Monday, August 26, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine: Rigging and Ritual

Rigging and Ritual
Instruction for the beach sailor
     We pulled up next to the Bitch, parking above the tideline. We tossed off the remainder of the Bloody Marys and began the rigging ritual. We would not speak again until after the launch. Cromwell climbed out of the side door of the van as I went into the back. I opened the double rear doors and then lifted the big mainsail down from the rack, handing it out to the waiting Cromwell. He placed it lengthwise on the boat, taking care that the goose neck fitting on the boom was forward, ready to hook into the mast. I then handed him a mesh bag of child-size life preservers in one hand and the loaded cooler with the other. These he likewise stashed on the trampoline, quickly snapping their respective retaining rings into place. 
     Everything has to be well secured on a beach cat. 

      I handed out the six-to-one main sheet control and the rolled up jib sail. That was everything. I turned and looked around the cabin of the old step van. I really loved that truck. I had had a lot of good times back there. I stuck the keys in their secret stash and climbed out of the back to join Cromwell. 

      We both got into position at the front of the boat, facing the ocean, holding onto the dolphin striker from behind. Saying nothing, I lifted. If it were Cromwell's boat, he would have lifted first. But today it was my boat and it was my turn to give the cues. We lifted the boat, pulling hard, almost straining, to break her loose from a week's worth of drifting sand. She quickly broke free, and we started to pull, dragging her across the beach like a pair of two-legged draft animals. She came along readily enough. We pulled her to the water's edge. So far less than five minutes had elapsed since our arrival. While all our efforts looked sleepily casual, we were actually moving as quickly as possible. It was partly due to pride of practice and it was partly due to our honest eagerness to get out on the water. But also a lot of it was the never-ending theater of being a local sun bum in a beach town. The tourists were always watching, waiting to be entertained. We always tried to oblige. “Never waste an audience,” Cromwell liked to say.

     At the water's edge we spun the boat around 180 degrees, stern to the sea. We lifted the bow high, helped by the natural slope of the beach. This allowed any accumulated water to drain from the hulls. Leaving a braced Cromwell to hold her up, I went around to the back and checked for drainage. Nothing. The Bitch is a pretty dry little boat. As I bent down to screw in the drain plugs Cromwell lowered the boat. As soon as I was through replacing the plugs, he spun the front of the boat around so that she was bow to the wind.  I joined him at the front of the boat, each of us standing with the mast between us. I hooked the twisted shackle on the halyard to the headboard at the top of the mainsail. Cromwell carefully slid the bolt rope into the luff groove on the trailing edge of the mast. When I saw that he was ready, I began to pull steadily on the halyard which ran through a pulley at the top of the mast, some thirty two feet overhead. The bright green mainsail rose smoothly into the morning sunlight. Cromwell had a hand on each side of the sail as it went up, guiding it into the luff groove. In just a few easy heaves the sail was up. I pulled the main halyard sideways, with just a certain twist and the twisted halyard ring clicked into the hook at the masthead. 

 That twist of the wrist was a learned thing. 

      I secured the main halyard on a cleat mounted near the base of the mast. I then slotted the down haul car into the luff groove, threaded the end of the down haul line through a pulley on the mast and gave a strong heave to tension the main. This too was secured to a cleat and the main was ready. 

      While I was securing the main, Cromwell had taken the jib sail and hooked the jib halyard to the top of the sail, connected the zippered luff pocket to the fore stay and started pulling up the jib. I finished my work with the mainsail, turned just in time to grab the clew of the jib, which was flapping eagerly in the freshening morning breeze. The Bitch was waking up, and when the Bitch was awake she wanted to sail! So did we. Our actions were a little more crisp now. We were getting closer. The ritual was almost complete. The vessel we had to drag to the water only moments before was now quivering in our hands, a thing alive, with a mind of her own and ready to go! 

      We snapped on the jib sheets and the main sheet with its six-in-one pulley system, then clipped the system into place on the traveler spanning the stern of the trampoline. That was it. Everything was ready.

     A small group of tourists were gathered to watch this apparent magic act and their yearnings were palpable. They wanted to be us! I looked at Cromwell, and he looked at me and winked. It was the first time we had acknowledged each others presence since we got out of the truck. We kept straight faces, but we were smiling inside. I nodded significantly toward the Northeast, into the ocean. Cromwell went forward to the port bow and pulled the Bitch around a little from her position pointing into the wind and aimed her into the direction I had indicated. He pulled the boat forward into the waves as I pulled on the main sheet, taking up slack and letting the mainsail taste a little of the wind. One more strong heave and the Bitch was floating. I pushed on the hull from behind. When the water was knee deep I jumped onto the trampoline, pulling in on the main until it grabbed a wing full of wind. Cromwell was pulling on the port bow when the sail caught and suddenly he was the one being pulled! He swung onto the hull like an Apache onto a running pony, slid down into the middle of the tramp and grabbed the jib sheet, pulling it in until it too was taut and full of wind. We're off!

      The first set of breakers crashed into the bow of the boat. These little three foot waves are candy and silk stockings to the Bitch. She rose up through the foam and wave, thrusting her bows clear and dripping into the sunlight, gave her characteristic little shudder of joy and that was it. We were at sea. The ritual was complete. Well, it was almost complete.

     “You got any beer on this tub?” asked Cromwell.

     “I think so,” I said. “There may be a warm beer stuck in there somewhere. Take a look.” He reached into the ice chest. He pulled out two frosty, dripping Red Stripes.

     “Here you go, Cap,” he said. Now the ritual was complete.