Learning to sail

This is a synopsis of our early sailing experiences aboard the 14ft O’Day Javelin we bought on craigslist to teach ourselves to sail.

Loaded up the boat and drove to Nehalem Bay. This is a very protected bay where a small river empties into the Pacific. It was a nice day, very mild. We rigged the boat and launched it at the boat ramp/dock. There was a semicircle of floating logs we navigated through (with the trolling motor), then we raised the sails. We had the bay mostly to our selves. We sailed a bit, the wind was light and the water was calm. We had to keep watch for logs floating past, we generally steered around them but occasionally had to fend them off with our whiskerpole. We were getting further and further from the dock and realized we weren’t able to make any headway toward it. There was a strong current taking us away from it and very little wind. We started the trolling motor but it was very slow going against the current and we knew the battery wouldn’t last so we decided to head toward the shore. We grounded the boat and I jumped off and hauled us back to the dock using a sternline as a towline (I had my galoshes with me). Upon arrival at the dock we were surprised to see the dock sitting on the ground, the tide had gone out! The current we were fighting was the ebb tide. Lesson number one: go upstream and look at the tide tables!

Rooster Rock: Vancouver Lake is close, has no tide or current, and is pretty big. Sounds great. Unfortunately it also had no wind. On to Rooster Rock (in the Gorge). I was picturing a calm wide spot on the Columbia, what we got was a narrow channel with squirrely winds. It was a chilly day but at least we had wind. We launched uneventfully but once we started sailing things went downhill fast. We couldn’t keep the sails trimmed, the wind constantly shifted in direction and strength. At times the boat just went in circles and we were helpless to do anything to control it. We beached the boat to take some time out and have some hot chocolate, then tried again. This time we got run up on rocks, got our mast into tree branches, tore our mainsail when a gust caught us in the tree branches, and I drifted downstream around the bend stupidly trying to figure out the trolling motor while Devon was trying to board the boat after towing us with the bowline. Not a great day of sailing.

Vancouver Lake:

Lets try this again. Beautiful day, no clouds in the sky and a nice light westerly breeze (although an east wind was forecast). We launched the boat, not such an easy task. There is no ramp, just a gravel road to the water’s edge. The lake is wide but very shallow (average depth is 3ft, max depth is 15 ft) so launching turns out to mean pushing the boat through the mud until the water is deep enough to float it (about 20 feet from shore). But the sailing was great. The breeze was light and generally constant so for the first time we actually sailed for more than a few seconds at a stretch. We occasionally ran aground on the muddy bottom but mostly had good sailing. We saw a couple large trout jump out of the water from pretty close. We did notice that we had a very hard time sailing downwind, something we had also noticed at Nehalem Bay. Every time we turned down wind the wind died and we lost speed! It just didn’t make sense! Then it dawned on us, we were sailing downwind just fine, it just didn’t feel like we were moving because we were traveling with the wind, not against it!! Duh! We had each read several books about sailing and somehow this basic concept had eluded us both. Not long after this realization we were sailing along when the wind suddenly died. It was still beautiful, no clouds in the sky, and for the moment no wind. Then out of nowhere it was chaos, the wind became violent and the water became rough. Where it had been glassy smooth suddenly there were 2 to 3 foot swells with lots off whitecaps (the wind went from force 0 to force 5 in an instant for those that know the Beaufort Scale). We struggled to control the mainsail but the boat heeled and threatened to capsize. We tried to turn in to the wind but we had no forward speed so we had no steering. We finally managed to drop the mainsail while letting the jib luff violently. Once the mainsail was down we were able to sail with the jib and we headed back to the launch. It was quite exhilarating sailing across the choppy water with a strong wind at our beam. The sky was still clear but we now had the forecast east wind! The most difficult part of the day was still ahead: loading the boat back on the trailer. With no dock and such shallow water it took brute force (Devon’s, not mine) to heave the boat back on the trailer. We had a great time at Vancouver Lake but we won’t be back due to the lack of an adequate launch.

Nehalem Bay:

Good sailing but rough launch. No dock (at low tide) and onshore breeze. Beautiful weather, we had a picnic on a sandbar. We both got lots of practice tacking and getting a feel for the rudder and mainsheet control, started to get comfortable with heeling. At the end of the day we beached the boat down stream of ramp rather than dealing with the poor dock situation. Good day except for the launch.

Nehalem Bay: Day of Tsunami. No sailing, bad weather, then no wind. Tried rowing, does not work against outgoing tide. We saw Gregg (the guy we bought the boat from), he was at the bay canoing with his kids.

Hagg Lake! Ramp C has no dock, launched from Ramp A. Light wind until we launched, then stiff wind bashing us against dock. We motored away, got the jib up, then couldn’t sail up wind or turn into wind to raise the main. Rough water (2-3 foot swells and 20 knot winds), finally got main raised (don’t know how), water was choppy, took on lots of spray! Made headway upwind, got into no wake zone, anchored. Sailed back to dock under jib.

Hagg Lake. Nice weather, sailed away from dock. Lots of tacking. Anchored, had lunch. More tacking (chilly day). Getting better at controlled heeling,then I took over, lots of uncontrolled healing and then a near broach when running downwind! Lesson learned: do not turn into the wind when running!