Thursday, July 31, 2014

Step 6: Remember the magic

Sharon at the helm of "Spitfire" on a recent sail
with Captains Greg Freitas and Barbara Emerson
Some of the fondest memories I have of growing up on the northern side of the Adirondack park in New York, are of Christmas Eve on my grandparents' farm.  There's definitely something to be said for the vision of their fields covered in snow, the smell of fresh balsam flooding the living room air, and a seemingly endless supply of culinary goodies that came around only that time of year.  Christmas on the farm was a very special day, one that built with the anticipation of the jolly old elf himself guided by his flying reindeer.

My grandfather would dutifully retire to the porch after dinner each year to watch for Santa's arrival.  My brother, sister, and I would wait until finally the message was delivered - "He's coming up the street!  I see him headed this way!"  In a flurry of feet versus stairs we headed for an upstairs bedroom to pretend we were asleep so that Santa wouldn't pass us by.  As we laid in the dark in wonderment, we heard the faint ringing of old sleigh bells all around the house outside.  We heard the pawing of tiny hooves on the farm house roof.  Soon the pawing stopped, and the sleigh bells faded off into the distance.  Back to the Christmas tree we would virtually fly, to see that Santa had indeed arrived.

At the helm of "Spitfire" with Captain Greg
Between you and I - this whole spectacle could have been simulated with snow balls thrown on the roof, and an old set of bells long retired from horse teams that used to haul maple sap buckets from the woods.  It could have been the work of my aunt and uncle flinging snowballs and running around the house like a pair of nuts.  It could have been - but I am sure it wasn't.  I don't want to forget the magic.

As our love affair with sailing, the sea, and a life in the islands matures and grows - I'm hoping not to lose the magic of that either.  It's a hard thing to explain really, unless you have experienced it yourself.  Every time I have gone sailing in the Caribbean, I have felt the magic.  The anticipation starts as soon as you take your shoes off and hop in the dinghy.  The hum of the outboard, the salt spray, it's all a preamble to a much bigger show as you leave the soft white beach sands behind, and head out to your bigger adventure.

Bouncing along the waves you get closer and closer, until the boat is on your horizon.  That same sense of excitement you had as a kid at Christmas fills deep within the pit of your stomach as the dinghy gently pulls up to the beam of the boat.  To this day, I can remember each and every time I have boarded a new boat in this way.  Climbing from the dinghy through the boarding gate is not just boarding - it's the boat and it's crew welcoming you aboard, allowing you into their world.  All the people ashore look out and wonder, "what's it like to be those people out there?".  You are suddenly one of "those people out there", and you are living this life in this moment.

A "sign" in Cruz Bay
The diesel comes to life, the mooring line is released.  Guiding your vessel back and away you turn her into the wind and raise the main.  Your bird has spread her wings and is waiting impatiently to glide.  The magic happens.  With a simple turn of the wheel you fall off the wind, fill the sail - and there it is.  Her big hull heels over and she accelerates without any other sound besides the lap of water against her hull.  She parts the crystal blue waters in front of her bow.  She's taking you with her now, riding the wind and letting you call the shots.

This is the magic I don't want to lose.  Like Christmas Eve on the farm, I never want to lose that special feeling whenever I head out, whenever I board a boat, whenever I raise that main and fall off on a tack.  Maybe after more years of sailing I will take it for granted.  I suppose if I do, I can read this again and remember.

Kenny Chesney "Magic"
"I believe there's magic here in these sails
In the wake of these old pirate trails
That cut through the water and the atmosphere
I believe there is magic here

It's in buried treasure under the sea
In all the music that drifts out on the street
It's in the barflies drinking their beer
I believe there's magic here

This crazy rock has got a lot
Of romance and sex appeal
It's lazy days with Hemingway
And I gotta say that it captures me still

'Cause I believe there's magic in those beach side dives
Under the moon as it's changing the tides
Friends, they go away, then they reappear
I believe there is magic here

This crazy rock has got a lot
Of romance and sex appeal
It's lazy days with Hemingway
And I gotta say that it captures me still

Friends, they go away, then they reappear
I believe there's magic
A whole lotta magic
I believe there's magic here

I believe there's magic
A whole lotta magic
I believe there's magic here

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Step 5: Believe in something

Sailors tend to be a superstitious bunch in general.  Renaming a boat, having bananas aboard, leaving port on a Friday, red sky at night or in the morn - I'm confident an entire book could be written on the subject of sailors and their superstitions.  On this subject, I guess I fit right in.  Through the years I have developed a few of my own beliefs of which I'm sure many would chalk up to the "oddity" side of the spectrum.

