I jettisoned the sludge around 9:00 am and headed southwest, with the intention of hyper jumping 40 miles across the UP and camping just past the Garden Peninsula on summer island. It was to be a short and very intense day.
The wind was blowing from the NE at a solid 15 – 20 mph and the swells were 10+ feet from trough to crest. The first 2 hours were some of the most exhilarating and awe inspiring I’ve ever lived.
For those of you who ski or snowboard, think about moguls. Approaching a field of moguls at speed, the mind slips into a space where evaluation and reaction blend together, we observe our decisions rather than make them. Now imagine the moguls moving, rising up and collapsing all around, rushing at you, pulling away.
A Hobie 16 has two basic controls, the tiller by which the rudders turn the boat and the sheet lines that control the tension on the main sail and the jib, which determines how fast the boat moves. When running with the wind, the jib may not be so important as it is often blocked by the main sail. On this day only the tiller (direction) and main sheet line (speed) are relevant.
Technical explanation starts…
Airplanes are sucked up into the air, not thrust up into it. Airfoils (wings) are so shaped that air traveling over the wing is moving faster than air traveling under the wing, lowering the air pressure at the top because the fast moving air thins out. Lower pressure (vacuum) at the top sucks the wing up.
A fabric sail can take a wing shaped profile too and that’s the most efficient kind of sailing, enabling boats to go faster than the wind. Instead of going up, the sailing ‘wing’ is pulled forward. When the wind is coming from directly behind the sailboat and the sheet is at right angles to the hull, the wing shape isn’t possible because the wind only has access to one side of the sail. In this situation the sail is pushed by the wind so the speed of the boat is about the same as the speed of the wind.
Loosening the sheet lines allows the sail to swing towards 90 degrees, decreasing speed. Tightening the sheet with a corresponding change of direction enables the wind to travel past both sides of the sail, increasing speed. Keep in mind that going slower doesn’t mean stopping. Running with a 15 mph wind, the boat will be traveling about 15 mph. The only way to apply brakes is to get out of the wind. Imagine a car that could only slow down only if it turned 180 degrees. Might be tough to u-turn if you are going 50 mph.
Wait a minute, 15 mph isn’t very fast! Going 15-20 mph on a 16 ft Hobie cat on big water feels like going 50 mph on a motorcycle or 90 mph in a car. Screwing up in any case could be bad. There’s loose ropes to get tangled up in, big hunks of aluminum and fiberglass flying through the air if the hobie flips and of course plenty of water for drowning. Trust me, 15-20 mph on a Hobie cat is intense.
Technical explanation ends…
Esoteric explaination begins…
Sailing is a collaboration between the crew, the boat and the local manifestation of the universe. Think about this – the sailboat and sailor are a synergy, alone they can do nothing but together they form a unique entity, a sailing being. The sailor senses and acts with her entire body, the face and hands read the direction and speed of the invisible wind, the eyes take in sail telltales and shape, what the water is up to and where the hell she is going. The body feels the swell and drop of the boat on the water, the pitch and roll of the hulls. The ears hear how the boat frame is twisting, the song of the rudders, how the water is rushing past the hulls and the bluster of the air as it interacts with the boat. In intense wind complete body presence is required, an absolute activation of sense and ability. It’s an ecstatic state, an excellent terror.
Can a boat be conscious? I give my consciousness to the boat and integrate myself (submerge or release) into the aluminum, dacron and steel. I can think, but it’s SO not needed – and can even be a dangerous. I give my mentation to the synergy and it spreads out over the whole being, into every rope and wire. What I am has fuzzy edges, my edges don’t stop at my skin or even the hulls and sails. I am the surging water, the moving air, the warming sun or the ominous clouds – it’s all relevant. Effective action in the center of a synergy is thought free, I am not because I think, I am because I am. Once I let it out and open it up, consciousness is clearly everywhere. Getting in that space is to tap into true power.
Esoteric explaination ends…
Ok so, enough exposition, back to the story. I am on a 16 foot Hobie Cat with about 500 lbs of cargo. That’s the equivalent of 3 medium sized sailors, close to the maximum crew capacity for the Hobie 16. 330 lbs of that is dead weight, backpacks that need to be shifted and secured for proper balance. Live crew would supposedly go where they were told without pushing and prodding. I am wearing a harness hooked into a long wire attached to the mast, this let’s me shift my weight to where it’s needed to balance the boat. Left hand ready on the sheet line and right hand grabs the tiller. There’s a 15-20 mph wind behind the boat and 15 foot waves rising and collapsing all around, moving approximately in the same direction as the wind.
Here’s a taste of what inner dialog might sound like if there was time to have it. The following paragraph would take about 3 seconds in realtime and my reactions would be automatic, without deliberation.
We (me and Hello World) tighten the sheet (sheet in) and turn slightly to the left (port) to rush up the sloping back of a big wave, lining up with the wave with a slight starboard turn as we reach the tippy top. As the wave crest white caps and curls, we teeter over the brink and hurtle down the wave’s face, dropping 15 feet over 20 feet of forward travel, immediately loosening the sheet (sheet out) and sliding over to port to keep the forward tips of our hulls from digging into the bottom of the wave’s trough. As the hulls glide into the trough we sheet in to accelerate up the next wave… but wait, the next wave is already collapsing, we’re in a wind shadow from the wave we just rode. Hard to port, sheet in and accelerate! Racing parallel to the waves, we find another wave to climb – faster! Don’t let a big wave hit us broadside and roll us over, here it comes – too late! Hard turn to starboard, ass to the wave and surf it for all it’s worth, sheet out! Turn to port, sheet in and up out of the new trough, quick!
Sheet in, sheet out, weave back and forth, climb and surf – for two hours! I felt fluid, automatic, intuitive. All the endless hours as a kid on the Hobie 14 came back to me, the tai chi like slow motion sailing in hardly a puff of wind, the hold on for dear life crazy ass blowing shouting for survival. All that time I was just playing around, thrills and fun – of no consequence, no importance… or so I thought. That experience came bubbling up to serve me in the moment. I didn’t know I knew how to sail like that. It was sublime.
After two hours the wind let up a bit and I could come off of DEFCON 5 – high alert. Though it never felt like stress or unpleasant, just scary and wonderful.
With all this heavy manuevering, Zilliax’s bike began to eat through it’s ropes. One bungie stood between me and total disaster, I had to stop for an emergency fix. To have a frigging bicycle dragging under the boat in these conditions would be unthinkable and horrific. So it was that I crash landed on the next available spit of land. Coming in at a moderately high speed, we hit the shallow stony bottom and skidded over 50 feet with much crunching and grinding. I jumped off and secured the bike while Hello World was rocked back and forth on it’s hard perch. Getting her out of the shallows was an epic feat, but at last we were back in open water.
I knew that Summer Island was just beyond the last point on the Garden Peninsula, but point after point passed without any sign of an island. After another hour or so of hard sailing, I started thinking about taking a break. To the north, a tempting blowout beckoned. I decided to turn right and give it a rest…
1:00 pm when we landed, 4 hours total transit time, with an hour spent fixing bike ropes and sidetracking to a rest stop. 40 miles in an intense 3 hours. A personal, phew, record.