Editorial November 1, 1998 Issue

A Northwest Wind

Since buying Viva nearly five years ago, I’ve been forced to make some accommodation with the peculiarities of Narragansett Bay. At 44', Viva is much larger than any of my previous boats. Her headsail is a roller furling genoa of about 138%, trimmed by 5/8" New England Ropes Regatta Braid and a pair of Barient #32 self-tailing winches. Buying self-tailers a few years ago made a huge difference in the ease of trimming, but the sail is still a chore to sheet in tight.

At the Newport Boat Show last September, I stopped to chat with Don Casey, author of This Old Boat, who comes annually to man a Q&A booth. During the course of the conversation, he said he believes most sailors are happier with smaller boats. The comment struck me because somewhere over the years, I’d forgotten that once I, too, believed this. I was reminded that during all the years I worked at Cruising World, we heard of couples giving up because the boat had become too much of a headache. Not only is the cost of a large boat exponentially higher than a boat perhaps just 5' or 10' shorter, but the systems become so complex it’s almost impossible to keep them all operating simultaneously. I guess that over the years there has been such a trend toward bigger boats that I’d dismissed the possibility of again owning a 30-footer.

Short tacking Viva in congested Narragansett Bay isn’t much fun, unless I have a strong, eager and knowledgeable crew to handle the frequent tacks. Even then, one must keep constant watch for crossing boats and mindful of right-of-way rules. On a sunny, summer weekend day, there are hundreds of sailboats on the water, and they are a sight—everything from S-class boats to 12 Meters to wooden schooners, maxi boats and, of course, hundreds of more ordinary production boats like ours. Then there are the guys speeding down the bay from Providence in center console fishing boats, and the studs roaring over the chop in their Magnums and Scarabs, their Bikini-clad chicks hanging on, blond hair flying. The bay might as well be an L.A. freeway.

I prefer to head “outside,” past the Castle Hill lighthouse at the mouth of the bay, where I cut the engine, unfurl the genoa and beat feet as quickly as possible away from the madding crowd.

All this is necessary because the prevailing summer winds are southwesterly, right on the nose for anyone heading down the bay.

But a northwest wind presents a lovely respite from my winch-grinding woes. The geometry of the bay is such that in a northwesterly I can set all sails just as I leave Newport Harbor and sail on a broad reach as far as I please, and return close-hauled, tacking just once during the entire sail.

A few weeks ago, on a Friday afternoon, I looked out my office window and saw a favorable wind. Having no crew did not deter me. I locked the office, drove to Newport Harbor and set off alone. A northwest wind, especially in autumn, brings clear, crisp skies and as the sun falls lower the water sparkles with that golden color that makes you feel you’ve died and gone to heaven.

I sailed maybe 10 miles south, made my single tack, trimmed the sails, and headed back. Made it home by six o’clock.

“How was your day?” my wife, Andra, asked.

“OK,” I said, preferring to keep my solo outing private a little longer.

Over the years, one accumulates a number of sailing experiences like that day’s. Nothing monumental. No storms. No dolphin sightings. No stars. Just a perfect afternoon. A man alone on his boat. I keep them hidden inside of me, little treasures I sometimes take out and repicture in my mind’s eye.

I should, I tell myself, play hooky more often. On one’s own boat, it is nearly always a memory in the making.

—Dan Spurr

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