If you ever run into me on the street, chances are I'll have my "lucky charms".  These objects have come to me during rough or challenging times, and somehow became part of my daily routine, carried on my person at all times.  Whether or not these objects actually contain any luck or power beyond their physical being is for you to debate - as a sailor myself, I swear by them.

My Chinese cookie fortunes have been with me for years now.  They have a permanent home in my wallet behind my credit card, and although they are starting to look a little worse for wear, they are still readable and their meaning still rings true for me to this day.  The first says "The greatest risk is not taking one".  One of my lifelong dreams was to own a home on the Raquette River in the northern Adirondack mountains of New York.  A home on the river was for sale that had all the qualities that would make it a great retirement property.  Unfortunately the price was out of reach.  We spoke with the owner, did a viewing with the Realtor, and tried to make the numbers work in every imaginable way but it just wasn't to be.  The following year, the house hadn't sold and the price was reduced.  Again we spoke with the owner and expressed interest, but again the numbers just didn't add up for us.  Summer passed, and so did our chance at the house we wanted so badly - or so we thought.  In the dead of winter I couldn't stop thinking of the house.  I kept wondering what might be if I just somehow took a stab at it.  One afternoon after nauseating my coworkers with "what-ifs" about this house, my lunchtime fortune had this phrase.  That week I tracked the owners down, and made the offer I could - the deal was struck.

Much like the "what-ifs" about the house, we have often second guessed our dreams of living aboard a boat in the Caribbean.  One particular day as I was contemplating the sanity of leaving a great paying job to chase sirens on the sea - I cracked a fortune cookie to read "Never fear!  The end of something marks the start of something new."  Case closed, it was a keeper - the dream and the fortune.

My poker chips have only been with me for about a year.  They reside in my left pocket - always.  I pull them out occasionally to flip between my fingers and help me think.  These are not just poker chips, but rather they are free-drink chips from The Beach Bar in Cruz Bay St. John.  In the fall we were preparing for our annual sailing charter in the Virgin Islands.  I was pushing my gym workout to new levels, dealing with extreme stress at work, and attempting to complete my ASA 104 Navigation & Piloting certification before we left.  I was stressed out, overworked, and depressed.  My wife Sharon, in an effort to pull me from my depression, ordered my favorite coffee (Spiced Butter Rum from St. John Spice), and these free drink chips from The Beach Bar.  When she gave me the package, I immediately put the chips in my pocket for some unknown reason and I would continue to carry them until our trip.  I passed my ASA 104 exam with those chips in my pocket - my left pocket.  When we finally reached St. John for our trip, I cashed the chips in for my "free" drinks.  Almost immediately I called the bartender back over, and informed him that I wanted to buy my 2 chips back.  Not 2 chips - but my two chips.  With a look of confusion, the bartender complied with my request, giving me that look that said "what is wrong with you?".  I gladly took my chips back, quickly explaining myself with - "Don't ask. It's a long story."

This necklace is a prized and precious possession, as well as a good luck charm.  It was worn daily by my dear late friend Zsolt, and after his passing it was given to me by his wife Patricia.  The fact that it was Zsolt's makes it invaluable to me, and I feel that it connects me with him even though he is no longer with us physically.  I wear it every day, you won't find me without it.  Besides the significance of being Zsolt's, the hook pendant also has meaning to those that believe.  It is believed that this hook keeps those who don it safe at sea.  Fitting, considering our aspirations.  Zsolt will be sailing with me.

Superstitious or not, sailor or not, I guess we all have to believe in something.  One of the challenges Sharon and I face is believing in ourselves, believing we can take a leap of faith and make our sailing dreams happen.  Chasing something new means leaving the safety of the harbor and venturing out into the unknown with faith that it will all work out in the end.  Overcoming that fear of the unknown, and believing in success takes more than a few "lucky charms" - but then again they don't hurt either.

