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.

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