Puddle Duck: Launch and Abort

The whitecaps around me confirmed that I was in over my head.  The waves had built to what appeared to be at least a full foot, which was certainly not the ideal conditions to try out a new boat and rig.  Would I be able to make it back to the dock?   I didn’t think the boat would capsize, but I was perhaps a bit closer to that possibility than I wanted to be, and everything was happening pretty quickly.  I had to make some decisions, and I’d need to be quick about it.

The last time I’d used this old lateen rig I’d capsized, as it simply was too much sail for a Folbot, and for my skills.  A Puddle Duck is more stable than one of those classic canvas Folbots, but I didn’t want any sort of repeat this time.  Things were… ok… but they were feeling a bit too much.  I decided to give up getting back to the dock and turned toward shore, but got no response.  The rudder wasn’t working.   I spun around for a better look and saw that the “clever” swing up rudder system I’d created had failed due to a popped bungee.  Grabbing the rudder itself with my left hand, my right holding tight to the mainsheet, I forced the rudder so I’d turn toward shore.  This put the wind behind my back, and I was on a pretty wild ride.  I pulled the sheet in so as to give the sail a bit less power, but I was surfing just as much as sailing.  Things were happening a little too quickly for me, but I was sailing, heading to my desired place on shore, and for the most part, under control.

I slid up on the gravel shore, jumped out of the boat and with the assist of waves that were far too big for comfort, I pulled my little boat as far up on shore as I could manage. Water was breaking into that as yet unsealed flotation chamber, so with a passerby’s help, I pulled the boat entirely out of the water.


Now, how was I going to get back to the dock?

I sat on the shore and took stock of my situation.

The morning had started with excitement and trepidation.   I was nervous about this launch, more so than for any previous boat.  My Folbot past was a part of it, plus, this seemed such a small boat to play with in a big lake.  Seattle’s Lake Washington is 22 miles long, up to 200 feet deep, and covers more than 21,000 acres.  On most days it seems calm, though on others the kite boarders are pushed to their limits with one of them dying in a storm a few years back, drowning as he was overpowered by the winds and his huge kite.

Still, sitting at the launch ramp this morning, it looked safe enough.  Besides, this is a tough little boat that is more capable than its size would indicate… or so I had determined in my daydreams about how I’d use it.  Maybe, I thought, I could sail the length of the lake, one day.

I did a final check of lines and things and cast off on my adventure.

Once back on shore, I pondered my situation.  I’d only made it a hundred yards or so, as the duck would swim.  My course from the dock had been a two-legged triangle, about 100 yards out and then a hundred yards north up the lake.  That final leg of the triangle had me 100 yards from my launching point, but with the wind coming directly toward shore now, and even with the whitecaps on the wane, I just didn’t think I could sail out, or even paddle past the trees pushing out into the lake.  The water was too deep and rocky and wave-strewn to imagine walking it back to the dock, though I spent a good two hours waiting for the winds to die and weighing my options.  I was stuck, probably more by the fear of making another bad choice, as I had clearly launched into conditions that were beyond me, if not the boat.

My trailer could be pulled to within 100 yards across the park, but this boat must weigh 170 pounds, give or take.  I’d need help carrying it to the trailer, and given it was a weekday, all the men walking by were older than me, and I didn’t want to risk either one of us having a heart attack.

A couple of hours of waiting and indecision later I got up the nerve to ask a rare young man for help, and with a great deal of effort, we picked it up across the sidewalk, and dragged it across the grass to my trailer.

What did I learn from my adventure?

I felt a bit foolish about how it had all unfolded, but I did have to give myself a pat on the back for trying.  Most people don’t build boats, and fear is a major reason why.

I let impatience and some delays get the better of me.   I really wanted to launch, badly, so I set off more in excitement than with a proper sense of conditions.

Honestly, conditions were within the capabilities of the boat, but were a bit much for me.  I checked the wind conditions once ashore and saw that at the time of my launch, the winds were at 13 miles per hour, and the direction of the wind was allowing for some good sized waves to build up.  At the ramp it felt ok, but once clear of the launch area, things were a bit rough. By the time I took these pictures the conditions were back down again, though the waves stayed rather substantial for the entire time I was there.

Finally, I was making do with some old parts I had lying around.  I’d make them work, for now, I thought, but now know I need to replace a few aging bolts and nuts in the sail hardware, and figure out a better arrangement for the steering.  I have the idea right, but need to upgrade a thing or two.  Nothing catastrophic happened, but i am going to over prepare next time.

The design?  It’s a good one, I am totally convinced, but I need to use it as intended, and I need to have my skills up to the level of the boat!

While I was a bit nervous at times, and the situation had the capability of getting ahead of me, it didn’t.  I sailed.  I saw I was not in a great situation, so sailed to shore and made it.  The worst that happened was that I was not entirely comfortable with the way things were headed, so I headed in.

Scow 244. Previous stories.

I’ll launch again, maybe even tomorrow, but I’ll do so only in a very light wind!  At least at first!

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