Tacking is what sailors do. Regularly. It’s how they use the wind to get from point A to B. I love sailing when we’re expediently humming along at 5 knots right on top of my chart-plotted rhumb line. A to B. Direct route. No dithering. Oh, how I wish this was the norm.
The problem is, 90% of the time (not an exaggeration) the capricious wind blows from the wrong direction, most likely on the nose. The direction we want to go in is the direction from which the wind is coming. Since one cannot sail into the wind, we must travel via an indirect route. This means sailing at a variable angle away from our course, and then back towards it. Over and over.
I do NOT like tacking more than a couple miles off our rhumb line. Don’t get me wrong. I DO it. But I don’t LIKE it. It bothers me, niggles at my psyche. It doesn’t feel right, like when I see a misspelled word and I have the power to fix it, right now, but I purposefully let it go to print wrong. Ack! Who does that?
I Hate Tacking
There, I said it. I live on a sailboat and I hate tacking. Sue me.
I am the type of person who likes to go from point A to point B. Directly. I like to GET there. I can’t stand screwing around unless we are going to stop and see something interesting - like a on a road trip, to equate it in land terminology. If we go from point A to point A.1 then A.2 then A.3, and I’m going in the wrong direction, there better be something worthwhile at each of those points… like an island where I can snorkel…or a pod of dolphins…or fish tacos.
You know the quickest route from your house to the nearest Kroger, Von’s, Piggly Wiggly, whatever, right? Now imagine driving that route, but sharply zig-zagging your car over into oncoming traffic (sans traffic) and then back again into your lane. Over and over. Imagine those zigs and zags are a longer time period of course, but the effect is, it would take you almost twice as long. And you just want to get to the dang store! Is that so wrong?
But the WORST is when you tack BACKWARD. See, everybody thinks of tacking as just zigzagging into the wind…not so bad eh? Takes a bit longer, but what of it? Well, the dirty secret of sailing is that there are times when you must tack backward, away from your intended goal. A wind switch, a fierce tidal push or just downright lack of wind, can force you to trace the same path that you were just on, but maybe a few hundred yards to the left or right. Bah! It’s kick-your-cat maddening!
But it’s About the Journey. Bull…oney! It’s About the Destination!
Brian likes the JOURNEY, not necessarily caring when we arrive and what we’ll see on the other end. He will corkscrew back and forth all darn day if I let him and, well I can’t just let him DO that every day. There are reasons. Good reasons.
- I like to arrive at an anchorage before dark, thank you very much. Preferably when the sun is high enough I can see the depth color differences in my polarized sunglasses, which means before 4pm. That way I can be sure we aren’t anchoring on any stray rock beds. This is necessary in smaller or more reef-prone anchorages. Safety: an excellent reason. Even Brian can’t argue this one.
- If it’s a new anchorage, I want to get off the boat and explore. If it’s an old anchorage, I want to get off the boat and explore. Again. I see new things no matter how many times we’ve been to Ensenada Grande. What are we HERE for anyway? Exploring: OK, granted, not quite as good a reason, but definitely my chief purpose, nonetheless. Brian could care less.
- I like sailing. But I like stopping more. We DO have easy sailing days. But we also have not-so-easy sailing days. Our easy sailing days are always mildly stressful at a minimum, ramping into exceedingly nerve-racking when stuff hits the fan. Plus, I feel like time is always on hold when we are at sea, if that makes sense. Things cannot be “normal” for me until that anchor is dropped. The sooner we get to the anchorage, the sooner I feel relief. Resume to normal life (whatever THAT is): OK, Brian might partially agree with me on this one. But he can handle stress and stand to remain in a state of flux much longer than I.
Me: Remind, me…why do we even have an engine if we won’t use it whenever we want to?
Brian: This is a sailboat. We should just buy a powerboat then.
Me: A powerboat doesn’t have sails for backup. What if the engine breaks? Then you’d be even more engine-obsessed.
Aha! But he is not impressed with my circular logic. A sailboat is for sailing; powerboats for powerboating. End of story.
So, my ‘hurry up and get there’ attitude is always tempered by Brian’s constant desire to actually SAIL on a SAILBOAT. Sheesh, seriously. (Insert exaggerated eyeroll.) Our cruising outlooks thusly opposed, we remain constantly in debate-mode about when to start the motor. OK, sometimes it’s an itty bitty “conflict”, that’s what they called Vietnam right? Brian would call it my “War of Motorin’ Aggression”.
I get his motivations, even though he thinks I don’t.
