BOBCAT Part two
Friday May 12,2006 - LAUNCH DAY. A day I had dreamed about for over a year, the thought of this day had helped me fall asleep on many of sleepless nights. Now that it was here I had knots in my stomach. We arrived at Magnolia Beach a little after noon. We drove down the beach and saw that a few other boats for the Gulf Coast Messabout were already here as well. We checked into our room, unpacked the Mountaineer and FINALLY headed out to the beach.
Magnolia Beach Texas is a great place for small sailboats. I have sailed my catamarans here for years. The bottom of Lavaca Bay drops rapidly to about three feet and then SLOWLY deepens to a maximum depth of about seven feet (according to my chart). You would have to walk a long way to find that seven feet though. In fact I don’t think I can walk that far.
The wind today was from the south and blowing pretty good, maybe fifteen knots or better. A south wind here is pretty much blowing from the beach straight out into the bay. I had kind of hoped for a more easterly wind and maybe more like ten knots for a first launch.
As I prepared Bobcat for her first sail I couldn’t help but wonder, will she tack? Will she sail into the wind? Is my home-made poly-tarp sail cut tight? Is the hull going to fall apart when it gets wet? Is the mast going to snap in two in this breeze? Is there anything special to sailing a gaff-rigged boat that I don’t know? You know all of your normal concerns when you go sailing.
She was ready for launch fairly quickly which surprised me, what with all of these lines going every which way that I barely know what for and not really having a launch procedure in mind. We backed her down and released her from the trailer that had been imprisoning her. She floated so pretty in the water that I had to have a picture or twelve. I think her lines are gorgeous. She did seem to sit a little higher in the water than I had anticipated, which is probably a good thing, I can always find something to weight her down with.
I decided to walk her around the dock and back to the beach on the other side, due to it being such a narrow channel between the dock and the jetty. A few more pictures, a quick sip of an adult beverage to soothe my nerves, raise the sails and I cast off. It sure was a good thing that I walked her around the dock, because I now find out that the boat has very little steerage until you get some headway. The HUGE SAIL is MUCH more powerful than the tiny rudder . I almost run into the dock as I take off from the beach, “come on baby turn, come on baby turn, come on baby turn”, was repeated a few times. She finally turns and we head out into the bay, heading downwind, with a knot in my stomach. Will she tack, will she sail into the wind etc., go through my mind.
Once I am safely away from the dock and jetty threat I take a look at my sail and see that she is hanging like something haphazardly thrown over a clothesline and not a pretty sail. The peak halyard is way too loose. I am too nervous to go forward and try to adjust it in this wind, so I decide to get her tacked and back onto the beach for the adjustment. Tighten up, get good boat speed, and hard alee…….come up into the wind …….and stall. Okay, fall off, sail backward for a bit and try again……good boat speed, hard alee……..stall. This goes on a few times. “Man what kind of a boat is this, that won’t tack”, I mutter to myself. After several tries something in the middle of the boat catches my eye…….. “What? A centerboard? Shouldn’t that be down? You big dummy.” With the centerboard down she tacked into the wind just fine. I beached her and raised the peak halyard to get a nicely shaped sail and re-launch.
As I sail out into the bay this time I notice that the wind is actually slightly out of the east and my destination is about a half a mile slightly upwind. I also notice that the peak halyard is sagging AGAIN, apparently I didn’t use the kind of rope. GREAT, okay let’s see how this boat does upwind, at least we know she will tack, …… eventually, ……..if you put the centerboard down. I sail way out into the bay with the sheet hauled in as hard as I think is prudent on a gaff rigged catboat. I had read somewhere that you don’t want to pull the sail in too tight as it does not help in gaining any headway to windward. The boat takes the swells and chop better than I had expected. I get hit with a few gusts and find she handles them pretty good as well. As she heels she heads up pretty quickly and in fact the pressure on the helm is quite strong. After about a half an hour of sailing I make it to the beach where the other messabouters are located.
My family and I had a great time at the messabout, I met a lot of nice people saw some really nice boats and received a lot of compliments on my boat. I felt like a boat builder. I even learned what kind of rope to replace my halyards with.
Over the next two days of sailing I learned a little about my new mistress. She is headstrong and will not always listen to a rudder input without a sail adjustment. She is very stable, and predictable. She is faster than I had imagined. The big boom is not a problem if you raise it up high enough to not hit you in the head. She will jibe without scaring you to death. She will go to windward, not as tightly as a sloop, but well enough to get you where you are going. I think I am falling in love.
Since that weekend I have had sailed her several times on local lakes. I have found that she will move in a whisper of a breeze, but she prefers about ten knots. Over fifteen knots in shifty lake conditions I am nervous but she seems to take it in stride. I was hit with a HUGE gust that came out of nowhere a few days ago and she heeled over a lot more than I like, but the rail never went under, she headed up, I released the sail and all was okay. My heart rate returned to normal eventually. She will accommodate two adults and a child, maybe two ( we haven’t tried yet). There is lots of storage under the deck and rear seat. She launches and retrieves in about fifteen minutes. I love the barn door rudder, it allows you to launch and sail off without having to do anything, like fold a rudder down to steer (but do remember to put the centerboard down eventually). And last but not least…..she is beautiful.
I am in love!!!!!