And if all else fails - just take Journey's advice...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Step 4: Storms and Rough Water

2014 started with a lot of promise.  I was laying plans out for putting more pieces of our dream together.  Admittedly, our dreams of making a life aboard a boat in the Caribbean are missing many pieces still.  While some of those missing pieces simply take time, effort, and planning - others are not so easily acquired.  I have always been of the opinion that you can't always wait for all the pieces to be there, you have to go out and get what you can now.  In time, and with work, hopefully the rest of what's missing will be found.

We had decided I would pursue a captain's school.  A USCG Captains license is required in order to operate a boat commercially, carrying paying passengers.  After some research and creative scheduling, I was booked with local school to earn my USCG Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel (a basic license, otherwise known as the 6-pack because it limits the captain to 6 paying passengers).  A week before the school was scheduled to start - I got a short email saying it was canceled and my money was refunded.  No explanation.  This was a forecast of storms to come.  I was then scrambling to find another school in my area.

I soon found my only alternative was Sea School, and the schedule would require that between my normal job and captain's school, I wouldn't have a day off for a month, and my shortest day would be 12 hours.  As they say - "It is what it is".  This would be especially tough in the dead of winter which tends to be the most depressing part of the year here.

On the last week of my month long stretch of work and school, one of the best friends I will ever have in this lifetime, Zsolt Megai, fell suddenly ill.  He was diagnosed with Leukemia.  This news was like being run over by a truck, but I had faith my dear friend would fight the disease and prevail.  A week after his diagnosis, and on the last day of my month-long stretch without a break, we got the call to get to the hospital, nothing more could be done.  There was a big snowstorm that day.  Normally if there is even rain in the forecast I-95 is a parking lot.  That day I did 75mph all the way home.  It was a ghost town on the highway.  We went to the hospital to be with Zsolt in his last hours.  He wanted one more beer.  We ran through the snow laden streets of New Haven to get him that beer before his time.  In his final hours, he asked that I think of him when I'm out there on the ocean.  I promise I'll do that every time Zsolt.  A piece of me died on this day too.  It was Valentines Day.  One day when I can collect my thoughts more properly, I will write something fitting of Zsolt and what an amazing friend he was, and what a tremendous hole he left in the universe with his passing.  Zsolt and I will sail the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean together anyway, one way or another.

The following week, my brand new car's engine started violently knocking.  After less than 3000 miles, it needed a new engine and I spent the following month without it.  I spent the following weeks in a loaner car, mourning my friend, dealing with a job that was going crazy, getting buried with snow and ice on a daily basis, and attempting to steady my brain long enough to study for my captain's test.  Luckily, my ASA 104 Navigation course made the chart navigation portion of the test a breeze so I didn't need to study for that.  The test consists of four parts: Deck General, Nav General, Chart Plotting/Navigation, the infamous Nav Rules (which seems to hang everyone up).  At the end of the test, all four parts were passed, and the worst of my storms and rough water were over.  I would like to think Zsolt was looking down of me and proud of me for making it through and passing those tests.  Now only a mountain of paperwork stands between me and my captain's license, although I will need far more sea time before it is at an acceptible level for what I want to do.

I am sure this was just one stormy period of many that we will encounter on our journey towards our dreams.  The thing about storms - avoid them when and if you can, but know that when you can't it's a matter of getting through to the other side.  Easier said than done I know.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

BVI Sailing Charter 2013

Preparing to anchor in Anegada, BVI

Fidelity moored near Saba Rock, Virgin Gorda
After completing our American Sailing Association certifications earlier in the year, we decided one more crewed charter would do us well to gain some more experience before venturing out on our own on a bareboat charter (chartering a yacht alone, no crew or captain).  After working with our broker, we found "Fedelity", a 46 foot Jeanneau operated by Bob and Debbie Anderson.  Bob is also an ASA instructor, so we figured he would probably be willing to allow us to do a lot of hands-on operation and give us lots of great advice.  He did on both counts.

After three days spent in our beloved island of St. John, Bob and Debbie picked us up at the National Park dock in Cruz Bay.  Given our previous sailing charters, we held fairly high expectations from Bob, Debbie, and Fidelity.  It was very clear early in the charter, that our expectations would not only be met, but they would be far surpassed.

