Not feeling well I’d been away from sailing for while more.  Forecast for Saturday was perfectly pleasant.  Forecast for Sunday was hot and windy.  I elected to sail Saturday and skip Sunday.  As I often do, I first asked at the dockhouse if anyone was waiting for instruction.  No one was so I took the day for myself with a Laser.  The Laser might be seen by some as physical or challenging but for me it’s like home.  It’s similar in size to the Butterfly that I learned on as a teen and while a little faster and more responsive has a similar feel.  My Sonar red test last year was hard.  The problem was that I didn’t really have much time in the Sonar or even any similar boats.  My closest experience of any significance was in the Rhodes 19s on harbor trips in the past, but really it wasn’t that much experience and anyway the Sonar is different enough, and the sailing different enough, that I’m not sure how well the experience translates.  My Laser red test on the other hand was ridiculously easy.  While I have very few hours in the Laser, it’s similar enough to the Butterfly that sailing it comes as second nature.

So the problem this day was that it was too nice.  I sailed to the Mass Ave bridge once, then even though I was feeling some warning signs of pain, I set off to do it again.  Half way there the pain was worse.  This is just pain from using muscles that were very sadly out of shape.  I continued.  I was sad when I got to the bridge that I had to turn around.  I sailed the length of my perimeter fence and headed back.  Then on the way there was the test course.  One quick circuit of the test course before I conceded and headed in.

The biggest lesson for the day was that rule 42 stinks.  That’s the “propulsion” rule: “…only the wind and water…to propel the boat.”  Recently I’d watched with amazement some Finn races under flag Oscar — which allows them to use “kinetics” to propel the boat, in variance of rule 42.  Most interesting was the rocking and pumping downwind.  I tried it.  I had seen that while sailors would pump at different times, most would coordinate a pump with a roll to leeward.  I found that without pumping, the sail tended to be strongly full on the roll to windward but would often go slack right when the boom was coming closest to the water.  So, it’s pretty simple and easy to pull the sheet at that time to keep the sail full and re-ease it as the boat rolls back to windward.  Wow that worked well.  The boat was going nicely, then I stopped the kinetics and it was like sailing into a hole.  Most surprising was that this particular technique didn’t take much extra strength or effort.  It doesn’t take much effort to get the boat rolling.  Then if the sheeting is done when the sail is nearly slack, that doesn’t take much strength.  This is different than what you read on the internet.  You read that it’s physical and requires strong athletes.  Hmm, maybe some techniques are physical but this one isn’t.  How does it work?  All you read on the internet is that the sailors are “pumping” with their strength and “rowing” with the sail.  I think something really different might be going on:  the rolling is increasing apparent wind and the pumping is simply trimming to cycle of the apparent wind.  Not too hard and very fun.

Oh, but just sailing I think was overexertion for me.  I won’t detail it all but writing 24 hours later here I’m still in pain.

Weather:  82F, partly cloudy, Wind WSW (straight down the basin) at 10 gusting to 20 mph. This is by MIT data since the CBI weather station seems down.  MIT gives speed in mph while CBI always said knots.  Flag stayed yellow all day even though the wind picked up a little more later in the afternoon.  MIT showed gust to 25 for a while but I might have been off the water by then.  Either way the Laser was planing nicely off the wind in the stronger gusts.  I had some great rides on beam reach.

Wind shadow

(The date of the post is a guess.  I’m writing this two or three weeks late because I haven’t been feeling well.)

I had arrived at the dock and I think I was doing my routine of watching for a bit while putting on sunscreen when they called on the loudspeaker for anyone that wanted a rigged sonar.  I was walking across the dock and dockstaff hailed me, “Sonia, want to take this Sonar?”  I laughed and called out “no, unless you find me crew.”  Sitting at a picnic table, Walter and Alice (I hope I’m remembering names right)  Overheard and came over to say they would like the Sonar if I would come with them.  Walter was Sonar rated but had some recent medical problems with his knee and wasn’t confident to sail with just one crew.  I agreed.  Then the dockhouse was calling for an informal instructor so we picked up…  Oh, now I have forgotten her name; one more crew.  We sailed.  Winds varied in strength.  I think wind was East, maybe ESE which made for a little wind shadow in front of the islands and on the Boston shore in general where the wind was hard to read.  Away from there it got a little breezy at times.  I don’t remember the flag.  Maybe yellow.

