SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
April 30, 2016
Setting the Main (Event)
22° 12.9 S x 149° 15.1 W
214 nm S of Tahiti
Wind / Weather / Sail Plan
Semi-starry skies, steering by the occasional glimpse Mintaka and Sirius and the wind on the back of our ears / Wind SE x S, F5 / Topsail and Four Lowers, Shallow-Reefed Main
It's JWO season here aboard Mama Seamans, and that means students are scurrying to and fro with notebooks and sheaves of scrap paper in hand, trying to track down a mate or the elusive JWO Sheet Anchor binder to study up on everything from gybing to reporting to Jay. (Who knew turning around and talking could be such precise and exacting tasks?)
Many a JWO has reported for his or her watch armed with copious notes and checklists for every hour, only to find that such diligent preparation is exactly as valuable as the ability to adapt it to the dynamic situations of watch and weather. Squalls on the radar, wrestles with the galley mats, a brigantine that simply won't fall off the wind or go anywhere unless you give her the Jib - all of these can wreak havoc with the best laid plans of mice and JWOs. But plans are just that - plans; execution is what counts.
Several JWOs have been called upon to execute either a set or strike of the Mainsail as we have adapted our sail plan to the building Southeasterly Trades over the past few days. Managing the Main is a fairly tidy analogy for the whole JWO experience: for the productive tension between devilish details and a big picture sense of situational awareness.
The Main has quite the collection of lines associated with it, and the lines for the main perform a great variety of distinct functions. Halyard and downhaul are straightforward enough and analogous to other sails on board, but never cast that halyard off as you might do for the Jib or Staysails! Sheets on other fore and aft sails tend to just do their own thing, on the Main the sheet works against both the preventer and the topping lift. And don't forget to have the preventer cast off when setting, or the folks on the halyard will be less than happy.
Which brings me to the line voted "Most Likely to be Forgotten" in its high school year book: the deep reef outhaul. Most of it hides in the boom and we had no reason to pay any attention to it for the first half of the trip when both reefs were tucked. Poor neglected thing - but the reef outhaul will have its sneaky revenge if you forget to cast it off and have the leach of the sail effectively bound down to the boom.
For the person calling the main, the functions and specific commands for all of these lines must be at her fingertips - cast off the halyard instead of the preventer or the reef outhaul and things will not go well. But each and every one of those details must also fit into a larger picture, into the dynamic process of lifting 3700 square feet of canvas 100' into the air.
Our JWOs have been twirling their tutus in this dance between the minutiae of routines, scripts, and practiced skills and an integration of those minutiae into the smooth running of this complex vessel, into a mysterious mix of priorities and judgment. And they have, by and large, been ringing the bell on this capstone experience, just as we hope to hear the main boom clang to the top of the gooseneck in a successful set of the Main.