Yes, that is a goat. Welcome to Goat Island.
Just when we thought we had this sailing thing figured out, Mother Nature has other ideas.
Eric was up at dawn, raring to go, so we woke up his seventeen-year-old son, Ansel, loaded up the dog and the groceries and headed out from Durham. We’d acquired a number of things for the boat, including a spare set of spark plugs, starter fluid, carburetor cleaner and some new gas and we had all three coolers packed with what looked like groceries for a week.
The drive up was pretty, with the trees just beginning to turn and a light rain misting occasionally. We were not aware of any wind. Eric had checked the weather and found the forecast for 13mph winds from the SSW. Well, they got the direction right.
Down at the boat, we could see the whitecaps out on the lake, but it was calm in the cove. Nevertheless, The motor started right up, we cast off the docklines and off we went. Eric pronounced his motto of “Reef early and often” and we agreed to reef the main. We had not tried this before and were very pleased with the jiffy reefing. Ansel proved to be a great crewmember, willing to do whatever he was asked and to try his best even if he didn’t know what to do exactly. He hauled the main halyard and tied the reef points while the wind flew around us.
There was a steep little chop, with white caps and some streaking. It was quite a bit more wind than we’d experienced before, we estimated about 20-25mph gusting to 30-35. Our little Willadine did great though, although there was quite a bit of weather helm and some hard heeling in the gusts. We managed to stay calm, although it was a little nerve-wracking.
We sailed away upwind, tacking and making slow westward progress. It was a gorgeous day, with big fluffy clouds and seventy-degree temperature, made much cooler by the wind. Once we got used to the heel and began to trust that Willadine would handle this much wind, we relaxed a bit. The waves were up to three feet and spray occasionally came over the side into our faces and I thought, we’ve got the wind in our teeth and the spray in our faces and we’re doing fine. And we were.
After an hour or so of beating upwind, the wind seemed to be building, rather than slacking as we had hoped it would in the afternoon. Eric said he needed a break and suggested going into a nearby cove to anchor and take a rest. Goat Island was in the way and Eric told Ansel about how someone has put goats on this little island in the middle of the lake and, of course, Ansel wanted to see them.
The wind was blowing so hard that we were close to the island before we could properly discuss the situation and Eric said, “Let’s beach her!” and pointed to the sandy beach where the wind was blowing us fast anyway. There was no time to think. Eric was up on the deck and yelling to Ansel to uncleat the main halyard, but poor Ansel had no idea what he meant and I was busy at the tiller and couldn’t reach it and then I yelled to Ansel to hold on because we were about to hit. It wasn’t as hard as I feared, being a sandy bottom, but it still jerked us a bit. I was very nervous about it because the wind kept blowing the boat over even though the sails were down and I could hear something clunking the hull. I could see some big rocks that we’d just missed and I was afraid we were dashing her to bits.
Eric tied a line on a big driftlog on the beach and the goats came to greet us. I slid off the bow with Eric’s camera and grabbed a few pictures. The wind was gusting like crazy and Eric and Ansel tried to pull the boat into the lee of the island, but it was too hard. I was feeling really uncomfortable with the whole thing heeling and jerking in the wind and I was worried we’d be stuck on the bottom because we hit so hard, so we cast off. She came away easily and we motored into a cove and dropped the anchor.
It was very narrow, but the wind was broken by the trees and wasn’t so strong. I watched carefully to see if we were dragging, but we were holding. That is, until Eric and Ansel went below to take a break. Just then, a huge gust came up and whipped the boat around and sent her heading for a nearby dock. I yelled to the guys and they came up. Eric fiddled with the motor while Ansel pulled up the anchor, completely fouled with an armful (big armful) of weeds. No wonder she didn’t hold. (note to self…) I stood on deck with the boat hook to fend off the dock, which was coming up fast! Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it was a telescoping boat hook and someone had put it out and not secured it, so as I pushed on the dock, it simply collapsed and we crunched into the dock. Ow. Our first ding. And boy, did I feel stupid!
Eric got the motor going and we got away enough to raise sail. Downwind was much more pleasant with the apparent wind much lighter, but the risk of an accidental jibe had Eric very nervous. He kept a death grip on the main sheet while I did my best to stay with the wind on the tiller. It was still pretty nerve-wracking and we would have to dock in this crazy wind with an unreliable motor.
We came into the dock, tied her up and sat breathing in the cockpit and even though it only about 4pm, I had a beer. We were exhausted and exhilarated. We’d done it. We couldn’t believe how high the winds were, but we knew it was not the predicted 13mph. We theorized that because the wind was westerly, it was funneling along the lake (oriented longwise, east to west) and building up significantly. We felt like we’d passed some test and we agreed it was not as much fun with that much wind, too stressful. We also agreed that there was no way we’d take passengers in that much wind. Luckily, the wind slacked that evening and we had a lovely sunset sail. But that’s another story.