We came in and because I hadn’t sailed in a number of days I wanted to go back out.  Our informal student came back out with me.  Oh, I think I called her Alice by mistake.  I might have been a little flaky that day.  I don’t remember lessons for the day.  Funny how what I remember most was that wind shadow on the Boston side.

Oh, one more thing I just remembered was the tack of the sail was rigged in a way I don’t prefer.  There’s a downward pointing hook on the Sonar boom right at the gooseneck and some people put the tack cringle on this ring.  Problems are that the sail doesn’t go up as high, it leaves the foot of the sail baggy, and your only way to rig a cunningham then is through the reef cringle.  (But usually if someone has rigged the tack this way they have left the cunningham unrigged.)  Much better is to leave the tack loose while you pull the sail to the top of the mast with the halyard, then rig the cunningham through the tack cringle.  I really don’t know a good use for that hook.  I believe it is intended to be a reef hook, but when reefing I’ve never figured out how to fit the reef cringle on it.  Instead what works is to ignore that hook and re-rig the cunningham through the reef cringle.

Okay, and speaking of Sonar rigging, Isaac would like to remind Sonar sailors to take tension off the outhaul when unrigging to leave the boat at the mooring.  This is to keep from needlessly stretching the sails.

Women’s Racing

I was running a little late, so were others.  At nearly 6pm Carol was gathering everyone to decide on boats.  Wind looked great to me for the 420’s, that was my vote, but Carol was cautioning everyone that over the last hour winds had been gusting to 30mph at the MIT dock and that a number of high-school sailors had capsized and had trouble righting the boats.  It was enough to make people shy away from the 420s.  In fairness, the water is still chilly and a capsize wouldn’t be fun whether you could right the boat easily or not.

We sailed the Ideal 18’s.  We had five of these and over 20 women racers so that meant four people to a boat and a couple of people sitting out on the committee boat.  I got the tiller.  On my boat, to start with anyway, was Laura, Jasmine, and Tessa.  Laura is experienced with women’s racing and was valuable in the front of the boat, both at helping Jasmine and Tessa and at being an extra set of eyes for me, saving us from disasters more than once.  The jib is pretty easy on the Ideal but I think Jasmine with just a green rating was learning from it.  This is my point that you learn at a rate in proportion to the wind.  With the strong wind, even the little self-tacking jib of the Ideal was giving lots of feedback.  I let Tessa trim the main the whole time.  She had some experience in bigger boats and so seemed totally unfazed at the boat heeling which was really good.

Lessons.  Hmm, first lesson is to eat something before.  Racing runs right across dinner time, and you can run out of energy.  Today I had missed lunch and so grabbed a snack on the way to CBI.  It made a huge difference.  I felt better and hand more energy.

Another thing that went well was once on a final leg to the finish.  We rounded the leeward mark pretty far behind other boats and looking for anything to try, I saw darker water on the left side and tacked over for it.  Sure enough, the stronger wind was there.  I sailed in it for a bit on starboard, then tacked in it on lay for the finish.  Amazingly we crossed two boats just before the line.  The first boat we crossed was complaining loudly about port-starboard but we got across without them having to alter course.

