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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Five Feet from the Rocks, Gale Winds, 6-10 Foot Waves, & Ripped Sails

Three quarters of the way out of the marina and everything was waiting to fall apart. The wind's pressure on the mainsail was intense. And it wasn't so much this that worried me. It was the pressure the wind was having on the mended section of the sail. So far everything was okay. But for how long?

At noon that day, I had got ready to head out into the madness. But the howling wind and fast moving water still intimidated me! I wondered if being patient and waiting a couple hours might help the storm to blow over. But on the other hand, by 2:00pm the storm could be worse! I then added the coastal winds into the equation (they are just heating up by then). The thought then occurred to me that even though 2pm may be worse, the winds would surely be softened a couple hours later at sunset when the coastal winds died down for an hour. Ok, that was the plan. At least then I wouldn't have raging winds the whole time. So I held patient until 2:30 and then headed out.

When I lit out, the winds were strong and gusting and many times turned the boat 30 degrees on its edge. The water was very close to the cockpit when the gusts came and everything in the cabin that wasn't snug, came loose and fell all over the floor. So far Buttercup was doing okay in the v-birth and she didn't seem to mind - at least not yet!

Examining the sails, I then suddenly saw a tear in my front small jib. It was half a foot long. The thought of continuing to sea entered my mind but then I lost all my votes very quickly. But you know me: If there was a way to go out to sea - I would find it. Putting my storm jib up was an option and the winds were strong enough for it. So I went for it. Soon the tiny sail was up and pulling the boat. Almost as suddenly as that was done, I looked up and saw a tear in my main sail - three quarters up. Thankfully the mended part was still holding fine. Man, that mended area had held up in some crazy weather! So now the main sail had to come down. Again I voted down going out to sea. What was I going to do now? I had a backup tri-sail for the main. But it was for 40MPH winds. It would not work today as the winds were about 20- 30 today. Oh hey! I could use the genoa. That would work. So quickly I brought it out and attached the foot, head and clew. I then headed up into the wind as best I could under storm jib alone and then pulled it up with the halyard. But to my amazement and dismay, it began to fly outwards like a mad spinnaker! It had nothing to hold it against the mast. Now What? I have to admit, I was working hard! On every tack the boat made from the port sea wall back to the starboard wall, I had to judge how close I was and stop everything I was doing and turn the boat. But it wasn't as easy as I imagined. With only the little storm jib, I couldn't head up very well into the wind and turn. So my only other option was to jibe - which worked like a charm - except that I lost valuable 'ground' every time I tacked. As I headed the boat downwind and let the jib switch its angle, I then went back up onto the cabin deck and to work again. I had to figure out a way to hold the genoa to the mast. It then dawned on me: I could cut strong pieces of string and tie them around the halyard (which ran up the mast pole) and then clip the sail hanks onto these tied strings. Soon this was done and I pulled the genoa up the mast and behold - my new main sail! Well, it worked alright but then I had a new problem: it was closing in on sunset and just as I had speculated - the wind speed decreased dramatically and now my sails were too small for the wind blowing! So quickly I got to work and fixed my main sail rip. While that was going on, I suddenly noticed I had drifted really close to the port sea wall. So no problem - I should be able to turn with the make-shift mainsail - right?! Well I made a bet on it and it was a bad bet. I only had one chance at this and that was it. But I was so sure the boat would turn - I didn't think. And - you guessed it - it still wasn't able to cross the wind! Ok, now I was in a real fix. And as I looked down at the water I noticed I was only five to ten feet from the rocks! Now there was no jibing as I had done previously - because if I did so the boat would hit. So what to do now? This was it, the time I finally crashed on the rocks! And no time to even call the coast guard. A flash of the agony I was going to feel when the boat hit went through my mind. Suddenly, I remembered my oar. Well it was worth a shot - there weren't any other options! I then paddled as hard as I could. Every stroke, I dug into the water like it was the end of the world! Seconds later - presto - it worked and the boat turned away from the rocks! Thank you Lord!

So now after having avoided this disaster, I still needed to get the mainsail up. Taking the genoa down and putting it up to the front of the bow where it belonged, I then raised the mainsail. After all the endless work, finally the boat was saiing again! I felt exhausted, and my back hurt. It was so great to finally sit down! So now I headed out to sea. I had already got my safety tether ready and now I put it on. The hatches were closed and the front ones locked. My life jacket was ready, the safety line connecting bow and stern was up in case I needed to clip my safety harness onto it, and the kayak had been brought to ride only four feet from the stern.

Earlier the ocean had been a mess with white water and large cresting waves. Now it was dark and it was really hard get a view of how bad it was. But usually when heading into big waves at night you have a couple minutes to turn around if its too bad. So heading out into it, I turned the lantern light on the starboard side to shine out to sea so I could use my night vision without it blinding me. The first thing I noticed was that the waves were generally about six feet and not cresting or white. With the wind having slowed slightly, the fierce waves had been subdued somewhat. Nevertheless, they were still big, but the boat rode up them without any qualms. I was really thankful the waves were not bigger and cresting. I had been in waves like that and it was right on the edge of terrifying. As I got further and further out and the breakwater and harbor lights began to disappear far behind me, the only reminiscence of those breaking seas was the sudden height of a ten foot wave that suddenly came out of nowhere. Just as the boat should have reached the top, I looked up and saw three to five more feet of wave to go! I rode it to the top and then the boat dropped into its deeper trough. It was fun and a little scary at the same time. I then rode as far out to sea as I dare among the dark waves and then tacked back towards the northern entrance of Marina Del Rey. The wind was out of the north west, so coming back was a bit of a beam reach. This was the really fun part as I was going quite fast - almost as fast as the waves - and I would ride the tops. Sometimes those ten footers would come along and the boat would surf! I tried to video it but darkness of night was mostly what you could see and the sound of the wind made up the rest. The distant lights ashore showed up on the video but the size of the waves and the surfing fun was all lost in the darkness.

Tacking twice before arriving in the harbor, I then headed in with a full breeze. Just about the time I was ready to enter my slip, the wind had switched to the north (from behind me) and I had to take the mainsail down and sail under jib alone so the boat wouldn't come in like it had rocket boosters on! All in all a nice ending to a crazy day!

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My new Mast!

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