Fidelity was in pristine condition and she was our first introduction into a more modern monohull.  Our previous monohull experiences were on Morgan Out Island 41's.  While these venerable boats made for comfortable conditions and good sailing, they are an older design and much has changed.  Fidelity has many of the features I would look for in a yacht to live aboard - huge aft cockpit with a very usable folding table, a "sugar scoop" swim platform at the stern, and a very spacious layout with a nicely comfortable saloon.  She was a three cabin, three head layout making her great for chartering.  The forward stateroom, which was our accommodation for our week aboard, is the owner's suit complete with en-suite head.
Our forward stateroom

Unlike the shallow draft full keeled Morgans I trained on, Fidelity is a fin keel, lighter displacement boat.  At the helm there was a tremendous difference in the responsiveness of the boat.  While the Morgans felt like a graceful war horse, Fidelity felt more like a tuned sports car.  Helm changes were immediate, pinching in heavy wind was easy and I felt very connected with the 46 feet of boat beneath me.  On the other hand, the gear and forces behind them were massive.  I was awkward and uncoordinated working the sheets and halyards.  It had been six months since I had crewed a boat this size and I really struggled to find a rhythm.  On our first morning while putting the final tension on the main halyard, a block at the base of the mast failed.  I had read about such a failure, but I can assure you reading about it does no justice to seeing it happen first hand.  To be honest, it scared the hell out of me - it also reaffirmed how serious this type of gear and the handling of it really is.  Throughout the week, I found myself clumsy at times which really shook my confidence.  I compare it to the basketball player that hasn't played in some time.  In the player's head, he knows his approximate level of play, and with it comes confidence that it will be achieved.  When he gets on the court and a pass comes his way, he throws up an air-ball.  He hasn't lost that skill, but that level is not immediately at his grasp and it's a shock.  That immediate shock is exactly what I went through.  Captain Anderson coached me through this, and I'm glad he was there.  During our week aboard, we soaked up a lot of knowledge from him.

Sharon at the helm of Fidelity
Preparing to anchor near Little Jost

One thing we were pleasantly unprepared for, was the spectacular culinary show with which we were treated for each and every meal.  When booking a crewed yacht charter, the chef and his or her sample menus are always taken under great consideration.  When we booked Fidelity, we knew we would be eating well, but we had no idea that Debbie had grossly understated her abilities and talent in the galley.  Nor did we know the lengths that Bob and Debbie go to present meals Al fresco in the cockpit at a level that would make high-end restaurants embarrassed.  Seared sushi grade Ahi tuna, mango Mahi-mahi, delectable shrimp, indulgent breakfasts, and amazingly appetizing lunches - a menu designed and organized to our every tasty desire.  Debbie spent countless hours in the galley, making each meal an event to remember, and Bob had gathered a wine selection based on our tastes that did not fail to impress.  

Our charter with Fidelity found us hitting everything on our itinerary, plus a few unexpected side trips offered up by Bob.  Our favorites were all visited - Norman Island, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda.  We also took in a lot of new territory.  We snorkeled the "Indians" near Norman Island for the first time this year, a place we have been meaning to go over the years but somehow passed up for other activities.  On one particular day, our goal was to sail to Marina Cay.  We were excited about our visit - Marina Cay was another spot that has been on our to-do list for many years.  Once underway, Bob offered the suggestion of heading over to Cooper island on our way.  We took the dinghy from Cooper Island, to Salt Island and the wreck of the RMS Rhone for snorkeling - more places high on our to-do list "someday".  The eerie-factor at the Rhone was high, and it was spectacular snorkeling the wreck while divers took a closer look beneath us.  Salt Island was great for wandering around and exploring.  Towards the west end of the island lies a makeshift graveyard where islanders buried the dead that washed ashore from the Rhone's demise.  

