I love helming and the focus that it requires. I am often at the helm when we are doing sail changes or manoeuvres. We try to minimize these as they are often risky and involve someone going on the the foredeck. We are clipped on all the time. We clip on before even stepping out of the companion way. We are all too aware of the story of the young woman who was on the Clipper Around the World race who stepped into the cockpit out of the companion way before clipping on at the very moment that a wave broke across the cock pit. She was swept off the boat and was not found. Not clipping on cost her life and so we are all aware of this constant risk.
In the First 40.7 the helm is a massive 60 inch wheel behind a traveller that cuts the 9 foot cockpit in half. When on the helm you are in your own domain, separated from the rest of the crew in the pit who can adjust sails and grind without interfering with the helms person.
While on watch today the wind picked up steadily and blew consistently 25 knots. The swells increased to 6 metres with 8 second intervals. We were absolutely flying pushed forward by the great wind and then aided by the swells which we surged down the backs of before disappearing into a trough and climbing up the back of the next wave. Oh my god, this is absolutely amazing sailing I thought. I can never get enough of this! It is a real thrill to be at the helm in these conditions.
The sea is boiling like a live creature all around us and Playing Around seems to be in her element. There is a predictability to the way she rocks and rolls that makes me feel like I know her and trust her. She is no longer just an anonymous boat. She bucks if the waves come close together and the stern is slightly lifted and twists down into the trough in front. I can now feel the waves coming behind me and know what way we will be twisted down the wave and what corrections I need to make on the helm to hold our course.
Corrections at the helm are best made at the crest of the wave when you feel what the wave will do. This is not a cognitive exercise, it is something that is felt in the body by tuning in. I don’t necessarily want to talk when I am on the helm all of my focus is on holding our course and staying attuned to what Playing Around will do with each wave. The helm is light if I make corrections at the right time, we don’t swing around as much or loose as much speed. It’s a game I play with myself, the boat and the waves for hours on end. Several hours of helming in these conditions is exhausting because of all the pointed concentration that is required. It is a moving meditation, second by second paying attention. It grows dark and I am still at the helm, still absorbed in my task.
After my watch I have a brief but deep sleep and my dreams are dominated by waves and the wheel.