Sonar Lessons

First though, a link relevant to last week’s post, When to communicate… an article at Sailing World, describes the situation I discussed with a boat on starboard and multiple boats on port.  (See the section “crowded situations.”)

Now, the first Sonar lesson:  don’t run aground.  Oh, I did.  It was almost comical but still horribly embarrassing.  It happened leaving the mooring.  Green flag, wind was East at 1kt gusting to 6 by the CBI dock.  That means blowing somewhat toward the island from the mooring.  I was starting from a mooring ball closest to the island.  That means very little room to maneuver, little room for retries if thing go wrong.  …  Almost any accident has multiple factors that lead to it.  A factor here was that I didn’t take measures to ensure that I would get off the mooring as reliably as possible and not need that retry.  A typical mooring cast off involves planning which tack you want, and either waiting for the boat to be heading in the right direction or backing a sail to get the boat heading in the right direction.  I typically don’t bother.  I just have my crew cast off and then I sail from however the boat happens to be headed.  Bad plan here.  I had my crew cast us off.  We happened to be stationary, head to wind.  This didn’t concern me a bit.  Close as we were to the island, there was plenty of room to back up and fall off on port.  I did.  The sail filled, and then … the boat made leeway.  More leeway, it wouldn’t start making headway, and wouldn’t do anything except round back up to windward.  Now I was starting to get concerned.  There was still a little room behind me.  I could try again, but no, not enough was different.  I needed the jib, which was furled.  Becoming a bit frantic, I had Stacy unfurl it.  She held the jib sheet the only way she knew, which of course was not backed.  I was shouting by then for her to let go of it.  … You know, shouting just hardly ever works.  It was too late.  I felt the keel nestle gently against the island.  I listened, watched, and waited a few seconds to see if maybe the boat would rotate against the island or begin to drift off the end of the island, but no, the light and steady wind was holding the boat in place.  In resignation I refurled the jib and dropped the main half way to signal the dockstaff for help.

The next Sonar lesson was soon after we had been freed from island and had entered the basin.  The top batten was stuck on the backstay.  I had a terrible time freeing it.  In the first jibe, it stuck again.  The only thing I could think of that might help enough was lowering the mainsail a bit.  I had made sure when I rigged that I had the main hoisted to the top of the mast.  Now it seemed that full height was too much.  There were a few inches between the tack and the boom.  I eased the halyard those few inches and retightened the vang and cunningham.  Another jibe to see if it worked.  The batten stuck again but at least this time it took only a little push on the backstay to free it.  The “fix” seemed to be enough.

The air temperature was mid-70’s after a week of days near or over 90 and the day was wonderfully pleasant.  Our Sonar was in demand and we yielded it after an hour.  After rigging an Ideal 18 on a mooring, one in the middle of the mooring field this time, I wanted to try again at casting off in irons.  I failed!  I tried to have the Ideal 18 stationary and head to wind for the cast off, but I couldn’t hold it head to wind.  It fell off and began making headway immediately.  Experiment over, we just went sailing.  But was it just two random events or are the Sonar and the Ideal different in this way?  The Sonar jib is larger (relative to the main) than the Ideal.  So the jib of the Ideal may not make as much difference as it does on the Sonar.  That is, the Ideal may stay relatively well behaved without the jib, including naturally making headway under more conditions.  The Sonar may be more “crippled” without its jib, and may be more prone to making leeway, much as a Mercury is prone to making leeway under main only.  Just some ideas.  It will take more experience to confirm.

Anyway, we sailed a little more in the beautiful weather, without further incident.


Cool gray

Friday was a cool gray day for mid-July but the rain was passing south of us so it was fine TGIF sailing weather.  Stacy was eager to start the weekend early and I think we were at the dock before 5.  Friday of course also has informal racing and Stacy was intrigued enough to agree to some racing.  The RC, exasperated with the cat herding exercise of rounding up boats just started a sequence with potential racers scattered across the basin.  I actually managed to get us across the line first, within maybe 30 seconds of the starting signal.  RC cheered at the first participation.  My lead didn’t last long.  I wasn’t paying attention to wind direction and managed to let everyone by me before the first mark.  I recovered a couple of the positions before the finish.

It was fun.  Surely my first Friday informal race in a long time, maybe close to a year.  I was busily trying to explain things to Stacy and coach her on things like keeping the jib sheet from snagging on the spinnaker halyard cleat.  “You have to float it across” I kept saying.  Stacy was struggling at these obscure mystical concepts.  I was pointing out how another boat was maneuvering to pass us on the downwind.  She was still stuck on what “downwind” was.

In the second race I managed to foul another boat.  The situation starts similar to that of case 11 in the World Sailing Case Book.  I was PW in this diagram.


Case 11 discusses my right to hail for room pass S as an obstruction but I didn’t hail.  Racing involves lots of judgement, judging time and distance.  I was first thinking that PL and I would both be able to duck S.  I failed to properly judge that PL was able to sail high enough to just clear S’s stern and that there would be no room for me.  When I realized I was in trouble I decided to tack.  Unfortunately it was already too late.  I was tacking too close to S and he had to luff up to avoid me.

I had options for other things I could have done, if I had started earlier.  I could have hailed PL, I could have just slowed slightly to pass S after PL, or I could have tacked sooner to stay clear of S.

