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by Dan Rogers - Diamond Lake, Washington - USA

A couple interesting things happened today. Nothing big, in the Grand Scheme. But, kinda' cool, nonetheless. Lady Bug and I have been shipmates for quite a while, now. I tend to forget dates, anymore; but something like 7 or even 8 years since she came to live with me from Arizona.

Just about from Day One, I've been trying to Simplicate and Add Lightness to her. Poor girl has had more holes drilled, more stuff moved around and added and removed and added again than any boat should have to endure. Fortunately, she was way overbuilt by the factory. Probably a 30-footer's scantlings. The original mast and standing rig was excessively over-the-top for a 16 foot pocket cruiser. The rudder was one huge slab of mahogany. There was even a 3x3 inch compression post in the middle of that teesey weensey cabin. The same cabin with cushions originally arranged for FOUR putative sleepers. Plenty of extra mass to accommodate all those holes I seem to drill. Anyhow.

I don't think I have ever sailed one of these under-long and over-wide and under-deep spit kits that didn't either just want to roll over and die when the wind pipes up, or at least round up and even tack herself every time the rail nears the wet stuff. And, Lady Bug has always shown those tendencies too. Until, finally, today.

I wasn't even going to go out. In fact, I was totally disgusted with a bunch of things; and I intended to pull the boat out of the water and put her back in storage to "await developments." She's been inhabiting a borrowed slip here at Diamond Lake. A generous offer. I should be grateful. But, instead, I've been grousing about how this particular slip is the most gawdawful untenable place to be when the prevailing wind comes calling with gusts in the thirties. The full fetch of the lake is wide open and the chop builds up like the fizz in a well shook half-full beer bottle. No place for a respectable girl like Lady Bug. Heck, even with doubled spring lines, extra breast lines, and a 30-pound plow anchor set well up to windward on 50 feet of towing chain and a 5/8" nylon double braid tail line; she pounds and surges and writhes in that dock space something awful.

I was on the way over to get her trailer and give up on local sailing. Just stopped by to check on how things were chaffing and jerking loose and such. I was standing there on the finger pier. Actually, I was on my knees to keep from being pitched overboard. And, that old familiar YAHBUTT bird musta' landed on my shoulder. You know the one. That crazy bird that lands on your shoulder at odd moments of indecision and says, "Yahbutt, it'll be different THIS time." That, bird.

Ever since I swapped the factory spar and rig for a beach cat stick and changed the whole cobweb of shrouds and stays and hoisted a full-batten beach cat main to that elevated truck, she's been a handful in a breeze. A whole lot more responsive in the light going. But, way, way overpowered otherwise. I've been on a multi-year rip to some how squeeze out more speed and pointing ability all the while insisting she be a lady in the bargain. A big project for a shirt sleeve mechanic and back yard tinkerer such as myself. Until today!

So, at the insistence of an imaginary bird, I shucked all those mooring lines and galumphed on out of the slip and into the wind. I've been tweaking a reefing system that allows for about four or even five degrees of reefing. Lately, it's gotten simplicated to a pretty fine edge. Fewer strings and cleats. More control of sail shape and tension. Stuff like that. I selected a shortening position a lot less than the conditions seemed to warrant. Probably someplace between a flattening reef and the first set of cringles in a conventional Marconi main. I remember thinking at the time, that the sail head was about as high up as the old factory-supplied rig had it. In those now-distant years before I added all this extra sail. About like the designer specified. Hmnnnn.

So, once hoisted and strapped in, that main was up and drawing like a draft horse. Gusts came and went. And, I realized that I only had one finger on the tiller. Even when we rolled rail-down. Most of the time I wasn't even steering. I even ducked into the cabin to get my jacket, and came back out to see a straight line of bubbles astern. That little stub-keeled, unbalanced-rudder tub she was born to be had finally morphed into something that resembles the refinement of a pedigreed full-keel ocean going vessel. Amazing, actually.

Maybe, just maybe. I've messed with the rudder and rig and tiller and loading and all that stuff enough. Maybe we've about got it. Granted, hull speed is still in the range of the neighbor's burrow shuffling off to the barn. About 5 knots on "afterburner." There's only so much you can ask of a 14 foot waterline with the prismatic coefficient of a cinder block. But, there we were. Sailing straight lines, coming about smartly, and just feeling like a very much bigger boat. On a day that I was going to throw in the towel and maybe even-dare I admit? - turn the old girl into a sort of pocket motor sailer that I've been visualizing for a very long time. One, of a couple, interesting things.

I wouldn't say that Diamond Lake is a hotbed of sailing. Amid a forest of Chev 350 powered ski boats, and plush-seated pontoon palaces with purring four-strokes; there are only about half-dozen rag baggers strewn along the shoreline. Most times, Lady Bug is the only one to actually venture away from the dock. Today, the pheromones must have been active. As I was reveling in my new-discovered sailing sophistication, there was this Prindle Cat chewing up the distance to leeward. Hey, we could never manage to actually stay ahead. But, as EVERYBODY knows, the definition of a sailboat "race" is that occurrence when ever two boats come in sight of each other. So, the "race' was on.

Our puddle is heir to all the standard foibles of a small lake with steep-to shorelines. Gusts from one eighty out, with very little warning. Calm holes amid the maelstrom. Back eddies and counter flow close to the margins. All that stuff. I've been reading ripples for quite a while now, and can usually stay ahead of the game. And, while there was absolutely no question the cat was both outpointing and outfooting me on average. I was tacking on headers and riding the lifts pretty effectively. That cat was gonna' have to earn it, anyway.

After a while, he passed to windward. We exchanged waves. And, I hunkered down to snap at his heels. Sort of like how our attack poodle, Beau, does when he's "chasing" the local deer. Wham.

One minute he was hiked out and accelerating. Next, the rig was in the drink. A local friend with a fancy waterfront house snapped these shots and sent 'em to me email. The moment the other boat got dismasted, the old Boy Scout juices started flowing. We were doused and motoring over in less time than it takes to say "Be Prepared." No big deal. I've been towing people home for a very long time now. But, there we were framed in Dick's telephoto lens. Directly in front of the Scout Camp waterfront. The very spot I pulled my first sputtering and choking kid from the water. Right where I first learned to row, and paddle, and sail, and water ski. Right there.

Gotta' admit. That Yahbutt bird musta' known what he was squawking about, after all. A very interesting day.

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