Laundry Day

Sam Llewellyn describes a delightful day sail with lots of sail up.

Sam Llewellyn creates a fine spread of sail.

The wind has been blowing all night. The boat is my faithful open yawl, with a tent on it. Up, coffee, tent down. Wind-shadows come writhing at us over the water. Mizzen up, to bring us head to wind. Unroll jib, up anchor. Haul in the weather sheet. The nose comes round, and we are sailing, jib and mizzen, steady as a rock through the squalls in the mouth of the bay and out to sea. 

There is less breeze out here. The boat sails herself now, perfectly balanced, while I stroll forward and haul on the main halyard. Up goes the sail, thrashing cream against the grey and blue of the sky. Sheet in. Now we are trucking along in good earnest. In this breeze we will be at the next anchorage in no time –  

But the waves are getting smaller, and the wind has backed so it is coming from just behind the left ear. I do not want to use the engine, but this will take all day. There is only one thing for it. Into the bag in the locker under the side deck, and out with the cruising chute. 

This is a huge red sail, frankly alarming. It has a halyard, a couple of sheets, a whisker pole and a mind of its own. The world disappears under a flood of scarlet nylon under which I crawl around, threading lines and cursing. A halyard comes into the hand. I haul. Daylight returns. Outside the jib an enormous red balloon has come into being. The boat’s nose lifts, and the wake begins to roar.

This is more like it. More.

Back into the bag for a yellow-and-black confection knocked up on the home sewing machine and bearing, at first sight, a worrying resemblance to an item of Edwardian ladies’ underwear. Its tack is anchored to a shackle at the base of the mainmast, and its head to a halyard at the top of the mizzen.

Up it goes, and fills with a snap. Its sheet has to share a cleat with the cruising chute, which is already sharing a cleat with the genoa. The cockpit now looks like a place where a giant spider has spun its web. But my goodness, the boat is going, storming across the ripple, six knots at least, which is practically mach speed for a twenty-one-foot open boat, five sails up and pulling like a team of mules. Not bad. Not bad at all. Joy, in fact, and glory. 

The wind stays steady. The land ahead rises from the sea. Another boat is crossing our bow. Probably they are admiring our spread of sail, though of course they may merely think we have been doing laundry. This vainglorious thought produces a lapse of concentration, which coincides with a puff of breeze. The boat heels violently. Green water pours over the lower rail.

Heart hammering, I go for the staysail halyard. Down it comes. The wind is up, now, and it seems to have veered, and the chute is making gunshot noises, so down that comes too. All of a sudden I am stuffing technicolour nylon into sailbags, and the boat is surging ahead, only three sails now, and there are the rocks off the headland that shelters the next anchorage.  

The rocks slide by, white with surge. Let go the mainsheet. The sail clatters and roars as I pull it down. The boat sails herself under jib and mizzen into the glassy water under the shore. Roll up the headsail. The mizzen swings her nose to the wind, and  the anchor plunges into the glass-clear green. It is time for a cup of tea.

Sam Llewellyn, editor The Marine Quarterly