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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Kicker, sheet and topping lift

As we turn into the strait between Cumbrea and little cumbrea, we find the dark water Dave was on about, the water is choppyer here and sure enough there's enough wind to put up our sails. Before we can put up the sails we are told about the importance of KST, which stands for kicker,sheet and topping lift. This refers to three ropes, or lines, although one line is a sheet, just to confuse matters. The reason we're doing this is to raise the big heavy swinging boom arm at the bottom of the main sail so it is above our heads and won't knock us senseless,or into the sea when it flys across the boat, which it will do at times. We loosen the kicker, pull on the topping lift and loosen the sheet which is a line running through a series of pulleys just in front of the steering wheel,(helm). The boom is now raised above head hieght and it's time to put up the sails. We're told to come about, which means we have to turn the boat to face the wind. A swinging arrow at the top of the mast points to where the wind is coming from, and we put the engine into neutral. Dave shows us how to wind a rope, or halyard, around a winch, without trapping our fingers, pinky pointing at the winch, and with Stewart pulling on a line on the mast up goes the main sail flapping like mad as it climbs to the top of the mast some 30 odd feet above us. Next the Genoa is fed into a slot at the focsal and this too is flapping away. The Genoa line is locked in place with a thing called a rope jammer and one of the lines leading to the clew on the Genoa is wrapped around another winch on the opposite side of the top deck. Dave asks us to now steer the boat out of the head wind, and sunddenly the sails stop flapping, fill with wind and the boat sarts to move again, slowly at first but soon were doing 3 or 4 knots according to the speedo. Wowee how brill is this. It turns out that what we have to do is to steer a course that is about 45 degrees from the direction of the wind. If I get to close to the wind, as they say the sails start flapping and all I have to do is correct that is steer the opposite way to get the sails full again. Within minutes were doing the same speed as we were with the engine on, which was 6 knots, which Dave reckons is quite healthy. The wind we're told is about force 4 which Dave can read from looking at the wave tops.
To make progress, in a forward direction we will have to do what is known as tacking. This involves turning the boat through 90 degrees, and sailing in the opposite direction. What happens here is that two people man the two winches, one will release the line to the genoa whilst the other tightens the other line. The command for this action comes from the helm, and Dave tells me to say ready to go about, to which my crew have to respond, Ready, and I turn the wheel.
The sails go into a mad flapping once more, ropes wizz about, winches turn and in a few moments we're sailing again but we're now on what we learn is an opposite tack. We will have to do this again and again to move forward, we're quickly leaning one of the fundamentals of sailing, tacking. We swop jobs as each of us gets to grips with these new skills and at one point Jackie manages to clock an amazing 8.5 knots, this is exhilerating and so much fun. The weather is perfect, clear blue skys and a force 4 breeze to take us to our lunch destination which is a sheltered bay, called Lochranza, on the north west coast of the isle of Arron.