Anyway, that was enough racing fun for the day.  Stacy and I sailed away down to the Mass Ave bridge and back.  We heeled the boat for fun, to sit on the low side and put fingers in the water.  It turns out that’s work in a keel Merc on a green flag day.  I’m tired now.

Wind was light.  I was calling it light green flag, maybe “mint,” from the East and somewhat shifty, especially as it came over the trees from the Boston side.  It was my failure to pay attention to these wind shifts that set me back spectacularly in some of the racing.  The difference in wind speed recorded at the CBI dock and at the MIT dock is also telling.  With wind from the East, CBI was recording 0kts with gusts to 2 or 3, while MIT was recording 10mph with gusts to 15.  I think on the race course it was somewhere in between.


Again I picked today for sailing because the forecast was for gentle winds and again it turned out to be red flag.  Nicely though, the winds were fairly steady.  WSW 10kts gusting to 15 most of the time, with a few gusts up to 20.  It was a pretty gentle red flag, as red flags go.

Stacy was with me again today.  I had prepared her that there might be people looking for informal instruction.  In fact we hadn’t even cleared the front desk when I hear the call from the dockhouse for anyone to give informal instruction.  It was a perfectly beautiful day.  All the Sonars were out.  I suggested we take a Rhodes because it would hold more people.  After a little bit of coordination we got three members to sail with us.

The most important lesson of the day was keeping a lookout.  We were practicing a jibe when there was a loud TOOT beside us.  It was one of the Charles Riverboat cruises and we were about to cross in front of it.  I grabbed the helm and steered us parallel until the boat passed.  Terrible.  None of had seen the boat, including me.  Now, the Charles riverboats are a little different because they go relatively fast, but still, no excuse.

Guest on a 420

Saturday, Fourth of July weekend, winds were forecast to be gentler in the morning before getting gusty in the afternoon.  I was talking about sailing and my roommate Stacy wanted to come with.  We did make it before noon, 10:30 ish, and the dock was relatively calm, with a couple of the usual classes going on.  We took out an Ideal.  Stacy liked that there was no centerboard trunk and that there was enough wind to heel the boat.  She liked sitting on the low side so she could put her hands in the water.  I obliged, sailing with the rail near the water as much as possible.  Traffic on the water picked up as the day went on.  All the usual duck boats and Charles river cruises, more than usual recreational power boats, a couple of police boats for the fireworks barges, CBI sailboats, kayaks, and more and more kayaks.  It got interesting at times threading the Ideal through the traffic.  After a while I suggested we were done for the day but then Stacy asked about the 420s.  She had heard me talk about them.  She wanted to know what they were like.  We took the Ideal in.  We drank some water.

And then we did.  We went back out on a 420.  So much for gentle sailing.  It was after noon and the flag had gone to yellow.  Stacy’s knowledge of sailing is mostly what she has picked up from me carrying on about the Extreme Sailing Series and other such stuff I follow on the internet.  Then, without going into too much detail, neither Stacy and I are ideal physically for a 420.  Oh, lets add to the navigation challenges I just described the challenges of a skittish boat, inexperienced crew, and increasing wind.  Ha.  Oh, and me starting to get tired.  We sailed a little.  Up to the fireworks exclusion zone, then a bear away.  We pretended we were Alinghi in the Extreme Sailing Series.  Well, I did.  We had a couple of nice gusts where we planed for a little while.  Imagine that, a little heavy to be on a 420, a CBI guest, but riding a plane, for a couple of gusts anyway.  We got our experience, and I seem to have got on and off the water without hurting myself.

As we got back to the dock they were just going to red flag.  I looked back over the water and there were three capsizes going on.  We left in search of something cold to drink.

Properly Initiated

Again I’m writing late, but I’m pretty sure it was the 15th that I sailed with Women’s Racing again.  Molly asked if I would sail with her and I said yes! that I wanted to hear about the capsize.  We raced 420s, although interestingly a few lasers raced with us.  Flag was green but Carol was cautioning that conditions were gusty and more like yellow or red.  CBI records show wind at the dock about 7kts gusting to 15 from the SSW.  I helmed the first race.  The pin looked strongly favored and I was jabbering about it to Molly as I almost ran out of time getting there before the start.  Two of our more favored teams had staked out positions there and I had to go around them and start third.  Focusing more determinedly on sailing, Molly and I managed to round the first mark in first though.  I turned to Molly and said, “so, tell all about the capsize.”  On the downwind, the fluky winds coming off the Boston side weren’t keeping the sail full.  I made weak and distracted efforts at refilling it but I was mostly listening to the capsize story.  Before I knew it, the fleet was on us and blanketing us.  They completely rolled over us and we rounded the second mark behind many boats.

I encouraged Molly to helm the second race.  She was tentative but of course had no problems.  On the last leg though, I happened to notice I had been bleeding.  Blood was soaked into my hiking strap and smeared all over the boat.  It looked much worse than it turned out to be.  Using the first aid kit on the committee boat, I determined that I had only superficial scrapes, almost certainly from kneeling on the fresh non-skid on the floor of the brand-new 420.  I sat out the remaining races.  Really this was best for me anyway because my back was still sore from Laser sailing.  Lesson for the day:  Do not kneel with bare knees and scoot around on fresh non-skid, especially if you have soft tender skin, and your skin is wet, and you are overweight.  You will tear up your skin and it will be a mess.


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.