Monday, May 18, 2009

Confession May 17, 2009

Maybe it was the gloves. A few days ago, I remembered to pull out my West Marine sailing gloves. They have leather palms and finger pads and no finger tips. They're designed perfectly for handling rough fast moving salty ropes ("strings" as Brian likes to call them) and untying knots. They fit my hands just right and give me confidence that I won't get injured when easing sheets, sheeting in, and otherwise dragging strings around the boat.
So, with this extra confidence perhaps I forgot something. Perhaps I thought something had changed. See, it's been almost 20 months since we left Santa Cruz on Nomad. Over that time I expected to learn and acquire skills that I didn't already have from the 5 years living aboard and sailing Kansas, our other boat. This is certainly true in many areas. I've learned how to repair sails, and sew canvas; I've mastered navigation and feel very confident plotting our course; I've gotten comfortable with a life style of energy conservation. But there's one major thing that keeps me back in the amoeba learning group. Sail trim eludes me. It's as mysterious to me as the insides of a computer and as baffling as the human mind. When the sails annonce that the wind is shifting. I'm at a loss. I can vaguely determine the direction of the wind and I have ideas about things we could do but how to accomplish them is harder for me than organizing my master's thesis. There's strings to be pulled, strings to be let out, strings to run through pulleys, autopilots to adjust, and winches to crank. The order of these activities and deciding how to align the sails is a complete mystery to me, partially because there are differences every time. Sometimes I'll guess and attempt to hlp Brian by pulling a line, resulting in a snappy, "The other line!" or I'll wait for directions because I can't figure out what's next, while Brian is assuming it's obvious what I should be doing.
I spent many successful years in school and in sports. Anytime I encountered a difficulty, I worked hjarder, paid attention, asked questions, and practiced. These are the strategies I've applied to my mental disability in sail trim. To no avail. I'm equally clueless as I was 20 months ago. To this day, if Brian says, "turn down wind" I ask, "right or left?"

So, wearing my leather-palmed sailing gloves this morning, I was enjoying the bright path of the Milky Way and the pleasant steady 15 knot wind. When our course changed, indicating a wind change, I knew that what needed to be done was to swing the mainsail from the starboard to the port side of the boat. I've helped Brian do this numerous times. I eased the preventer, pulled in the main sheet, changed course on the autopilot, let out the main sheet on the other side, reattached the preventer on the other side, and pulled it tight while swinging the mainsheet over. Success! Warmed by this effective solo sail adjustment, I felt confident to reverse the process not half an hour later when the wind changed again. I was already rehearsing in my mind a proud description of accomplishment to tell Brian when he woke up. The second time didn't work so well. Half way through the process, things went wrong and I couldn't figure out how to make the autopilot do what I'd told it to do. "Come on Uli," I begged fruitlessly. Sometime in my desperate begging and string pulling, Brian poked his head up from below, "what's going on?"
To make a long story short, I ended up causing the breakage of the fiberglass windsurfing mast Brian had rigged in place of the whisker pole I'd broken two nights before (I haven't told that story yet). This makes a total of 3 breaks in whisker poles on this trip. Once again, Brian is patching it together. It looks like a backyard prototype of the bionic man's leg. There are over 30 rivets and 5 hose clamps securing the scrap aluminum pieces to the outside of the recent broken point. Further up the pole, is the original break from 2 weeks ago. It has bamboo (gifts from our friends in Bahia Honda) poles hose clamped on and duct tape around the hose clamps.

So, this sailor has decided that she might not wear her gloves ever again. Or maybe, I'll just accept that I will need step by step instructions for every sail change from now on. To compensate for this realization, I made the best batch chocolate chip cookies I've ever made. See, I can do something well.

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