Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sloop Dreams

In which sailing takes us away

I had been sailing on San Francisco Bay several times, managing to make myself useful to my skipper by trimming and easing sheets and serving as ballast in the informal Friday night yacht races. Since moving back to The City some weeks ago, I determined to formalize my knowledge and so entered a sailing program through Spinnaker, located at South Beach Marina, adjacent to Mays Field.

The two-weekend program included a little theory and a lot of practice on the water. The first Saturday we spent a little time in the classroom but were soon out on the Bay and making fools of ourselves: nearly running our 27-foot Santana sloop, “First Class” into the dock, other parked yachts, the sea wall and a pair of square-rigged pirate ships that were giving live sea-battle demonstrations to tourists.

One of my fellow students went overboard, helping us do the man-overboard drill in, as they say, “real time.” All very exciting.

One of the most interesting aspects of the theory portion of the class was learning that the sail of a boat operates on precisely the same principle as an airplane’s wing, which is why sailboats are able to make headway against the wind. When a boat is “beating to weather” – tacking back and forth into the wind – there is a Bernoulli affect, so that the boat is not so much being pushed from behind as sucked from the front. When the boat is running with the wind, however, it is being pushed from behind. A boat that’s running can only go as fast as the wind itself, but a boat beating to weather can actually go faster than the wind, due to the Bernoulli affect. An addition, the keel also acts as a wing beneath the water, helping move the boat along.

It's incredible to think that people have been sailing for 5,000 years but recently did we realize that a bird's wing and a sail are pretty much the same, and that the principles applied to sailing could be put to use in flying. Such is the power conventional thinking.

Talk about “learning the ropes.” And it’s amazing how fast I learned them. I was pretty twitter-pated at first but, by the third day, I had it down – tacking, gibing, the commands, the names of the different lines (a line is a rope cut to a specific length and sued for a specific purpose aboard) and sheets (sheets be being lines used to trim (pull-in) and ease (let out) the sails), how the boat should feel at heel (when is leaning) and so forth. I helped that they switched-up instructors the second weekend. The first fellow was a bit of a Bly, the second more of a Dr. Phil who was able to put us all more at ease.

On our last day, the Bay was roughest, with winds approaching 20 knots. At times “First Class” seemed to fly over the choppy waves heeling to its full 20 degrees, her sails pulling beautifully. I felt like John F. Kennedy. I was flattered when our instructor called me “a natural” and said that I’d passed “with flying colors.”

Not so my hapless mates. Nice fellows, but they never seemed to grow comfortable with how the boat moved, and things like tacking and gibing never became instinctive. One them, a chap from Iran, would always tack when he was supposed to gibe and vice-versa. Now I know why the Persians lost the Battle of Salamis.

(America's Cup image courtesy terreaway via Flickr)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

1917 - 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

Erin Go Blog

In which we post just because we made up the funny headline

To all of my token Irish Catholic friends, happy St. Patrick's Day (like you needed an excuse to enjoy a wee dram and get all misty-eyed over diddly-idle music.)


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Bay Day

In which take the bike out for a little spin

Took the ol’ velocipede up to Sausalito early this afternoon to get a little R&R. You know, a little exercise mixed with a little sight-seeing – picture perfect pre-spring day by the bay.

As I rolled by green copper dome of the Columbarium, near Geary and Arguello streets, I noticed the gates were open. Owned by the Neptune Society, the Columbarium is a place where the ashes of deceased people are interred. Some of San Francisco’s most prominent citizens rest here. I had never been inside before and what I found delighted me no end. Beneath the neo-classical dome are four floors of glass-covered niches, most displaying an urn full of ashes along with some of the affects of the dead. Among these things I saw a pair of bifocals, a teddy bear, a gold wristwatch and, in one niche, an old-time dentist’s drill.

Beautiful statuary, stained glass and classical details adorn the place. I noticed also that there is still space. Now I know where my final resting place will be.

I pedaled on up through the Arguello Gate of the Presidio and an on through the old fort and across the Golden Gate Bridge. I crossed slowly enjoying the brisk breeze and amusing myself with my newly acquired sailing skills, spotting the heading and tack of the sail boats below – this one on a port beam reach, that one close hauled, another running, spinnaker billowing in the west wind.
I stopped for lunch in Sausalito, at the Sausalito Taco Shop, where the food is fresh and spicy.