The incredibly flat island of Anegada, due north of Virgin Gorda, was also on the itinerary we asked of Bob.
Sunset in Anegada
 The sail there and back was well worth it, and proved to be a very relaxing experience with the sails set and the autopilot steering our course.  We arrived far earlier than Sharon and I had imagined we would, which allowed for us to do a good amount of island exploration and visiting many of the local watering holes.  It was immediately apparent that we would want to return there in the future, so we moved around the island like a sampler platter of appetizers with the intent that we will know exactly what we want to see and do the next time our hull meanders into this beautiful anchorage.  And when you hear Jimmy Buffett talk about Anegada lobster - take his word for it...  Or ours.  This is something not to be missed.

Our week aboard with Bob and Debbie was a great way to end our crewed charter experiences.  It was horrendously depressing to see it come to an end, but with every end comes a new beginning.  This was such a great stepping stone towards our ultimate goal, allowing us to log more hours under a professional while still having a vacation of a lifetime.   

Motoring to pull up the anchor
"Crowded" Cow-wreck beach, Anegada

Sunday, December 1, 2013

'Twas the Night Before A St. John Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through Cruz Bay,
We were all anxious for the arrival, of the fat man and his sleigh;
The stockings were hung by the palm trees with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The tourists were nestled all snug in villa beds,
While visions of north shore beaches danced in their heads;
And Sharon in her bikini, and I in my trunks,
Dinghied to the boat, headed back to our bunk.

When over by Beach Bar there arose such a clatter,
I peeked from a port hole and saw Santa's sleigh land with a splatter.
He had clipped my mast, flying low was his style,
Now the elf and his deer were on the beach in a pile.

The reindeer were scattered all over the sand,
Some injuries were suffered in their attempt to land,
Comet was bruised,  Rudolph's nose was withered,
How would Santa get his island gifts delivered?!

We ran through the circle, past the Tamarind Inn so quick,
We would get The ACC dogs to rescue St. Nick!
More rapid than eagles, barking as they came,
Santa patted their heads, and called them by name:

"Now Moose!  Now Georgia!  They love those butt scratches!
On Missy!  On Cally!  On Peaches and Patches!
To the top of Woody's, to the top of the Banana Deck!
Now yank away!  Dash away!  Pull like heck!"

Down Love City streets, these loyal pups pulled that sleigh,
It's said every dog shines once, and this was their day.
So up all the hills, all the way to Coral Bay they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too -

Later with some splashing, I heard near my hull,
Paddling and pawing, this night wouldn't be dull.
As I climbed to my cockpit and was turning around,
I saw St. Nick in a dinghy, with the pups towing him around.

He was dressed in a red Speedo, it sure wasn't pretty,
But the dogs were so proud, they saved Christmas in Love City;
A bundle of new snorkel gear hung at his side,
And it looked as if he were a Low Key guide.

His eyes - how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were sunburned, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
"These pups pulled my sleigh through the sand as if it were snow"

With a candy cane snorkel held tight in his teeth,
He hopped off my stern and dove for the deep.
He played with each dog, swimming and rubbing their bellies,
And he shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He wondered how these dogs, had landed at the ACC,
With wet little noses, and furry hearts full of glee.
A wink of his eye, and a twist of his head
"I'll find each one of these dogs a home and a warm bed";

A tear dripped down his cheek, as he went back to work,
The dog's stockings were last, then he turned with a jerk.
He tucked each dog in, and closed each kennel door,
"Wish I could take them now, wish I could do more"

He sprang to the office, and left a note for the staff,
"I left so many toys for your dogs, you'll surely have a laugh"
And I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight -
"Merry Christmas to all, and to the ACC good night!"

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Where have I been?

S/V Fidelity, our home for our 2013 Virgin Island Adventure
In what seems like just a blink of an eye, it has been over two months since my last post.  Why?  In short, I have been running on virtual overload.  Each year, we venture to the Virgin Islands somewhere around the first or second week of November.  Likewise, each year I find that I have packed on some physical heft as a result of a few factors.  Mainly the cause for my abdominal growth is an excess in indulgence during the summer months at my summer lake home.  It seems that as we pass the summer days by on our pontoon boat, the beers and snacks slowly add up in the form of...  well... fat.  Typically as the summer season comes to an end around Labor Day, I realize I have put on 15-20 pounds that I like to take off before we head south to the islands some 8-9 weeks later.  As I lumbered on to the scales this Labor Day, I found I had astonishingly added 27 pounds.  Impressed I was not.

