Early morning during the last watch, Christa and I were still in bed. The boat was bouncing around and slamming the bow down hard enough that there was no way we could sleep up in the v-berth. Of course we made this berth selection based on the space and our experience at anchor and the marina, not what the movement was like underway(!) I considered going up on deck (as the acting Skipper) to tell them to try and make the boat’s movement as comfortable as possible for those below since we were not in a hurry to get there. I then thought that I was only trying to make my own life better, so I stayed where I was.
We were eventually woken (early) for our watch, and I went up on deck. I’m not the cheeriest guy in the morning at the best of times, and soon got irritated at the situation. They had started the engine to charge the batteries and make hot water (good) but were turning 18-1900 rpm so we were doing 8-9kts under full sail, heeled over again as both sails were tight, and we were headed towards a front with a define lined of ominous looking black clouds. The winds was 18-19kts and we learned they almost woke us earlier as they had been gusting over 20. Little wonder I was bouncing out of bed. We has also sailed past our hand-over point which they never saw. Whether it was there or not I don’t know as we past that point a good time before, not using the GPS, and were travelling 50% faster that our planned speed.
As I continued to shake the fatigue from my head, I started to settle down a bit thinking that I wasn’t in a position to criticize anyone, as I had next to no sailing time myself. I had not been the biggest fan of one of the people on watch up to now, which probably contributed to my overreaction.
So we were still approaching the front in a force 5-6 and my plan was to drop the main, furl the genoa in a bunch and just keep motoring through it. I was tired and frustrated, the engine was already going, and it seemed to be the easiest course of action (COA) until we were in clear weather when we could get more clever with the sails. I then made the mistake of not going with my instinct of the safest/easiest COA (what did I know about sailing anyway). One of the crew from the last watch had suggested we reef the main.
I remembered about all the times I read and heard to reef before you need it, and take it down after you think. This person had much more sailing experience than me, and I didn’t know what the winds were going to be doing when we went through this line of dark clouds. OK, good idea. Things started to go bad at this point.
Now this person and I had not been the best of friends on board. From my perspective they were always talking, tried to take control of everything, and always had the right answer (even when they didn’t). I’m sure they had their own thoughts about me as well. In any case, they went forward and started fumbling with the lines while Christa and I were back at the helm. I turned into the wind and the sails and rigging started making an appropriate racket. The real Skipper was down below listening to all this as it turned out. The first sign of trouble, and when I should have stepped in, was when they indicated they were not familiar with the lines on the boat. I thought to myself, how many days had we been underway, and how much experience is this person supposed to have? Perhaps I wasn’t confident enough as a skipper at this point to step in and do it myself and put them at the helm. This is probably where the situation got away from me.
Next thing I heard, as I was felling sorry for myself, was Christa asked what was wrong with the genoa. I looked up and saw the genoa coming down. Well didn’t the wrong clutch get lifted, without any line around a winch for safety. That woke me up. I went forward and asked them if they knew how to reef. When I got a yes, I said I would lower the main, fix the genoa and they were to go collect the main down to the second reef. Christa tried to raise the genoa but couldn’t with the strain the wind was putting on it, so we left it until later and I dropped the main.
At this point the crewmember at the mast was yelling to know what the winds were (what?). With the racket form the sails blowing around, the winds at 18+kts and the boat still slamming through some good waves she could hear Christa’s voice from the helm. I belted out 20kts! loud enough that I’m sure the fish heard me. Things started to get even more interesting for me as this person at the mast was flailing around wrestling with the mail sail and was not secured to anything. They were in fact tripping over the very line that was supposed to be used for this. Christa at this point became nervous enough about them falling overboard that she told me I had better go forward. I asked if she was OK back at the helm and went forward.
When I got there (and didn’t secure myself) I learned that the reefing system was not as I suspected. The last boat we had form this company had a single line system that can be handled from back in the cockpit. This one had a crudely tied shackle where the boom met the mast, that was to secure a ring that was through the forward reefing cringle. Bad on me for not actually verifying the sail setup before departure, and having just mentally cursed someone for almost the same thing.
I didn’t want to mess with something that I hadn’t seen before, so I said we were just going to drop the main, and sail on the genoa since we had plenty of wind and had blown our original timeline anyways. We collected the main, fixed the genoa, and were doing a nice 5-5.5kts thinking we were at an end of the stressful situation, and I could started to think about what I could have done better. At this point, said crewman thought it would be a good time to complain that I should not have yelled at them. I explained that I was yelling because nobody could hear anything, and that they should go below and we’ll deal with this later when the weather and people were more relaxed. Not only did said crewman not go below, I then received a lecture about my tone, how much experience they had, the vessels they sailed on, used a sextant (wait, what?), etc. I resisted the urge to bark back that they should have then had enough sense to drop the main and not the genoa, and I asked Christa to carry my coffee mug down below while I invited my new friend back at the helm for a face-face chat. In a calm voice I said that I was happy to have them on board with all that experience as I’ve been on boat with people that didn’t know bow from stern, but what we all needed was demonstrated proficiency and teamwork. I said some more positive stuff, probably too patronizing, and was eventually alone at the helm.
I was now quite upset with myself, that I let the situation get away from me so easily.
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