The Unagi

The Captain and crew of the Tacoma Women’s Sailing Association (TWSA) spring class boat the Unagi. Fair winds and following seas are hoped for, but if that’s not in the cards, we’ll take what Tacoma can give us. Or reschedule. 

Sailing class didn’t happen in 2020. Though I was only intermittently texting Brooks Wilcox about getting the boat back, I did plan to do some actual sailing and not just sanding, and you can’t beat the $200 price tag of TWSA’s six-week sailing class. That’s what got me interested in the first place, that and the plan to live in Tacoma for COVID, the only place I really want to be, and that is the Stadium District, with Commencement Bay out my window every darn day. 

Covid lockdown came about two weeks before the class started, and what a shock it was to see the great outdoors go dark. I was kicking myself for not already being out there on my own boat. It would have been nice to collect a paycheck for doing nothing and hide out from the virus fishing in a breezy bay, only going in to port for the most essential groceries at an open air market. It was all I obsessed about as I lay in my spacious upstairs Victorian room surfing the net for boats. Blow the Stimulus funds on a boat, they said, and I kept resisting the temptation to do it, until my ex David said, Oh, come on. Let’s have the boat. So there she is, and someday she will be how I avoid civilization, hopefully with a new friend.

The sailing class didn’t happen in 2021, either, much to my disappointment. I thought we would have it with the vaccines in, but they weren’t in for many people, and I support TWSA in making that call. 

But it is considered safe now, so the club doors are open again, and there was so much excitement that the four club boat slots filled up in a week, and I was left out in the cold for not jumping on February 12!

My original romp through the TWSA sailing class took place in 2019 aboard the Alouetta, and I half-expected to be on the Alouetta again, a Catalina 34 sloop that is a dream to sail, but that boat is not even in the spring sailing class. Instead, I have been slated for the Unagi, a formidable 13,900-pound two-masted vessel, alongside sailors with considerable experience. 

The Unagi, owned by Eric Roberts, is a Fuji 32 ketch built in 1976. Eric and his wife just got her and have only sailed her a couple of times. So we are in for a treat as this owner explores the vectors of his new world. 

Here is the schematic drawing of the Fuji 32, though more will be posted about her as the sailing class proceeds.

For those not “in the swim,” a ketch is a sailboat with a second smaller mast called a “mizzen mast” located behind the main mast, and this setup is said to be the optimum blue ocean cruising configuration in that there are many adjustments that can be made with a mizzen mast, notably, it is easier to “heave to,” or set the sails up so that the boat basically parks in the middle of the ocean. This is how long-distance sailors can all sleep at the same time. Usually sailors have to observe “watches" around the clock to keep the vessel functioning adequately, but sometimes, you just need to get some shuteye, make repairs, have a communal meal, or just take a break.

So I would imagine that Eric and his wife are planning to head out in this gorgeous boat and are wished all the best. Part of Eric’s motive in lending TWSA the boat for the six-week class is to figure her out with a full crew in familiar territory. Here is a sister ship on what looks to be her maiden voyage as a new-to-me vessel. 

This is me the armchair general describing things from having read and watched a lot of videos. I have no idea how a bunch of almost newbie or quite rusty sailors are going to be jumping around on the cabin of the Unagi dealing with that jib. Look at where that winch is. We could have a “person overboard” situation quite easily with that, and didn’t a very experienced sailor die in a race a few months ago in Seattle? 

I’m just asking!

I feel like a creep for asking, but writers are creeps in certain ways, just creeps.

There is a subtle sense of “we are pretending this is a more beginning class than it is,” and, frankly, I am up for it, since it is a "less intermediate class" than it needs to be, and I need this boat, not the Catalina 34.

But you have to learn somehow, and this is how. We have the boat, a gorgeous long keel ketch, and we are going to help Eric figure her out. 

She has a 30 hp inboard diesel engine that could no doubt get us home, and that is part of the appeal to TWSA, a “no accident” policy. Women are cautious, and that is something I can relate to in entering a dangerous sport. There is no need for crazy. Blake Mennella said he once had to call the Coast Guard when the outboard didn’t get the job done on a windy day on his Spencer 28. 

I am excited to be on the Unagi, and suspect that the placement is due, in no small part, to the long keel configuration of my boat, an older form and one that usually would not meet the standards of a beginner’s club boat, and that is, an inboard motor of considerable power. Most boats with that setup would have long since been resigned to the scrap heap or be fitted with an outboard. Only one in superb condition would still have a working diesel engine. It will be good for me to “shake it out” on Eric’s boat before getting mine into the water, which will probably happen one of these years, while dodging, considering, or performing repairs or upgrades that cost more than any value the boat will ever have, and that is the fool’s paradise of a budget boat refit by a newbie. It is the next owner who will profit from these efforts and outlays, and that is okay.

There are a number of approaches to learning to sail. One is to take a lot of classes with accredited schools, or learn by sailing with friends or family, but one hands-on approach is to buy a crappy boat, learn, then trade up if you are still into it. My old bucket has been priced at $1,000 for twenty years. Who knows what will happen with her when she is painted pink and bedazzled, but I am not detered from funky by the prospect of a quick sale. I doubt there will be one.

In the meantime, TWSA is honoring its mission of teaching women to sail by putting me on the boat most likely to teach me the sailing I need.

© Joann L. Farias 2023