Ryan and I are both visibly stressed when we arrive to Pierre’s office at Uchimata Sailing Services. We’ve been running through everything that needs to get done on Cheeky Monkey before Pierre’s team of workers finish at noon tomorrow to go on vacation for a month, along with the rest of France. I am holding a scrawled list of outstanding work items and Ryan is glancing at his watch every few minutes because we also have to get to the chandlery before it closes.
“Don’t worry,” says Pierre. “We are on schedule. We have the sea trials in the morning and that’s it. Everything else is done.”
Ryan is shaking his head. “But when are we getting our training with the Parasailor?”
Pierre shrugs. “We can do it during the sea trial tomorrow.”
Ryan rolls his eyes and sighs. “Pierre, your guys are finishing for the day at twelve o’clock tomorrow. When we talked about buying the Parasailor from you I was promised a day of training. Not half an hour.”
Pierre looks surprised. “But this is not a problem. This is easy. A 70-year-old woman hoisted her Parasailor for the first time last week all by herself. There is nothing to learn.”
I can see the look of irritation on Ryan’s face and I know he’s thinking we should have bought our Istec Parasailor directly from the vendor, as they guaranteed a full day of training with the sail purchase. Neither Ryan nor I have ever used a symmetrical spinnaker before and the spinnakers we used on the Clipper Race were asymmetrical, not to mention they required much more than two sets of hands to hoist and drop. I knew it wouldn’t be as complicated as wooling (tying little strings every foot or so for the length of the rolled-up sail) and packing this spinnaker like we did on the race, but I still had no idea how to use this thing.
The last thing we want, after spending thousands of dollars on this amazing new piece of sail technology, is to find we lack the confidence we need to use it. Hence why we are keen to get proper training with the sail and not just be told, “It’s easy, no problem.”
We did a lot of research on the German-made Parasailor before we bought it and talked to cruisers who used them. One guy told us he crossed the Atlantic single-handed on his catamaran and the Parasailor was the best thing he’d bought other than his extra large freezer (understandable, as he was a chef). Apparently, he hoisted the sail a few days into his trip and didn’t touch the sheets again for two solid weeks.
Unlike other symmetrical spinnakers, which are temperamental and tricky to use short-handed, the set-up of the Parasailor and the “snuffer,” the sock-like tube used to bring the sail down, makes it really easy to operate. Also, it can be used as a symmetrical or an asymmetrical spinnaker, giving it a huge range; it can sail between 70 and 180 degrees to the wind and in wind speeds of up to 25-30 knots.
The design of the “wing” in the middle of the Parasailor is the thing that really sets this downwind sail apart from other spinnakers. The shape of the wing, which is the flap-like opening in the sail, and the angle at which the air flows through it means, just like an airplane wing, the air on the surface of the wing accelerates faster than the air beneath it. The pressure created by these aerodynamics literally sucks the wing upwards and stabilizes the whole sail, making it difficult to collapse by mistake.
There are also a few other effects of the genius engineering behind the Parasailor wing, which apparently increase propulsion and efficiency, despite the fact that there is a big hole in the sail, letting airflow escape. But I would be lying if I claimed to understand aerodynamics enough to explain it. Let’s just say this thing makes us go faster in a tailwind than with a normal spinnaker, and leave it at that.
Basically, everything we’ve read about this sail tells us it has the potential to be our favorite piece of kit for a round-the-world journey with the tradewinds. But that still doesn’t change the fact that we don’t know how to use the thing.
“We’ll put the Parasailor up tomorrow and you will see,” says Pierre. “It’s really easy even with just one person.”
Ryan looks doubtful but he shrugs. We don’t have a choice at this stage. France is literally shutting down for a month and whatever doesn’t get done before tomorrow will have to be taken care of later on down the line. This is it. Cheeky Monkey is as ready as she’ll ever be to leave France.
In the morning Pierre shows up with four guys to take Cheeky Monkey off the dock and out to sea to test the instruments, calibrate the autopilot and try the new spinnaker rigging, which was installed yesterday.
For the last few days, Ryan and I have been walking around the boat, testing every switch, plug, and piece of equipment to see if they work the way they should. And we approach this day out on the water with the same test review mentality — we rig the sheets to make sure we understand the spinnaker block set-up, particularly since this sail has two sheets on either side, one active and one lazy sheet. And we watch carefully as Uchimata’s guys pull the lines on the snuffer to uncover the sail. The snuffer gets raised smoothly, with only a momentary snag, and within minutes of tying the sheets on, our beautiful yellow sail is flying.
I chose the colors for the Parasailor and the genniker, so the first thing I notice when the sail is hoisted is that there are gray stripes on the Parasailor, though it is meant to be 100% yellow. I mention it to Ryan and we both shrug — we’re so excited to see the spinnaker flying, we don’t actually care what color it is. We’re not sending this thing back.
“She’s beautiful!” I say, smiling.
Pierre’s team drop the snuffer and are about to bag up the sail when Ryan steps in and tells them we need to have a little practice hoisting and dropping the sail with just two of us.
Ryan and I follow the sheets back through the blocks to understand how to set the spinnaker up and, by hand, Ryan tugs the halyard attached to the long gray snuffer sock and raises the sail easily to the top of the mast. Once the halyard is raised, I tug on the snuffer lines to raise the sock, allowing the Parasailor to billow out of the bottom of the snuffer and catch the wind. There is a slight snag when the snuffer reaches the extra folds of the wing, the small piece of sail that flies above the opening, but we get around it by dropping the snuffer a little and then pulling the lines again until the brim of the snuffer reaches the very top.
The whole process takes less than five minutes and requires no sweating, grunting, shouting or panicking. As Pierre said, it’s easy. And there really isn’t much to practice.
It’s so simple, the 10 steps go just like this:
And then dropping the sail is as simple as this:
It would have been nice to have a full day out on the water, playing with the Parasailor at all wind angles. But Pierre was right in that there was not much to teach in the way of hoisting and dropping the sail. The rest we can learn by just playing around with the Parasailor ourselves.
So now that we’ve seen the sail in action, we have the confidence to hoist the Parasailor as soon as we get any kind of tailwind, and that’s the important thing. The next most important thing will be keeping an eye on the weather, so we know when to drop her before we can cause any damage.
At the price point of these Parasailors, we hope we never have to do any repairs on her. Which means the key to maintaining her is knowledge and awareness. We got the knowledge from our training. Now we need to work on a better awareness of the weather. But as far as Team Cheeky Monkey goes, we’re ready!
Update: The 30-Day Challenge
So, it’s day 10 of the 30-Day Creative Challenge I set for myself, and I have failed in my mission to publish a new post every day. BUT not all is lost, as I have been successful in writing every single day for the last 10 days.
It turns out it is pretty near impossible for me to publish a new post every day while also trying to get Cheeky Monkey built. Well, not impossible, but it would mean I could never sleep. Or eat. Or leave the boat.
But we are in our last few days of finishing up construction on Cheeky Monkey here, so I am hoping I can free up some time very soon to charge forward with this challenge at full speed.
In any case, I knew it was going to be a challenge to keep up with my own demands, but I also figured you never reach your goals by aiming too low. So, no regrets about declaring this challenge. Just a few more days of no sleep and I’ll be back on track…
Thanks for all your support! And feel free to share your challenge in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it.