic as you strive for other tell-tail signs to bring you ahead.

There is more than just getting addicted to racing. There are those before and after get-togethers, award dinners, and barbecues. It’s the finding of new friendships, boating pals and mates, plus maybe a few of their racing secrets that just tightens it all up. The funny thing is that you don’t have to be rich. Sailboats come in large and small sizes. Even trailerable sizes of 26 feet or so with roomy interiors. These naval architects are working hard for us to give that performance with comfort. A tough combo, but they’re making strides. By going on other sailboats for an afternoon sail, or as crew in a race, you get to feel the different characteristics of other models. Their upwind and downwind abilities, the amount of heeling at certain wind speeds, and other aspects. All this unknowingly makes you a better sailor, giving you the option to look at further destinations. Ones you never imagined.

By: Douglas Malat

About the Author:

Captain Douglas Malat is a sailor, licensed captain, freelance writer and co-creator of Yacht Authority, a virtual boat show website, where you will find hundreds of power boats and sailboats for sale.

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