The waves were huge on the ocean and the winds were gusting unusually high for an end of summer afternoon. The anemometer was regularly recording gusts pushing 30 knots. Spring Forward was sailing upwind, close-hauled, forcing its way through the swells. Kat could see a large swell approach from her forward position on the rail.
“Wave in 3…2…1!” Kat yelled as loud as she could to prepare the crew for massive wave they were about to encounter.
On her mark, the boat pushed up the wave and with a loud bang, Spring Forward crashed down the other side. As they hit the peak, Bill had skillfully turned the boat down the wave the best he could, but the force was so great, nothing could avoid the crash at the bottom the trough. Water poured over the bow and soaked the nine-man crew. Kat, sitting in the forward most position on the rail, got the worst of it. The foredeck person always did. She usually ended each regatta drenched from head to toe, when many of the back of the boat were dry as the Sahara.
“You’re doing a terrible job up there Kat! We’re all getting wet back here!” Doug had to shout over the roar of the hollowing wind ripping through the sails and the crash of the hull pushing through the waves. The sound was oppressive and menacing.
“Now you know what I put up with up here with for you guys!” Kay yelled backed.
“It’s hard to be a wall for 20 foot waves Doug! Give us a little credit for trying!” Davin yelled back.
Davin and Kay exchanged glances. They loved to pick on the back of the boat for being such pussies about the water, and those two old guys gave them plenty of fodder for banter.
“You ever go to bowmansunion.com?” Davin asked Kat as the boat continued to push up wind.
“Yeah, that site’s hilarious. What does it say the bowman training or something?” It was still loud on the forward rail, but they could lower their voices just enough not to be heard as the wind wiped the sound back upwind.
“It’s the self-examination test. To best replicate the experience and test yourself, get in a cold shower, spin around 10 times, and hit yourself in the head with a frying pan while yelling ‘Made!’ Repeat every 4-5 minutes.”
“Ha! Yeah, yeah…” Kat laughed. “That just about sums it up!”
“Alright, get read guys! We’re approaching the mark in 10 boat lengths.” Doug yellowed down to the crew.
“Focus guys! I want to see some serious hiking when Kat jumps off the rail. Keep this boat as flat as can be.” Peter added.
The seven crewmembers on the rail, pushed their stomachs tight against the lifeline, stretching it as far as it would go. They stuck their hands and feet out as far as they would stretch over the water. For optimal speed and hiking, butts were lifted off the rail. The lifeline dug deep into their guts, but with wind this strong, every bit of hike counted. Kat ducked her chin down to her chest so that her hat would block some of the wind from her face, but ocean spray came at them from every direction, so it didn’t do much good.
“You guys ready down there?” Peter shouted down.
“Ready!” Kay shouted back.
“What chute is hooked up?” Peter asked.
“The 4A. We should be good with this breeze.”
“Alright. We’re approaching the mark in five boat lengths, Get ready!”
Kat jumped off the rail and threw open the forward hatch. The three end points of the spinnaker were gathered at the top of the bag, ready to be deployed for a hoist. The clue and the tack, the two corners that would be controlled by the sheets for trimming were already hooked up.
“Davin, the halyard!” Kat shouted!
Davin unhooked the halyard, the line used to hoist the spinnaker, and passed it to Kat. During upwind legs it remains Velcroed to the stanchion to keep it from blowing free in the wind. Kat grabbed it from him and wrapping it tightly in her hand so it couldn’t blow away and moved down to the low side of the boat, using her other hand to hold on to the lifeline. Water rushed up over the rail. The low-side was practically buried in water. She braced herself against the headsail which was pressed tightly against the low-side lifelines. She ran the halyard around the back of the jib, grabbed it from underneath the headsail, and ran it back to attach the heavy shackle at the end of the halyard to the head of the spinnaker. This would assure that during the spinnaker hoist it will would rise on the outside of the jib. She quickly checked all three corners and confirmed that all ends were attached appropriately and clear for a hoist.