Right around this same time, I had also set a new goal towards our future in the islands.  I have always wanted to learn Spanish and as I see it there are three major languages in the islands - English, Spanish, and Creole.  Considering that Creole isn't exactly a dominating language, Spanish is my choice.  I had assumed that I would tackle this task by purchasing Rosetta Stone materials, but when I started researching the purchase of the product I found the reviews alarming.  A fair number of reviews cited issues in the software along with various other complaints.  These complaints combined with the fact that I simply have no time to allocate towards sitting in front of a computer to do the lessons swayed my focus towards another product - the "Pimsleur Approach".  This program is audio based making it very attractive for someone like me that commutes nearly 4 hours a day, staring endlessly at taillights.

I also had some unfinished business in regards to my sailing training.  In the early part of the year, after deciding to pursue American Sailing Association certifications, I enrolled in a home study course for my ASA 105 Coastal Navigation & Piloting certification offered through the American Sailing Academy in New London, CT.  This certification would compliment my ASA 101 Basic Keelboat, ASA 103 Coast Cruising, and ASA 104 Bareboat certification.  My original plan was to complete this course before we left for Island Dreamer Sailing school.  As it turned out, there was simply too much material to cover for me to finish.  After our Bareboat certification, it was suddenly summer and I simply put off the required studying.

ASA 105 Coastal Navigation & Piloting materials
So there you have it.  The week after Labor Day, I set a fairly lofty agenda.  In just two short months, I would train harder than I ever have and clean up my diet in order to drop my 27 pounds of extra weight, I would start aggressively learning Spanish, and I would achieve my navigation and piloting certification.  So for the past two months, every calorie has been counted, every meal has been measured for protein, carbohydrate, and fat content.  My day has started at 4:45am with a morning commute to the gym, and a Pimsleur Spanish lesson on the way.  After a 2 hour hardcore gym session, my work day started.  My lunch break became either a third hour in the gym, or a navigation study session.  My commute home usually entailed a repeat of my morning Spanish lesson, and after finally reaching home around 7pm or later, evenings often included more navigation plotting and calculations.

We are now just a few days from our trip, and the end of my allotted time to complete my agenda.  How did it go you ask?  I'm tired.  Mentally, and definitely physically.  However, I write this post weighing 26 pounds less than I was on Labor Day.  I have put away my 36 waist size jeans, and now comfortably fit back in my 32's.  Each day at work, I have very limited, short, simple conversations with Spanish speaking coworkers.  As limited as they may be, they are conversations none the less.  I am very thankful I have people to practice with that are enthusiastic about my progress.  I have to admit, I am very happy with the Pimsleur program.  I really have progressed much further than I had imagined I would.  And how about my ASA 105 certification?  After a 3+ hour marathon test, I was worried that my work had been rushed, causing mistakes.  I was even more worried that if I failed, it would mean taking that 3+ hour test again...  I am happy to report that Saturday morning I received a congratulatory text from Captain Dave Higgins stating I scored a 97% on my navigation and piloting exam.  Paperwork for my certification is currently being filed with the American Sailing Association.

With all this, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment as well as a tremendous need to unwind.  I can not wait to be at the helm of Fidelity, a 47 foot Jeanneau which will serve as our home during our time in the Virgins this year.  This will not only be a reward for all the hard work, but it will also serve as a stepping stone towards our ultimate goal.  While cruising the US and British Virigin Islands we will be racking up an entire week's worth of valuable operation time and experience.  Bring on the vacation...

S/V Fidelity's cockpit
S/V Fidelity's saloon

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Big Frickin' Sails - Pucker Factor

Big frickin' sails.  When I first heard this phrase, the first thought that came to mind was, "must be for a big frickin' boat".  I first saw "Big Frickin' Sails" on a sailing web forum.  As I read on, I found that the phrase was actually coined not to describe the physical sails on a boat, but rather to describe a day's sail which increased one's personal pucker-factor, or risk tolerance.  The author of the phrase further explained, it didn't matter if it was a 60 foot yacht, a small daysailer, or a sunfish - the point was it is an experience under sail where the skipper can look back and say "Whoa.".