A thing that didn’t go well also involved a boat complaining.  Approaching the leeward mark, the boat behind hailed overlap.  This surprised me, I turned and looked and sure enough they were no where close to overlap.  But in that second or two when I was turning and looking, we came up on the mark and there was no longer time to prepare my crew for a tight tactical rounding.  We went wide of the mark and the other boat went inside to pass us.  Now, it’s possible to fluster someone by yelling.  Doing so deliberately in attempt to gain advantage might even be considered not fair sailing.  But that’s not what was going on here.  I wasn’t flustered, all that happened was I was delayed for a second.  When I watch racing on the internet, I think I see the professional sailors do this to each other.  They will hail or otherwise posture in some way that consumes some time or attention of the other boat.  Every second spent evaluating the immediate situation is a second unavailable for planning the next situation.  I think the best defenses are to have that next situation planned as early as possible, be aware of the current situation as much as possible, and possibly anticipate noise from the other boat so that if it comes you can dismiss it faster.

After racing I had a little sip of coke left, I drank a bottle of water, then another bottle of water with a cookie and was feeling okay.  I have to give a lot of credit to Tessa for doing the work of pulling the main sheet for me.  Otherwise I would have been demolished tired.

95F, CBI wind records show 10kts gusting to 20, starting WSW but then backing to SSW.  This wind shift was most apparent on the third leg of our triangle course as it turned the reach into a run.  In earlier races we jibed around the reach mark then reached to the leeward mark.  In later races we jibed but then had trouble fetching.  In a couple of races we had to throw in an extra pair of jibes.  In one race I avoided the extra jibes by sailing past the reach mark so that we could fetch the leeward mark with a single jibe.

Oh, and we didn’t even win a single race but we sure had fun.


Two weeks later

After two weeks of rest I couldn’t resist the nice weather.  6pm, sunny 80F, W wind 6kts gusting to 12.  They were just replacing the yellow flag with green.  As I was opening my locker I heard calls on the PA system, first for crew for a Sonar, then for informal instruction.  I took the time I needed to get ready then walked to the dockhouse.  “Sonia!  What are you doing?”  It was Fan, who I met just once earlier this year in women’s racing.  “Um, I don’t know, I just got here…”  “Would you sail with me on a Sonar?”  Oh this was perfect.  I had been apprehensive about doing too much work.  Sitting on a Sonar should be easy.  Fan had just completed the keelboat class over the weekend and was eager to practice.

So, it should have been easy.  That was my plan.  But I can’t resist hand trimming the jib, especially when it’s gusty.  Then there was a Merc run aground on the Boston side where there’s poor visibility from the dockhouse.  No launch seemed to be coming.  I said we should lower our sail half way.  In contrast to the little Mercury against the shore, we would be highly visible.  It would be work though.  We sailed to mid river.  I looked one last time and there was still no launch.  Sail down half way.  Launch coming right away.  Sail back up.  More sailing.  Mooring at 7:30.

One thing I left in my locker was my gloves.  It was just green flag but my hands are so sore.

Light air practice

I had decided to sail today, so I did.  Early forecasts showed likely strong gusts late in the day.  Early in the morning CBI had tweeted that there would be red test conditions in the afternoon.  But this is the Charles, so what really happened?  0 kts, gusting to 2.  I watched for a while after getting to the dock, then finally mustered the courage.

Centerboard Merc, mainsail only.  The idea was to practice roll tacking.  Supposedly you can gain speed on a roll tack and so can propel yourself even with no wind.  Is it really possible?  On a Mercury?  When you’re just learning and barely know what your’re doing?  And struggle a bit with difficulty moving around the boat?

It turned out yes!  Well, maybe not gain speed, but certainly not lose too much.  I was able to tack and come out of the tack with headway.  Any headway at all was good in that wind, but it seemed pretty much full headway.  This meant that I could tack again almost immediately and repeat and make progress to windward, even with glassy water and slack tell tales.

