Wet Test Number 3 – First Sail

Aeon’s cream sail, looking fine against a stormy sky


(to start of project)

Big day. T and I snuck out for a quick sail.





Spent all yesterday designing and making a sort of brass tube cleat to control the Centerboard lines, which meant getting out the torch and again. They turned out pretty nice, though, and they work, which is also nice. T approves. They look so simplen and obvious. You see them and say, “Of course, what else would you do?” but for some reason it took forever to figure this out. The was a whole in my brain where this information should have been. Maybe because you can’t buy something like this off the shelf, so there are no examples I could come across. Easily locks down to hold the boards raised; pressure on the board tensions the line in the opposite direction and pops right out. Simple and (compared to black plastic) elegant. As Tony keeps telling me, that’s always way harder. Maybe he’s right.







Spent most of last night and today on the sail rigs, getting the canvas laced on the masts, where they’ll stay rolled up most of the time, cutting lines to length, lashing on blocks, etc.. Have you noticed I keep putting off messing with the trailers? No matter, this has to be done, too.

Been muggy-summer-hot here forever, and was again today; but on Tuesday the dragonflies were migrating through, swarms of them. Did you know they migrate? Like, farther than birds? Neither did I. Amazing. More on that later. But in any case, that was the first clue a change was coming. (They have brains the size of pin heads; how do they know?)

Weather is now a factor in what (and if) work can get done. Rigging up the sails in the yard that has to be done when there’s no wind. There’s been no wind, so that’s been good. But a cold front out of the north was expected to move through today, and with it would come wind and maybe some rain. Hmmm. Sails are almost ready. Wind means sailing. I do need a test sail.

When T called from Charlottesville to check in, I suggested she come home and we’d give it a try. All the gear was still in the car from Monday, and the trailer still hooked up, so we were basically ready to go if it looked promising. The mainsails were done on both boats by mid-afternoon, and I was well into working on the tops’ls, high on a ladder with all the canvas up on both boats, when a bit of rain started to fall and the treetops started quivering, then swaying. After quickly pulling everything down and putting away the tools, we stuffed the mast and sprits in Aeon and headed back to Totier Creek.



At the ramp some gents were fishing for catfish with chicken livers, but instead had hooked a big angry snapping turtle. They were a bit preoccupied, and had the ramp blocked. No problem. I make fewer mistakes when I get to think things through, and was glad to take a few deep breaths. I hate when you get to a public ramp and have to hustle because people are waiting. Besides, the sky darkened just then and it started to rain for real, so we sat under the hatch on the car and waited.



The wind rose and blew away the rain. We rigged up and launched, which went relatively smoothly for first timers with an audience. My rope work was still a bit of a mess. Too much of it, and not tied well. You can see it in the photos and video. Some of the line I used doesn’t hold knots well, and this concerned me – I haven’t had have a chance to add whippings and seizings where needed, and indeed, one or two began to come loose out on the water and had to be quickly retied – but we sallied forth. I left the sheet unclipped and let the sail swing free while we rowed to open water.










Well, open water is just an expression. Here’s what you need to know about Totier Creek: It’s the town reservoir, but it’s a very small town, so it’s a very small reservoir. Pretty, but small. It’s shaped exactly like a V. Each side is less than a half mile long, and the wider side is only about 100 yards wide. And, being a lake, it’s in a low spot surrounded by rolling hills. And trees. Not a great spot for sailing, but very pretty. Better yet, it’s close to home; only five minutes from the house if something gets broken or forgotten. I’m hedging all my bets this time.



Wind predictions ranged from 5 to 10 initially, revised upward to 15 by the time we left home. That’s still within reasonable range for a first sail. As lake sailors will tell you, though, wind measurements can be very misleading. Lakes, especially surrounded by hills, have fluky unpredictable winds – gusts that come out of nowhere, die just as suddenly, and change direction without warning. That’s exactly what we had, and it was a blast. It started light, which was good for us, then built quickly in puffs and sneezes to a blustery, rain-snotty blow.

