Monday, September 27, 2021

learning to sail: day 2

after a lot of action and information on day 1 of the sailing course, we had a good night's sleep (my second ever night on a boat - the first one is still etched in my memory, although i'm surprised it's not on my blog!) and were up and ready for another day on the sea!

breakfast'd and tea'd up, we asked Hugh what is now to be our (and probably his) favourite question: "what's the plan?"

and so, we had our first introduction to nautical charts, tidal charts, and I finally found a use for the wind indication on my phone's weather app: to make plans!

the two main things a sailor needs to know before making plans are: wind and tide.

we checked the weather prediction for that day. i don't remember what exactly it was, but it was supposed to be a pretty calm day, light wind and (not that it mattered), no rain. it was around 10am, and we were hoping to be off in an hour, looking for a destination we could get to in time for lunch. our plan at the outset was to sail to and learn to anchor at a suitable spot, have lunch, do some tricks, and sail to bangor, a town across belfast lough. we assumed we could do a speed of 5 knots (which Hugh then explained: 5 knots = 5 nautical miles an hour. a nautical mile is slightly more than a regular mile - and in fact it has a precise relationship to distances on a map!). we then had a look at the chart, and had a look at all the places we could get to in a 10 nautical mile radius (ie getting us to anchor for lunch at 1pm). this involved a few new things for us: converting the map into actual distances on water is not as simple as it might be expected to be! the technique to find the actual distance for a given page of the nautical chart is was basically finding the divison on the chart which had a tick next to the vertical axis (latitude), at which point one minute (ie 1/60th of a degree) of latitude equals one nautical mile. one minute is further divided into 10ths which are called "cables". and each page of the map has got the horizontal distance (ie longitude) scaled so that the length corresponding to one mile in any direction is the same. all of this ended in some amusement when we decided that all these complicated distance calculations were to be converted to finger lengths to find out how far we could go 😂, but Hugh humoured us (or maybe egged us on, I don't remember 😁)

the other consideration was wind: you want to anchor at a spot where the wind is blowing away from land, as that provides a calm anchorage. wind blowing towards land gives rougher seas, and a whole lot of other problems. based on the direction of wind and distance, we found copeland island (or more specifically, a bay on the south side of the largest copeland island) to be a suitable spot to aim for.

the next thing was the tide: we first had to find the timing of the tide. each of the ports in the UK had their tide timing relative to some reference (i think it was Liverpool). it also had the high and low tide height at spring and at neap. tidal charts suggested the tide was about to turn halfway through our journey. unfortunately the tidal chart had just one number for all of belfast lough, and copeland is just slightly outside it, so it was just a rough approximation. it was something like 3 knots at its maximum, but since the tide would be turning during our journey it wouldn't be that much of a concern. on the other hand, the height of the tide was more involved to calculate - Hugh just told us we could assume it to be 3 metres, but as I was curious he showed me how he got to that number: the movement from spring to neap tides is linear, so you need to first find out which part of the cycle you currently are at, and then tide height on that day follows something of a sine wave, and you have to take the maximum and minimum, and then take the number of hours (or more precise, if you need to) before/after high tide and find that point on the curve. there's also the law of 12ths which provides a useful approximation: in the first hour, 1/12th of the water moves, in the next hour, 2/12ths (ie 1/6th), and the 3rd hour it's 3/12ths (ie 1/3rd). this assumes full tides are 12 hours apart, which they aren't, but this is close enough if the tidal range isn't much (it was 2 metres or so) and we were anyway at the time the tide turns so the change in depth won't be much.

finally, we had to plot our course. Hugh mentioned the various ways to do so: using the compass and a bearing (ie direction), various waypoints, aligning features on land and water, both forward as well as backward. we had to also ensure we stayed clear of any hazards, and the one shipping lane nearby.

we then looked at the wind direction again and checked if we could sail or if we would have to use the motor. Hugh explained the various points of sail - close haul, beam reach, broad reach and run. we spent some time trying to understand why we couldn't sail closer to the wind than a close haul, and how the sail and wind are aligned (the best angle is 45 degrees) and how the boat is oriented with the sail and the wind during each of those points of sail. we looked at the chart again and our course, which consisted of some 3 different steps, and decided we could sail to the copeland islands (or at least, try).

there was one last thing: finding a good anchorage spot. we looked at the contours on the map, combined with the tidal height, and the information that we would look to anchor at a spot not more than 6 metres deep. once we found it, Hugh explained a technique (i forgot the name) of how we find our way to that spot by keeping a fixed direction and speed, and measuring the distance in advance. we converted cables on the map into fractions of a nautical mile, assumed a speed of 5 miles, and calculated that we had to head in that direction for precisely 5 minutes to get to our anchor spot.

preparation done, we had one last cup of tea, a couple of us popped seasickness tablets, and we were off to sail - this time with a lot more understanding of what we were about to do!

we uncovered the mainsail and attached the halyard to its head, setup the lines to slip (ie replacing all the bowlines with loops around the pontoon cleats, tied with ox knots on the boat), fenders ready, slipping the lines - this part seemed quite familiar after yesterday's practice. once moving we untied the fenders from the sides and tied them at the stern. getting out of the marina we again used the lights to guide us out until we got far enough to get the sails out. by this time we were about an hour behind schedule, but we didn't notice (or say it aloud if anyone did). getting the mainsail out involved pointing the boat directly into the wind and pulling the halyard, first by hand (with someone "sweating" at the mast) and then with the winch. after some misadventures (I don't remember precisely what but I do remember it was less than perfect 😜) the main sail was up, and Hugh taught me how to switch off the engine. we were sailing! we unfurled the jib, and Hugh showed us how to watch the telltales. we also learned to adjust the mainsail based on the point of sail (although I don't remember any more - I must revise this!). Hugh said the main thing is the skipper needs to ensure the boat is at a constant bearing and the sails need to be adjusted till they're taut and filled. any bit of flapping or the telltales dropping (on jib or mainsail) is a sign that things are not perfect. this is in contrast to what I remember doing when sailing in Mumbai 10 years ago - back then I was disctinctly told to keep the boat pointed so that the sails stay full, instead of the other way around!

