I haven't written much lately, and for good reason. Summer has gone fast and the elusive goal of launching Afternoon Delight (henceforth to be referred to as "Addie") this year was looking precarious. So the last few weeks have consisted of knuckle-down late night garage time to git 'er done.
At approximately 2 a.m. this past Thursday night I deemed her complete. Addie herself was pretty much done the week before, but having had the emasculating experience of having to accept a tow twice in my life, I introduced some scope creep by making a pair of spoon oars for auxiliary propulsion. Just in case (cough). By the way, making oars is actually quite fun.
Yes, that was a gratuitous Tick reference. Get your own blog.
Anyway, I took Friday off in order to force myself to get her finished and launched. Marla was offended that I wanted to go by myself. Shakedown cruises however, exist for a reason. Namely, you want to encounter whatever the shipwright effed up without passengers or bystanders (that you know anyway). Especially when the shipwright is you.
So Friday morning I loaded up the car, hoisted Addie into her custom built roof cradle and went to the strategically selected launch site, Cedar Lake. Strategic in that it was the closest lake to our house and I hoped it would be fairly deserted on a Friday morning. Addie successfully negotiated her first challenge by not being ripped to pieces by the wind in transit (which Marla had predicted, and I admit did worry me a bit). When I got there I noticed a sign alerting the citizenry to the presence of large muskie in the lake. As if I needed any additional incentive not to capsize.
Some things do go according to plan, and when I got to the launch ramp, there was only one truck in the lot, and two docks. Score! For those who have never been to a Minnesota lake on the weekend, know that the concept of rush hour applies to launch ramps, with corresponding manners. So I got Addie tied up to the dock, loaded her up, and started mental preparation for launch.
There was a pretty stiff breeze, which made me a bit uneasy because her sail has quite a bit of area to ensure she'll go in light air. I would have preferred a bit less for a trial run, but you play the hand you're dealt. Time to go.
As I was staring vacantly at Addie mentally rehearsing my departure plan, the lone fisherman came in to pull his boat out.
Me: How'd you do? Fisherman: Got a 17" and 18" bass, but it's pretty breezy out there past the point. Decided to pack it in.
Super. But wind is what sailboats are made for. Time to go. I untied the bow line, hopped in, pushed her off, sheeted in the sail. Addie surged forward, and...
The rudder popped out. With my cat-like reflexes, I grabbed it so it wouldn't float off behind me and while I was trying to reinsert the rudder into its gudgeons (or pintles, whatever) the wind blew Addie aground into the weeds.
Plywood is buoyant. Who knew? It floats enough to lift the securing pins right out of the mounting holes. The plans never said anything about that (trust me, I just double-checked).
Murphy. Who invited you? Dick.
My first thought was to lash the rudder in, but when you've run aground it's too shallow to even insert the damn thing. Also, the whole reason rudders are on pins is so if you are about to run aground you can lift it off before it encounters some kind of grievous end.
In a burst of inspiration (desperation?) I realized my trusty Nalgene bottle might just weigh enough to counteract the buoyancy of the rudder. I lashed the bottle to the tiller, which would hopefully keep it down but still allow me to remove the rudder if needed. This is an example of what my father-in-law would call "making ice cream out of horseshit".
With my newly jury-rigged rudder, I pushed out of the muck (stinky!) with my trusty spoon oar and paddled out to get enough depth to reattach the abomination. Sheeted in the sail. And...
Promptly got shoved around and into the shoreline again. Lee helm is an abstract term until you encounter it. Too much surface area forward and the wind will push you downwind. Period.
Lathered, rinsed, and repeated a few times and it was time to take the mast down. I knew I put those oars on for a reason. It was time to go for a row and gather my thoughts.
Only one problem. I'd never rowed a boat in my life, but those oars were for an emergency and it was starting to feel like one. Time to go.
Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster my sister wasn't around. She rowed competitively for the University of Iowa. It was ugly. When I got it right, Addie was smooth as silk. That wasn't often.
I rowed about halfway up the lake, and as the fisherman had described, once I got past the point it was breezy - that made amateur rowing hour a little more interesting. But I made it back to the dock. There was a part of me that was ready to put Addie back on the cradle and drive home. But when you put three years of effort into something, that doesn't quite fly. What to do? Lie down on the dock in the sun and come up with a Plan B. Mine was scandalous.
I decided to scandalize the sail, which would hopefully reduce the sail area and move it aft enough to counter the lee helm and allow Addie to sail upwind (however poorly).
Nice plan. Didn't work. After getting pushed into the reeds a few more times, I conceded victory to Murphy and decided to row back to the dock.
Goals are a double-edged sword. They spur you onwards, but sometimes lead you to cut corners to meet them. In my case, when mounting my oarlocks (which came with no directions) I mounted them in the seemingly obvious fashion. Which turned out to be upside down. Remounting them was easy, but I was concerned that the screw holes from the first attempt would weaken the gunwales. However, Friday was fast approaching and I decided not to take the time to redo the mounts with some reinforcement and instead just filled them with epoxy. Go figure, while rowing out of the weeds against the wind (which had picked up substantially), I ripped out the port oarlock. I could hear Murphy laughing.
But just to spite him, I poled my way out and was able to sail downwind (Addie's only point of sail at the moment) back to the dock.
I wasn't quite ready to go home at that point, so now that I could reclaim my Nalgene bottle, I guzzled half a liter of water and lay down in Addie (now tied securely) to plan my revenge against Murphy. Whilst thus engaged three teenagers pulled up to put in a fishing boat and caught sight of me.
I overheard "What the hell is up with that guy?" while they were lining up the trailer on the ramp. I was half expecting some wisecracks, but when they backed in their boat I looked up and said hello and one of them responded with "that boat is awesome, man". I have to say, that felt pretty good right about then.
At that point, I was starving and well past needing a drink. Fortunately, for some reason, there's a Catholic church and St. Patrick's Tavern (correlation?) in the middle of nowhere half a mile from the lake. After my lubberly performance, there was no way I could have a rum drink in good conscience, but that Jack and Soda sure did hit the spot. They also make a killer Reuben.
Despite Murphy's best attempts, it was still an awesome day. Addie rows like a champ and with some tweaks should sail well too. In the final analysis, I spent the day on the water in a boat that I built. It doesn't get much better than that.
Cedar Lake, you're on notice. Addie will be back, and badder then ever.