Just informal instruction

Spacing out my sailing days, and trying to pick green-flag days that won’t tax me too much, I picked this Monday.  If I remember, flag was green when I arrived at the dock after work but went yellow just as I was ready to go out.  Also just as I was walking to the dock house to check out a boat, they called on the PA for someone to give informal instruction.  Perfect.

Thomas had just got his green rating and was eager to learn what he needed for yellow.  The just-yellow wind today promised to be good for that.  We rigged mainsail-only for the experience he would need for his yellow test.  Unlike last Thursday with Allison, I loaded Thomas with many tips on sailing, details of going through maneuvers, and theory.  For feel, I tried to get him to sense the extra pull that comes when flow attaches to the sail, and I pointed out the times the boat slowed when the flow detached. He was eating it up and wanting more.

“How many more times will I have to sail before I take my yellow test?”  “Mmm, twice,” I boldly answered.  You need to go out with another person to get tips from them.  With informal instruction, you’ll get different advice from everyone.  Another person will tell you totally different things than what I’ve told you today.  You’ll have to figure out what works for you.  Then at least one day you’ll want to practice on the test course by yourself…

He didn’t know about the test course so I described it, and urged him to sail us from mid-river where we had spent most of the afternoon to closer to the dock to see if there was a test course set up.  No, there wasn’t.  Several racing programs, including a big youth regatta, were going on at the same time and all CBI buoys were incorporated into race courses.  No matter, there were two pink buoys, probably set as a starting line or leeward gate (although now badly skewed) that were relatively unattended.  “Here, I’ll show you” and I took the tiller to show how he would have to sail around buoys for the yellow test.  I talked through windward and leeward mark roundings, tacks and jibes between the marks and staying close to the course.  I didn’t mean to impress him but he was blown away.  “Wow, you had the boat going so much faster than I ever did!  How did you do that?  Is the wind stronger now?”  Huh.  I don’t know.  To not take credit for sailing better, I agreed the wind was up.  The wind was up slightly, but not a lot.  It’s possible that the quick succession of maneuvers just seemed exciting, or stirred up more bow noise.  It’s also possible that a big difference was my boat handling that maintained speed through the maneuvers.  (He, for example, didn’t have Allison’s Hobie-Cat sense of maintaining speed.)

Anyway, the sun was getting low, I had packed his head with far more information than he would be able to remember, and at the end there, had given him a boat handling goal to work toward for his yellow test.  We headed in.



Combination WR informal instruction

Following the windy Friday racing of the 4th, I was sore and bruised and needed some time to recover.  Also a couple of days after that dunking in the Charles – coincidence or not – I came down with a bit of a cold.  The forecast for WR today was green flag though, I was feeling brave enough to try sailing again.

With Elena running race control for us, the plan was racing in Mercuries.  As the first racers were checking out boats, a non-racer was at the dock house looking for informal instruction.  Come race with us! the racers urged.  When I walked up a moment later, “Sonia, would you take someone for informal instruction?”  Perhaps they know I like to give informal instruction, perhaps they thought I would be good at it, perhaps they were dumping on me.   No matter; of course I was interested.  “And race at the same time?  Is she okay with that?”  She was.

Allison had her green rating, but hadn’t bothered yet with classes.  She had a little bit of experience sailing Hobie Cats.  That experience turned out to apply well to Mercuries.  You would think they’re pretty different boats, but a similarity is that neither boat tolerates sloppy tacks well.  I think the Hobie experience had given Allison an appreciation of acquiring and maintaining headway through a tack.

Also (I’m writing a week and a half late, so I don’t remember well) I think the flag might have gone to yellow.  Wind was brisk for green anyway.  I like to tell new sailors that sailing is best with both theory and practice.  The classroom knowledge is good and valuable but also sailing is a physical sport and there’s a “feel” for it.  The feel comes more naturally for some than others and can always be improved with practice.  With the nice wind we decided to work a little more on feel and a little less on practice.  I coached her just enough to kind-of sort-of get us around the race course and we typically finished last (if at all) but I thought it was excellent practice for just getting the feel of sailing.

Wild wind for Friday informal racing

Red flag, gusty, with MIT recording gusts well over 30 mph, nearly 40 by sunset.  I sailed with Eve, who had just passed her red test within the last week, and who I raced against in the light air Sunday.

I had the tiller off the dock and for the first race, and was barely in control, coming very near capsize more than once.  We finished last, of the boats that stayed upright that is.  Eve and I were getting reorganized after the first race and I was having her hold the tiller in safety position for a minute.  “Do you want to sail the next race?” I asked.  “Okay!”  Eve is confident and eager.

We actually survived just fine with her at the tiller and me crewing.  Crewing and frantically providing coaching for surviving the wind, that is.  We got another last place, then as the fleet size was building, Eve got a respectable finish in our third race, finishing ahead of a few other boats.  In the next race (I think it was) she was having trouble rounding the windward mark and had run into it.  “We will capsize now,” I fatefully proclaimed, as I could not imagine staying upright hooked on the mark.  The boat slowly turned head to wind though, and I said maybe we could back off of it.  Eve handed me back the tiller, and I did in fact manage to back us off in irons then fall off on port clear of the mark.

I continued to helm then, for a wild ride downwind, and a second windward leg of this two-lap triangle course.  Around the windward mark more easily this time, and on to the reach leg.  In front of us was a reefed MIT Tech Dinghy that we were easily overtaking.  They were actually right on our course to the next mark and I sailed right at their transom waiting to see of they would happen to turn one way or the other.  Eve was beginning to panic that we were going to hit them.  When they weren’t turning, I bore away slightly to pass them to leeward.  Eve now switched from imploring me not to hit them to imploring them to understand that they were on our race course.  They responded with blank looks of incomprehension and a wavering course.  I was distracted with this pointless exchange, wanting it to end, and in this instant of inattention, we capsized.  I heard later that in the end there were only two of our Friday racers that avoided capsize.  It was crazy windy, but still I imagine many of the capsizes were as pointless and avoidable as mine.

