Nanaimo, British Columbia
Yesterday we had six perfect hours of downwind sailing - the perfect point of sail for a simple soul. For the non-nautical, downwind sailing means that the boat is traveling in the same direction as the wind. This is also known as sailing before the wind. Our big reference book says that this was the first kind of sailing man invented. Modern sailboats aren’t really set up to sail with the wind directly behind them – it’s all about having the sails at an angle to the wind direction, or sailing with a spinnaker, one of those large, often colorful sails that billow and flap.
We don’t have a spinnaker, but we do have a new whisker pole – which attaches at one end to the front of the mast, and at the other end to the foot of the jib. So when we are sailing downwind and it isn’t rough, we can put the boom and the mailsail out to one side of the boat, as close to perpendicular to the boat as possible, and the jib out to the other side with its whisker pole. This is called sailing wing-on-wing – or goosewinged - and makes a wonderful ride in a light wind.
One of the reasons sailing downwind is so comfortable is that it doesn’t feel windy. It can be blowing twelve knots of cool wind, but if the boat is making six knots, the sailor only feels six knots of wind. Technically, this is called the difference between the real and the apparent wind. Non-technically, it means sunbathing in shorts and shirtsleeves in the cockpit. A simple delight – all you need is to have the wind at your back.