Tag Archives: Paceship 17 (P17)

Fifth Sail: Sailing North for Hauling

Jim at the Helm
Jim at the Helm
Thursday’s sail north from Essex Marina to Willsboro Bay Marina with Jim and Mark was a great way to wrap up my first (extremely abbreviated) season sailing Da Capo/Errant. Smooth sailing with moderate to light winds and calm seas; bluebird skies and cool-to-warm temperatures; and the companionship of two close friends who are both intricately woven into my boating/sailing narrative.

Sail to Power to Sail

As I’ve mentioned previously, I grew up sailing. My father taught my brother, sister, and me to sail — first a Paceship 17 (P17), then an Alcort Sailfish, and later a Tiga sailboard — when I was a youngster. Probably between 8 and 14 years old I was strictly a sailor.

I envied neighbors who had powerboats, mostly because it opened the possibility of waterskiing which I had learned to do. But my parents were keen on the environment, not motorboats. So when I got my first job as a dock boy at the Westport Marina (owned and operated by Jim and his family), I took advantage of every opportunity that I could to operate powerboats. Jim was my boss, but he was a benevolent boss and soon a friend. He opened up the wide world of powerboat opportunities, allowing me to take out the staff at the end of the work day for an end-of-shift ski. I jumped at every opportunity to join him (or his brother Larry) on rescues, zooming through often messy conditions in a Shamrock workboat that looked like a miniature tugboat. I shuttled boaters out to moorings, moved boats between slips, delivered boats to clients with waterfront docks elsewhere on Lake Champlain, and weaseled my way into just about any boating experience I could finagle.

In short, during my teens and early twenties I barely sailed at all!

Mark During Last Sail 2014
Mark During Last Sail 2014
But I found my way back to sailing in my mid twenties. I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico (check out our current adobe oasis!) and windsurfing on the desert southwest’s tiny manmade lakes offered the perfect antidote to lake-longing. My girlfriend and I acquired a hodgepodge of secondhand gear and taught ourselves to chase high dessert storms.

In my early thirties my brother and I balanced summer ski boats with Hobie Cat 16 sailing. To this day I consider sailboarding and small, fast catamaran sailing to be just about the most exhilarating watersport out there!

But I’m missing a chapter in my boating narrative. In my twenties and thirties I began to dream of sailing and cruising in larger monohulls. Mostly it was daydreaming. Reading and rereading worn Nautical Quarterly volumes, flipping through sailing magazines, and wandering marinas. Some day…

As in my early power boating days I pursued any and every opportunity to get aboard a sailboat. Shortly after moving back to the United States after living in France for almost four years I began collaborating with Jim and Mark on an e-commerce project called ShipStore.com. Mark was living on a sailboat in Benecia, California and racing an asymmetrical dinghy on weekends. Cool!

I remember like it was yesterday the sun soaked day that Mark and I spent with our brides sailing, eating, brainstorming, daydreaming on his sailboat Wandering Rose. Ever since he’s encouraged my desire to sail and cruise (and possibly some day, even live aboard). And Mark was instrumental in helping me evaluate Da Capo/Errant.

So it seemed apropos that I should conclude my skinny season number one with both Jim and Mark. One opened up the world of power boating (effectively wooing me away from sailboats) and the other guided me back to my sailing roots. Narrative perfection!

Following a charmed afternoon of sailing, we dropped the sails and headed into Willsboro Bay. The good folks at Willsboro Bay Marina invited me to spend the night in the slip of Da Capo/Errant’s previous owner, ensuring that I would be ready bright and early to bring the boat to the service dock / travel lift for hauling.

We cracked open the rum and grilled a tasty supper on the boat. Lots of laughter and libations later, Jim headed home and Mark and I turned in for my first night of sleep on the new boat and the last night of boating for the season.

Good Satellite Radio Karma

Sometimes life rhymes. Or so it seems. And when it does, it’s especially fine to accompany it with an appropriate soundtrack.

As I drove to the marina at the outset of this journey look what came up in the playlist…

Anchors Aweigh, by Bob Crosby
Anchors Aweigh, by Bob Crosby

First Sail: Test-Sailing Da Capo with Mark

Willsboro Bay Marina with Errant (formerly Da Capo), a 2002 Catalina 310, in the middle.
Willsboro Bay Marina with Errant (formerly Da Capo), a 2002 Catalina 310, in the middle.