Davin had released the pole that was stored on the deck during upwind legs. It in the pit, Spenser eased the topping lift and foreguy, the two lines that keep the pole in place while sailing downwind. Kat took the new spinnaker sheet that was being attached to a winch in the back of the boat and clipped it in the jaws at the far end of the pole. She then lifted the pole and attached the jaws on the other side, the side that pointed towards the crew, to a hook on the mast about six feet from the deck.
“Made!” Kat yelled as she secured the pole in place
Spenser tightened the topping lift and foreguy so that the pole was 90 degrees from the mast and pointed straight ahead on the high side, or right side, of the forestay. The new sheet that was still in the jaws on the other end of the pole remained lazy. The dramatic heel of the boat caused by the heavy winds made Kat extra careful as she maneuvered her way around the pointy end of the boat. She dropped to her knees in the middle of the bow and opened the hatched. She took a large armful of spinnaker, holding it close to her body. She needed to make sure that during this critical transition time, the sale didn’t accidently start blowing out of the bag while the hatch door was open.
She hadn’t been paying attention to what the back of the boat was doing, but she was sure that they had all skillfully performed their individual duties as she was preparing the front of the boat. The only two people she paid attention to during maneuvers were Davin and Spenser. The pit was a crucial part of all maneuvers and the foredeck relied heavily on him to perform seamlessly. If the topping lift and foreguy aren’t released, or the halyards doesn’t run free, it’s the pit to blame. Although most people will still look to the foredeck since that position is so much more visible. But Kat had learned to fully trust Spenser over the years and didn’t question his ability. If he does his job right, it makes her look. So she always appreciated his subtle skill.
“Alright everybody. In 3…2….1… Hoist!”
Before the word “hoist” had left Peter’s mouth, Davin had jumped to the mast and with both hands pulled on the halyard with all his weight. The sail started pulling through Kat’s arms, as she held it tight to prevent any wind from sweeping it out of the hatch too quickly. She could feel the boat start to turn down, and the wind ease up as the sail reached full hoist. The noise died down as well.
“Made!” She heard Davin yell, meaning the sail had been successfully hoisted.
“Jib! Now!” Peter yelled. As the boated flatten Davin joined her on the bow and the two of them took the bottom of the headsail in the arms, and as Spenser guided the jib halyard down, they gathered the jib on the foredeck, until just the top of it remained in the forestay track.
Meanwhile, Doug, who trimmed spinnaker for Spring Forward, had jumped into action. As soon as the sail was up, he had started easing the sheets, filling the sail as much wind as possible. The spinnaker is controlled by both the sheets and the guys control the pole. The jib winches had been replaced by the guys, which Nate was controlling. Doug was talking to Nate and Spenser, giving direction on how best to position the pole. A very competent sail trimmer, Doug’s focus never wavered.
“Nate, bring that pole back. We’re in heavy wind sailing. Spenser, drop the end 10 percent. I’m shooting for a 50 percent luff.”
He watched as his orders were carried out and examined the adjustments to the sail.
“Nice, looks good. Just stay with me fellows. Follow my leads.”
He held the spinnaker sheet in his hand, though it was also wrapped around a winch in heavy breeze like this so that Nate could use a winch handle to reel it in as the pressure became too intense to control by hand. With each new wave or puff of air, he would adjust the trim, or give direction to Nate or Spenser when necessary.
Kat and Davin remained on the foredeck to fold the jib. Pulling it tight and making folds like an accordion, they quickly got it flat and properly stored in its bag on the deck.
“Beautiful job, mates! Really beautiful! This strong breeze could have made that rounding very hairy, but you guys made it look easy. Good job! What do you think about this sail Doug? Is it working for you? We’re almost dead downwind right now, winds 22-26 knots.”
“I like it. It’s not too powerful. I have control. It’s still surfing.” Doug returned.
“Right on, mate. I’ll make note of it.” Peter was always comparing sails, figure out which in their inventory would be best under specific conditions.
