Saturday, July 30, 2005

Flying and Sailing

As previously mentioned, I just got back from a few days in MN and SD. Dawn and I went back to visit with our parents a bit, but also because her parents recently bought a 1980's-vintage MacGregor 25 sailboat. They're just learning to sail, so I wanted to go give them a few pointers and test out their boat.

I first learned to sail when I was 12, in the Boy Scouts, on a 12' Sunfish. It's a simple little dinghy, cat-rigged and designed for single-handed handling. There's just enough room for one additional passenger, so long as they're smart enough to duck when tacking or gybeing. Indeed, my first and last time going overboard was when my training partner gybed without telling me, while I was looking downwind. I heard a startled "oh!" and looked just in time to see the boom smacking me in the chest and dumping me into the drink. Live and Learn.

When Dawn and I lived in SoCal, we'd occasionally rent 16'-22' Capris at Marina del Rey and San Diego Bay. Capri's are the smaller cousins of the Catalina line of sailboats (they're all now called Catalina's, I understand). These boats are great for daysailing, with just enough room belowdecks to spend a night or two.

This was my first time sailing the MacGregor 25, and I was impressed with what a docile boat it is. If you're going to learn to sail in a 25-footer, this is a good choice. It features a swinging retractable keel, which results in a draft of 1.5 feet with the keel retracted. It has a tendancy to heel over pretty well when close-hauled in 15-20 kt winds, with strong weather helm required, but nothing a novice couldn't handle. Extra "rail meat" improves the situation a lot, all the more reason to take your friends along.

So now that I've sailed for the first time in over a year, I have the bug again. I'm checking the Oregonian classifieds and perusing craigslist. This happens every time I go sailing. It's a lot of fun, and can be challenging or peaceful by turns. In many ways, it reminds me of flying. Indeed, a sail is little more than an airfoil turned on it's side, with the forward component of lift your only propulsion when beating to windward. The authority and responsibility of a boat's captain is identical to an airplane's captain. Like flying, sailing involves using your knowledge and skill, as well as modern technology, to safely travel through a medium that is not man's natural domain. Docking after a good sail brings the same satisfied feeling as shutting down after a challenging flight - the satisfaction of a job done competently. Finally, flying and sailing both reward one with moments of great beauty, set against the dark understanding that things can and do go wrong up here, out here.

And unfortunately, they're both a bit expensive to get involved in. I could actually get a decent trailerable sailboat in the 25 foot range for $5000 or less, but that's a purchase that will have to wait. As with airplanes, the purchase price seldom tells the whole story - you can spend a ton on outfitting, upgrades, and maintenance. Dawn is an excellent crewmember, and would like to get a sailboat. Maybe we can do it in a year or two. In the meantime, I'm gathering what information I can on sailing in this area, and hoping to find somebody to crew for so I can learn more. If any of you ever need crew, email me pronto, I'll fly out on my day off.