- Stab self in the eye with a fork
- Get a root canal
- Prepare own income tax return, then write check to the IRS for the balance due plus interest and penalties
File all of the above under the heading of “I’d rather [fill in one of the above] than …” Racing sailors have at least one more item to add to this list: trying to sail downwind on cruising boats that aren’t rigged with spinnakers. Apart from being painfully slow, cruising boats (and even race boats for that matter) often roll miserably when sailing deep angles under main and jib & main alone. Ugh. This weekend I got a great surprise: our Sabre’s centerboard underbody means she isn’t a dullard going downwind without a chute. Actually, she runs dead downwind like a champ.
After two weekends of motoring to and from our destinations in nearly flat calm, I was eager to see how the boat would do in Friday’s 10-15 knot southerlies. I decided mid morning that I needed to put in for some time off and do some single handling. After lunch I packed up my work stuff and headed out into the Bay. Naturally, I started my trip by sailing upwind, tacking back and forth between the Eastern and Western shores.
Before long I was well past Thomas Point and, alas, what goes up must come down. If I was to get home I’d have to find out whether and how much the downwind cruising boat duldrums applied to our new baby. I had one reason to be hopeful: Le Saberage is a centerboard boat with a long, shallow keel. I’d heard from one of our local PHRF experts that the boat would perform surprisingly well downwind with the board up, so I decided to run dead downwind to see if he was right. As the breezes built slightly into the lower teens, I tacked and then bore away. Once I was headed pretty much straight downwind, I realized that the jib was just going to beat itself up behind the main, so I furled it before cranking the centerboard up.
What I noticed next really surprised me: Seb was really moving. Under main alone she was actually sailing pretty well. Better still, with the masthead fly pointed almost directly aft and a slight chop starting to build, she was rock steady. Hey, I thought. How about this. Inspired, I decided to give our whisker pole a try, so I rigged it up with the jib still rolled, then simply unrolled the jib to weather with the sheet running through the end of the pole. The next thing I knew Seb had picked up another knot and was making very respectable speeds though the water, wing on wing, dead downwind. With no spinnaker. Even more incredible, she was rock steady, and her well-controlled motions meant that the poled-out jib actually stayed filled the vast majority of the time, instead of collapsing and banging full again. The whole experience was so calm that the autopilot could easily be engaged without making scores of battery-draining steering corrections. Fantastic! My speeds ranged from the upper 5 knots in the lulls to well over 7 as the puffs hit – dead down wind, right on the rhumb line. I couldn’t help but start fantasizing about long passages down the trade winds far, far from the Chesapeake Bay.
I’m not really sure why shoal draft keels seem to have largely replaced centerboards on new boats, because at this stage we absolutely love our centerboard. The big drawback we’ve noticed so far is the muscle it takes to get the board back up and the [slightly odd] tendency of this boat to roll when the board is fully retracted. We think the tradeoffs are well worth it. Friday was a perfect example of why: including (rather than in spite of) the long spinnaker-free run back downwind, Friday was a terrific day on the Bay no matter the point of sail.
The fun continued Saturday when our closest cronies joined Lisa and me for some stress testing in breezes ranging from the mid to upper teens. We found and marked a couple of water leaks to fix this winter, but other than that Seb was a champ all day. I think I can speak for our entire group when I say that the word “confident” sums up perfectly our impressions of the boat in fresh breezes. We’re eager to complete some open ocean passages next year.
Lisa and I wrapped up the weekend Sunday by bringing a good work friend (and his family) out for a day sail. Great times. The way our schedule is shaping up, we probably have just one more weekend to enjoy the Sabre before haul out. At that point we’ll be ready to take on the very long list of mainly minor fix-it items to prepare for next season in Newport.