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Posted by on Mar 15, 2012 in Preparation Stage | 0 comments

Learning to sail, the hard way

So my brother and I decided to take our (for now unnamed) MacGregor 25 out for her maiden sail… it was quite the experience. The first “O SHIT!!!” experience of my sailing career. Up to this point my sailing experience consisted of a tiny catamaran with a sail only slightly larger than a pillow case for less than an hour… not exactly America’s Cup stuff if you know what I mean.

We brought our boat to the local marina and started stepping the mast, only to find out that there is a low hanging wire directly above the boat launch. This should have been our first clue to stop and rethink our plan. However, we are like “Oh, no problem… we can just back the boat up until its past the wire and then step the mast.” Spoiler Alert: This is one of the only times that day that things went to plan (even if this was plan B).

Spindler Marina, East Peoria, IL

So now we have the boat in the water, mast stepped, jib attached to the front wire thingy (I know… I’ll figure out what its called later), boom attached, motor lowered, the whole shebang. After some consternation we get the motor started and in reverse. I throttle the motor up to around 30-50% power and try to back off of the trailer to the small dock where I will meet up with Kyle. The boat doesn’t move. At all. I throttle the motor up a little more… still nothing. Eventually Michele, whom up to this point was videotaping my lack of intelligence, decided to point out that the boat was, in fact, tethered to the trailer via the trailer winch. Another omen.

We get the boat to the dock and Kyle comes down to the boat after parking the Jeep. We then have to decide if we are going to back out of the small marina into the main river channel or attempt to pirouette it around and motor out bow first. I was out voted by Kyle and Michele and it was decided to reverse out into the river. Needless to say our motor over heated and we were left adrift in the middle of a (thankfully empty) marina. An empty marina still has rock walls and docks, mind you. Of course we started drifting bow first towards a 10 foot rock embankment, it just makes sense. I waited until we were about 5 feet away from making the evening news, took my shoes off (I still don’t know why I took my shoes off), jumped out and pushed the boat away from the rocks and brought her around and held her port side while Kyle tried unsuccessfully to get the motor started again. Our only option was to shove the boat across the marina back to the dock and reassess our situation. I’m now on the wrong side of the marina, without shoes, standing at the bottom of  a 10 foot rock embankment.

Feet aching, I get to the other side of the marina where Kyle has wrangled the boat around and supposedly fixed our motor issues. The water intake was bobbing out of the river due to the motor not being low enough, making the engine over heat. Motor issues fixed we begin motoring out of the marina into the river proper.

Our maiden voyage, South to North

About 20 feet into the river (and around 500-1000 feet away from the channel) the motor dies again. Another omen telling us to stop whatever we are doing, thank God we are alive, and go back. Needless to say, we push on… we were going to cut the engine there anyways and begin sailing. Our plan was to sail for a bit with only the jib to get the hang of the boat without all of the power a mainsail would provide. We know that the boat won’t be able to point very well to wind with just the jib, but we think it’ll be able to go at  least 10 degrees or so into the wind. The river is extremely wide (for a river) where the marina is so even if we can only go a few degrees into the wind, it isn’t an issue. The boat, at least with us manning it, cannot go into the wind whatsoever with only the jib up. Not even a little bit. The boat decides to go downwind and fast. We haven’t yet lowered our keel so the boat is healing quite a bit, reminding us of our most recent oversight. Kyle jumps into the cabin and lowers the keel a tad too much in his excitement, bottoming out the keel. The river might be half a mile or more wide, but its only a few feet deep everywhere except the channel. So bottomed out in the middle of the river we decide to take advantage of not moving and hoist the main. In hindsight this was a very bad idea because we were unable to point head-to-wind first. In both of our tiny sailboat experiences we didn’t need to point anywhere specific to raise the sail, we just pulled on the halyard and the sail went up. Wrong. The sail went up about two thirds of the way until catching wind, making it impossible for us to hoist the sail anymore than it already was. Ok, we think, we’ll just sail with the jib. Downwind. Away from the marina.

At this point we realize that we are still dragging the keel even though we thought we raised it enough to clear the bottom. We also just happened to notice a giant bridge pier directly in our path. As it turns out, a rudder doesn’t really steer a boat when the keel is dragging. At this moment Kyle turns to me and says, “You know, this is going to be hilarious afterwards… but its a complete disaster now.” I couldn’t have agreed more. Around 60 feet from bashing the boat (and ourselves) against the pier and making the evening news even more spectacularly, the bottom drops to the channel and our rudder begins functioning. Quickly steering away from the pier, our jib tacks uncontrolled and begins pushing us towards a man-made island under construction. We get the jib under control before beaching ourselves and, for the first time, have the entire boat under control. Albeit going the wrong direction.

I can finally call Michele and give her an update on our situation and ask her to meet us at the next marina downwind (but upstream) of Spindler Marina. One problem with this plan, however, is that the Jeep keys are on a boat in the middle of the river. She is forced to drive her car to the next marina where we will meet up and then go pick up the Jeep to bring the boat back to storage, assuming it is still in one piece when we get it to the dock.

Look! The mainsail can actually go up!

We actually had a peaceful sail from around the island all the way to the next marina. All the way until we had to dock a boat only under sail, no motor. Miraculously we were able to slide in next to the dock, lower the jib, and tie off all without a hitch. We had quite an experience getting the boat back on to the trailer (once we picked up the trailer from the other side of the river) that involved shoving the boat, good aim, and a lot of pulling.

So ended our maiden voyage on our new-to-us MacGregor 25. Would I do it again knowing what would happen? You bet. Do I plan on taking her out again without a reliable motor? No way. Even though it was the longest 3 mile boat ride I have ever taken I learned quite a bit. Under pressure of smashing our boat we learned quickly how to trim a jib, how to steer, and how to dock under sail. Instead of deeming the voyage a total and complete disaster (it nearly was… a few times), I like to say we left plenty of room for improvement.

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