Sailing Alaska and Life Part 8 “The pull is found in the push”
What is the fire inside us? Not the fire of life itself or the creation thereof. But the drive. The pump in our chest that fills our ribcage with will and zest….
What design are we born to, that carries our drive? What is the stimulus in the eyes of a child, that beckons them up from the floor? Fall after fall, toiling from infancy, through the first crawl, walk and eventually run? This unchanging, hardwired flame in our ribcage is breathed to life by one thing. Call it what you want. I call it “The push.”
All of our lives we push what opposes us. Defining our boundaries, our limits and our world.
Gravity itself is the first thing we inherently oppose. Now here it gets interesting. The opposition of gravity builds strength in our bodies. For example, a baby pushing up to crawl, can be compared to a Soldier doing pushups… The same push, preparing them for what lays ahead, every repetition growing stronger, both in body and spirit. Both baby and solder, giving there all for their cause. The same struggle, represented in different stages of life
We are wired to push our boundaries and re define our borders. Resetting the bar constantly, in a lifelong oscillation of challenge, failure, success and reward… What a beautiful design we have. A self-correcting, self-motivating clutch of opposing energies… Ours is a clever purpose indeed.
Nothing I can think of defines and explains this truth better, than the cool salty wind, on the cheek of a sailor. So lets expand our understanding of how the wind in a sail drives a craft, through liquid, that is 800 times denser than it…
Well…. It all comes down to options. Yes there are good options and bad ones. Lets ignore the blatantly bad for now and talk about, a certain range of acceptable options for travel under sail. Paths if you will, relative to the direction of the wind. Here is my favorite way to explain these “Points Of Sail”
Head to wind or “Irons”
This is where you are facing the wind directly. If you are looking at the bow (Straight forward) you will feel the wind full in the face. It will fill both of your eyes, fly up your nose and climb down your throat. This “condition” is not really a point of sail at all. You are going nowhere fast and usually backward. You have faced the wind to directly, to aggressively. So much so, that your sails cannot fill. They only flap like flags. You have about as much chance at sailing in this condition, as an airplane would have flying, with flat wings. There must be shape in a wing, to create lift. A boat will sail up wind. But not directly. If you try to sail straight into the wind, you will never enjoy the process of getting there, or the fruits of you effort. Only perpetual static punishment will meet your obstinate stance in “Irons”
Now imagine your vessel aimed upwind but not so directly as before. Your sails are trimmed tight, in line with the center of the boat.
As the boat bears away from the “Push”, the wind begins to shove on one side of the sail, more than the other. Puffing it over to the other side and filling its curve. This gives the sail shape and power. Here is how the magic happens…
As the sail puffs out to one side, like I mentioned, not all of the wind is pushing the sail. Instead, the wind is split along the leading edge of the sail, called the “Luff”. Now the remaining part of the wind, skims along the backside of the sail, following the bend in the cloth. Like two racecars rounding a corner. The car on the outside, must speed up, to stay in pace, with the car on the inside…. Here it is the same. The wind must stay in unity with itself. So the wind on the outside of the sail must travel faster, in order to meet and rejoin its counterpart at the end of the sail. This creates an area of low pressure or a “Vacuum” on the backside of the sail. That vacuum literally sucks on the back of the sail and in turn, pulls the boat through the water. Literally. The “Push” becomes the “Pull” and somehow we are drawn toward the very force that opposes us………
When we are close hauled, the boat will be moving forward through the thick water. We will feel the wind in one eye only and we will have control of the boat and its travel once again.
A close reach is like close-hauled but again we let some wind strike us more on the side. We trim the sails to split the wind as before and we are drawn forward. Only somewhat faster now because our hull takes on the waves and wind less aggressively.
When on a close reach we feel the wind on our cheek. We are sailing up wind as fast as possible. The boat is lively and pleasant to handle and fairly predictable in attitude.
This is the fastest point of sail but we are no longer sailing up wind. To Beam Reach, we bear away from the wind, let out our sails and trim them to cause lift as before. But now our hull is perpendicular to the wind. No longer fighting the forces of the ocean, but still enjoying the benefits of lift. We skim through the valleys between wave tops. The wind goes straight down one ear.
As we bear away even more, something happens that changes everything. We lose our lift. The sails can no longer split the wind, causing the magical vacuum to disappear. We have chosen a path of lesser resistance, but somehow the power in the sail is diminished. Our sail is now a giant trash bag, gathering wind and shoving us amongst the waves. The motion in the hull is less rhythmic and the helm requires more tending than before. It feels as if there is less wind (because we are now traveling along with the wind, not against it). We feel the wind behind one ear as we plow through the foamy peaks before us.
