… well, I admit that this headline comes a bit as a click bait. But the topic I´d like to talk about in this article is kind of what the headline suggests: “Does it make sense to go out in unfavourable conditions?” Normally we would answer with “yes, of course!” because we immediately think of storms and foul weather. But we seldom have the other extreme in our heads: What if the wind is down to near zero? Does it make sense anyway? I find this question highly interesting as I had been confronted with finding an answer during my last summer sailing trip. And I´d say that´s a story worth being told.
After a quite rocky start with high wind speeds, loads of waves an GEKKO flying with up to 10.4 knots top speed in her 3rd reef we found ourselves becalmed. The boat was moored and summer had us. Temperatures well above 35 degrees Celsius (god thanks I had the sun tent ordered!) and virually no wind at all. No problem for a Diesel-powered boat as these yachts have – compared to my all-electric Torqeedo-drive (LINK) – unlimited range, I couldn´t just put the lever on the table and go by engine. Besides, I hate driving the boat by engine, I am a sailor!
Dead Calm: Boredom, actionism and decisionmaking
So, I found myself becalmed. We have seen all highlights in the marina already, have strolled around and done all walks possible. It began to get a bit boring aboard, although I must say I loved to sleep without any pressure to cast off, I loved to not care for how many beers I devoured the evening before and for the first time a sense of “real vacation” set in. But, slowly but surely, I started to long for the seas again. But: Forecast was pretty clear. A high stationary pressure system exactly above our heads with very low winds, rotating wind directions.
I mean, my First 27 SE starts to sail nicely at 5 knots TWS but still, forecast was around 3 knots. Not even the Gennaker would unfold. So, what to do? We used the time, had fantastic BBQ-sessions on land, enjoyed breathtaking sunsets and too every day as it came. But with the growing sense of restlessness, the deadline of our holiday-weeks drew closer and closer. So we had to act. This is what I found the hardest as a skipper: Deciding, when to go out.
I skipped three days. Every now and then I found myself on the breakwater, checking the water for signs of local winds. There is always a local wind pattern, especially in the morning and evening hours (land/sea-winds) and I thought, maybe I could use this to sail directly under the shore? I looked out for wind and other boats. Two days there was nothing. The third day it started to look better. So, in addition to checking the pattern of the seas I began to frequently monitor weather forecast and wind forecast. It looked good for the fourth day.
Making a decision: Let´s cast off anyway!
So I made the decision to cast off at 10 a.m.. Normally, wind would set in around noon. We drove out GEKKO and I had the boat prepared: Gennaker was ready to be hoisted at any minute´s notice, standard sails as well. After 500 meters we cleared leeward shadow of the island as I felt a little breeze coming in. Upwind point of sail, 4.5 knots! Quickly I had the sails up and we really started to sail! What a joy – 4 knots SOG in a “dead calm, that´s not bad at all!”
My bold decision to go out, disregarding the more negative forecast seemed to pay off. My only fear was that I would be sailing out of the “coastal wind area” and loose the small puff that was driving my boat so nicely. So I did keep a sharp lookout. The surface of the Baltic Sea was flat like a mirror, “lead sea”, as we call it. But occasionally areas of little frizzled patches indicated more wind. So I steared from patch to patch and I was astonished that within these areas the boat speed increased significantly, sometimes up to one knot. One hour later, we had the first 6 miles covered, wind picked up even one knot more so that we were able to cash in 7 to 7.5 knots TWS.
The reward was smooth, very elegant sailing. GEKKO heeled a bit and her laminate sails stood proudly in the wind. I was extremely happy about the speed, had I feared we´d make less than 3 knots over ground. My calculation was that 3 knots SOG is maximum speed under engine when I want to squeeze out the last bit of watt out of the lithium battery. Under these circumstances the Torqeedo can drive the boat over a distance of approximately 40 miles. The distance of today´s leg was 70 miles, so every mile that brought us nearer to 30 meant that from this point onward we could drive home, no matter becalmed or not.
The fun of having a light boat
Even more rewarding was my re-assessment that life is too short indeed for sailing a slow boat. Shortly before reaching Cape Arcona I recognized a Dehler 34 o our starboard side. Other than all the other boats around us she had full canvas set up – at least – and she was sailing apparently. I managed to come nearer very quickly. I even got a bit cocky and overtook her to windward side and was astonished of the amount of surplus speed my little 27 footer had.
After rounding Cape Arcona, a clean course due 90 degrees West, wind came in from North-North-West which meant: Gennaker time! I hoisted out big blue blister and suddenly GEKKO sprung to life. Speeding up and making nearly the true wind speed through the water, it took us no three hours to loose the Dehler out of sight. Behind us. The fun of sailing “becalmed” in a light boat, dramatically shown in this episode.
Benefits of sailing in a calm
Now, as a skipper, I always find myself wedged in between these two positions: Taking a risk, or maybe just a bold decision, to go out (or not to go out) in order to keep boat and crew safe – against the ever luring voice that tells me to go out, to take a chance, to see what luck has in for me today. I would consider myself being a very safety-oriented Captain. And usually my decisions are defensive. But this time I chose to toss a coin – and won.
It was a wonderful 70 mile ride! During daytime we made good progress – not fast, but steadily. My girlfriend, who still had to lick her wounds after her seasickness-episode at the start of our summer trip, praised me in making this sailing day become such a perfect, almost cruise ship like summerbreezy vacation. “Only an ice cold Aperol Spritz was missing”, she summarized. I also enjoyed it: Plenty of time to enjoy a peaceful, in the best sense of the word “uneventful” sailing day, a brilliant sunset and 5 hours of sailing through the darkness in a warm, starbright summer´s night under a full moon. Priceless.
What have I learned? Yes, a sailboat needs wind. And even more so on an electric boat with a very limited range, you are dependent on a reliable weather forecast. But, yeah, but: Local winds can occur, unseen and unnoticed by Windy.com or Windfinder. Be bold, be clever – take a look outside yourself, read the patterns of the seas and the clouds. Cast off, toss your coin. Maybe you will be rewarded with such a beautiful and unforgettable sailing day as we had the pleasure too as well.
You may also like to read these related articles:
Being a proper skipper, parts 1 and 2
Thank god, I have a light boat!