Sailing Upwind and Reducing Heel

Last week we took a group of high school seniors on a sail from Safety Harbor on the gulf side of Islamorada around to Indian Key on the ocean side.  The weather was sunny and the wind was brisk–about 20 knots from the northeast and cool.  We put the second reef in the main sail before we pulled away from the dock since it’s much easier to let a reef out than to put one in underway.  And besides, the boat was crowded with boys and girls whose sailing experience we did not know.

Our objective was Indian Key, a Florida State Historical Site, where there are mooring balls and a dock.  The ruins of shops, warehouses and even a hotel are all that remain of what was once the Dade County Seat in the mid-1800’s.  That’s hard to imagine now that Miami has the honor.

From Safety Harbor it was a quick, down-wind run to the Channel 5 Bridge.  It’s high-rise arch is the first good crossover for sailboats coming south from Miami in the Atlantic Ocean and going over to Florida Bay.  The span clears the water by 65 ft. giving motorists a spectacular view of the blue-green, turquoise waters of the bay to the north where mangrove islands dot its surface.  At the same time a panoramic vista of the Atlantic Ocean spreads out to the south.  Both bodies of water are surprisingly calm in spite of the wind because of the nearness of the reef and the shallow depths of the bay.

Once under the bridge and turned towards the east, the uphill race began.  We were able to close haul on a port tack and our dodger and bimini did a great job of keeping us toasty warm and protected.  However, in trying to keep the bow pointed towards our destination, which we could just see off in the distance, we were heeling over, something to be expected when sailing up wind.  As we got closer to our destination, we kept tightening and flattening the jib in order to point closer to the wind and to try to counteract the effect of making leeway to the south.  In addition, the wind was getting a little gusty.  With those gusts we would heel over at an angle that was uncomfortable and also beyond what I felt was of any benefit.  We were only doing about 5 knots, and besides, it was becoming clear that there was no way we could make Indian Key without tacking.

So, you know what?  We reefed the jib.  This caused us to point a little more to the south of our previous eastward track, but the hull flattened out a touch giving us a much more comfortable ride.  And there was another benefit.  We increased speed.  And before we knew it we were just south of the mooring field off Indian Key where we motored upwind just a couple of minutes to tie off to a mooring ball.

We ferried the kids by dingy to the dock where they explored Indian Key for half an hour.  Then they were back aboard for the trip home.  We retraced our steps with a downwind run to the Channel 5 bridge and then motored upwind from there back to Safety Harbor.  We motored because the kids had to be back for soccer practice and we didn’t want any delays.  The whole adventure took us about 5 1/2 hours.  There’s nothing like calm seas with a good wind to validate sailing principles and skills.  And that’s why we like to sail in the Florida Keys.

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