Today, for me, was a Big Frickin' Sail.  It's been quite a few weeks since I have been out.  We were out of town a lot during the summer, leaving Connecticut to go relax at our lake house where we have a pontoon powerboat.  This is actually alright because the winds typically die down a bit during the summer, leaving the best sailing conditions in the Spring and Fall seasons.  Sharon was unable to go today, so I asked a long time friend and neighbor Zsolt Megai to crew with me.  Zsolt has been a great friend for almost ten years now, and is always up for any sort of outdoor adventure.  At 73 years old, he's as fit as any 30-something I know, and the two of us have a tendency to always find ourselves in situations that press the envelope.

Given the conditions and weather forecast, we decided to go to Bantam Lake here in Connecticut.  While not being especially large, Bantam is the largest natural lake in the state.  It's a fairly decent area, has a small sailing community, and has a nice state operated boat launch.  After rigging my boat "Rhumb Line", we decided to reef the main sail (reduce sail area for heavy wind), and then we proceeded out.  It's always better to reef early when you think you might need it, as it's far easier to shake out an unneeded reef rather than put one in during heavy conditions.  We tacked back and forth into the main bay of Bantam, and decided we could handle the wind with full sail, so out came the reef.  We then enjoyed spirited sailing around the main bay before dropping the sails and motoring into a little cove for lunch at anchor.

As we were finishing up lunch, we could see heavy white caps in the main bay.  It was clear that the forecast of winds building to 14-16 knots, and gusts well into the 20's was unfolding as planned.  A few quick knots later the reef was back in, the anchor was pulled, and we sailed back out under the main sail alone.  As we fell off the wind on a nice port tack, Zsolt went forward to raise the jib (the head sail).

Here is where hindsight is 20/20.  I always, without exception, stow my gear properly and make everything ship-shape before sailing off.  Well, I guess in this case, there was one exception.  I don't know why neither of us took care of it.  The anchor line was all over the front of the cockpit, the jib sheets were loose, as well as the main sheet.  Under main sail alone we were already building big speed and I had my hands full with the tiller.  As the jib flung violently loose in the wind, the jib sheets twisted about faster than Chubby Checker, fully entangling themselves in the loose anchor line.  The winds were well into the 20 knot range and it was overpowering us, giving enough pucker factor to make a dime from a quarter.

I watched as Zsolt worked on the tangle, and I tried to move my heft as far up on the upwind rail as possible.  The main sail was taking the brunt of some major gusts, and the jib was flailing, making my mast bend and flop as if it were made of spaghetti.  As Zsolt managed to get the spider web of lines and sheets untangled we sailed on, taking one-plus-foot chop waves against the hull continually drenching us.  With both sails now under control, I thought we were fine.

The wind continued to build.  It was ever more apparent that we were on the hairy edge.  Being bald, I really didn't think this was possible.  Busier than a one-legged man in an butt-kicking contest, we worked the boat - letting the sheets out in big puffs, and pushing the tiller to head the boat up into wind.  We were making 6.5 knots of speed with each gust seeming to grow in power.  "Rhumb Line" has high sides and is not meant to be hiked, but we did anyway, leaning out as far as we could, and still watched our leeward rail drop below the water line until water came in.

We were now at the far end of the lake, away from most that could lend assistance to us if needed.  We tacked back around heading back into the widest area of the lake giving the wind the most fetch.  Again we were insanely busy working the boat, and watching the rail drop below the water line.  Part of me was laughing with the excitement of the speed and power, while the other part was trying to control nerves and my heart rate which seemed likely to go into arrest. While I was frantically telling Zsolt "We need to get out of here, this is too much", he returned his usual calm retort of (in heavy Hungarian accent) - "Teeeemy, eet ees okaaay.  We are luurning the leeemits of your boat."  With a brand new Honda outboard attached, I really didn't want to find the limit of the boat.  Capsizing would be a $900 mistake, or - I guess maybe successful test of the limit.

After we sailed through the thick of it all, and returned safely, I understood the value of it all.  This Big Frickin' Sail, this solid quarter-to-dime pucker-factor, was another learning experience.  Zsolt was right.  We had raised my tolerance level, and I had gained more hours sailing under conditions that were extremely heavy for my little boat.  I'm looking forward to my next big frickin' sail - but I hope it will be a while.  Thanks for a great sail Zsolt!