More learning

Posted by Paul

I have not had a chance to do anymore work on the boat this past week. After family Christmas in Melbourne I thought I would get 2 full days at it but the opportunity to help a friend and sail down to Sydney arose. I jumped at it. Warren’s 40ft Cat has a mast height about a metre higher than the clearance under a bridge to get back out so it is quite a detailed job getting the mast down enough to get under so I offered to help him get it under. Then once under Warren offered me a berth for the night and a spot to crew on the short day sail down to Sydney which effective used 2 days that I might have used to build, but I learnt far more than I would have gained building. This is the same boat I spent last NYE on but did not sail it down, and this year I got to sail it down but then caught the train back in the afternoon to spend a quiet NYE at home with Jo. We did not stay on board overnight after the fireworks last year and by the time you get home it is 4am so we decided as much fun as it is seeing the fireworks on the harbour (and we were invited to do so again) we decided there will be plenty of opportunity to see them on our own boat in future. I hardly slept on board out of the excitement of being on board and sailing down so that as well as the sail down and then the fireworks, then getting home around 4am, I would not have made it, so the decision was the right one.

But the chance to sail down was too good an opportunity to learn. I still don’t really know how to sail and am taking any opportunity to do so as our launch gets closer. I don’t feel that I am learning much as a crew member and I am hoping this is normal. I am trying to understand and concentrating but not much is sinking in or making much sense except at the time it is occurring, then its gone, nothing retained that I can say I learnt today. Maybe it becomes instinctive, once you get out there and are faced with decisions you feel for the right answer from some retained memory of what happened on some previous sail as crew, but I feel that until I am out there making decisions rather than doing what I am told by the skipper I wont really understand what I am doing, or at least in a way that I can articulate.

But I did learn one thing about myself and sailing in general today. I learnt, well not learnt more reaffirmed that for now at least I am not in the least bit competitive about sailing. Most sailors seem to be (and I may turn out to be but doubt it) and I mean that in no way disrespectfully, especially to my gracious host. But in most of the sailing situations I have been in there has always been an urgency to doing things such as winding on winches during a tack so as not to get into irons during the turn. Today Warren asked me to wind on a winch and try as I might I fumbled with the winch handle, wound ropes onto winches the wrong way and even got my nose in the way of Warrens elbow whilst he was winding furiously causing a bit of a bloody nose.

From my perspective as a wannabe cruiser, whilst I could see that to get the foresail sheeted fast and not lose momentum was good, it was not disastrous not to, the times I messed it up, we stalled a little but were soon underway again. No biggie to me. But I fully respected the skippers wishes, he wanted things done a certain way and not just because of being grateful of the opportunity but out of the respect I would expect as the skipper when my turn comes I fully tried my hardest. And in retrospect I am sure that learning urgency in non urgent situations is a fantastic learning tool, one I plan to use myself by practising such things, but I reaffirmed my wish to be a laconic cruiser in no great rush to do anything unless trying to learn urgency or unless the situation is truly urgent. Which in turn re affirmed my belief in my choice of rig. I have absolutely no idea how to sail it (even less so that a traditional rig) but I was sold on its simplicity which will reinforce my cruisers nature and winding furiously on a winch to sheet home a foresail in a tack wont be part of my cruising pastime. And if I do stall in a turn, unless there is imminent danger of for example a lee shore (in which case the iron sails, the motors, would have been deployed well before anyway) I wont care at all, it will come around or fill up or take off or whatever and we will continue on our happy unflustered way. And if you are behind me trying to catch me, furiously and no doubt happily cranking on this and pulling on that, I will wave to you as you go past me. Ironically a lot of my crewing experience is coming in twilight racing, so of course the sailors all want to sail faster, but sometimes even though we are racing I just cant see the point of constantly tweaking trying to eke out what amounts to a few feet at the line in what also amounts to just social racing with the emphasis on social not racing! to me the enjoyment of being out there is enough, but as a grateful participant and also that grateful or not I should respect the skipper and do as they ask I always try to do my best).

The other thing I learnt is that you can never take another persons knowledge or lack thereof for granted. If you are relying on them to know something you have to be absolutely sure (and double check) that they know what they are doing. In order to get the boat under the bridge, the shrouds need to be undone by turning a turnbuckle with a thread on each end until it is off. I turned the turn buckle in the direction I thought I was told to do so, and was in fact tightening not loosening my side, when the other side was at the last couple of turns, the added tension that I created by tightening caused that side to pull out of the threads stripping out the last part of the thread. I had no idea I was turning the wrong way, I had no idea it was getting harder for a reason even though I had helped with this same task a year before, not unlike the way I am learning to sail, following orders does not seem to be a way I learn well. The problem with stripped threads is that when you attempt to put it back together the threads can cross and you in effect cut a new thread path which weakens a critical part of the boat that if weakened enough could have catastrophic later consequences, in that the mast could come down in a strong wind and the rest of that thought does not bear thinking.

The owner was justifiably upset with me, and again I mean this in no way disrespectfully to him but I almost caused a disaster through my lack of knowledge however I have wracked my brain to see if I could have done any better and I cant get away from the thought that if I don’t know I am doing something wrongly then how can I have done any better. The lesson for me was that in order to avoid this happening to me when I get people to help me, I have to assume that everyone else is as dumb as I am and that I need to be careful that they understand my instructions or be absolutely confident they already know more than I do.

Finally I learnt that I do like sailing even though I don’t fully understand it yet and I don’t feel as urgently about it as others do. The last 2 times I have been out of the bays (once on a small mono and once on this same cat) there was no wind so we motored all day, today there was wind even though at one point we were sailing into it, and I really enjoyed the 4 hour sail, 3 hours head to head of about 20 nautical miles so averaging 7 knots. It was a beautiful day, and whilst I know not everyday will be like that, I am sure we are going to enjoy the vast majority of our time sailing. How could you not, Sydney is one of the most beautiful harbours anywhere in the world, the weather was great, sunny and about 28 degrees, the winds whilst gusty and strong at times (we pulled the headsail down at one stage but 10 minutes later it was back up) it was fantastic to be out there.

NYE is a time for reflection of the year just passed and planning for the year ahead. In 2008 I achieved 795 hours build time an improvement over the 737 hours in 07 and 545 in 06, but in order to get to my goal this year I need 1000 hours. That’s 83 hours a month. If I achieve 80 I will be happy and over 3000. Its going to be tough to achieve as I thought I did pretty well this year, but I am just going to have to make a few more sacrifices and perhaps start working at night more. I think it will be harder in the first half of the year but as the end gets nearer then I think momentum will build with the excitement and I will start to accelerate. Thanks again to all the readers and especially all those who write to us, please do if you have been contemplating it and also don’t hesitate to visit if in the area. One of my great joys in the build is chatting to others about boats.

Time Spent: 40.00 Hours
Total build time so far: 2077.00 Hours
Total Elapsed Time: 3 Years 3 months 2 week.

You May Also Like