What’s better than a boat? Two boats of course!
Untangled came with a little sailing dinghy upside-down on the fore-deck. Halfway between a rowboat and a sailboat the poor thing was equal parts identity crisis and longstanding neglect. The former owners were surprised I was even considering keeping her. We named her Unsightly, for visible reasons, and incidentally established the naming convention of any boats we’ll own henceforth. Later in this post you’ll meet Unsteady, you can guess the pattern.
A sailboat that can’t sail is no sailboat at all, but unfortunately all the hardware (cleats, chainplates, spars, etc.) had long ago been stripped off – relegating her to rowing use only. During one of Keith’s visits she seemed like a worthwhile project and restoration began. I wish I could say that we “fixed her up” but we didn’t, not really. We mostly “put her back together” just enough to have fun. We re-attached all the hardware we could find, bought new spectra line for standing rigging, sourced a new (to us) set of rudder and pintles, and finally cut a mast step to fit the shape of hull. Many hours longer than we expected (boat projects…) we were sailing across the estuary for a beer at Jack London Square. Sailing slowly. Very, very, slowly. In fact, sailing to go get a beer is probably where Unsightly excelled the most. Although I will admit a certain pleasure in trying up an old, and unsightly, 9 footer between luxury yachts at the public dock. The trip back is also a real treat. The wind drops down in the evening and there’s barely any traffic making for a remarkably peaceful night sail listening to the water lap gently against the hull. Jack London is less than half a mile away so speed isn’t a huge issue for this purpose in any case.
Life was good. I got used to there being no room to move the tiller with two people on the boat. (Although many small sailboats have seats on the sides, Unsightly’s three athwartship seats attested to her rowboat origins.) To balance the boat while sailing, one person sat way forwards and the other way aft leaving the middle rowing seat open, but when sitting aft your torso competes with the tiller for space. The sail didn’t have much shape and maybe could have passed for a bedsheet, but she got the job done. In fact, when Keith and I first visited the Aleutian Tern at Grand Marina, a boat he would later buy, we arrived in Unsightly – in part because this circumvents marina security, but mostly for kicks. Full disclosure: we sometimes reverted to the oars, especially when late to pick up Carolyn. Most importantly Unslightly was the vessel for Yuki’s first sail, and I think we can all agree that damn is he cute in his life vest.
Come spring, the “Gate 11 Yacht Club” started racing. Minor background – our marina is large but the little basin we call home (gate 11) and the 90 or so boats contained within is somewhat set-apart with its own identity. We’ll probably do a post on marina community at some point, but for now suffice it to say that it’s a very neighborly bunch. In any case, not long after we arrived last October we heard mutterings about starting up the “G11YC”. It wasn’t really clear exactly what the club would do but shirts featuring a sailing beer and the motto “flipping good times” had me intrigued.
When the spring winds started, G11YC started in earnest, meeting every other Sunday at 2pm in the estuary behind our gate to race a circuit around comically oversized marks (see below, generously donated by the good folks at West Marine). Depending on the week there are between 5-12 boats busy pretending not to take the race very seriously and enjoying several beers along the way. The fleet is a total hodge-podge, Holder 12 & 14s, Sunfish, Banshees, Lasers, 470, Coranado 15, a Finn, others I don’t know, and of course, Unsightly our lovely little Minto 9 was in the mix. The nice thing about the motley crew is that when you lose a race you never really knew whether it was your fault or your boats fault. We lost, a lot. There are of course correction factors between model and speed that attempt to level the playing field (Portsmith rating for example), but you need accurate times and a formulas – which is a lot of work after an afternoon of drinking and sailing – and in any case, not all boat models have a rating, our Minto counted among the missing.
The other great thing about the G11YC races is how generous and permissive folks are in lending and swapping boats between races and so it wasn’t long before we got a chance to try out some other models. We learned two things:
- It wasn’t just inferior sailing skills that were causing our poor results, and
- Once you enjoy a faster, competitive boat it gets very hard to go back
I never went looking for a new dinghy, but when when the opportunity arose to pick up a very cheap Flying Junior from a dockmate who earned it in a return for helping with a sailboat delivery, I couldn’t say no. Unsteady entered our lives and left no room for Unsightly, who was re-homed via Craigslist.
So let’s raise our beers to Unsightly and hope she’s busy taking other folks to and from the dockside restaurants somewhere else on the estuary. Maybe even racing a race or two, or at the very least introducing some new dogs to sailing.