In Scottsdale on Saturday, after hiking in the McDowell Mountain Preserve with my brother-in-law Tom and nephew Tommy, I tried to get them to sail with me on Sunday. No go. Tom wanted to take his BMW motorcycle for an extended ride Sunday morning. I can’t say I blame him. He took Ann for a ride that afternoon and she had a blast.
For the sake of getting an early start, I turned down Beverly’s gracious offer to sleep at their house and drove to Lake Pleasant, arriving close to 10 p.m. The portable heater on the boat, as usual, flipped the shore power switch as soon as it started to get warm, which meant it would have to be left on the “frost watch” setting if it was going to work at all. In short, while the cabin was not balmy overnight, I at least did not have to shake off a blanket of frost in the morning.
The morning. It was glorious. High 30’s and clear. That was the excuse I needed to wear the SLAM foul weather overalls that Ann gave me for Christmas. Made of a light, waterproof nylon, they were surprisingly warm. Aware that residual body heat from the long summer would be insufficient once I ventured from the marina and into the wind, I layered on thick socks, Camet shorts (under the overalls), a cotton turtleneck, wool turtleneck, a nylon SLAM sailing vest and full-fingered Musto gloves along with my Bitter End baseball cap. And, three cheers for thermal efficiency, I was warm.
While this was only my second time single-handing my boat, I knew that preparation would be they key to enjoying the day. I put a water bottle and a Gatorade in the stern rail seat cup holders, the winch handle in its sleeve and the tiller extender on the tiller. My backpack, stuffed with sandwiches, camera and lenses, was on the floor of the cockpit at the companionway, along with a SLAM jacket (another Christmas gift) and a life jacket. My Leatherman was in my vest pocket.
This was also my first times sailing Sloop Dogg since the Sailboat Shop had cleaned, sanded and painted the bottom. With both new sails on, I was hoping for a speed bump.
Rather than taking the seemingly interminable detour through the marina to north end the breakwater, I drove out where the boom ends at the south ramp, which meant, with the wind out of the North, the sails were up early. The boat heeled into a groove and hit 5.2 knots on the first tack.
In the 3 years I have had a boat on Lake Pleasant, I had never sailed into Humbug Bay. Given its popularity with the beer, bikini and boom box boat set, I had conjured an image of wanton aquatic depravity taking place in that corner of the lake. In short, I was disappointed that it would be too cold for the antics I imagined taking place there.
Nonetheless, I sailed northeast on a course that took me south of Horse Island and South Baker Island and toward the mouth of the Agua Fria River before turning north. A conversation from an anchored bass boat drifted toward me. “If you could take your family on vacation to any lake in Arizona, which would it be?” I sailed upwind and out of ear shot before I could eavesdrop on any recommendations.
When the wind backed and headed the boat, I furled the genoa and tacked into Humbug Bay under mainsail alone. Once I was inside the narrow bay, the wind was so light I unfurled the genoa to capture what little breeze there was. The upside of the drop in wind and the warming sun was that I could strip down to shorts, topsiders, a long-sleeve SLAM shirt and vest. It also gave me a chance to eat a sandwich as the boat drifted almost imperceptibly up the channel.
With continued light wind, it made no sense to continue up Humbug Bay for its own sake. After a series of tacks, the boat eventually emerged from the Bay and I had an extended (at under two knots) chat with a bass fisherman anchored in the mouth of the Bay as I glided by. Asked if he was catching anything, he started to tell me about the day before. I should have been there.
Coles Bay was empty. The boat slid past the land, the only sound being the water on the hull. Six months from now I would drop anchor, grill and swim, but not today. As I sailed out of Coles Bay, the wind was building. Tacking and running forward to skirt the genoa would get more interesting. Propping the tiller extender at a right angle against the coaming kept the boat on course at 5+ knots while I clambered forward to skirt the foot of the genoa.
The third and final destination at the north end of the lake was Castle Creek in the northwest corner. Approaching the mouth of the creek, I fell off from a beam reach to a broad reach on port tack and ran along the line of No Wake buoys that parallel the shore where families had set up camps along the water.
With every incremental gain in my confidence handling the boat single-handed, there’s a always new challenge. When I gybed to a starboard tack and turned upwind and away from Castle Creek, I released the working sheet only to have it get fouled in the whisker pole and one of the two rubber clamps that holds it in place. To clear the rocks of an outcropping, I had to head up, which caused the genoa to luff. Without anybody to send forward, I again put the tiller extender against the coaming so I could go forward and sort out the mess.
On the way back to the marina, I saw through the binoculars a Catalina 22 that was way ahead of me. Sloop Dogg headed up to close hauled and closed the gap. The first time we crossed tacks, the C22 was ahead but once astern he tacked onto a port tack to come up from behind to windward. I tacked onto starboard ahead of him and went far to the east while he continued toward the western side of the lake. I waited until he tacked and then I followed. By the time we “crossed” tacks again, the C22 was 200 yards to leeward. While a C26 should be able to sail faster than a C22, with the old, no, ancient sails and the algae festooned hull, Sloop Dogg was routinely overtaken by C22’s. That is, C22’s that had started 5 minutes later. The unspeakable agony! I would have preferred the heartbreak of psoriasis. I had considered sailing with a ZZ Top style beard, sunglasses and fedora to conceal my identity and mitigate the embarrassment. Now, sailing incognito would no longer be necessary.
I started looking forward to the Birthday Regatta / Leukemia Cup and having the crew from Melissa Kay aboard.