Notes on Sailing

Fri, 10/21/2016 - 10:45am

When a sailboat is moving through the water with a perfectly balanced helm, and all of the parts of the elements of the boat’s design are doing what they are supposed to be doing there is a feeling of balance — it’s a powerful and visceral thing to experience. Synergy by definition: “Is the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements.” Given this, we could say that sailing and synergy are synonymous terms—they work well together.

Sailboat design is derived from mathematical calculations. For example, with monohulls, the length of a boat’s waterline and size of its rig and sail plan will determine the hull speed — multihulls have more complex math. Aesthetics will later evolve and be derived from the foundation of the math. A very clever guy from Bristol Rhode Island was named Nathanael Greene Herreshoff. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was adept at designing many things (Google him) most notably sailboats. He designed and built six America’s Cup defenders: Vigilant, Defender, Columbia, Reliance and Resolute. He was a great sailor.

These days in Narragansett Bay we’ll see vestiges of Herreshoff’s designs. In fact a few weeks ago, I saw Nat Herreshoff’s grandson Halsey, sailing his yacht Rugosa as he zipped past me while sailing under the Mount Hope Bridge. It got me thinking about what a great place the bay was for testing out boat designs back in the day — it still is. One of the best parts of sailing a boat is looking at the designs of other boats, and noting the synergy of all of their working parts. It’s like observing art in three dimensions. We can only imagine what Captain Nat felt when one of his designs was first sailed between Prudence and Aquidneck Island in a stiff southwest breeze as it came funneling up Narragansett Bay. What a great feeling it must’ve been when all of the parts of the boat’s design dialed into a perfect slot as she sailed to windward.

Recently, the City of Newport was gearing up for the “Newport International Boat Show.” New designs arrived in the harbor and were strapped to the town’s docks. Crews polished and shined the latest designs in sail and power boats for the public to ogle and possibly purchase. Before boarding these boats folks are required to leave their shoes on the dock in order to keep the boats looking pristine — and new. Shiny and new ruled the day as the viewing public gave respectful nods to the latest offerings of the boating industry. Some folks looked and some folks cut a check. The new boat owners would soon experience the feeling of their respective boats. Regardless of sail or power, the new owners would note the synergy of their new boat.

“The plan is, there is no plan, and even that can change,” says Margie Hayward. Margie and her husband Marcus are sailing a Taswell 49 called Island Kea ll. “We have a general plan to sail to the Pacific, but we basically sail south from point A to point B,” she says. The Haywards hail from England and found themselves in Newport after sailing from Nova Scotia. This couple understands that it’s the journey that counts and not the destination. They were heading to Block Island as of this writing, then to West Harbor at Fisher’s Island, and on to Essex. Then, they would head to Port Washington: tie up their boat, hop on a train and take in the sights of New York City. From there they will head south to Cuba, and point A to point B from there.  Margie’s favorite watch is at night aboard Island Kea ll offshore, when the boat is balanced and sailing herself—synergistically— with the aid of her auto pilot. This couple has figured out the cruising life. Their agenda is having no agenda, but after a series of point A to point B connections they will eventually get to where they are going.

Jimmy Buffet was in Newport this summer making some noise about his new boat. She will be commissioned this November. The boat is called the Surfari 48 and was designed by a guy named Edward “Ted” Fountain. Buffet will take delivery of hull # 1 of the new 48. This is a fast-looking sailboat.  She is beamy, with a plumb bow with lots of waterline, a bulb keel — invented by Nat Herreshoff — and a powerful rig. This boat is designed for comfort, fun, and speed. Jimmy Buffet can drop the “tailgate,” on the stern of his boat and drag out assorted aquatic toys and tools. Being a musician, pilot and sailor, Buffet gets the “synergy” thing. Moreover, he owned a 26-foot sloop designed by Nat Herreshoff.  Buffet knows boats. Just sayin’.

Fall sailing in Narragansett Bay is the best; when the summer humidity ends and the north winds blow there is no better time or place to sail. Our boat Reverie is an Ericson 30. She was designed in 1984 as a racer/cruiser, and was a player in racing circles. What is great about this design is that her powerful rig can be sailed with just the jib — headsail — and get to her hull speed of 6.5 knots — she’s easy to singlehand. For this sailor there is no better boat: fast, nimble and fun, and this geezer has punched many fun tickets aboard Reverie. When we break it all down: design, synergy, and function, we must note that the most important value in the equation is fun! Finally, Reverie is now in her winter slip; however, me and Newport’s Matt Gineo plan on sailing his Pacific Seacraft 24, Tidal Wave into the late fall, and winter! 

Sail on!