Oh what a summer!

I should have listened to my dad when he warned that purchasing a boat would only make the summer go by more quickly and the winter more slowly. I now sit at the edge of a very long winter reflecting back over a very fast, yet enormously memorable summer. Maybe somehow putting it all down on paper will make the sailing from this past summer last just a bit longer.

Sailing home from Muskegon

Let's start at the beginning. Before this summer, I was first a young boy spoken to by the sweeping sheerline of a Maine lobster boat, an adolescent teen enjoying the wind in my hair from the bow of mom and dad's boat, and more recently a novice sailor seeking wisdom from the wind and waves aboard a Laser on Lake Charlevoix. In fact, just one summer ago I was a mere armchair sailor, reading all I could about sailing adventures in far off places. The internet was my virtual showroom allowing me to step aboard the thousands of sailboats listed for sale and drift just a little further into my South Pacific fantasy.

But now, as you read on, you will see that I've traveled far in just one summer, even if mostly only figuratively. Am I any closer to my dream of sailing around the world? Not really, mathematically speaking. Absolutely, however, in reality! I am blessed with the knowledge that the longest voyage starts by simply casting off the first dockline. So read on and see just what all was involved in casting off.

On the day our little Hannabel was launched back in early May, I pondered in my blog: "...did I miss some hidden spot on the hull where water could get inside? Will the swingbolt for the centerboard be watertight? Time will tell." Indeed, time has told. Hannabel is seawatertight. However, she does let the occasional drip into the cabin during heavy rains. Rain seems to be the enemy of Hannabel, not the sea.

Then came our first sail on Hannabel. I gulped it all in: the way it felt to rig the boat for real sailing, the smell of 2-stroke outboard exhaust, the adrenalin rush that accompanied scurrying forward on the deck to set the sails for the very first time, the sweep of the boom on that very first tack. Sailing on this day was everything I had hoped it would be. Well ok, I didn't hope for the outboard engines problems (snapped pull cord, stuck choke, broken shifter) but engines aren't part of real sailing anyway, are they?

As we gained experience and confidence, we began to let more and more water pass under our keel. On a sunny day in early June we had a full crew (mom, dad, Hannah, Isabel, Erin and I) aboard as we pointed the bow north to Muskegon. The air was light but our ambition was heavy and hunger for lunch at Dockers kept us moving! We logged 25 nautical miles that day in the sun and calm seas.

When we paid our slip fees last winter, we made an oath to spend more days and nights aboard Hannabel than at home. Sure, we massively lowered our "cost per night" of slip rental, but more importantly we got to live a docklife. In any typical seven-day summer week, we spent at least four nights aboard Hannabel. That equates to about 50 nights spent aboard Hannabel this summer. So much time spent at the marina engenders you with many new friends and neighbors. There were parties galore celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, launchings and just about any other event including the setting (and sometimes rising) of the sun! We twice watched the air fill with "sulpheric sensation"; once on the fourth of July and a second time during the Coast Guard festival. Camaraderie is a big part of boating for our family.

Then there are all the great meals we enjoyed while onboard or on the dock. One of my favorites was Erin's crockpot rendition of "meigas", a Mexican-style quiche served on top of corn tortillas...very delicious! Or how about a seafood bake and boil right on the dock with crab, shrimp and fresh-caught yellow perch? We had that too! Of course we also had plenty of tube steaks (hot dogs) and beans when we needed to keep things simple and quick. But hey, there's probably not a better food on earth for the money. In fact, one of the most memorable meals was an afternoon of grilling brats on the beach in Holland just as the summer's most formidable storm was rolling in. The coast guard wisely recommended that we "wrap up the barbeque and take shelter". We heeded their advice and took the brats with us on the dinghy back to Hannabel and waited out the big storm in the "safety" of the cabin while we dinned.

We also were able to experience a fair amount of racing in our first season on the water with Hannabel. Erin and I will not soon forget the 8+8 Rally. This was our first chance to sail far from the land, as we raced 8 miles out into the lake and 8 miles back. There was a stormy start, a becalmed middle and a perfect end. Then there was the 70th running of the South Shore Yacht Club's Queen's Cup. I was fortunate enough to get a spot as a foredeck crewmember on a 38 footer. I'll never forget the fear of starting the race in a fierce thunderstorm with low visibility, or the feeling of a massively heeled boat racing along with hundreds of other boats at an average of 8 knots, or crossing all 84 nautical miles of Lake Michigan in the dark of night, or the sight of dozens of flashlights lighting up sails to check telltales, or the sleeplessness of "sleeping" on a heeled side deck, or the view of the sun rising over Grand Haven from 30 miles offshore. I also enjoyed many Wednesday evening races aboard the same yacht and can tell you that there's more to be learned sailing one race than there is in an entire season of cruising and daysailing.

Between cruises to Muskegon, Holland, Port Sheldon, Hoffmaster State Park and as many day sails as we could manage, Hannabel tallied some 225+ miles of sailing this season. Sure, that's just a couple days worth of water beneath the keel on passage from the Galapagos to the Marquesas, but we're plenty proud of season one's logbook. Stay tuned for off-season reports, random sailing thoughts and plans for season two!


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