Author: Sonia

Sailing with the Stars

Well, supposedly there were stars. There was this big event at CBI but all I had planned was sailing with Stacy. The big event was taking lots of boats but not the Rhodes 19s. We took one and we took a spinnaker! I seem to have been on this spinnaker kick lately and never mind that it’s just me and technically a guest, the spinnaker seemed doable in the gentle green wind.

We beat toward the Mass Ave bridge, enjoying the sights of all the different boats on the river. I tried sitting on the low side to heel the boat like she likes, but she found the lack of visibility from the low side of the heeled Rhodes a little disturbing. Maybe it’s the wider beam of the Rhodes or maybe it’s the higher foredeck that makes the visibility different than the Ideal.

Anyway, arriving at the far end of the basin, I had Stacy hold the tiller for a minute while I took down the jib, then had her tack. I took the helm back and explained how it would work. The jib was out of the way, we wouldn’t mess with the pole at first anyway, everything would be simple. I would pull the halyard and she would guide the spin forward. The wind was gentle, it seemed impossible to fail, and yet, there it was, all twisted. Rats. I’m still awful at this. We — Stacy — got it straightened out in time for a jibe, then we had the long jibe down the length of the basin.

The stars were out by now. A big race was going on with stars, starlets, and stargazers. We floated by with our big red spinnaker up. People took pictures. Maybe I’ll be a star someday. The world’s a stage.

Wind WSW 6 kts gusting to 10, fading somewhat toward evening.


I met Kathryn for sailing after work. Perhaps because we hadn’t sailed together in a while, we were a little out of sync I’m afraid. She needed to unwind after a stressful day at work; I couldn’t notice because I was hopped up on an extra afternoon coffee. Should we sail a 49er or a Nacra, huh, huh? Ah Sonia, how about a keel Merc? I need something more relaxing. Okay, but we’ll take a spinnaker! I didn’t give her a choice this time.

We got in two nice spinnaker runs down the length of the basin. Well, nice because they weren’t disastrous, but I’m still so low on my spinnaker learning curve. Our sets were worst. The sail always went up twisted and wrapped around things. Once it was up we both did okay trimming it, and managed to fumble through some jibes. The takedowns were fine. It’s good to keep practicing in this green flag wind. Twists and tangles can be teased out without too much drama.

We had time for one last run but I was coming to my senses finally and calming down. We did this run just wing-and-wing, which turned out interesting enough in the variable and shifty wind that was actually up a little bit. Wind for the evening was 4 kts gusting to 12 shifting between S and SW, but I think it was closer to 12 for this last run.

I had someone on my boat last year, from the Netherlands maybe — I don’t remember for sure now — that used the term “milkmaid” instead of wing-and-wing. The term makes the analogy to two pails of milk carried on a shoulder yoke. I loved the term, although I’m afraid some might consider it sexist or stereotyped at least.

Race clinic

Last year I took the three-part series of “Learn to Race” classes. While I learned race decades ago, I had no one to teach me. I learned to sail and to race just by doing. I really appreciate now having some more formal instruction. To follow up the classes, there was a series of on-water racing clinics, but I didn’t have the chance to do these last year. There was a clinic scheduled today though and I just showed up and asked if I could join. Also there was Trina, and having sailed together a few times recently it was natural that we sailed in a boat together for the clinic. We traded off rolls as usual and had a great time.

Wind was red flag but just barely. 8 kts gusting to 16 from the west for a while, but dropping somewhate part way through the clinic. We sailed a centerboard Mercury and had no problems with the wind strength.

We practiced, we debriefed, and then Stacy met me for a quick sail in an Ideal 18. She is now hooked on red flag sailing but sadly the flag had gone to yellow. Here’s a pic from the Longfellow on our way to Mead Hall after sailing.

Community Boating

Two sails

Two sails in one day. First a little day sail with Stacy and Jessica. Stacy has grown fond of the Ideal 18. It’s easy and comfortable and spirited. Wind was 3 kts gusting to 8, shifting between south and east, but it was cloudy. The primary effect of clouds at CBI, strange as it seems, is that not many members come and sail. Other than the well attended CBI 420 regatta going on, traffic on the water was light. We had a nice little sail but I dropped them at the dock because I had other plans for the afternoon, an advanced Sonar class.

Only two people were signed up in advance for the class. When I signed up at the desk, I made three. Then one person dropped out and Max had just two of us. It was pretty nice really to have an instructor all to ourselves on a boat for an hour or so. Max talked fast and we listened eagerly trying to soak up as many ideas as we could about rigging, sail trim, and all the controls on the Sonar. Then we got right into spinnaker practice, again nice to have this extra instruction beyond what is taught in the regular keelboat class.

One little point that clicked with me for the first time was a neat effect of the guy hook (or twing on other boats.) A problem I had seen a number of times was the spinnaker pole riding back down the guy, away from the spinnaker tack. Putting the guy on the hook fixes this problem! The downward pull on the guy immediately drives the pole forward against the tack. A silly little thing maybe, but I never really understood it before.

