The past few days tropical storm/hurricane Sandy had been approaching the US and we awoke this day to the storm starting her pass by Florida. Yes, she was well east of us (all the way across the width of Florida and a good distance out to sea) as well as a bit south of us, but because she was a big storm, this was still causing some stronger winds all the way over in Tampa Bay.
After breakfast and making use of the showers at the Vinoy hotel, we see a couple sailboats out in the bay sailing with reefed sails. We decide to get going thinking that, if we don't like the conditions, we can always come back to the marina. So we get ready to go...for the first time by ourselves in a large-enough-to-live-in boat. Taking into account the direction the wind will blow the boat while we were in the slip, we remove the spring lines and all but the one dock line that will help us keep the boat under control until we get a bit of speed coming out of the dock (when the rudder becomes effective). We set the one line as a running line so my wife could cast it off while standing on the boat as I motor the boat out.
We leave the slip without incident and make our way out of the marina and the protected cove. As we leave the protection of the cove we notice the seas were choppier than the previous day. By the time we made it far enough away from the St. Petersburg pier, it seemed we were in 3 ft seas...and this was in Tampa Bay. The winds were from the northeast, so the fetch was all the way across the bay.
Raising the main on this boat is a little different, as the main rolls up inside the mast. Since the winds were a steady 20kts and gusting higher, we wanted to reef the main, so we prepare to partially unfurl the main. Unlike having reef points, with a roller you have an infinite ability to reef the sail. So, we take our best guess and bring the main sail part way out. We get the main set, and I shut down the engine.
With the rough water the boat slowed and we started losing directional control. So, I started the engine again and I opted to bring out a little of the head sail so hopefully it would give us a bit of power without overpowering the boat. Since I was at the helm at the time I asked my wife to do it, but she seemed to be having some difficulty with the rigging of this boat, so I set the autopilot and went to help. We got the head sail about 50% unfurled and I set a broad reach course and put the engine in idle. This time we were getting some power.
The roughness of the seas combined with our control difficulties made the decision to just head back to the marina an easy one. Maybe this wasn't the best day to be making our first leg of a trip by ourselves on a boat with which we have little experience. I head the boat up into the wind to get us heading back in the general direction of the marina and ask my wife to re-trim the sail. Again she was having difficulty. It was about this time that I start to realize that something more was wrong.
The rough sea, the gusting wind, and the rolling and healing of the smaller mono-hull boat all combined to scare my wife much more than I had realized. Add in the urgency of needing to get the sails set before we lost steerage, and I was apparently more barking orders than calmly discussing them, and the combination of it all was too much for her. What have I done? Have I just pulled the rug out from under all of this? To my wife, I am very sorry for being part of the problem.
After getting the sails trimmed, I decided the best action we could take was to start the engine, drop the sails, and just motor back to the marina. I start the motor, head the boat into the wind and set the autopilot, and then furl the sails. On the bright side we didn't have a problem with the roller furling head sail, but I apparently got it rolled so tight that there was about a one foot triangle still out when I ran out of furling line. I was able to get the main furled and we motored back to the dock.
At the end of our lesson the prior day, we were told that we could pick up a Sailing Florida employee to help return the boat to the slip, so that is what we did. I figured having someone else take over at this point was the prudent move. The boat was uneventfully returned to it's slip, but the damage may have already been done to our long term plan.
We decided the best course of action for the rest of the day was to get off the boat and look around the St. Petersburg area instead. As the day came to an end, we watched the sun set on the gulf side.