Mainsail only

Forecast was for unseasonable warmth and wind was up.  It was red flag all day and I was hoping for some of it for an after-work sail.  Delays on the train ride there though got me to the dock late and in a quiet mood.  I took out a Mercury alone with just a mainsail as the flag was going to yellow for one lap up to the bridge and back.  There were a number of reddish gusts left though and it felt nice.

It was interesting that the air felt hot from the sidewalk, but much cooler from the sidewalk.  The still-cool river was providing air-conditioning.

Spring series I

It was the first Tiller Club series race of 2018.  In contrast to other TC races where I showed up on the dock without pre-arranged crew, this time I had invited Katherine to crew for me.  Sadly, the wind was very light and surely didn’t encourage Katherine to come back for Tiller Club racing another day.

We started the first race relatively promptly in the morning, it was just a single lap on a small course, and it took the entire morning!  It was the only race we got in before lunch.  Much of the time the water was glassy and we had very few clues of wind direction.  The steam rising from the power plant is a good visible indicator but it’s pretty far from the local conditions on the water.  Shroud tell-tails were misleading if you only looked at the shroud and the tell-tale.  You had to be careful to sight the tell-tale against vertical lines of buildings on the shore.  It was interesting at times to sight the tell-tales of other boats against verticals on shore.  At times the best indicator of wind direction was to look at which boats were moving best, see how their sails were, and imagine the wind direction that their sails would be properly set for.

After lunch there was a little more wind and we got in two more races.  I didn’t do well in any of the races, which I’m sure also wouldn’t have encouraged Katherine to return.  We were there though, we got some series points, we got some racing experience.

Dark red

For Women’s Racing today we had a good turnout for red flag conditions, pretty dark red actually.  I overhead dock staff staying there were gusts over 30.  The gusts would have pretty solid white caps, but there was a good amount of white caps even in the steady winds.  Wind direction was west, although down the river enough that the fetch allowed some (relatively) big waves.  It was wet sailing for my crew, Victoria.

Before going out I suggested to some that maybe we would want to reef, but then our turnout held lots of skilled sailors and that idea was quickly discarded.  —Discarded until people began to rig boats anyway.  Change of plans, everyone wanted to reef now.  I had already started rigging a vintage 2010 non-reefable sail though and didn’t want to go back.  Over Debbie’s protest that it wouldn’t be fair, I finished rigging the full main.

Getting off the dock was a challenge.  Wind was maybe WNW and so blowing onto the dock pretty hard.  I had deliberately left a ring downwind of me so my boat could point more upwind.  That lasted until the highschoolers came in and Alex directed one of them to the ring I had left empty.  When we were ready to leave then, Alex again had to deal with our crowded spot on the dock.  After a could of failed attempts to push us off, he decided an empty ring beside us would sure make things easier.  He pushed a boat out of the way and then was able to give us a successful boom launch.  On the water there were still a few things to rig, the cunningham, the vang, and hoisting the jib.  I would put the boat in safety position and have Victoria nervously hold the main and tiller while I made adjustments.  With the jib up I was happy but it turned out Victoria couldn’t hold it.  Sailing with a luffing jib is somewhat harder than sailing with no jib so I put the boat in safety position once more to drop the jib and furl it on the foredeck.

We raced then, and a good lesson was that a Mercury with reefed main and jib is faster than a Mercury with full main and no jib.  I couldn’t manage to win a single race!  Competition was very good though.  After Katherine won the first two races I said I was going to call her Paige now, after Paige Railey won the first two races in Hyères this week.  One person noticed me doing a chicken gybe.  In fact most of my gybes today were chicken gybes, mostly to keep things calm and slow onboard with my less experienced crew.  In the end the full main was no problem at all.  Not too hard to hold, and rarely needing to be luffed.  I do wish we could have sailed with the jib as well.  At one point on broad reach we were just starting to plane, even main-only with a keel.

Light Red

I squeezed in a short sail Tuesday after work.  Flag was red, but I have no idea why.  Wind seemed lighter than it was under green on Saturday.  Really both days seemed pretty solidly yellow to me.  When I first saw the red flag I briefly considered reefing a Mercury, just because I didn’t want to work too hard, but I watched the water for a while and saw there was no reason.  There were some furled keel Mercs lined up on the dock so I took one of them.  Keeping with my idea of not working too hard though, I sailed it main only.  Omg, keel+main only+light red left me always wanting more wind.  I would see a dark gust on the water and call to it, but it would always just gently wash over me.  Oh it wasn’t so bad.  I sat on the rail most of the time and the boat moved well.  One lap up to the bridge and back then sailing around within half river right up until sunset.

Wind was SSW and a little shifty.  I sailed the length of the basin on one tack by keeping on top of the wind shifts.  Interestingly the gusts seemed to often be “righties”, heading me.  The lulls then, were never velocity headers, but deceptive lifts that you had to notice and head up into.  While this long tack to bridge was on port, I was speculating that any capsize today might come from someone on starboard getting hit with one of these gusts from the right.  I thought that as I was sailing upwind to the bridge but then after starting back downwind I realized a more likely capsize would be an accidental gybe from one of these gusts.  Anyway, I stayed out of trouble.  The sail was the peaceful sail I wanted after work.