RIDGWAY – Don’t call Bob Harnish “skipper.” He is the skipper of the 26-foot coastal cruiser Easter Tide, docked at the Ridgway State Park marina. But, as Harnish pointed out as soon as I stepped aboard, he is more properly the sloop’s captain.
Any boat owner or helmsman can be the skipper. Harnish is a United States Coast Guard Licensed 50-Ton Master of Motor and Auxiliary Sail Vessels Captain, and he is definitely the captain of this ship.
On a day when morning rainsqualls gave way to 10-15 knot afternoon breezes and cotton-ball fair-weather clouds, Captain Bob took me for a sail around the Ridgway reservoir. It was a kind of test run for his new business, Barnacle Bob’s Sailing Adventures, the first chartered sailing concession on one of Colorado’s state parks. “I just got the last signature on Friday [May 4],” he said. Now he can implement his plan to offer sailing excursions, sunset sails, and learn-to-sail lessons aboard Easter Tide.
Harnish, who lives in Montrose and whose day job is managing the grocery business for Village Market in Telluride, plans to be on the water, under sail, most afternoons from now through the end of September.
“I think there are a lot of people who have an interest, some history, in sailing – an uncle’s boat on a lake somewhere – and would like to do more. And you’d be surprised how many people, locals, don’t even know there’s a lake here! This is the premier state park in Colorado.”
As we backed out of the slip under power, before hoisting the sails, Harnish made sure I was wearing my PFD (personal floatation device) and that I obeyed the old salt’s rule, “Remember: one hand for the ship and one hand for yourself.” Everything shipshape. Camera stowed. Lines coiled. Standing rigging checked. No falling overboard.
There are, of course, ropes everywhere. But they’re not “ropes.” The lexicon of sailing is precise, colorful and important. Lines are the ropes you use to tie up at the dock. Sheets are the ropes you use to trim the sails; there’s a main sheet and two jib sheets, fed through cam cleats, one on the port side, one on starboard. There are halyards: a rope for raising the mainsail, and one for raising and lowering the jib, or headsail. When you get ready to tack, the man at the helm calls out, “Ready about! Hard alee!”
We tacked into a pretty stiff wind, working our way north, zigzagging up the lake toward the dam. Harnish pointed out how you can see the “puffs” coming by the color and texture of the water. He sometimes called their arrival to the second, and then Easter Tide stiffened in the gust, heeled over, and leapt forward. “I’ll give you a bag of peanuts if you take spray on deck,” the captain said when it was my turn at the tiller.
Harnish first sailed on his native Lake Michigan. He’s been at it 30 years, on the Great Lakes, Puget Sound, San Diego and Flathead Lake in Montana. “If you can sail the mountain lakes of Colorado, you can sail anywhere,” he said as a big gust hit, we luffed the sails and rounded up into the wind.
The world looked different from out there on the water. I know Ouray County – the Cimarron, the Sneffels Range – but these were different angles, new pocket views. “Most people never get to see this from water level,” Harnish said as we turned south, downwind, and “ghosted” by hidden, green-water coves on the west shore. We ran wing-and-wing for a while, with the mainsail out to starboard and the jib out on the port side. In no time we were down in the South Basin, out from the Dallas Creek entrance to the park, with its surprising snowy peaks on the skyline. Where else, we wondered, might a sailor behold such a sight: Alaska? British Columbia?
Harnish is a natural teacher. He explained how sails actually propel the boat. It’s only a matter of “catching the wind” when you are running directly downwind. On other points of sail, other angles to the wind direction, the sails actually behave like airplane wings, creating lift through pressure differences. There’s lower air pressure on the windward, concave, side of the nylon triangle, and higher pressure on the leeward, convex side. The sail “lifts” toward the leading edge of the low pressure, pulling the boat along with it.
But it’s not only the physics that has Captain Bob in thrall. He’s a romantic, too, waxing eloquent about sunsets on the water, the beauty of the hull’s dolphin lines, the balance of her “neutral helm.”
Oh, yeah. She’s definitely a she: her lines, her handling, her history. There’s a story there. Harnish and his wife, Linda, read about a Balboa 26 for sale on Flathead Lake back in the 1980s. They checked her out and fell in love, but they already had a boat and reluctantly passed. Fast-forward to 2008 and their move to western Colorado. “We drove by this yard in Grand Junction that had two Balboas stored, uncovered, behind the fence. Eventually we stopped and asked the guy, who owned the lot but not the boats, if we could check them out.” One was in bad shape, but the other one was pretty sound. The owner of both boats was somewhere else, in poor health, and hadn’t been heard from in years.
They drove by again and stopped again to look. It was Easter Tide, the boat they had wanted to buy on Flathead Lake. While they were looking, the lot man made a call and managed to reach the owner. She was for sale, but only as a package, both boats at once. Harnish wrote a check on the spot.
Now he has a spare everything: spare keel, mast, boom, rigging. His beautiful Easter Tide, born in California in 1976, will sail on for many a year.
Barnacle Bob’s Sailing Adventures: 970/252-1069 or 970/901-8259.