“Talk to me Doug, what do you feel? I want to drive these swells.” Bill asked his partner.
“Feels good here.”
“We’ve got a puff in the 3… 2… 1.” Right as Peter announced it they felt the boat being pushed forward by a large way. “Drive down Bill.”
They felt the boat speed up like a surf board, and then drop back down to normal speed.
“A little low. Come up five degrees, Bill.” Doug suggested.
The spinnaker filled back in perfectly, a beautiful luff forming on the side.
“Everything put away on the foredeck?” Peter asked.
“Yep all ready for whatever our next maneuver is.” Davin responded.
“Alright then, everybody on the high-side. Let’s get this baby going.” Doug and Peter and Bill continued to talk to each other about puffs and waves and pressure. The warm September day, and all the activity on the water, was starting to make Kat feel sun tired. They had been practicing for hours, running drills and practicing roundings. The heavy waves and strong breeze added to her fatigue. But the crew was working well together, moving like the inner mechanics of a clock. Each piece was crucial to the success of the larger picture.
“Alright everybody, it’s been a long day and you guys have been great. I think I’ve got all the sail statistics that I need. What do you say we do one last take down and call it a day?”
“You are too easy on boys, Pete. I was thinking a couple more jibes. Maybe one more rounding, then head for the docks.”
Doug’s counter-suggestion was met by an alliance of boos and hisses. The entire crew was sunbaked and ready to go home.
“Man, I thought we had real sailors on board. Alright, alright. Don’t know when sailing turned into a democracy. But, in this case, the majority wins. Let’s take her down, but we’re doing a Stretch & Blow. Speed is the goal here. Peter will time you.”
Just then Spenser popped up from his leaning position and crouched over the life line.
“Look! three o’clock!” He pointed at something directly off the beam of the boat.
Kat squinted her eyes into the sun as she looked at the glittering water. At first, she just saw a disturbance in the ocean, what looked like a bait-ball, a school of hundreds of fish that seagulls and dolphins frequently target as a dinner buffet. But it wasn’t a bait-ball. She saw one dolphin first, then she noticed it was a pod. But as she continued expanding her gaze, she saw they were being approached by what looked like easily a hundred dolphins, probably more.
The whole crew jumped up off the deck and basically hung off the lifelines to get a better a look.
“Somebody grab a camera, this is amazing!” Davin ordered.
Spenser jumped up and ran below deck to grab his camera. By the time he emerged the school had approached and was matching the speed of the boat. Dolphins were leaping in the water, dozens of them at a time, stretching out for what looked like a mile. This was one of Kat’s favorite experiences on the water. And thankfully a not too uncommon one in the deep ocean between mainland Los Angeles and Catalina. She ran up to the front of the bow and looked down. The dolphins were playing in the bow break, surfing the waves caused by the hull pushing through the water, leaping from one side of the boat to the other as Spring Forward pushed through the waves. The heavy seas were no match for the dolphins. They looked like they were having a great time, almost treating the boat like another playmate. Davin had joined her on the pointy end and was using Spenser’s camera to take pictures.
“This is so amazing!” She said almost longingly. She wished she could be in the water with them, experiencing the happy-go-lucky joy they were obviously feeling.
“I know. I wish I could show my wife this. It’s impossible to adequately explain it with words.”
He continued to snap away as Kat laid down on the deck to stick her head under the bow pulpit and get a closer look.
“Hey let’s get a selfie.” He suggested.
“Ha! Cool.” Kay stood up and faced towards the back of the boat so that she could get in the frame with Davin and hopefully capture some of the jumping dolphins in the background. They both cheesed it up for the camera as Davin snapped a couple of pics, just to make sure they got a good one.
“Make sure you send that to me!”