we tweaked the sails all we could, but the boat was still doing a leisurely 4 knots of speed: this was probably because we were late and the tide wasn't helping us as much as we had hoped it would (or at all, possibly). there was a bit of a debate on board, and Hugh asked the skipper to decide if we would continue to try to get to Copeland island for lunch, or do some random manoeuvres instead (tacks and jibes). I personally was more keen on learning to sail than I was to get to any specific spot for lunch,  and I suspect Hugh felt the same. Copeland sounded tempting though and the skipper got to decide so we decided to press on - I'm sure Hugh's sailing brain was forming plans of things to teach us along the way anyway, and we had the sail back from Bangor to learn some sailing basics too. and of course, it was a lovely sunny day, we had planned our course, and it's not everyday that one gets to a barely inhabited island (someone even knew some of the history of the island!) so no regrets! we furled the jib, took down the mainsail (another adventure - pointing the boat into the wind is not as easy as it might sound, and the slightest deviation makes the sail very hard to handle!). we followed our plan as closely as we could (i dare say I completely forgot it and completely relied on Hugh's directions, although I suspect some of the other folks were doing a far better job than I was 🤷‍♂️

when we got to our desired depth of a little under 6 metres, which was comfortably off the coast but close enough to see it quite well, Hugh taught us to drop the anchor. I was up front with him as he explained the calculation of how much anchor to let out (chain = 4x the depth, chain + rope = 6x the depth). we had 10 metres of chain on the anchor and the rest was rope. Hugh unshackled the anchor from the bow of the boat and counted off the length of rope as we let the anchor down. at the same time, there was an orange buoy ("Timmy") tied to the anchor with 6 metres of light rope which we also tossed overboard with some ceremony - this buoy marks our anchor, so we know if we're being blown about, we don't motor over the anchor rope by accident, and it lets others know "something" is there. there was also something else he mentioned - I think it's about being able to free the anchor if it gets stuck on the seabed, and an interesting anecdote about how Timmy ended up with a brother Jimmy due to the time the anchor had to be cut off and was presumed lost, only to be rescued days (or weeks?) later - apparently Timmy helped locate the lost anchor! anchor rope let out, we then reversed away from it until the rope was tight - this ensures the anchor digs into the ground and doesn't come loose.

secured, it was time for lunch: sandwiches (and tea, obviously) put together by our self-nominated chef and eaten on deck with the lovely sun on us!

surprisingly there was even network, and I managed to uplaod the photo before digging in 😎

Lunch done, it was time to retrieve the anchor. After that, we did something called fairy gliding: a technique where you hold the boat steady at an angle to the water, using the motor to keep it stationary and using the pressure of the water against the keel to drift the boat sideways. pretty cool, and also a tool to help you get into certain tight marinas where the current flows across the entrance making any other means of entry tricky (or dangerous).

Around this time, I was given the helm - a proud moment for me! For this leg of our journey we were not following any precise directions as far as I know - simply motoring away in the general direction of Bangor, avoiding the shore and finding things on the chart-plotter (the touchscreen instrument at the helm) to aim for on the horizon. I enjoyed being at the helm, and everyone else got a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery. fun! we passed by Ballyholme and turned towards Bangor marina... but not without some photos!

the tide was with us getting towards Bangor, and we were there pretty quickly. Hugh guided me into the marina as we radioed in and asked for a berth. the radio script went something like: "bangor marina, bangor marina, this is yacht trinculo requesting a berth. over." to which they responded with the berths available. couple of basics: when starting the conversation always start with the recipient said twice so that someone hearing it has a second chance to pay more attention. also, every message has to include the name of the yacht sending the message and end with over. pretty simple!

We were given a choice of a few berths, so we went in to the marina to have a look before getting partly out and back in to finally park properly. being a rather nice Sunday evening, there were plenty of boats moving about, and it was an interesting experience, keeping away from various walls and markers (and hidden rocks, including some at a spot where Hugh remembered there being a marker but there wasn't any now!), and following the rules of right-of-way: in short, you always keep right (ie the exact opposite of driving on a road). once we saw the spots we could use and picked the one we would, I had to reverse back out to a part of the marina Hugh called the "pond", which was large enough for the boat to turn around. I then reversed all the way back to the pontoon, and at the very end, turned off the engine and coasted into position: it was really smooth, basically first aiming for one point, then as the boat got nearer, aiming for the next one, and the final one to get it into position. if the layout of the boat allows it, it's much easier to steer in reverse if you physically move to the other side of the wheel, isntead of looking over your shoulder and turning the wheel in the oppsite direction as you usually would. Hugh must have done all the thinking about wind direction etc, because it was straightforward for me to get the boat into position while everyone else was fumbling around with ropes and fenders 😁

once we were secured and the engine off, everyone said it was very well done! i was definitely feeling good about myself although I know I was merely following instructions - apparently that's not very easy to do perfectly as well!

we settled in for dinner, and then headed off for a walk into Bangor, to stretch our legs and stock up on bread and milk (we were drinking way more tea than Hugh calculated, I'm sure 😂). this being Sunday evening, most shops were closed, and we ended up taking a much longer walk than intended (almost an hour!), but I enjoyed it.

back at the boat, we settled in for the night, again exhausted by very satisfied. things were making a lot more sense now, and I had an idea of not just what to do, but also why. brilliant!

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