Sailing solo, then riiiiip….

A mixture of anxiety and excitement filled me as I hoisted sail enroute to Tikehau. I was alone aboard Aldebaran. This was the first time I was sailing solo in… a long time.

I remembered my first solo sail, 13 years ago, from Santa Barbara to Morro Bay aboard Tabula Rasa, a Columbia 30ft sloop, my first sailboat. It was 8 months since I had purchased her, and I had never sailed a small boat before.

The quiet thrill and the quiet foreboding were both tangible. There’s a realization that nobody has your back, so your senses are heightened, the mind is sharp. Sailing around Point Conception with a smooth SE wind was liberating. Then storm clouds built, and the weather radio’s information got worse and worse. I pushed myself past delirium to sail straight and true all the way to Port San Luis, where I hunkered down. There is nothing like going solo to give you confidence.

Staying too long in a comfortable port breeds inertia in sailors; and so does having crew members. “I can’t do that alone” percolates your mind. But yes you can; you just need to re-learn how.

So here we go. Soon the sails were in trim and Ziggy the autopilot had the wheel in control. The stereo started bumping louder, captain started dancing to the beats… I was feeling good!

Heading downwind, a sailboat with main & headsail can only go 150 degrees to the wind. Which means that upon approaching the backside of Tikehau I had to go wing-in-wing (mainsail to one side, headsail to the other).

Or, I had to jibe Aldebaran (turning the boat downwind from one side to the other). Either maneuver is tough with the big reacher headsail, which has to sneak between the forestay and the inner jib stay. With another crew member to guide it makes things easier.

Hum… I could either give it a shot, or drop the mainsail. That would let me go straight downwind with just the headsail, but slower. I decided to keep full sail.

The first two jibes worked well. Then I miscalculated the angle to get around the atoll and the waves got too close for comfort. I decided to try wing-in-wing, using the preventer to control the unruly mainsail. When the reacher came around the forestay and filled up, that’s when I heard it…

…Riiiiiiiiiip !!

It had snagged the anchor windlass and ripped the bottom of the sail! I raced forward, dropped the canvas and pulled it out of the water into the nets.

Luckily the damage wasn’t major – just a tear along the bottom edge of the reacher, about 2 feet long. I adjusted course, then keeping a watchful eye on the shoreline, not far from us, I rigged the smaller genoa and inner jib.

In 20 minutes we were again underway. The sail change was for the best, after all. The wind had freshened to 20 knots and veered to 60 degrees off the bow, as we now sailed south in smooth waters towards Tikehau’s pass. Aldebaran gurgled happily, once again. Despite the bit of damage, we had made it to our destination, our pride intact.

Photo: Aldebaran with genoa and inner jib, reefed main, taking waves in the port ama bow.

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