Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Useful Twist

Like everyone else in the sailing game, I'm aware of the concept of twist in a sail. Take the mainsail, for instance. You ease the boom vang, or tighten up on the topping lift, and the end of the boom raises up, which allows the sail to take on a spiral shape, with the top of the sail twisting away from the wind.

I'm aware of the concept, and knew that people used it to their advantage, say when they wanted to power down a bit. But for years I wanted nothing to do with the idea. I strapped everything tight, made the mainsail into a blade, and in that way we went where we would.

But the other day I stumbled into the idea of heaving to with some twist in the main. The twist kept the head of the sail pulling us into the wind, while the backwinded foot kept us off. (Are you non-sailors following this?) The result was that we pointed higher into the wind, which improved the motion of the boat. The whole family spent the day under the dodger, watching the gale go by, instead of being stuck below. The improvement in the motion was that good.

Every so slowly, I learn new tricks...

Better approaches for heaving to are quite interesting to us just now, as we've already hove to for three gales on this passage. None of us will be disappointed to give the fourth a miss.

Those three gales were all northerly or northeasterly, which gave us no hope of making progress against them. Last night we finally had a southwesterly gale, which was at least helpful to us in all of its sturm and fury. It was barely a gale, and we jogged along in front of it under staysail all night long.

The view from under the dodger in the middle of the night, as the waves swept by us one by one, made into monochromatic ghosts by the moonlight, is something that I hope I never forget. It's moments like that that make this a Southern Ocean passage, as much as the icebergs that we have now left behind.

For years we have made much of our Brazilian friend Julia, who was somehow hoodwinked into sailing to Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica, and came back from the experience complaining about high-latitude sailing women, the kind who could splice wire or replace a head gasket. Summing up her frustration with that small foreign tribe of the feminine world, Julia declared that "they don't have normal feelings."

Alisa, we (I) have decided, falls into the camp of women whom Julia might declare to be deficient in normal feeling-dom. That talk, three paragraphs above, about something that is "barely" a gale - when she says things like that (and she does!), I know that she is giving herself away.

We have also, amongst these various gales, lately been on occasion dealing with situations of inadequate wind on top of big leftover swells. This is the one situation that just about does me in at this point, two weeks in. The sails slam, and our main in particular has some fancy-pants gear that is vulnerable to breaking in these situations.

The requisite patience for dealing with these moments, when the boat is slamming from side to side and what little wind there is cannot be held by the sails, has been a bit beyond me, to be honest. The boys, too, have been a bit over the confinement and have settled into long spells of mutual antipathy.

There are the consolations of some fantastic pelagic bird life that we have been privy to in recent days. We are far from running out of good reading material, and Alisa continues to turn out enticing meals under difficult circumstances. Things are, really, going quite well.

It's just that we've hit that tired second half of the passage, when things can drag.

In a few more days we'll allow ourselves to start counting down the distance to the end, and this phase, too, will be behind us.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!


  1. So - is Tristan still on the cards ? Progress sounds good ! Give Alisa a big pat on the back and hug from us. Tell her I'm pleased she's reading Swallows and Amazons. Another 11 books in that series. And 4 more in mine. By the way, that twist concept is par for the course when you sail a gaff rigger like NZ Maid. Fair winds - Jon & Barb

  2. Beg to differ about Alisa's feeling-dom status. The girl feels all right. But three Southern Ocean gales in a fortnight could mute anyone's emotional register! Thinking of you all out there, and hoping for steadier winds and less heaving (to). x