Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sailing: Do It.

My 1981 CL14 in the Bay of Quinte
My girlfriend suggested today that my blog is very heavily bike biased which is good because I like bikes but I have other things I obsess to equal if not greater degrees about. Sailing is one of them. In fact I am really into sailing. A lot. She thought it was a shame that I have yet to write about sailing and I completely agree with her. However, I realized I have little to say about sailing. Or perhaps I'm not sure where to start. I've got a whole head full of sailing knowledge that I love to talk about, but none of it may make sense and I need a solid starting point. After much deliberation and soul searching I realized that I should explain why I like it so much.

The reason you should do sailing is because it is simply unlike anything else. A sailboat exists between two forces and is propelled by making small adjustments to the way it interacts with those forces. It's pure. It's simple. It offers endless possibilities for tweaking and changes for speed and efficiency. It requires no fuel, power supply, or physical input. It's a metaphor for life and a great way to work through whatever is on your mind. Not to mention a pleasant, albeit slow, way to travel. I hope each and every one of you at least once gets to experience sailing at it's best.

Let me start with the theory. Many people I've talked to seem to think sailboats simply get blown around. This is not the case. More accurately they get sucked along. The sail is shaped like an airplane wing. Unlike a wing, it can be adjusted in many ways as you sail depending on the angle of the boat to the wind. This is more advanced stuff than this article will bother with though. When the sail protrudes into the air at the proper angle it creates a low pressure system just to the front leeward (down wind) side of the sail. There is essentially less air here than on the other side of the sail and the air on the windward side of the sail gets pulled in to fill that space. The sail has that air trapped and so the sail gets pulled into that space with the boat along with it. Left on it's own this will indeed just pull the boat downwind. However when you introduce a keel and a rudder it leaves one preferred direction for the boat to travel. A keel is simply a fin that extends from the bottom of the boat and runs in parallel with the length of the boat. The rudder is similar except it is on the back of the boat and pivots to allow for easy steering. These two foils, as they are called, can be overpowered by grossly improperly set sails however when the system is even close to equilibrium the result is forward propulsion. This is why sailboats can also go upwind, although not straight up wind.

For this reason the essence of sailing is obtaining an equilibrium. A balance. It is this equilibrium that results in forward movement, not the wind or any physical power input. It is this that is so fantastic about sailing. Maintaining that equilibrium can be any level of difficulty you like. Perhaps you go out only on calm days and only in simple boats with small sails. Easy equilibrium. On the other hand maybe you, like a gentleman I know, only go out on Lake Ontario, only in small craft warnings, only solo, and only on a high performance catamaran meant for two people. It can be a nice relaxing contemplative afternoon or a test of your mental and physical limits.

There is an additional reason for people with disabilities to sail. Sailing is the only sport that I know of where the playing field can be perfectly leveled. Well...maybe not perfectly. But nearly perfectly. Sailing is something that with the right equipment a quadriplegic can enjoy just as much, if not more, as an able-bodied sailor. Put them in the same type of boat or use a handicapping system and they can even race each other on a level playing field. I will say the equipment for quadriplegic sailing, known as sip and puff, is a little lacking at the moment. However there are some very capable and competitive sailors that use this technology and I hear it is about to get better.

So that's it. Go sailing. Experience it well once. I say experience it well because it is quite possible to have a horrifying experience sailing. Especially when you're new and don't know what's going on. So make sure you experience it well once. You'll never be able to leave it alone.

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