FastAlley ready for her crew to arrive

FastAlley ready for her crew to arrive


I have never actually sailed FastAlley before, I have always just motored the boat.

When we did the marine survey in La Paz in 2008 the owner said that in the 6 years he had cruised in Mexico, he had never sailed on the mainsail.  In fact, he said it had been in storage.  On that day we didn’t sail on it either, he simply raised the main to show me that sparrows were not nesting in it, then dropped it again.  The owner said that he sailed solely on the blade and the asymmetric – which we did that day too.

After I bought the boat, I moved it from La Paz to California under severe time constraints.  My boss gave me just 10 days off, so to save time, we motored all the way up the Baja.

Once the boat was in Long Beach, I took it out regularly to practice docking in the strong winds there.   I have the worst depth perception and I struggle to tell if I’m near the dock or 6ft off, so I practiced weekend after weekend for hours and hours.  So while I spent hours docking under motor in LBeach winds, I still never actually sailed the boat.

Finally I joined a LB yacht club that had a full calendar of cruises planned for the summer, so I got a Rigger in to check my gear.  I knew my halyard would jam sometimes, I knew my mainsheet was too thick to run freely when the brake was released, I thought the mast was incorrectly raked, and the standing rigging was not rigid enough.  Overall, it needed work.  The Rigger came in and a week later my boat was ready to be sailed. 

Very soon thereafter I moved to San Francisco on a contract, and when I moved the boat up to the Bay a few months later, it was back to motoring up the coast over a free weekend. 

And then I motored thru the Sacramento Delta. 

The San Francisco winter came along and I still hadn’t ever sailed FastAlley

 It was beginning to seem like I had bought a really slow power boat! 

 Now it is Spring 2010, and the howling wind and lashing rain of the San Francisco Bay has abated somewhat.  The weather reports are that this Saturday would be a beautiful warm sunny day so I determined to finally sail FastAlley FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER since I have bought her 2 years ago.  My friend Suzanne agreed to come along, with her racing boyfriend as crew.

 May 16th, 2010  – Sunday was typical Bay weather – the sun disappeared and it was cloudy and cold.  Nevertheless Suzanne was still game for my first sail ever

 We motored out of the slough (aka the main channel) and once we reached the Bay we cut the engines and we were sailing.  Which is when I found out that not only am I lousy at parking the boat, I am equally lousy at sailing her. 

I said blithely – lets sail to the bridge over there.  Yeah, right.  With a 5 knot current pushing us around we never managed to get anywhere near the bridge.  My trimaran draws only 2ft – which is great in the shallows but awful for going to weather against a heavy current.  FastAlley doesn’t have a centerboard, nor daggerboards, nor a lee board, nor any keel to speak of, so she refused to go to windward at all with that strong current.  I did manage to consistently sail sideways back and forth alongside the distant bridge, but never got close.  With her 2ft draw and a strong current against us, she sailed serenely sideways the whole afternoon.   

I scored 10 out of 10 for consistency though – I managed to sail back and forth repeatedly over the same path, barely deviating from my previous course – according to the electronic chart plotter. 

Next time I will motor into the wind a few miles and then try a broad reach back to my dock.  I always said I was a Downwind Sailor so it seems that FastAlley and I are in sync in that respect at least.

Note to self:  If I am being pushed onto a lee shore, don’t try to sail away.  Just start the engine and power off.

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June 6th, 2010 – SECOND SAIL

 Suzanne and her boyfriend have not been available and I need sailing crew that I can rely on to go out often as I to learn to sail FastAlley.  Also I want to cruise the Bay this summer whereby I go out and anchor somewhere and explore.   Consequently I went onto the Latitude 38 crew website, and found myself 10 females on their crew board.  I emailed them all and 2 agreed to go out the coming Saturday.

It was a gorgeous morning, no wind, calm, sun shining, just perfect.  Annie and Deana arrived at 10am and we cast off.  I needed to refuel the boat so we set off for the nearest fuelling dock about 2 hours away.  With no wind and the tide in our favor we motored along at a good clip.  By the time we had finished fuelling and returned to the Bay, the wind was up.  Well, up at about 8 knots. 

We raised the main and pulled out the blade and waited expectantly to sail.  The tide was coming in so we were pushed along at 2 knots, but we weren’t actually sailing, aka forward motion.  I don’t see how the previous owner could have sailed on the blade alone – because with just the blade up we were drifting. 