This point of sail is much like the reach, bearing away from the wind even more. The wind is nearly behind us but not quite. It is simply a broad variation of the reach. You could say, the reach is to the broad reach going downwind. As close hauled is to close reaching going upwind. Only the sails are trimmed to gather wind when going down, instead of splitting the wind for lift when going up. Not to worry, this one is easier done than said. This is not a technical manual, but a peak into the mechanics of sailing and the forces at work in our lives.
The wind is dead on our backs now, whispering behind both ears, or pinning your hood to the back of your head. Your sails are cast out to both sides as to make full use of the forces behind you.
Running can be a thrill, but there is an uneasy feel to it. It is also quite dangerous when the winds are heavy. Inattention at the helm, or a mechanical failure such as broken rigging or lost steering can be catastrophic. A broach can occur in these instances, where the power in your sails, outmatches the steering in your rudder, spinning you sideways and dumping the ship on its head, at full speed…
Out of all these points of sail, my favorite is the close reach.
Reason being, that while in a close reach, you are gaining a windward advantage. Gaining ground if you will, leaving the “down wind” options for last. Staying clear of hazards, from which you may not be able to escape, should the wind stop blowing…. The motion of the boat is predictable and the speed is good. If the sails are trimmed properly aboard SV Empiricus, she will close reach for hours with the helm completely unmanned. No autopilot, or windvane steering. Just a balance of sail shape, sail area, sail trim and rudder angle.
This close reach is a compromise between close-hauled and beam reach, where your angle of attack is pleasant, not severe. Yet you still harness, the power, of the push. Here I find the best resting rhythm on the sea. The close reach is that sweet spot, of power and comfortable performance.
Finding your angle of attack to the wind is much like adjusting the temperature of a pan that’s to hot, or to cold to fry an egg. You will find a nice medium temp to be an ideal place to start. Fine tuning to your taste, or the tastes of those you feed.
In sailing, this medium heat is the close reach. The crispy fried egg is the (Too hot) close-hauled. The kitchen fire in your pan is sitting in Irons and the downwind points are every degree of runny egg, with the outside chance of dropping a few on the floor.
As we emerge from infancy, we continue to find what pushes us. What challenges us and intrigues us. Without the push, we are not happy. Isn’t it interesting that people work so hard to make “retirement”, but complain about being bored along the way?
Take a look around you. You will find every degree of sailor in the very room where you sit. Some adrift and lethargic. Some raging head to wind, frantically grasping at flailing lines, broken and battered. Some running hard downwind, never to face it again for fear of failure. Some broached and swamped by the consequences of running to hard, to fast and to out of control. Then there are those few, who wear an unprovoked smile. They enjoy each moment for what it is and extract a lesson from nearly everything. They possess contagious enthusiasm that disperses every hint of negative energy around them. These are the ones we call when we broach. Not by what they say, or believe. Not because they are funny or intelligent. But because we want what they have found.
I can attest personally that I have made all those mistakes, on all points of sail. Both in my life and on the water, I have; plotted poor courses, sailed into storms and generally set myself up for failure, more than I ever intended. Many times I was head to wind in obstinate to the lessons I needed to learn.
But somewhere along the way, I exhausted myself. I was spent. Period Costly repairs and avoidable misery had somehow become the norm and I decided to break that cycle of chaos. I became a student, truly dissecting my problems on the water. Simultaneously, I began the same process in my life. I found that the rewards of challenge were not limited to the excitement of sharing sea stories or dramatic events. The true rewards were found in the wisdom of assuming you know nothing worth sharing, unless you bring it to bear, with of humility and patience. Having done your homework and gleaned a lesson from the froth of your struggles.
Wherever your vessel is aimed at the moment, believe that with practice, you can face the wind, in a close reach. You can find the pull in the push and be drawn pleasantly forward by the wonderful challenges of life. Your rhythm. Your sweet spot is waiting for you somewhere between run and rage.
The delicate process of finding this angle is best found with eyes shut, hands on the helm. Feeling where the push comes from. A challenge inside yourself. Then sink in to a rhythm where you split the problem like a sail splits the wind. Break it down and focus, on its very elements. Extract the lift from the forces that oppose you.
The process of learning of how to face a challenge. Is the very skill that will extract the pull from the push and empower you to live out your dreams. It is a skill that can be applied to anything. On the water, in your heart or in your hands.
Those who find this, find what they are looking for. They are fulfilled and immersed in the gift life.
Boredom and depression cannot exist in the hearts and minds of those who find the propelling power of the wind in their face.