- He LIKES sailing. He doesn’t mind tacking waaaay off our rhumb line, hoping for a better wind angle. He shoots me the evil eye when I point out, ever-so-mildly: “At this rate of speed, we’ll make it into the anchorage at midnight…just sayin’.” I might or might not have mentioned that a turtle could swim faster than Indigo.
- Mostly though, the absence of motor noise is what he loves best. And not because he loves the silence. That’s just a byproduct. It’s because the silence frees him from worrying about the motor. See, Brian hates the motor. More than I hate tacking. For every hour we employ that engine, Brian envisions its inevitable death knell. Doesn’t matter that he keeps it in tip-top shape. Every little sound coming from said motor is thoroughly analyzed. If the pitch is even a hair off, it will drive him incessantly bonkers. Turning it off is the lone solution.
We had our engine serviced a few months ago because of one wayward tone. Our fuel injectors are now clean and running top notch. So that noise got fixed, but another is lingering. We are worried about the prop shaft not aligning perfectly. It’s just a slight reverberation, not a disastrous ca-clunking; I can’t even hear the difference half the time. But due to this now noteworthy noise, every additional engine hour hurtles us towards impending doom. Doomsdaying is exhausting.
Why does he worry so much about the engine? Well, he’s right to worry, though it turns into a little bit more like paranoia than I’d like. Our engine is our best piece of safety gear. And boat engines, unlike car engines, are fickle machines. Ignoring a funny rattle, smell or vibration can spell disaster, often followed by a hefty pricetag. So, albeit begrudgingly, I’d rather he be paranoid than lackadaisical.
So. Turn off the motor and Brian is at peace. Turn it on, and I am. How can this POSSIBLY be a happy marriage? Compromise.
Today we are sailing from Santispac to Santo Domingo. This anchorage positions us to cross the Sea of Cortez to San Carlos, where we’ll put the boat away. It is a short hop up to Domingo, a mere 10 or so miles. Easily motored in 2 hours.
And it just so happens to be Brian’s birthday.
Honey, since it’s your birthday, we can sail as much as you want and I won’t grouse about getting there. We have an established anchor point (we’ve already been there and scouted out the area) and our outgoing GPS breadcrumb path to follow back in lest we arrive after sundown. Go ahead and tack to your hearts content. I will not complain one whit.
Brian throws me his rolly eyes, meaning we're sailing anyway no matter what I said about it.
Sailing Concepcion’s Throat
Bahia Concepcion’s 7-mile-long entrance channel has a dual personality. At 100ft deep to one side and 15ft on the other, use of the entire two miles of channel is not an option. The shallow side is a seductive emerald; it lures you in with its sparkling green waters that continuously creep towards mid-channel and suddenly we’re thrown into an alarming 15ft if we aren’t paying attention. The deep side appears safer, but deceptively allows us to edge uncomfortably close to land. Hmm…we’re in 100ft but I feel like I could step ashore… should we even BE this close? If I’m asking that question, probably not.
And today, just to further my split personality diagnosis, and just because we are sailing, the winds on one side of the bay are different than the other side. It literally splits right down the middle.
Crawling Toward the Deep Side
So here we are, tacking up the channel, heading towards the deep side. The wind is blowing from the northwest, funneling at an angle down the throat. Each time we approach the mountain-peaked eastern shore, the wind dies off to a whisper. And now we have an incoming tide – against us. At a mere 1.5 knots SOG (speed over ground), Indigo is just barely eking out some distance towards the anchorage. We’re not sailing; we’re crawling.
Flying Backwards Toward the Shallow Side
As we tacked back across to the shallow side of the bay, the wind picked up and allowed us to sail at a respectable speed. Finally! We went farther in 10 minutes than we’d had the past 40. Except… due to a tidal push and the wrong wind angle… we’re going damn near backwards!
Thus began our long, slow, asymmetrical zigzag up the narrow channel… barely sustaining enough oomph to maintain forward motion on the starboard tack, and then a quick zoom - backwards. A beat-your-head-against-the-wall kind of tack. Brian was in his element. I kept my yaptrap shut.
After tacking like this for 3 hours (and me staying mum the whole time), even Brian finally got sick of it. With the prospect of another HOUR spent for one more mile gained and seemingly no wind forthcoming, he threw in the towel and asked me if I wanted to turn on the motor. Smiling sweetly, I reply: Your call, honey. It’s your birthday.
So when people ask me… What’d you guys do for Brian’s birthday?
Well, we tacked!