The universe has done me a great favor in the last couple weeks, having more or less pulled the plug on the electric motor. The motor now declines to receive any more charging, so for the last week and a half I have had the pleasure of sailing around with no motor use at all, at the same time as having the comfort of knowing that I do have a certain amount of charge left in the battery – 79% at last check, though it does tend to go down a little when it sits, so it may be lower now. This is enough to take the boat over from Warren’s dock to the boat ramp, including if there are complications that require more power – a windy day, for example. It’s also enough for a real emergency, though the whole point of motorless sailing is to use both forethought and judgment effectively enough to avoid those kind of problems. It’s nice to have a bit of training-wheels left, and at the same time to be practicing for the real thing, without a too-easy option for ducking out.
The charging issue developed after I was already across to the far side of Long Island sound, and moving around the various harbors of Shelter Island. In hindsight, the most recent successful recharge took a lot longer than it should have. After that night run into Coecles Harbor, the next attempted recharging yielded an intermittent flashing light – which is supposed to flash evenly while charging is happening, and then ordinarily goes steady when charging is complete. Even with those intermittent signs of life, the charge level in the battery declined to go up, and that was that. The troubleshooting guide for the motor says that if this happens one should contact the service center – no easy fix here, of resetting some bit of electronics. If it wasn’t both toxic pollution, and ridiculously expensive, I might have put it over the side – that would be so satisfying! Rather like the guy in the book Riddle of the Sands, who so merrily throws this that and everything over the side, enjoying the splash.
Feeling a combination of boring and responsible, instead the motor has been riding around, still being a little bit of a security blanket, and helping thoughts about what it would be like to leave it at the dock. I’ve located the service center, but wasn’t in a hurry, so of course now it’s the holiday weekend. We’ll see what they say next week.
Meantime, there’s been some tremendous sailing! From Coecles Harbor around the corner to that nice spot from the last post, across from Sag Harbor, and three days later around the next corner to West Neck Harbor (that’s the one in the picture at the top of this entry). From there, I did get my tour of the full circumference of Shelter Island. I got to see Orient Harbor, twice, and was passed by the entire fleet of the Around Shelter Island sailboat race. Who knew – when I left West Neck Harbor, and started around the backside of Shelter Island, some boats were coming up from behind. The first two passed close by and we had a quick hello. I asked about if they were all part of an event – and they said yes, there were 112 more boats on their way to circling the island! So much for minimal traffic with October sailing…
We did fairly well, not being passed instantaneously, which was particularly notable because we were after all cruising, not racing, and had sensible reefs for the 15+ knot winds. Almost all the other boats had full sails, and sometimes struggled in the gusts, in spite of being a good bit bigger than AUKLET. The junk rig, famous for easy reefing, did just that, and we had a nice time poking along comfortably, sailing upwind, but with the current. Somebody in a bigger boat actually said, “you look under control” – between gusts when his boat was heeling to the rail. I said something about reefing, but he was long gone by the time I figured out a more gracious response, which would have gone something like: “That’s because I’m a wuss, and I reef way more than, and before, everybody else!”
Of course they do all pass me by. I’ve always wondered about that line in sailing texts, that your boat will actually go faster if you reef appropriately – I note that the racers seem to go with the fullest sails they can before actual breakage. This makes me feel better about never having actually had the experience of reefing and then going faster… Reefing is good for many reasons, but I think that the line about it being good for speed is something that somebody made up, in hopes of encouraging people to reef sensibly for basic safety. (This is my humble opinion – I expect that somebody else has better information on the subject!)
That day with all the racers, I was hoping to go back through Plum Gut with the tide, and then across Long Island sound back to Connecticut, with that nice, sturdy southeast wind. Alas, between my developing knowledge of upwind work with the new rig, and the tide turning inbound before I made it around the crucial corner on the way to the passage, this isn’t what happened.
The inbound tide is perfect for going north through Plum Gut, but not for the stretch along the south side of Orient Point. The theory was that I was catching the outbound tide as far as possible, and then the inbound for the ride through The Gut, as they call it around here. But there’s a little jog in that long south side of Orient Point, and try as I might, there was no getting around it. Finally, with the afternoon advancing, I said the heck with it, turned back, and in no time had covered the 3 miles back to Orient Harbor. Once there it was just another little bit back to the more protected Dering Harbor, and that was that. But it was a great ride, in the big wind – 18-20 knots steady on my handheld wind meter, still inside the rather open Orient Harbor – and I was reminded of how well this boat handles seas. It was a lot of fun.
The next day the storm was gone, with a stiff west wind in its place. Trying the same trick with the tides, we were there early, even after heaving-to for an hour, having a nice drift along that stretch of Orient Point that had been so difficult the day before. Upwind through The Gut against the last of the falling tide was a bust, and involved sailing back clear of the far shore, to try again, but tacking back to the best starting point used enough time for the current to have changed by the time we were in position to go at it for the second time. I love that about the tide: give it the right amount of time, and all is resolved. The second try worked, and once through, we were off to Connecticut, about 6 miles across Long Island sound.
All of this went on with no motor, and has continued with the trip up the Connecticut River, and various meanders since then. Studies continue, but I’m another step closer to feeling comfortable with the idea of leaving the motor at the dock. And it’s been a great trip, seeing parts of Long Island that have been on my mind for a long time. Hooray, on all counts!