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Thoughts on Heavier Weather

Work on Alchemy and work on the house and working for a living have kept me from posting (not that this is a huge priority, frankly), but some recent sailing in the old boat in rather fresh air made me consider how my young son might be acclimatising to the sailing life.

I was out a few nights back in strongly variable winds in the old 33-footer, Alchemy being mastless, engineless and purposefully immobile this summer, and I had a lot of main spilling and gybing to do, as we were just playing with the wind to test out a recut Dacron main, not going anywhere except "five miles that way, and then back the way we came". There was probably the biggest crew (eight in total), I had ever had aboard, thanks to "the steward's" large complement of racing buddies.

I take a sort of pride in gybing the main smoothly in concert with the helmsman's actions, and if you have a lot of crew (like we did), there is no difference from a tack. Not in my view, anyway, excepting of course the possibility of being brained if you are insufficiently attentive.

By contrast, in lighter air a couple of days previous to this trip, I was using the old, crumbling main in lighter air going nearly dead downwind. I used the opportunity to demonstrate to my six-year-old son a "crash gybe" by saying "look at the windex, look at what I'm doing with the tiller, and listen to the mainsail". I showed him the boom gybing out of control (I could basically give it a slap to slow it down), and showed him it at the edge of control, and showed him how to sheet it in to the centerline as I gybed. This was in about eight knots of wind.

Then he tried it and screwed it up, and did it again and did it pretty well. Being about four feet in height, he can't easily see forward without standing on the coamings and using a tiller extender, so conceptually he has some way to go, but he's well-co-ordinated for his age and shows at least some of my ambidexterity, so I would imagine he will put it all together sooner than later. Next year, he'll go into Optimists, as he turns seven next week.

Prior to going downwind, however, we had a bit of fresh air, and he complained a bit about feeling a little seasick and "tired" and basically flaked out in the cockpit. It reminded me that "crew", particularly non-active crew, can find a sailboat's motion disagreeable.

Of course this is always the variable. In 2007, we had a day in Alchemy when we beat to windward in about 24 gusting 28 knots from the east, I estimate, with four- to five-foot seas from the south-east (bending around the Toronto Islands and the artificial peninsula to their east), which is about as close as I get to "rollers" in Lake Ontario as that gives over 100 miles of fetch.

My wife and I enjoyed the ride, because it was stable and dry (even if it revealed the lack of baffles in the water tanks...boom! boom!). But my son puked up his strawberry yoghurt, and I realized that maybe a judicious application of motor might "level out" our rolling about. We only had a 10 mile passage (barely breakfast to lunch, really), and it occurred to me that as much as I would have liked to have gone five miles south into the lake to find some harder wind, it wasn't entirely fair to my son to subject him to nausea so I could push my skills with a new boat that is really made for ocean conditions.

We don't get a lot of "ocean conditions" hereabouts, so I like to slam about when I can. But I don't need to make my son associate heavy weather with throwing up...and that would be entirely counterproductive, given our long-term plans.