WR Chaos

Lots of 420s on the line tonight! As if our usual mix of sailing and racing skills isn’t chaotic enough, tonight we had breakdowns, reaching starts after a 60 degree wind shift, general recalls, and way too many collisions.

First, the breakdown was a main halyard that came loose, dropping both the main and halyard and ending sailing for the unfortunate boat (not mine.) In the debrief after racing, there was frustrated discussion about the incident, but it’s hard to just talk about how to tie a knot. Knot tying is much better demonstrated. I had my camera with me tonight so I grabbed a rigging sail and snapped some pics. There are two sequences here, demonstrating two different ways to hitch a halyard to the head of 420 mainsail.

This first sequence demonstrates the hitch I see somewhat more often. As in the upper left frame, pass the free end of the halyard through the cringle in the head plate. Lower left: pass the free end through again, making a round turn. Upper center: tie a stopper knot in the free end. A barrel knot is shown here, with my favorite way of tying it. It’s just a double overhand knot. Lower center: when you snug the double overhand knot, you can shape it into this barrel shape. Right: snug the stopper knot against head plate, pulling all slack through the round turn into the standing part of the halyard.

This can be varied in a number of ways. You can substitute a different stopper knot for the barrel knot. I like a figure eight knot. Stay away from single overhand knots — they jam badly. If the halyard diameter is small compared to the head cringle, you might want an extra round turn. If it is large, you might not even be able to do one round turn.

The sequence below shows another variation, actually my favorite way.

UL: Rather than putting the free end through the cringle, start by just tying a stopper knot in the free end. LL: Make a bight (a loop that doesn’t cross over itself) and push the bight through the cringle. UR: pass the free end with the stopper knot over the top of the head plate and down through the bight. LR: snug everyting tight.

The advantage I like with this variation is that for the first step of tying the stopper knot, you only need to be working with the halyard; there is no need to also be holding the sail. This makes for less time that you have to be juggling the sail in one hand and the halyard in the other. A slight disadvantage can come if the halyard line is stiff or thick or both. It can be hard to squeeze the bight through the cringle. If so, you have to abandon this variation and fall back on the first one.

Finally it’s worth pointing out that an advantage of either of these hitches over almost any other is that the hitch takes no space between the head cringle and the halyard sheave. They allow the sail to be hoisted to the maximum possible height.

So, racing. I had Andrea crewing for me, which was a delight because she was eager to roll with whatever crazy things I wanted to try. When the wind veered right strongly, It was clear we had a reaching start on starboard and that we were likely to lay the first mark from the start. It was almost like an America’s Cup start! Also watching many of these in the Extreme Sailing Series, I knew that the windward (boat) end of the line wasn’t necessarily best. You would think so, because it’s so heavily favored to windward, but if you can still lay the first mark from anywhere on the line, it’s not that much of an advantage. Sometimes the leeward end is best for securing inside rights at the mark, but then sometimes the middle of the line offers a winning compromise of speed and position. I expected the boat end to be crowded and targeted the middle of the line just hoping for clear air. It was fun to see how it worked out! I did get my clear start but turned out I had to sail close hauled to fetch the mark and the boats that started to windward of me were able to reach with better speed.

Also with Andrea I was trying to experiment with down-speed maneuvering in the prestart. I failed miserably at this a couple of times, calling my starts terrible, which Andrea thought was a little harsh. I was doing better in a latter race, killing almost all of the prestart while drifting slowly behind the line. I was pointing out to Andrea that I had the boat basically in safety position, with the tiller all the way down and the sails luffing, and that to accelerate we would just trim the sails and straighten the tiller. It sort of worked, but not quite. In safety position the boat still makes leeway. That means it’s moving, if slowly. I think there are better techniques. I was hypothesizing with Andrea that they would involve more active crew work, backing and trimming the jib slightly by hand to keep the boat closer to head to wind, and working with the skipper to either make slight headway or allow the boat to back in irons.

So, um safety position got us in trouble another time. I wanted to demonstrate something at the mast and so put the boat in safety position so I could leave the tiller and go forward. This was done, on starboard, for what it’s worth; we were both looking down in the bottom of the boat when there was a loud thunk. We looked up startled to see that we had just T-boned a Mercury on port. It was slow, of course, but still: proper lookout total fail.

I had more collisions! I tried to shut out some barging boats at a start and one barged in anyway. I cried protest. Carol just cried as our brand new 420s bumped against the committee boat. Later I hit a mark. I did my circle, but you know, it’s wear and tear.

And it wasn’t just me. There were a number of other stories of collisions today. Carol was dismayed to say the least.