So we raised the main.  With the main up we gained ½ a knot, and had a modicum of control, but we were still not actually sailing.  We were basically drifting with the tide. 

I didn’t want to drift onto the 92 bridge, so we started the engines and motored under the bridge towards the south end of the Bay where the chart said it was deeper on the sides of the Bay.  And there was no boat traffic.

 Suddenly the wind came howling in at about 25 knots, and we were SAILING !!!

 We cut the motor and roared back and forth across the bay only turning when we hit the shallow waters on each side.  I wanted to experiment with the autopilot doing a tack for me, but I hit the wrong buttons and we jybed instead.  FastAlley does a very sedate jybe, it turns out.  We sailed across the bay again and jybed again.  Back and forth.  It was fabulous fun. 

FastAlley just loves a beam reach and is perfectly stable in that attitude.  Once you set the sails for the beam reach, she settles down and you can take your hands off the wheel and just stand there while she sails herself.  It is quite something to see the boat roaring along in those high winds with no hands on the wheel – and perfectly stable.  Look Ma, no hands.

Then we tried setting the sails for a broad reach, and FastAlley settled into a broad reach with no hands on the wheel as well.  It was amazing to watch her going flat out, telltales perfectly aligned – all by herself. 

Which of course might be an issue were I to fall overboard – she would not round up and stop!!!

Eventually we were getting closer to the shallow waters of the south Bay, so we decided to tack back up to the 92 bridge. 

Well that was easier said that done!  Even with 25 knot winds we couldn’t tack.  We would pick up speed to 6+ knots, start the tack, but then the trimaran would get head to wind, and fall off again.  And we would have to jybe quickly to get away from the shallows. 

I remembered that Suzanne’s boyfriend had successfully tacked us a number of times.  He said, Harden up the blade, turn the boat, wait till the wind catches and backwinds the main, the backfills the blade, then release the hardened blade as the boat turns.  And he managed to tack us just fine. 

Well, we tried that.  Over and over.  But we couldn’t get FastAlley to tack.

There has to be a trick to this “tacking a trimaran” business.   Finally we gave up, started the motor, dropped the sails, and motored back up the Bay.

Deana said she knew some multihull sailors and she would get them to come out with us and show us how to tack a trimaran.  This time I will pay closer attention to the instructions. 

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June 12th, 2010 – THIRD SAIL

 Lindalee met Colleena in West Marine and told her about my dilemma of finding crew.  Colleena recommended the Latitude 38 crew website.  That was fantastic advice and I found 10 females on the site, now I can go out every Saturday if I want to.

This week Colleena, Annie, and Darlene and I went out.  The wind was blowing hard and fast from the east, an unusual direction for the Bay.  Because of the weird wind direction we could sail directly up the middle of the channel, without having to tack.  When we reached the bridge we decided to practice tacking.  We talked thru the maneuver between ourselves, then we tried to tack.  We were successful and we tacked smoothly!

That was our only tack of the day – every other tack failed.  When we got head to wind, the 4 knot current pushed her nose backwards and we would have to jybe instead.  We tried every conceivable sail combination of the blade and main (close hauled, very hard in, a little belly), but nothing seemed to work. 

We tried starting with the sails in a beam reach configuration as we picked up speed, then coming up slowly to close hauled as we pulled in the sail, then going straight into a tack and still hardening up the blade and main until they were both stiff as boards along the center line of the boat – she still refused to tack.

So we sailed around for a few hours just sailing down the Bay and learning the boat and relaxing.  FastAlley is a fun boat to sail on – you get the pleasure of sailing, with the space and stability to just enjoy being on the water.

Eventually the wind died around 3pm so we dropped the sails and motored back to port.  We discussed the problem of tacking the boat and decided that the next time we go out we would try tacking on the engine at different speeds in the heavy Bay currents, and watch how she moves under power.  We expect to tack under power, obviously, because then the wind and sails are not a factor, but it may just be that the strong currents have more impact on tacking a trimaran than we realize. 

So next time we go out, we will watch how she tacks under power.

Having a boatload of women crew is marvelous.  Great sailing, great crew, great food, great company, and hilarious boy/girl tales as we swap stories in the cockpit. 

This is going to be such a fun summer !!!

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