Excitement! My sails arrived Friday afternoon. The panels are narrow, but a touch wider than i was envisioning. Still, the tanbark canvas and black stitching look good. The stays’l and mitre-cut jib are perfect; the main turned out different than i was expecting. The gaff angle is a little lower than i was envisioning, but the cut is just dandy.
Nick and Natasha helped me bend the sails, then we launched Ripple off the beach into flat water and nearly-still air. Naturally, i saw something amiss with the portside jibsheet lead, and leaned forward with a knee on the foredeck to fix it… Ah yes, my first capsize, 50 feet off the shore. Nick came out and towed me to the dock, where a big electric pump overcame the flooding from the submerged centerboard trunk and had the boat dry again in no time.
A bit of quick work with knife and smallstuff had the foul jibsheet problem sorted, and i was off again. More cautiously this time, i took a tour of the harbour (without incident), but did notice several niggling little problems. Back at the dock, i changed a few things, but the day was late, and i left most for the morrow.
Saturday morning, i got in and fiddled a bit more, then addressed the biggest trouble: stability. i chipped off a couple iron pigs from the ballast pile out back, and laid them in alongside the centerboard trunk. They, with an additional lead plate, added about 60 pounds to the bottom of the boat. That day, i went for a proper sail; down west around Little Thatch, southeast closereaching over to the north shore of St. John, then beating up the shore to the east before broadreaching back north for Soper’s Hole. Still very tender, but manageable enough; dumping the mainsheet in gusts, and heading up to luff the heads’ls in stronger puffs.
Overall, the boat gives a good impression. She’s very fast, fairly simply handled (given the number of strings), and surprisingly well-balanced. My centers of effort and resistance were laid out according to traditional principles and proportions, and have proved correct. She is therefore very light on the tiller, and with a loose tiller lashing, she can be easily steered on the wind by way of adjusting the sheets.
Fast as she is, i’m thinking i may remove the unstayed poletopmast and forego the tops’l. i can only see it being really useful in the most ghosting conditions. i’ll have to sort out the hull stability issues first before making up my mind either way.
Sunday, i took the boat out early. i really wanted to make a push for Jost Van Dyke, but conditions were looking pretty rough on the north side. Even right in Soper’s Hole the winds were very weird, swinging from NNE to SW, setting me this way and that. Around the corner i go, drifting through the little wind shadow in the lee of Frenchman’s Cay, and then setting out to weather in the general direction of Norman Island. The winds were still flukey and variable, and i had just started getting going at a comfortable pace when the gusts hit. Not much of a gust, mind you, just a little 15+ knot bit. i let out the sheet, feathering the main, and scooted my backside to weather. A lull, then hard again, and i’m thinking that i ought to strike the jib next chance i get, and i’m luffing up at the helm, when the rail just touches, and that’s all she wrote.
“Fuck fuck fuck!” Over the side, foot on the board, and all for naught. Oh well… i immediately dive under to the leeward side and chuck out the two 25-pound iron pigs. Then i grab the large fender from beneath the foredeck and stuff it under the main to keep the mast on the surface. Anger and excitement flares then recedes; the boat is swamped, but afloat. i look around to see where i’m at… A little closer to St. John than to Tortola, better than a half mile from the nearest shore.
Cast the heads’l halyards, haul home the downhauls. Swim over and retrieve the tiller before it floats away. Ditto the bailer. i dive down under the boat… the bottom is out of sight, the rays of sunlight glittering down down down into 180 foot water. Rolling over, i look up at Ripple on her side, rigging adrift, but i feel calm. Up for air, then diving under the main to catch the fender and tie it off to the spreaders. A strange feeling, this; swimming all around and through the rigging, yet comfortable knowing every line, every stay, shroud, pin, and cleat by touch, never feeling panicked or confined in the mess of rigging.
Main now down and lashed. i right her, but she just falls over to the other side. Floating comfortably with no suggestion of sinking, but unable to float upright without considerable assistance, and even then with the gunwales barely above the water.
By now, of course, i’ve attracted some attention. A large cruising sailboat circles around, asking if i need help. i suggest that they just let me alongside for a spell (they could hold the mast upright from deck while i bail away below), but they seem reluctant.
“Can we call anybody for you?” i laugh at this, being totally unable to think of anyone’s number. “How about VISAR?”, they suggest. Good grief, no! i think, and politely reply that formal Search and Rescue is unneccesary.
“Call the Jolly Roger and ask for Lou.”, i offer; the bar is the local yacht clubhouse, and someone will be likely to have a dinghy handy. The fellow goes below to fetch his cellphone, but just as he comes back up, Nick shows up with his 25hp, 12-foot inflatable.
“There’s my chaseboat!”, i cheerfully called to the circling yacht. To Nick: “What brings you out here?”
“I just had a feeling…” he replied. Good thing! i had been well around the corner and out of sight for some time before he had his feeling.
We had a go at bailing, but with the slop o’er the ‘wales, it was soon clear that we’d make no headway. i lashed the sails more thoroughly, passed him a towline, and we made for Frenchman’s Cay. i stayed alongside Ripple, a foot on the skeg, hanging off the quarter, keeping the stem and spreaders out of the water. It took us 45 minutes to get into shallow water. We aimed for a touch of sand on the point, surrounded by a rocky dead coral beach. We tossed the towline in 3-4 feet of water, and i made to get Ripple over the submerged rocks and onto the sand.
The second contact i made with the bottom with one of those lovely head-sized black urchins, and a good one at that. Lemme tell ya, everything they say about black urchins is correct; it’s stunningly painful! i fished a sandal for my good foot from Ripple’s lazarette, and hopped through the chest-high water until i could find a clear spot to sit, grasping the masthead and holding the hull out to seaward. i took a peek at my foot: better than 20 black spines embedded all over the ball of my foot, my toes, and between my toes. In a weird lull of winds and wazes, the surface of the water stilled enough for me to see that the rocks all around me where swarming with black urchins.
Nick was soon back, having let Natasha know what was up, as well as having fetched shoes. I pulled Ripple’s board, and together, we got her beached. Bailing went quickly from there on, and we soon had her properly floated, and i (thoroughly exhasted from the drag through the water, the urchin pain, and the bailing) gladly accepted the tow the rest of the way ’round the point and back up the harbour. Of course, Ripple looked a sight, with her scrambled rigging and fender tied aloft, but we made the dock safely enough.
As is only fitting in such times, Natasha and i made good time to the nearest retailer where i bought up as many bottles of wine as i could muster, whereafter we all got properly sauced on the dock.
The damage: The 1/4″ bronze traveller i fitted (in lieu of the planned-for 5/16 one) broke off at one end. The bronze masthead pennant staff bent and sheared off somewhere (likely during our rocky landing). Throwing out the pigs, one caught Ripple’s side and left a small yet ugly bit of fiberglass work for me. The rigging mess was soon sorted ashore, and all else is well.
Folks had been hoping for me to race in next weekend’s regatta, but i shan’t if the boat isn’t quite up to snuff. The plans so far are basicly twofold: add further floatation foam fore and aft ander the decks, along with a few foam “noodles” under the ‘wales, with the hope that such will help her float high enough to allow a self-rescue, and add much weight to the centerboard (80-100 lbs) in the form of a lead torpedo or such, in hopes that such shall stiffen her up.
Otherwise, i plan to replace the mainsheet traveller with a stronger unit (and likely with more narrowly-spaced stops), and re-paint the waterline (currently at the absolute lowest unladen position) a good 4 inches higher. In all, a good little bit of work to be done! i can hardly wait for the next round of seatrials!