The boat and sail performed beautifully. Very, very stable. (On Sunday we had both stood up and walked around each other to switch places, and never felt in danger of tipping.)

Centerboards worked great, and the boats sail well-balanced with a gentle weather helm. WHEW! Huge relief. Makes it all worthwhile to have spent all that time and effort on them, and we’ll enjoy them all the more and remember it every time we recline in that nice open cockpit. Magic Crescent indeed.
































The temperature dropped a full 20 degrees while we were out, and it got cold fast. Starting out wet didn’t help. We were both shivering by the time we started tacking back upwind to the ramp. Most of the time the wind went back and forth between 5 and 15, usually many times in rapid succession, but there were also a dozen or more very big long gusts well above 20, putting the rail under at one point. The wind came generally out of the north, but as it funneled through the hills and down the arms of the V it could veer through 180 degrees. Quite a challenge. You can’t tell it from the photos, as the spot is so protected the water stays pretty much flat calm, but even the water got a little frothy now and then, the trees showing the undersides of their leaves.










At one point, and you’ll see this in the video, as we approached the bottom of the V, things got very, very strange very fast. All that north wind came funneling down each arm of the V to the point where they converge. It’s also where the banks are steepest, faced with tall rock cliffs like a big wind dam, focusing and swirling it further.



I’m going to use laymen’s terms here for those who don’t speak sailor: Heading down the east side of the V we had the wind coming steadily from behind and our left, the sail hanging out to our right toward the inside of the V. You’ll see in the Google Earth photo that the lake narrows to less than 50 yards at the corner, like a nozzle. As we entered that little squeeze box, I notice the trees on the opposite bank, at the bottom of the other arm of the V, were bent and blowing really hard, and in the opposite direction. I warned Terri that when we passed that corner it looked like the wind would suddenly get stronger and come from a different direction. I got that part right. What I thought would happen is the sail would get back-winded and simply come across quickly, and we’d start off on a new tack. Got that part wrong.

The sail was far enough over that, when we passed the corner, the stronger wind from the other direction caught it in the belly and filled it suddenly with triple the force. It was like a sudden jibe without the sail moving across. This is called sailing “by the lee.” The boat instantly accelerated and charged toward the cliffs. I turned the boat hard, trying to round up into the wind as quickly as possible without really jibing. The boat spun more than 360 degrees within a radius of about 20 feet, at full speed, and never once felt out of control. You’ll see the nearest rock cliff looks a rather safe distance away in the video, an effect of the wide angle lens, but it’s only about one boat length away. In the video it’s the only time on the whole trip that Terri actually swears. We fell off a bit and came back the way we came.

Here’s the video. You’ll see that starting out, as soon as I clipped on the sheet I realized it was hopelessly tangled, with a stray block bouncing around – nervous making stuff. Only one or two gusts got caught on camera, but the big one, at the cliff, is around the 10 minute mark:



First Sail in Aeon on Youtube


Going back meant tacking back and forth up that little narrow alley, but even with such short tacks, in fluky winds that died near the banks, we made steady progress, and worked our way back to the ramp. Came home, dried off, and celebrated with hot homemade tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and a bottle of wine.

What a fun day. Honestly, we couldn’t have been happier.





Over dinner I checked the nearest personal weather station on WeatherUnderground and, sure enough, there were sustained gusts near 25 mph. Have no idea how that information correlates to the wind effects of topography, etc., but it jives with what we experienced. That highest green bar is exactly when we were preparing to kiss the cliff.



Not bad for a first time out. Excellent, in fact. Terri is ready to go again, if that tells you anything.





3 Replies to “Wet Test Number 3 – First Sail”

  1. Excellent, Barry! “kiss the cliff” I love it. “oh shit Barry” love that one, too.

    Mary went sailing with me, in Saga, for the first time two days ago. After we had tacked and jibed a few times she said “don’t you ever get to just sit?”

  2. It all looked great! As I’m sure you know you can learn a lot in flukey sailing conditions, even if it is a bit frustrating. Can’t wait to see you on the Miles River.


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