Start on close hauled course with headway, close hauled sail and a slight heel.  Sheet a little harder for extra weather helm and either let the tiller fall to leeward if it wants to or push it over if it doesn’t want to.  As the boat starts to spin, level it to take out that little bit of heel.  The boat doesn’t like to pass through the eye of the wind as well with any heel as it does flat so it must be flat before it gets to the eye of the wind.  As the sail luffs, let the sheet go slack and pass it behind your head, shore school style.  In the light air, push the boom out to keep it dead with the wind as the boat continues to spin under it.  As the boat approaches the new close hauled course, lean as much as possible to leeward for the roll.  With the sail exactly in line with the wind, it doesn’t back, it just slices straight to leeward.  Then center weight to roll back to vertical.  This is where the sail fills from rolling and propels the boat forward.  It’s at the verge of a luff while the boat is rolling even though it is eased pretty far.  Also as the boat returns to vertical, sheet the main back to close hauled trim so that the sail stays filled.  The tack should be complete to the new close hauled course, with headway, and with the sail trimmed close hauled.

That was my theory anyway, what I was attempting.  I was going through it super slow motion, muttering the steps I was taking, and it was awkward and sloppy.  Still it was kind of sort of working.  I would tack, check my wake, then tell myself “tacking in 3, 2, 1…”

Next, on another day, try with more wind, with things happening faster, with crew, and with rolling the boat much more.  And go back and review roll tacking videos on the internet and advice from others.

Finally worth mentioning, a problem with this light of wind was that it would stop completely and then come back in from a random direction.  I had problems getting downwind to practice tacking because I would run down wind, then have the wind come in from a new direction so that I wasn’t downwind anymore!

Sloop conditions

Double Red Flag

The day ended under double red flag, but much of the day was simple and beautiful red flag.  Today was the first CBI Open House of 2017, a day promoted to encourage people to visit Community Boating, try sailing, and (hopefully) join!  Me, slug that I am, I had not committed to be an official volunteer, and so had a lazy morning at home and got to the dock maybe around 3:30.  I hadn’t even finished applying sunscreen when there was the call on the loudspeaker for informal instruction.

Soon I was on a Rhodes 19 with three new sailors, Ken, with a yellow rating, but two new members, Jon and Luic, who had just joined and gone through orientation, rigging class, and shore school that day.  We got a Rhodes because the Sonars were all out, but I explained to my crew that the Rhodes would be good for them because it is much like a big Mercury, both in the way it is rigged and the way it handles on the water.  I said that, but then I rigged it reefed to start with, which added a complexity they probably won’t otherwise have to deal with for a while on the Mercs.

The weather really was nice, just a little overcast, 84F, and initially anyway, wind 10kts gusting to 20 from the W.  So with four people on a Rhodes 19 with a keel, reefing might seem a little over-precautious, but I wanted things to be easy for my first timers.  Also I rigged the jib, but left it furled on the foredeck.  The sail configuration was just fine for them all to take turns sailing.  I pointed out a Sonar that was sailing reefed as well, just to show that we weren’t the only cautious ones.

We practiced all the usual stuff for new sailors, steering the boat, sheeting the main, tacking, jibing, and also “safety position.”  One question was on the difference between “in irons” and safety position.  Aren’t both with the boat stopped with sails luffing?  Yes, but, in-irons is with the boat head to wind and safety position is with it on close reach.  More importantly, in-irons is unstable—the boat will begin to drift backwards and will fall off on one tack or the other.  Safety position though is stable.  You can let go of the tiller even and the boat will maintain a close reach heading with the sail luffing and will make very little headway.  Safety position is also not in irons because you can make the boat go again as easily as pulling in the sheet.

After an hour or so and a couple of laps up and down the basin, we thought it was time to make things more interesting with the jib.  The extra power was impressive, and made the sailing much more interesting and challenging.  I commented that the wind might be coming up slightly, but most of the extra power was coming from the jib.  Before long though, some much stronger gusts started to come in.  I was laughing at this point still, saying that all this power was not just from the jib.  I scratched my plans to shake out the reef.  In fact, as the wind was continuing to come up, I decided to take the jib back down.  The earlier lesson on safety position was valuable now as I demonstrated putting the boat in safety position so I could go up on the bow and take down the jib.  I gave the helm back to new sailors then, but not for long.  The wind was still coming up and they were struggling.

