Civilized Yachting, or, The Benefits of Dry Saltines

Ganymede's push toward Panama
Late summer has usually found Ganymede at an extreme of north or south.

One would think that having a job where you spent twelve hours a day sailing would leave you ready to not sail on your days off, but as summer wears on, I find myself as ready as ever to take Ganymede out whenever a day off is not filled with shopping and laundry.  Not that there’s very many of those days; shopping and laundry are just as insistent when not cruising as when you are, but even so we managed to go sailing on Ganymede on three of my last four days off.  It’s a mostly new thing for us, going out for a day sail and returning to the same spot—last year at this time we were at the top of the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, waiting our chance to squeak through the Straits of Belle Isle and struggle up the St. Lawrence River.  Two years before that we were sailing up the coast from Florida to the Chesapeake Bay; the year before that we were rounding the Azuero Peninsula in Panama, Ganymede’s southernmost latitude.  We’re just not used to not having to get somewhere when we weigh anchor and hoist the sails.  But this summer hoisting the sails has meant just a few hours of tacking around Narragansett Bay and a return to our mooring ball: we haven’t even gotten the anchor wet since we pulled it out of the mud in Stonington on our final stop before returning here last fall.

Ganymede sailing in Narragansett Bay
Ganymede sailing to weather in Narragansett Bay. photo by Green Brett

Daysailing, however, has its own difficulties.  When cruising, we usually set the sails, get them trimmed, and can go for hours, even a day and more without touching the sheets.  But in the confined waters of the bay we have to tack, gybe, or adjust every few minutes, and getting to windward is pretty important.  Our old cruising method of setting the jib flying, or not hanked-on, wasn’t working so well for several reasons.  First of all, without the jibstay to keep the luff in place, if the steerman pinched a little too far and the jib backed, we had to fall off really far to get it to return—not great for getting to weather efficiently.  We never really wanted to go that close into the eye of the wind when cruising, and if we HAD to, we just beat with main and staysail only, leaving the jib stowed.  But daysailing is all about performance, and getting around nimbly in tight spaces.  Which, of course, was what we had to deal with when trying to sail back onto our mooring in a crowded corner of the harbor.  Being among moored boats also precluded our normal method of getting the jib in, which is to turn downwind until the mainsail blankets it and it drops easily on deck.  Takes a lot of sea room to do that, and we needed to adjust to not having that luxury.

Innovative Jib Hanks for Synthetic Shrouds
A spliced Dyneema loop and a buntline hitch makes a simple soft jib hank.

There was only one alternative: to figure out a way to hank the jib to the stay.  Ganymede’s synthetic rope jibstay precluded the normal bronze piston hanks, which would fray pretty quickly through the cover.  Time to invent.  The solution was simple, but I had to splice a new jibstay, this time with a few round brass thimbles threaded on first.  On each of these I hitched a length of 1/8” Dyneema with a loop spliced in it.  For each of these soft hanks I put a grommet in the luff of the jib, added a downhaul to fetch the sail down easily, and we were in business.  Now we can pinch up to weather as high as the mainsail will allow, we can douse the jib at any sailing angle, and can leave the sail stowed to the lifeline with a simple lashing. The thimbles slide easily up and down the stay with no chafe at all.  We also added winches from the local marine consignment store to get the running backstays bar-tight, and Ganymede has never sailed better or more efficiently.

Sailing with Friends
Even with six extra people there’s elbow room to scull Ganymede back to her mooring in a calm.

Another difference this summer is that we have plenty of friends who are dying to go out sailing, so it’s not just us.  We’ve had five or six other families out with us to share the sailing, and usually we take the opportunity to fire up the barbecue afterwards and have a mini-feast.  I had thought it would feel crowded on Ganymede with up to seven extra people (that makes eleven all told), but it seems there’s always room for one more, even if it takes several trips in the dinghy to get them all aboard and back.  It’s a different feeling—far more social, for one, and lots more comfy sailing around the sheltered bay than being tossed by swells at sea, and it’s nice to know that dinner will be a the proper hour, and will be cooked on a stable boat without a chance of anything winding up on the deckhead, and bedtime will be at the appointed time.  Not that the other sort of seafaring’s that bad, either—up all night a thousand leagues from land in blowing rain and spray with nothing but wet saltine crackers and granola bars to eat has it’s charms—but our civilized yachting is feeling pretty good for now.

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