Friday, March 11, 2005

Maiden Voyage

Friday March 11, 2005, Palm Beach N26 45.736 W080 02.85

Neither one of us slept much last night. We were scared. We were keenly aware that today would be perhaps the most dangerous sailing day of all. We were on an unfamiliar boat, unfamiliar engine, unfamiliar waters, unfamiliar traffic protocols, unfamiliar charts, and unfamiliar sails. Mishaps were highly likely [we were right; read on].

We got away from the dock at 0935 with well wishes from Mrs. Page. We were starting our sailing lives and they were ending theirs.

We navigated the channels OK, and made our first bridge draw up for us just fine. We then stopped for fuel and headed for the 17th street bridge.

The 17th street bridge is where the big cruise ships and mega yachts [>100 feet] hang out. It is 56 feet high and doesn’t need to raiae for us.

As we approached the bridge Libby noticed that we forgot to lower the big yellow beach ball that was hauled to the top of the mast to act as a scarecrow when at the slip. She went forward to lower it and, alas, dropped it overboard.

The embarrassment was total. The stupid ball skidded across the water blown by the wind. I had to make a U turn under the bride with hundreds of spectators watching, including 4 coast guard men right behind me. I chased the ball but we couldn’t hook it with the boat hook. Eventually the ball skidded behind a mega yacht and I gave up on it. Our first mishap.

The final channel to the sea was crowded with big powerboats. The waves were big and we could only manage 3 knots. I felt puny. Near the last buoy a fancy sailing yacht passed by and a man on deck was staring at us. He yelled, “Where bound to?” I didn’t know what to answer so I didn’t. Later I realized that he recognized Tarwathie as a serious blue water boat and his question made me proud.

It took me nearly 45 minutes with several false starts to get all the sails up properly. Normally I’d be embarrassed to take more than 5 minutes, but everything was unfamiliar. My reward was when the sails were set and we turned North. The knotmeter showed 7.5 knots and the GPS showed 11.2 knots. I thought 7.5 was more than the hull speed. Anyhow, we had a 3.7 knot current going our way. We were riding on the Gulf Stream.

When things settled down, the GPS predicted arrival at the Lake Worth inlet at Palm Beach at 1730. Good; one hour before sunset.


We had great fun sailing north. I struggled for 3 hours with the self steering gear before I got it right. Soon thereafter it didn’t steer right again. It’s a matter of sail trim and sail balance. One has to trim the boat to steer with little tiller force before engaging the self steering. I finally decided that I had too much sail up and should take a reef. I was too lazy, and we steered manually for most of the trip.

Hooray, we just saw a school of swordfish (marlin? other species?) swimming by and jumping out of the water.

We got to the Lake Worth inlet at 1720, 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Navigation with GPS and charts went very well. 42 nautical miles in a straight line was the longest straight leg I ever ran. I was very pleased with myself.

We doused the sails and started motoring in the channel to end a successful day. That’s when things started to go bad. I told Libby to motor in at 2200 RPM. She thought I said 3200. When I found out, I got scared. Shouldn’t run at more than 3000 for more than a minute. I asked Libby to read the engine coolant temperature gauge. Top temperature should be 200 degrees. She said, “380 degrees.” Panic! Had I ruined our engine first time out. I wend down on my knees to check the gauge. It’s low down and hard to read. Whew, it was 180 not 380.

The next mishap was really bad. We scraped against one of the channel market piers coming into the channel! It put a 2’ scratch in Tarwathie’s side. Al Hatch would die if he knew. My error was to let the boom and the mainsail create a blind spot while I stood in the cockpit. You can’t navigate close with a blind spot. I should have known that. I felt awful.

We found a nice anchorage, and it took me 45 minutes to anchor and to stow sails and lines on deck to my satisfaction. Unfamiliarity again. In a few weeks, I’ll do all that in 5 minutes.

I’m writing this after supper. Libby is already asleep. She’s exhausted. Hopefully we’ll sleep well tonight.

So ends the maiden voyage day of our new life at sea. 2 mishaps, but solid accomplishments, and invaluable experience gained.

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