I had stopped laughing and suggested I take the helm for a bit.  As we sailed we started to marvel at the whitecaps.  The basin was now filling in solid with whitecaps and we were watching multiple capsizes.  Conditions were no longer optimal for learning, we’d had a good long sail, so I added “you know, maybe we’ll just head in.”  There was one last technique to demonstrate for the day, the “chicken jibe” which is of course not a jibe but a 270 with a tack.  As we surfed the growing waves and chicken jibed our way back to the cut we saw carnage all around us.  Not only the capsizes but run-agrounds as well.  I got us quickly moored and as the sail was coming down I saw more.  A downwind mooring pickup under bare poles, a collision with a moored boat, then Isaac motoring around announcing “these are sloop conditions!”  The wind that had generated the solid whitecaps was steady 20kts gusting over 35, and the flag had gone to double red, sloop rating required.

Sloop rating at Community Boating is almost mythical.  The idea is that it’s a rating past red.  To get any rating you have to test for it, which typically means you need a little practice at it, but of course if the wind is so strong that red-rated sailors aren’t allowed out, then the US flag often comes down and the program is closed.  It’s safe to guess that not many of these ratings have been awarded.  The test requirements have always been a bit vague as well.  Basically it’s demonstrating that you can deal with a boat that is severely overpowered.

I had to refresh my skill on the chicken jibes a little.  If you can make the turn quickly and smoothly enough, you might pull it off with little sheeting, but it’s not best.  The extra luffing can be enough to stop the boat in irons.  It happened on one of my jibes.  I just did the quick three-point turn and was on my way, but you know it would be best to avoid that.  Also the bear away is a little smoother if you are easing a filled main rather than bearing off to the point where an already-eased main fills.  So, my recommended chicken jibe is to sheet in as you round up to minimize luffing and keep the sail more full and keep the boat speed up.  Go through a pretty normal tack then, but when the sail fills on the new tack, ease it as you continue bear away to your new downwind course.  And hold on, because the boat will really take off.

Anyway, wow, what a fun and exciting way to end the day.


What a difference a week makes!  Just last week the women racers were a little too wary of the cold water to race in 420s but today we were all ready.  We had a few sailors new to the 420 so I started a rigging walk-through.  Thankfully Loren showed up to rescue me and finish the walk-through.

I sailed with Laura which was great because I’m not sure I ever sailed a 420 with her.  I think we may have sailed on a keelboat, but that’s not quite the same.  A 420, with just two people on a small and light boat, really encourages closer teamwork.

After racing people like to talk about the rules.  The rules are on the internet: http://www.sailing.org/documents/racingrules/.  Read.  18.3 is in there.  I also recommend the case and call books:  http://www.sailing.org/documents/caseandcall/.

Green Flag, 58F, NE wind 3kts gusting to 7.  It was enough for a first day of the season in 420s.

More, April 30:  I’m watching the replay of the Extreme Sailing Series and for the start of race 6 in Qingdao, the line is heavily favored to port, almost exactly like our line for women’s racing this day.  Let’s see how the pros do it, and what worked for them.  At 20 seconds before the start, the Chinese Team Extreme has plans to run up the line on starboard, using right of way to get to the favored end at the gun.  Seems reasonable, but not to anyone else.  Everyone else is planning a port start close to the favored end.  At the gun (2:11:58 in the playback) we see Alinghi is downwind of everyone, seemingly the in the least favored position on the line.  But wait, the commentator just said they were “the best off the line”?  When the SAP placings go on the screen a few seconds later (2:12:21) we are reassured that Team Extreme won the start with their starboard tack strategy and that Alinghi is down in 5th, only ahead of boats that were caught out and late for the start.  Pause right there and look at the boat speeds though.  Alingi is ripping and Team Extreme is wallowing.  The commentators are talking about their ideas of the starboard side of the course having more pressure.  Is it really that much difference of wind or is a lot of Alinghi’s strategy just maintaining headway and clear air?  At 2:12:52, less than a minute into the race, SAP numbers show Alinghi in first.