A big goal that I set for myself this summer was to take Pegu Club out by myself. For some time now I’ve been confident that I had the knowledge to single-hand, and after cruising I also feel comfortable that if I was out by myself and something went wrong, I’d have a good foundation to try and figure out how to fix it.
In the nine years we’ve been sailing, Jeff and I have always traded responsibilities, so we both know all aspects of the boat from steering to working the lines, anchoring and docking. That’s always been important to both of us because we didn’t want to be in a position where if one person was in some way incapacitated (or one of us got annoyed and decided to toss the other one overboard – kidding, kidding!), the other person would be able to get the boat into port. We’ve heard of situations where something happened to (usually) the husband, and the wife didn’t know anything about how to handle the boat, requiring a rescue of some sort. That definitely won’t be us.
But feeling confident in theory and translating that confidence into action are two completely different things for me. I was still pretty nervous about actually doing it for one reason: docking. I’m at the helm 99% of the time when we bring her in and out of the dock (Jeff’s longer arms make it easier for him to quickly tie us off), so I wasn’t worried about that so much. It was the part where I would have to leave the helm and attach the spring line. Once she was attached, the rest of the lines could be done in a relatively leisurely fashion. I just didn’t want to break the dock or the boat in those seconds between entering the slip and attaching the spring line!
As an interim step, my Shenny friend, Sandy, offered to come along for moral support. She wouldn’t do anything unless I asked her – she’d just be there. So that’s how I found myself one day with the engine running, nervously casting the docklines off and backing out of the slip.
Jeff and I have not yet reinstalled Auto Bob so I was nervous about having to run up to the mast to raise the mainsail, thinking that I might need to run back and forth a few times to keep Pegu pointed into the wind. We have lazy jacks which are great when we drop the sail because they keep it from spilling all over. The drawback is if the bow isn’t in the wind, then the sail gets caught on them when you’re trying to raise it. But it actually was surprisingly easy.
Once the main was up, I pulled the jib out and we sailed around for an hour. Sandy was also able to get some practice at the helm. After successfully dropping the sails, motoring back in, and docking, we were sharing high-fives for my sort of – but in my mind not quite 100% – first single-hand experience on the sailboat.
Having Sandy along was great. We talked through the best way to do a few things, and it gave me a huge boost of confidence. But to achieve my goal I needed to take her out completely by myself – nobody waiting to step in and help if I needed it. So about ten days later I woke up, checked the weather, and decided it was the day.
I methodically got everything ready, texted Jeff to let him know I was going, and backed out of the slip. Once I was safely out of our harbor, I raised the mainsail (this time I DID have to scamper back and forth a few times to keep her pointed into the wind), brought out the jib, and turned off the engine. I was doing it!
What followed was one of the most amazing afternoons I’ve experienced. I’ve been kicking this blog post around for awhile, and I still can’t adequately describe how it felt to be out there, sailing completely by myself. Don’t misunderstand – I love sailing with Jeff. We’ll be married for 22 years in December and he’s my best friend and true partner. But sailing by myself? It was absolutely exhilarating. A total rush. A sense of complete and utter freedom. With no one else in the cockpit to talk to, all of my senses were alive, listening to the sound of the wind, seeing the water and hearing it go by the hull.
I had whatever music I felt like listening to on the portable Bose, and I went wherever I felt like going. When the wind slowed down, I ghosted along. When it picked back up, I couldn’t stop grinning. I hung out by the entrance to the Thames and saw a submarine go by, and then I tacked and started going down Fishers Island. Then I heard another announcement for a submarine and tacked again to watch, but knowing it could still be hours before it showed up, I decided to tack yet again and start going down Fishers again. The wind started to die, so I tacked to go back out towards the Thames for better wind, then decided to tack again because I really wanted to go down Fishers. Back and forth, back and forth, doing whatever I wanted to do, going wherever I wanted to go, without having to take anyone else into consideration.
Although Jeff was working at Defender that day, he was cheering me along in text messages all afternoon. At one point he asked if the house was going to be there when he got back from work. I assured him it would be and continued sailing down Fishers, but I’ll admit that if he had been out of town I think I would have just sailed on to Block and picked up a mooring!
The icing on the cake of a fantastic day was getting to sail by our good friends Marc and Nancy on S/V Mer du Jour. They had left Newport that morning with a destination of Mystic, and I was hoping that we might cross paths but knew that it was a long shot given the timing. I had already texted Nancy and was doing the math in my head, but hadn’t yet seen them on the AIS. Just as I was about to turn around and start heading back to Shenny, I tapped on a few AIS targets on the chart plotter and saw them. They were only a mile away! I hailed them on the VHF, jibed the boat to sail towards them, and they in turn slowed down so we could rendezvous and get pictures of each other. It. Was. Awesome. It truly couldn’t have been a better way to wrap up the day.
Pictures taken, I pointed the boat towards red bell number two which marks the entrance to our harbor, and, zooming along with a favorable current, pulled into our slip about 40 minutes later. I had been out for about five hours and the time flew by. Bonus points for not breaking the boat or the dock! It simply could not have been a better day. Mission accomplished. The sky is truly the only limit now.