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Notes on Sailing with Craig Tourtellot on Sunday July 25th

By Michael Freund - Posted on 26 August 2010

Notes on Sailing with Craig Tourtellot on Sunday July 25th

I sail a Precision 23, (Cheryl Ann) out of slip M37, almost always single handed and have been a member of the club since last season.  I am probably among the oldest sailors in the club.  I feel like a rookie.

Craig Tourtellot helped me with my furler when I got a new 130 Genoa and he seemed so capable and confident around sail boats that I was immediately impressed.  He suggested I join the club and I felt some obligation to do so and some interest in becoming a better sailor so I joined.  When I joined the club I had to make a choice as to whether to be a cruiser or a racer and I chose cruising on the basis that my work and my life was a race and I find it appealing to sail quietly along and savor the beauty of the outdoors and the journey on the water under the power of the wind “nicely making way”.

I love the classes that Mike Brown teaches as well as the ones Craig and Dan Reasoner teach.  I find learning anything new about sailing exciting and the enthusiasm and knowledge these accomplished sailors demonstrate I find inspiring.  I have said several times that it feels like I’ve  learned more in the year and a half I have been in this club than I did in the previous 10 years sailing at the lake.  There is something wonderful about taking a class and then applying what you learn immediately that resonates and makes the learning more effective and satisfying.  I particularly liked the class on spinnakers last year because after the class, Paul Prozzillo went out with me and two other cruisers on my boat and showed me how to use the spinnaker that I could never get to work.  It is an exciting sail to fly.  It is challenging and majestic and it really moves the boat in light air.

Laurine Valenti pointed out at one of the cruising classes that whenever two boats are close to each other and sailing in the same direction it is a race.  I reluctantly admit I’ve found that to be true and didn’t like the tension I felt in that circumstance unless of course I was winning.

 I sailed in the Odyssey cruise race last year and felt I did okay.  I liked how much I learned from really paying close attention. 

I once met up with Bill Hall down by the boat house on a Sunday afternoon and we started heading back toward the marina at the same time.  To my way of thinking it was a race but it wasn’t too long before it became obvious that he knew what he was doing and I did not.  In fact by the time I got to Swan Cove I couldn’t even see him.

When I later met him on shore and acknowledged his prowess he said he learned a great deal by crewing with Craig Tourtellot.

This spring I sailed in the cove race and when I got to the wind tunnel my Genoa sort of wrapped around itself and I couldn’t roll it in and lost it.  I turned and got it straightened out by going downwind and tried to go up wind again but it became pointless as everyone else had come back already.  I struggled more as I came from the dam toward the Tohickon Dock and broached a couple of times before I got out of the narrow part of the lake.  I never got to the Haycock Dock or the boat house, but went to swan cove and came back.  It was a grueling and humbling lesson for me.

Bill Hall’s advice stuck in my mind and one Sunday I asked Craig if I could crew for him.  He graciously agreed to let me join him.

After the captain’s meeting he let me help him rig the boat a little and as we sailed out of the dock area, I realized his boat is a pure bred racing boat and did not need a lot of wind to push it along.  The stern has no bulk head so you really have the sense of being close to the water. 

He showed me how to operate the Genoa and I was surprised when we were close hauled how tight to the spreaders he wanted the Genoa and when the wind was making it difficult to bring it in he pulled and I cranked till we got it in tight to the spreader.  As a cruiser I would have settled for much less effort.

His set up for the spinnaker is very sophisticated.  The sail bag is staged in the hatch way so the sail is raised and lowered from the cock pit.  His bow sprit is extended from the cockpit as well and he uses the spinnaker for downwind sailing in wind speeds up to 15 knots.  How he does it all when single handed is difficult to fathom but I am sure he makes it look effortless.  He is a patient captain and he gave me the same instructions over and over until I got them and then if I had a lapse in memory he told me again.  I asked many questions and he answered simply and thoroughly.  He shapes his mainsail with a Cunningham and an outhaul and tacks a lot if he feels it will be productive.  He is wary of shallow water, much more wary than I am even though he has a center board as I do.  When close hauled he uses his tiller to keep the Leeward tell tale on the Genoa flying back and trims his mainsail to follow.

He taught me some of the racing rules.  You start between the committee boat and its port marker (if the bow of the committee boat is where the flags are raised) and end between the committee boat and the other mark.  Once at the start he got closed out as he tried to get passed the committee boat but he circled tightly, recovered quickly and lost very little time. His boat seems to turn on a dime even in light winds.  You round the marks on the port side of your boat and there are complicated rules about yielding in traffic as you round a mark.  He wears a stop watch and pays attention to the time from 5 minutes on down.

The wind gusts frequently became headers in a tack and he patiently changed direction and tried again after the gust. 

When he was hot he dipped his hat in the water over the stern and put it right on his head.  I drank a whole bottle of water by the finish of the first race and he never took a swig until the race was over.

On his boat the outhaul, the bow sprit the Cunningham, the halyards, the furler and sheets are all controlled from the cockpit so there are a lot of lines.  I learned the importance of managing the lines and keeping them off the floor of the boat with his coaching and my learning the hard way by standing on them when trying to pull them in. 

His sails are incredibly well designed.  They are light, transparent, easy to handle, and not very noisy.  When we were getting the boat ready the mainsail wasn’t even on the boom but he had it on and the boat was ready to sail in no time.  Everything stowed in the cabin easily and was very well organized and accessible.  

The thistles seem to be the fastest boats and then I think the Impulses, Santanas and then the Flying Scotts.  He seemed to keep reasonably close to the Thistles and one time sailing before the wind flying the spinnaker he got very close to the two leaders.

I came away feeling I had sailed with a master and felt inspired to hone my own skills.  The pursuit of excellence is intoxicating and may to some extent explain why racing on the water draws me when my work and personal life seem like an intense race in themselves.

I sailed again with Craig on another Sunday and after the first race the rain clouds camein.  He explained how the storm drew the air and affected the wind.  I came away feeling there is very little about sailing this captain does not know.

I feel grateful to the masters in the club who share their skills so eagerly and generously and genuinely try to help anyone with an interest.  Sailing is a mysterious calling I think and a humbling experience for me and for many of the people I meet in the club and I like the friendship and camaraderie of those humble but capable people.

I should also note that Diane Paxton is a vital part of the club for me.  I am a little shy at first and she is not.  She cajoled me into going to classes and participating in races and really getting more out of membership.   I’m grateful to her for that.

I hope the end of October never comes.

glennw's picture

Thank you for sharing your recent experiences in the club!  Seeing them through your eyes is very inspirational.  Although I came to the club with a racing bent, I have also found everyone to be very open and sharing.

To me, one of the great things about sailing is there is always more to learn.  As soon as you think you have it figured out, something arises to humble you.

I have found sailboat racing to be very different than the stress of everyday life.  Racing forces you to focus and use all your senses in ways I find fulfilling rather than mentally exhausting.  Nothing else teaches so much about boat handling.  So I encourage you to join us more around the buoys.


Flying Scot #5919 - DJ'

Glenn Wesley