Gate start

Tuesday is Elena’s somewhat unofficial women’s racing practice day. She apparently had some distractions and the reminder notice went out late but a few us us still showed up. Well, just four actually, Trina, Molly, Fan, and me. We agreed to sail Mercuries with jibs, two to a boat, so we just had two boats. As an alternative to just sailing around, I suggested we race a windward-leeward course between the Coast Guard navigation buoys with a gate start. A gate start, AKA rabbit start, uses a single starting buoy and a boat designated the “rabbit” to sail near it on port tack. The fleet (or other boat in our case) starts by sailing behind the rabbit, between the the buoy and the rabbit. Boats must avoid the rabbit so Rule 10, port-starboard right of way, doesn’t apply until the rabbit tacks.


For us, the goal was a way for us to start a race without starting signals or a race committee. It worked! Sort of. We got in six races, we traded off skippering, I think each of us won at least one race, and I think we all had fun.

The sort of part was that our starts were all comically bad. None as neat as my little diagram above. I had only read about gate starts before and had never actually done one, so it was a first for me as well as the others. It turns out that gate starts need good boat handling skills, including down-speed skills and good judgement about time and distance. We, me included, were falling a little short in these areas and our starts were a little sloppy.

Once we got races underway however, we had good windward-leeward racing. Races were mostly won by finding good wind pressure and avoiding holes. But also reading some shifts and just sailing well. Wind was SSE 1 kt with gusts to 4 according to the CBI weather log. I think it was actually a little better than that, but it was light with puffs and lulls.

Gusts over 20

W 10 kts gusting over 20. It sure seemed like the wind spent most of its time closer to 20 and I would have guessed the gusts were higher, but the CBI wind log shows it really wasn’t gusting much over 20. It was brisk and fun anyway. Stacy and I sailed an Ideal 18 a couple of laps down to the Mass Ave bridge and back.

We rigged reefed in the mooring field. It took a little creativity though as the reefing line was missing from the boom. I put the outhaul shackle on the reef clew and just tied the full clew to the end of the boom to keep the sail tidy. For this cast off from the mooring, I made sure it was as controlled as possible. We were starting from the corner by the kayak/windsurf/laser dock (the beach, I call it) with little room to maneuver and with the wind a little bit wild. I got the boat pointing away from the dock and had Stacy unfurl the jib right a way after she cast us off. The wind grabbed the jib and we were off.

As usual, Stacy wanted to sit on the low side to drag her fingers in the water. No, not today. When I told her she had to sit on the high side I got a look of disbelief and hurt. As we sailed through the cut and into the wind on the basin though, I think she understood. Seriously, it was a blast for both of us. She had some new lessons, about jib sheets under load, and about moving her weight from one side to the other in a tack or jibe. I think the wind might have been a little eye-opening.

For me, I really liked this red flag time in the Ideal 18. I don’t have much red flag experience in the boat so it was good to log an hour or so. With just the two of us, were were a little bit light for the wind strength. I liked playing the gusts to try to keep the sails as full as possible and keep the boat speed up as much as possible. A mantra for gusts is “ease, hike, trim.” Ease when the gust first hits, not only to limit heel, but because the apparent wind direction comes back. Then hike. As the boat accelerates, the apparent wind streams back again and the sails can be trimmed back in. Today in the Ideal, the hiking part was a little different. Stacy’s not much into hiking, I’m still trying to take things a little easy myself, and we’re in a keel boat where hiking counts less than it does on a dinghy. Interestingly though, ease-hike-trim works even with limited hiking. As a gust would hit, I tried to ease the main some but still allow the heel to come up somewhat — not so much that there would be excessive weather helm but enough that the keel would give some more righting moment. Then it worked to almost immediately sheet back in. The boat would accelerate as I sheeted and luffing would be minimal.

I encouraged Stacy to wear a headband to keep her hair out of her eyes, but I didn’t take my own advice at first. In the middle of our sail though the wind was coming up even more and I wanted to minimize distractions. It was time for a few minutes in safety position while I tied up my hair as well.

Hmm, a couple of other small lessons. One was that windsurfers can move through the water with some significant speed even with their sails in the water. I tend to think of them as being stationary when they hit the water but that’s not a safe assumption. One capsized a bit in front of us when we were on a run. There was other boat traffic I was avoiding and I planned on sailing by this capsized windsurfer, well, not terribly close but a little close. As we got closer though, the person was pulling his sail around in the water and the whole windsurfer rig moved significantly through the water to come against us as we passed.

Also I was a little sloppy with my jury rig tie on the main clew and at one point a loose end started to tangle in one of the mainsheet blocks. In the strong wind it was a little hectic to go head to wind and try to organize it a little better. Safety position doesn’t help if you need to do something at the end of the boom!

That was the day. I was a little sad I couldn’t do more. There was that Laser red test I would have liked to take, and calls from the dockhouse for crew for red tests in addition to the usual informal instruction. But one nice sail in the red flag wind was enough for the day.