River Run Page 2
No pinchingand keep way on: When staring down the gun-barrel of a tight tack its natural to try to win an extra yard or two by pinching. Unless you are huffling or lee-bowing (see below and next page), dont do it. When a boat comes above close-hauled and her sails start luffing, she will slide sideways as soon as her speed drops below a critical leveltypically around 2 or 3 knots. Although you are pointing to where you want to go, you are actually sliding to leeward.
Theres no help for it. You must be cruel to be kind. Head off, get the sails drawing and gather way. Once the boat is sailing positively, luff her gently but persistently and youll be amazed how high shell point. You can even shove her head-to-wind for a short time if need be, so long as you dont lose momentum. If you sail too high from a standing start or at a slow speed, youre a dead duck.
It takes confidence to steer downwind of something you really need to lay, even for only 10 or 20 seconds. Watch an expert, though, and youll note hes doing just that, yet he ends up laying the mark against all the odds.
It is especially important to maintain steerage way when short-tacking. The worst-case scenario is that you dont gain enough way to come aboutthen youve had it. Quickly regaining a useful speed after a tack is more important than pointing up straight away.
Lee-bowing: When beating against a contrary current (which we were not), you can sometimes contrive to steer so as to place the stream on your lee bow. The boat then begins drifting up to windward. The mysteries of geometry also free the apparent wind, so you win two ways up. Grabbing some lee-bow current when its offered can save whole tacks. Occasionally, it even repays the original sin of pinching. Conversely, if the current is on your weather bow youll be set to leeward.
Huffling: An old trick used by true river sailors is to huffle at the end of a tack. It often doesnt work at sea because of the waves, but in flat water with plenty of way on you can often shoot head to wind for several boatlengths as you come about. This gains valuable distance, especially when sailing among moorings where the boat must be placed with great precision. The downside of huffling is that if you let her lose too much way, your boat will stall as she falls onto the new tack. You know this is happening if she develops lee helm as she falls away. This means youve over-cooked it. Dont try so hard next time.
Watch natural ranges: Jeff, Dan and I had a good tide flowing under us as we beat up through the moorings, so we had to be doubly vigilant about where the boat was going. This, of course, was generally not where she was pointing. The only way of projecting your track for sure is to line up the moored boats with their background and be sure that both ends of any craft youre approaching are moving in the same direction. If the sterns gobbling up the background and the bow is spewing it out, youre passing clear ahead. If the stern and bow are both eating background, youre squared up for an insurance claim.
Keep an eye on your masthead: On a windy day with the boat heeling, make sure you dont foul anyone elses rig with your masthead. Its easy to become obsessed with ranges at eye-level and neglect the main event aloft.
Think ahead: With a tide running, always be thinking one tack aheadtwo is better, but dont be over-ambitious.
Sometimes, a river favors the brave and makes it a breeze to sail up alongside a dock at the end of your trip. If the offer is made, it is rude to reject it. On this occasion, we were presented with a perfect set-up. The current was running along the ancient dock below the pub and the wind was blowing against it. We were in Rule 1 territory.
Rule 1 for docking under sail states that with wind against current you wont be able to stop under main, because you cant spill wind from the mainsail with the wind abaft the beam, but you cant stop down-tide either. The answer is to drop the mainsail, then approach the berth downwind, running into the current under jib alone.
As things panned out, we rolled up the genoa completely before luffing to stow the main(1). Bringing the boat head to wind, we let go the main halyard and the sail rattled down into its stack-pack. We steered across the breeze toward the dock carrying the last of our way, then unrolled a little genoa to bring her back under steerage (2). All that remained was to organize docklines and fenders, with emphasis on a stern line to stop her if need be. Then we trundled in, controlling our speed with the genoa furling line and the current instead of a throttle. As I rolled away the last of the canvas, she settled into her berth as neatly as my granddad used to sink into his rocker on the porch (3). All that remained was to stroll up to the bar and place our order.