Time to test-sail Da Capo, the Catalina 310 at the Willsboro Bay Marina that I’m considering purchasing. Fortunately my good friend Mark Engelhardt, a seasoned sailboat racer, cruiser, and liveaboard, joined me today for a trial run. Even more fortunate? He lives in Montpelier, Vermont and was willing to come north for an early morning ferry ride to Essex, a hardy Rosslyn breakfast (I tempted him with farm fresh scrambled eggs and bacon!) and a sail.

Conditions were perfect. Sunny. Cool. And a building breeze of about 12 knots greeted us when we arrived at the marina. The owner welcomed us warmly, and after brief introductions we throttled up and loosed the dock lines.

“Normally we have to motor out on the channel,” the owner said. “But today we can sail. Wind’s perfect.”

The owner was at the helm, and for the first time I began to feel a little jittery. Butterflies? Was I ready for this? He backed out of the slip and headed out onto Willsboro Bay.

We ran up the main, unfurled the 135% genoa, and cut the engine. As the diesel died and the luffing sails filled, I was struck by the quiet. The gentle vibration of the engine was replaced by the slosh of water and the subtle sense of straining as the wind leaned into the sails and rigging, and the hull sliced through the waves. The vessel felt solid as she healed subtly away from the wind.

Breezy with Butterflies

The owner remained at the helm, describing the the boat’s character, and gesticulating to illustrate his points. He was relaxed and content. Confident. Hands lightly on the wheel, smiling.

I was feeling excited and nervous all at once. Wind power exhilarates AND calms me. But that childlike enthusiasm was only one part of what I was feeling. I was also catapulting forward quickly toward boat ownership. I’ve dreamed of this for decades. But was I ready?

“Are you ready?” he asked me.

I was. And I wasn’t. Suddenly the enormity of this step, this responsibility, this learning curve washed over me. I was excited. And nervous.

“Sure,” I lied. “You bet!”

I replaced the owner behind the helm and stood, feet shoulder width apart, suddenly more conscious of the wind’s power and the texture of the water rushing beneath the hull, pulling gently at the rudder.

A gust loaded up the main and I overcorrected, rounding up and causing the boat to wallow. I colored, resolved to be less jumpy, to trust the boat.

And then the wind buffeted us again. And I rounded up again. Steady. Gust. Fall off. Wallow.

Mark asked the owner if the boat gets squirrelly in heavy wind. It’s not bad, the owner explained in a circuitous way, more comfortable in French than in English. He explained that Catalina recommends reefing the main above 17 or 18 knots. He usually waits until 20 knots or so, he said smiling. I glanced at the gauges and saw that we were pretty consistently in the high teens, and the gusts were  pushing us above 20 knots.

Another gust and I overcorrected again. My palms were sweaty. I was clenching the wheel tightly. I loosened my grip, widened my stance, breathed in and out slowly. Mark and the owner encouraged me to trust the vessel, to let it push through the gusts without rounding up. And I began to. Slowly. And she held her course, plugged through the light chop, accelerated.

Maiden Voyage

“Have you ever sailed before?” the owner asked.

I was taken aback, though I tried not to betray it. I explained that I’d grown up sailing. As a young boy I learned to sail my family’s daysailer with my father, a Paceship 17 (P17), and then sailed an Alcort Sailfish during my middle and high school years. I’ve owned a fleet of windsurfers and a pair of Hobie Cat 16s. And any time I’ve had the chance to try out other sailboats I’ve grabbed the rudder or wheel.

But the truth is that I’ve done very little keel boat sailing. I’ve daysailed on friends’s boats, and I’ve chartered captained sailboats in France and Turkey. But sailing and owning a keel boat was going to be a totally new adventure for me. And it was turning out that my instincts and my muscle memory would need some work!

I began to feel more comfortable. I was resisting the reflex to round up each time a gust knocked into us, and my confidence was growing. I felt more confident, and I began to relax. The boat is heavy and handles predictably. The wind and my own responses were unpredictable, but I was getting the hang of it.

Mark swapped out with me so that I could handle the lines and he could run the vessel through some tests. And before I knew it we’d been out on the water for over an hour and needed to wrap up. Mark was satisfied that the boat was sound and handled well. I was relieved to have achieved a modest degree of comfort and confidence at the helm. And Da Capo’s owner was pleased that we liked his boat. It was time to head back to the marina…

Da Capo