I can go out farther and stay out longer than if I were toiling
in a conventional sailing dinghy. When conditions are right,
I simply turn off the motor and enjoy the rush of the bow
wave, the pull of the sheet, and the thrill of being
propelled only by the wind. In a fresh breeze, my record
speed under sail is an invigorating almost-four-knots.
Given the inherent stability of an inflatable, standing up
is no problem, and a capsize is the least of my worries. In
a strong gust, it could of course happen, but the bamboo
mast would probably snap first. Unlike in a dinghy, there is
no need to hike out, although with larger waves, I still
stand a fair chance of getting my bum wet.
Thanks to a lengthy process of trial and error resulting in
a tolerably efficient rig and a serviceable set of
leeboards, I can, with sufficient doggedness and patience,
even go to windward by a few degrees. But a broad reach on
a starboard tack is by far her most favorable point of sail.
Tacking is still something of a hit-or-miss proposition,
but then, what's wrong with (careful) gybing if you're not
headed for some orange buoy at the end of a race course?
To be sure, win any regattas I won't. Not even lose them,
since I'd be laughed off at sight. But that does not concern
me. A downside, however, is the not inconsiderable hassle
until everything is set up. To go from regular inflatable to
quasi-sailboat with leeboards over the side and wooden
rudder blade attached to the outboard is a procedure that
even now, with some practice, takes a good 15 or 20 minutes.
However, in fair conditions it can be performed on the
water, as can the reverse process, and with some persuasion,
everything even stows inside the boat.
I took my first stab at sailing Gonbei when the importer of
Zodiac and Sevylor inflatables kindly let me have a sail kit
designed for their line of Caravelle soft tails. I got that
kit for free, because, as the man--unusually candid for a
business person--said, it was not very serviceable and they
had sort of stopped marketing it. He did ask me for some
feedback, though, which I duly provided.
Gonbei is bigger than a Caravelle and has a wooden transom, but
some of the rubber fittings are similar and I adapted the sail
kit to it. It had an A-frame mast with aluminum spars and a
loose-footed 40-square-foot Dacron sail (the latter, cut into
a different shape by my 12-year-old daughter who happens to
like sewing, is one of the few parts that still are used in
the final rig). Sure enough, on my first outing in light
winds on a lake close to our house, two bolts of the A-frame
crossbar bent beyond recognition, a retaining nut came off,
and the entire thing unceremoniously flopped into the water.
I knew there and then that I needed a different solution to
keeping the sail up.