As Davin was checking the pics she noticed Jessie, who was still on the mainsail, watching them almost quizzically from him position. He had a glint in his eyes and gave her a little wink as he saw her notice him. She almost felt bad that he was stuck trimming the sail while the others ran around the boat trying to find the best position to watch the dolphins. Not that it was hard at this point. They were surrounded 360 degrees by the playful swimmers. It was days like today that made her wonder why everybody in Los Angeles didn’t sail. She couldn’t think of a better way to spend a weekend afternoon. She gave him a little wink back and quickly turned her attention back to the water as she felt herself blush. It was an unintentional reaction that she knew was always a dead giveaway and something she wished she could control better. But after being on the water all day, her face was probably pink anyway. So maybe he didn’t notice. ‘Yeah, right’, she thought. Jessie notices every detail.
“Alright guys! Let’s bring our focus back. We’re approaching the breakwater and unless you want to do another mile up and another mile back, we gotta get this sail down.” Peter brought the crew’s attention back inside the boat.
“Let’s do this quick. Everyone in positions. We’re still doing the Stretch & Blow.” He continued.
Spenser readied the pit, wrapping the spinnaker halyard around a winch and freeing the jib halyard for a hoist. Davin prepared himself on the jib halyard at the mast as Kat removed the headsail from its sail bag, and released the shackle attached it to the forestay.
“Ready?” Peter asked.
“Ready!” Kat returned.
“Hoist!” At Peter’s command, Davin used all his weigh and muscle mass to jump the halyard, raising the heavy sail. Kat grabbed the lazy spinnaker sheet and brought it under the jib, preparing for a clean takedown.
“Made!” she heard him yell.
Quick as lightening, the pole was brought back to the forestay. Davin popped the forward hatch open and joined Kat as they both sat on the deck of the bow. She pasted the line to Davin as she ducked under the jib to grab the bottom of the spinnaker. The boat was moving fast through the water, and she was doused with a fresh wave during her momentary time on the extreme low side.
“Ready! Douse!” Peter shouted.
She felt the boat turn and the wind drop out of the sail, easing it towards her. She grabbed ahold of the bottom and passed it to Davin, reeling in large armfuls of it. As the halyard is released the main goal is to get the spinnaker onto the boat before any of it can get sucked into the water, making it so heavy that it’s nearly impossible to retrieve without stopping all together and requiring the efforts of the entire crew to get it back out of the water. This time the sail came down easily and quickly as the two of them gathered its entire mass onto the deck and down the hatch. She felt the boat gain speed as the large sail reached the deck and the force of the jib took over. They stuffed the last of it into the hatch and the jib was eased as they approached the entrance to the breakwater on a broad reach. The wind died back down and the crew could breathe again.
“Good job guys! Under a minute. Now let’s get some beers on deck after Kat gets that pole down and you guys get these lines cleaned up. We’ll do a short debrief on the dock. But I promise not to keep you too late. It’s two-for-one at the club tonight. So we can all go a little easy on Bill’s wallet. Remember, he’s retired now, so domestic only!” Peter joked.
“You make me feel like a pauper. Remember who pays your bills. You can always take a pay cut if you’re so concerned about my wallet.” Bill laughed.
Jessie passed the mainsail sheet to Doug as the crew settled down, and grabbed some water from the cooler under his seat. He brought one over to Kat who was stashing the pole away and stowing the foreguy and topping lift.
“Here. I thought you could use some hydration before a dehydrating binge.” He passed her a bottle of water that she eagerly took.
“Ah, thank you.” She took large gulps of it, quenching her thirst and finishing the bottle in only a few seconds.
“Looks like you lost your hat in that takedown.”
Kat reached up and touched her head. Sure enough her cap was missing.
“I got to get one of those lanyard clips.”
“Maybe it’s in the spinnaker. I’ll help you pack in and see if we can find it.”
“I’m not going to refuse help packing a spinnaker. Let’s get to it before we get to dock. Think you still remember how?”
“I think I can manage.” He laughed.
“Don’t worry. I can teach you. I’m a great teacher. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two. Later we can work on rope tying skills if you’re up for it.”
“Ha! Now there’s an offer I can’t refuse.”