Discomfort is an Effective Teacher

…but not a very pleasant one….

Ask me how I know this!  Experience.  I seem to continue to torture us with upwind sailing.  Some of this is due to our destination being in a direction that is not entirely cooperative with the weather, but it’s primarily due to my inexperience with marine weather and navigation.  Ed (and I guess me as well) is certainly a sport in letting me learn the hard way.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein? AA? NA? Sound advice regardless of who said it first.
Ed at the helm on our way to Little Harbour Cay.

We started our week at Great Harbour Cay waiting for a gnarly cold front to pass.  Tuesday came with favorable sailing weather, and after a lot of back and forth on routing decisions and discussion with Ed, I finally decided our best course was to sail up and around the north end of the Berry Island chain, and anchor at Little Harbour Cay on the east side.  That leg went fairly well, but it was close hauled (up wind) most of the way which is always a less comfortable sail than downwind.  We had also planned for me to be at the helm while dropping anchor so I could get some practice with that.  While I have gotten more comfortable with maneuvering the boat under motor, having to make more complex decisions while doing so still eludes me. Our anchorage for the night was not exactly beginner conditions…lots of shallow areas in random spots, and a west wind shifting to east throughout the night meant we had to have adequate depth around us while still having good shelter. Ed started seeing some decision making on my part that he was concerned about.  I insisted quite quickly that he just needed to take over (I usually run the front end of anchoring and am comfortable with it at this point), and he was hoping I would try to press through it.  The experience left me frustrated, yet again, that I still have great difficulty with close-quarter maneuvering in non-simple situations, and Ed frustrated that his teaching isn’t yielding quicker results. 

We got the anchor down easy enough once we unkinked the “where” part, and instead of diving into the same argument that we’ve had a number of times before about how I learn versus how he likes to teach, we just took some time and space to cool off (not always easy on a boat).  This apprentice/craftsman dynamic that we are having to navigate through in our relationship has been a difficult process for both of us.  For me, because I’m used to picking things up quickly, and a currently that’s not happening with a couple of aspects of boat handling; for Ed, because he is not used to having to adjust his M.O. to meet his “student’s” learning style.  Teaching typically requires a person to know how to convey information in a variety of ways, and to pick a way that makes most sense to the student, not the teacher.  Teaching is hard work, part psychology, and does not come naturally to a lot of people.  I tend to do ok, as I’ve had a lot of practice, Ed is not as fluid with teaching.  However, he is getting better with practice.  Despite this snag, we had a good evening at anchor, with some other boats that followed us in, and got an early start for our next leg early in the morning.

I knew leg number two was going to require some motor sailing once we got past Nassau, because the wind direction was forecast to be generally ENE and lighter in the afternoon.  I figured, based on forecast, that we would have a nice close reach to sail with for Little Harbour to Nassau.  I was wrong, and we ended up motor-sailing the whole way to Highbourne Cay.  Even though we had to cheat with the engines, it was a generally pleasurable sail.  We anchored without a hitch, this time with Ed at the helm, and settled in for the evening. 

The next day was lovely, we took the dinghy into the marina and had lunch there.  It was really yummy, and the restaurant had a beautiful view.

Scenic pano from our table.

We also took the afternoon to swim around a bit, and also make some fresh water.  We attracted a barracuda while we made water which was fun to watch.

Later in the evening a cruising couple we have become acquainted with, Nick and Megan O’Kelly, sailed up to meet us as we had some supplies to deliver to them.  We had dinner on their boat, which was DELICIOUS, and some good conversation.  After seeing their boat, and having Megan’s awesome homecooked meal, it left me thinking, “jeeze, if I could even get my crap together even half as well as they have, we’d be doing great!”  I also had to remind myself that they have been doing this for many years, and it’s an unrealistic expectation for me (or us) to be at their level right now.

Clarity, sister ship to Serenity, coming in to anchor.
Megan’s delicious pizza.

They left early in the morning to head back south down the Exuma chain, and Ed and I sat in a (now) rolly anchorage bummed with the lack of flat water.  As I looked at the weather forecast (I do this every day…especially important when anchored), I decided we should follow suit and take the day to work our way south as it looked most favorable of any day in the coming week.  Once again, the wind was forecast ENE at about 15kts, and we had, roughly, about a 150 course to get to our next stop at Compass Cay.  After some discussion with Ed, we also settled on an anchorage west of Pipe Cay (next to Compass Cay) which we thought would be good considering the easterly wind for the next few days.

Despite my thought that we would have a nice close reach to sail with, we were close hauled and having to correct our course by tacking.  As we ran shy of daylight, we motored for the last 12 miles.

Why, oh why, do I keep looking at forecast wind direction that looks workable, only to see a wind direction underway that really isn’t?!?  Duh, we alter the apparent wind direction by virtue of our motion.  As a pilot, I feel ashamed that I didn’t figure this out sooner.  Soooo….I have learned that if we are to sail with ANY upwind component, I have to peel about 20-30 degrees off the forecast direction, otherwise we tack to correct (which adds a lot of time to cover our intended distance) or fire up the engines.  Given that catamarans do not point upwind as well as a monohull (whole separate conversation on the mechanics of why), we really have to have a forecast that shows a true beam reach for intended course or wind behind.  Ooohhhhh…this is why they say catamarans don’t sail upwind!  I only had to give us three different trips with a total of 10 days to figure this out.  A smarter person than I could have given me a lesson in less than an hour that I would have fully understood.

Discomfort is an effective teacher, but not a very expeditious one.

We arrived at our anchorage with about 30 minutes of daylight to spare, and despite some weird current (hint number one that we should have anchored elsewhere) and some brisk east wind, we got the hook down pretty efficiently.  AAAANNNDDD the evening was miserable with sea swell from the south rocking us back and forth…ugh.  Morning came, and I insisted that we needed to go dock at the marina nearby to hit the reset button, and regroup a little bit. 

Discomfort is an effective teacher, but a student who has found herself at step one of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is not able to learn anymore.

Docking at marinas is not cheap, but we had reached a point where physiological needs trumped bank account wishes.  Bailouts as we learn were budgeted in.  My advice to anyone starting off on cruising is to do the same.

Although this has been a trying week, it’s had its moments of awesomeness as well.  I will follow up in a few days as we enjoy accommodations at Compass Cay Marina and take some time to explore the area.

A preview of what we get to enjoy here:

2 thoughts on “Discomfort is an Effective Teacher

  1. Sounds like you’ve just hit a little plateau. Don’t beat yourself up about it (said the kettle to the pot). Soon enough it will be second nature.


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