Windjammer or Stinkpotter?

Sunday , 25, January 2015 Leave a comment

Boat party


To a sailor, a stinkpotter is a person who uses a motorboat.  But stinkpotters get a bad name for more than just their choice of watercraft.  It’s a set of characteristics that are displayed nearly every weekend with decent weather on a lake or river or inlet or ocean near you.  For your education and entertainment, I’ll list a few of them here:

  1. Stinkpotters want to go fast and and get there now.
  2. For a day on the water, there is little planning that takes place.   Throw the beer, the music and the towable tube in the boat and go.
  3. To be a stinkpotter, there is very little know-how needed.  225 horses of 4-stroke Yamaha power take the place of the skills and techniques possessed by mariners for centuries.
  4. A stinkpotter is less observant to experiences, surroundings and nature’s signals.  They can be described this way on and off the water, zooming through life without paying attention to much of anything.
  5. Stinkpotters are loud, drunk, and not courteous.
  6. A stinkpotter can be anybody with a little money and a body of water nearby.

Windjammers, on the other hand, are at one with nature and with themselves.  They are in no rush to be somewhere as they know that with sailing, the journey IS the destination.  They pay attention to nature and use its blessings to create beautiful motion while at the same time being completely at its mercy and accept the bad with the good.  A windjammer plans and practices and logs and reflects.  Windjammers realize that sometimes the shortest distance between two points is a zigzag line and that patience is rewarded.

I want to be a windjammer.  At sea and in life.

This past weekend, however, I went on the water with a stinkpotter’s mentality and I am ashamed.

We have really been trying to increase our time on the sailboat lately.  We go most weekends.  Laura came up with the idea to make Mondays our day to sail after work with the girls.  It’s something to look forward to after the weekend and it makes us get out there and practice.  I’m really hoping that it helps Avery and Leslie feel comfortable on the water as well.  But we really just go whenever we get the chance so we’ve gone for a boat ride slightly more than once a week in the past month or two.  Nearly all of the trips recently have been with little or no wind and that has worked out fine as we help the girls get accustomed to moving around in the cockpit, helping steer, fooling around with sheets and halyards, negotiate the companionway steps, and any other on-board activities in which they can participate.  The boat stays level and we go where we want and come back in when we want.  In the back of my mind however, I’ve been hoping for some wind so that we can get some “real” experience under sail.  Well, on Saturday Mother Nature heard my secret desires and offered us wind.  Lots of wind.  Here on the conditions from this past Saturday:

Wind Speed 15 mph (WSW)
Max Wind Speed 24 mph
Max Gust Speed 34 mph

Those readings are from the Marine Corps Air Station here in Beaufort which is located in an area slightly more protected from the wind than our sailing grounds in the Coosaw River.  I’m guessing our sustained winds were more in the 20-25 mph range.

So, there was plenty of wind.  Most will tell you that this was too much wind for our 25 foot Catalina sailboat.  Enter Bryan the stinkpotter.  We packed a lunch and decided to go after the girls got up from their naps.  The winds were forecast to die down drastically by nightfall so I thought that if it was a little rough, the conditions would only improve as time went on anyway.  I also told myself that since the tide and the wind would both be running in the same direction (from the West), the waves wouldn’t be an issue.  I even stopped by the gas station and topped off the tank, just in case.

As I was readying the boat for departure, the owner of the boat two slips down from us walked by and introduced himself.  He made some joke about going out for a sail today in this wind to which I responded, “Yeah, we’re going to give it a try.”  He went on his way and told us to “be safe out there.”  “Wimp…” I think to myself.

We pulled away from the dock and motored out of the creek, inching out the genoa almost immediately to acquaint ourselves with the weather conditions of the day.  By the time we reached the marker at the creek entrance, we were feeling the force of the sustained winds and disruption of the occasional gusts.  With such little sail exposed, we weren’t overpowered or heeling at all, but we also weren’t gaining a lot of steerage.  I succumbed to just allowing the wind to take us where it pleased and didn’t try for any particular direction.  Because of this, the initial discomfort came from the rolling waves that were striking the boat broadside.  Laura and the girls were feeling a little unprotected in the cockpit and i was having difficulty tending to the sheets with them in the way, so they decided to head down below to read a book and eat some snacks.  It wasn’t long before the motion of the boat took its effect on them in the salon.  Not complete seasickness, but there was definitely no reading or snacking taking place.  Laura peeked up through the companionway and remarked at how far we had traveled in such a short time.  With only a portion of the genoa unfurled, the large waves, the strong winds, and the strong outgoing current, I wasn’t able to steer in any way.  I thought to myself that lowering the keel would probably improve my control from the helm, but there was no way I would be able to go down into the salon and crank it down.  We made the decision to put way the sails, crank up the motor, and head directly for the creek, pointing the bow into the oncoming waves.  It was a slow process as the prop kept hopping out of the water with each passing swell, but, luckily, we made it to the lee of Sam’s Point and into Lucy Creek.  After we tied up at the dock, we finally unpacked our snacks and Avery and Leslie enjoyed eating our boat lunch from the salon table.  Laura and I shared in a sigh of relief and a couple of cold beers.

In reflection, I should have thought about these things before we decided to depart on our sail:

  • Waves make it difficult for little ones to stand
  • Less sail and a hairy rudder means poor maneuverability (we couldn’t hold a course and kept taking all the waves broadside)
  • If the boat is heeled over excessively, this is dangerous for little ones
  • if the family goes below for safety or comfort, sea sickness can become an issue
  • Current and wind pushing the same direction take us far away quickly
  • Wind, waves, and current make a little outboard perform poorly at best, completely useless at worst

I am hesitant to say this weekend was a learning experience simply because….I KNOW THESE THINGS ALREADY!  We’ll call it more of a slap in the face reminder that when the children are involved, erring on the side of caution is mandatory.  I guess it was a learning experience in that I learned about myself and what enormous responsibility lies with the captain.  I’m embarrassed and disappointed in myself at the decision to go out.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we were in danger, but danger was right around the corner.  It was one of those moments where one thing going wrong could have created a very scary situation quickly.  Motor not firing up, propeller not grabbing enough water in the waves to be effective, the roller furling jamming, the boat getting blown into shallow water or an oyster bed, one of the girls falling down and getting injured.  Any one of those things could have put us in a difficult or dangerous situation.

So while I want to be able to call myself a proud windjammer, this weekend I thought and acted like a lowly stinkpotter and I have only myself to blame.  I’ll just have to be thankful that my mistake didn’t have any serious consequences this time.  By writing about the experience here and learning from my reflections about the day, I’ll be on my way to cruising, and living, like a windjammer.

What is a mistake that you’ve made that ended up being an invaluable learning experience in your life?

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