During the run from Thailand to the Andamans, we had to relearn how to sail this boat upwind. For example, downwind it is easier to reef the jib than the main. But when we're going upwind with the jib out and a squall hits, it takes every last ounce of Sten's muscle and willpower to furl in the jib without letting it beat itself to pieces. Meanwhile, the jib sheets are whipping around, slamming against everything they can reach, trying to break something. After going through that routine twice, we tried reefing the main. So easy! Ease out the main sheet so the mainsail luffs, loosen the main halyard so the top of the mainsail can slide down towards the boom, and haul in on the reefing lines. Tighten up the halyard to take up any slack in the mainsail, snug down the reefing lines, and winch the main sheet back in. It only takes a few minutes and minimal exertion.
However, reefing the main presents us with an additional challenge when we are sailing upwind. When the mainsail is reefed, the foot of the sail becomes something of a bag with large folds of sail cloth suspended between the lazy jacks. This is not a problem on a clear, starry night. But once the clouds roll in and the rain hits, the sail acts as a giant water catchment system. The reefed foot of the main quickly becomes an auxiliary water tank. Unfortunately, that water has no place to go. Sailing off the wind, this isn't much of a problem. The big bag of water hangs out over the side deck and as we roll, a little gets dumped out each time until eventually it empties. But going upwind is another kettle of fish entirely. This giant bag of water sits on top of the bimini (the fabric covered stainless steel structure that keeps the cockpit dry and shady). Crossing the Bay of Bengal was the first time in 20,000 miles that we've ever gone upwind with the bimini up and the mainsail reefed. The first time on that awful passage that the closehauled main filled with water, Sten (who was on night watch), didn't realize what was happening until the weight of the water-filled sail caused the seams of the bimini to blow out. I spent much of the rest of the passage restitching those seams by hand (blowing out the bimini turned out to be the best thing that could have happened on that trip: focusing on needlework enabled me to block out the deteriorating situation around us; now I understand why my mom, who used to do embroidery on long family car trips while her offspring squabbled in the backseat, always looked so calm). We could take down the bimini, but that leaves the cockpit exposed to the sun, wind and rain and makes us both feel more exposed and vulnerable, not to mention that it is a fairly painful procedure. Now that we are aware of the problem, we know to monitor the state of the bag. If we aren't riding out a high velocity squall, it is easy enough to shake out the reefs in the main, dump out the water, and reef it down again. But if we are in the middle of a big blow, all we can do is look up at the groaning bimini and hope that the wind dies down before the seams go again.
Not only are we sailing into the wind, we are sailing into the swell. In flat water, we can move along nicely upwind with minimal breeze. When there is no swell, 5 knots of wind is enough to keep us moving. But going to windward in any kind of seas, unless we have at least 9 knots of wind, our sails won't stay filled. The swell knocks the wind right out of our sails. If the sea state gets really messy, like it did in the Bay of Bengal, we need even more breeze to keep us moving. But too much wind, and we have to shorten sail again to keep driving straight through the steeper waves. It is a fine balance.
Today, the wind slowly died. For most of the afternoon we only had 6 to 8 knots of breeze. With a big swell running out of the south, that just isn't enough to keep the sails filled. The boom clangs as it swings back and forth and the sails slat as we roll in the swell. It drives us both crazy. But we were still doing 4 to 5 knots over the ground, in the right direction, so we didn't feel justified in turning on the engine. We spent the afternoon wishing that the wind would pick up or die entirely so that we could turn on the engine. Once it died, the rain came, and then the lightning. If it isn't one thing in the Indian, it is another. How we miss the Pacific Ocean!
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