Early-Season Mistake

An early-season mistake is a silly mistake, one that you have no excuse for except that it’s early in the season.  A mistake like skying a halyard.  Wait, wa, how?  If you sail Mercuries at Community Boating, you learn to hold on to the halyard shackle unless it’s securely fastened.  That’s enough to learn because the other end of the halyard has a stopper knot.  In the big world outside of Mercuries though, halyards don’t always have such training wheels and you might need to keep track of both ends.  This is probably especially true of spinnaker halyards.

Elena and Renee were planning spinnaker practice on an Ideal 18 and invited me when I appeared at the dockhouse with a Mercury sail in my arms.  I convinced them I needed practice rigging the spinnaker and proved it when I skyed the halyard right away.  Well, I’m sure it wasn’t the practice Elena and Renee had in mind, but was definitely the kind of lesson to lesson to get out of the way in early-season practice rather than rigging before a race.

Ideal 18, green flag, about 2 kts gusting to 8 from the SE, more or less.

Women get competitive

It was Thursday Women’s Racing.  We had wind, lots of sailors, and competition!  A year ago women’s racing at CBI was kind of in a phase of building, or rebuilding.  A week ago I commented on how well everyone was sailing.  Tonight everyone was eager to step up the game and get more competitive.  There was more close maneuvering and more pushing on the racing rules.

Carol thought we were wimps to pick Ideal 18s over 420s, but it was chilly out there and most of us didn’t want to risk getting wet.  Temp was 53F dropping to 50 over the hour from 6pm to 7.  Wind recorded at the dock was 4kts gusting to 8 but perhaps from a direction (east) with a wind shadow.  Out on the water it was certainly more, perhaps twice that.  Wind started out E but backed to NE over the hour.

The wind shift, unnoticed by most of us, meat that the pin end of the line became increasingly favored.  I think there was a failed port tack start in one race, and then a successful one in a later race when the port end was more favored.

I sailed with Debbie and Kathryn, we traded off the tiller and each got to sail a couple of races.  I was called over early in my first race and didn’t handle it well.  I started steering back and forth a little trying to figure out how I was going to have room to turn back.  It was hard because there was traffic behind me and on either side.  My mistake was not just slamming on the brakes as hard as I could to let people pass me.  It was long enough back to line that we never caught the fleet again and scored a DFL as Debbie said.

Another costly mistake (not me at the tiller this time) was a leeward mark.  We were gaining on the boat in front of us but hadn’t quite caught them when the boat ahead called back to us “no overlap at the zone” or words to that effect.  The mistake was then sailing into an overlap.  The lesson is, well, don’t do that.  If you’re going faster, then steer to the outside as sharply as you have to avoid sailing into an inside overlap.  If for some reason you can’t do that immediately, then work on making it possible as soon as possible.  Again, slam on the brakes if you have to.  You can’t live there for long and you’ve got less than three boat lengths of sailing to do something about it.

Time on the water

I got in another hour on a Sonar today.  More importantly, so did Kathryn who steered for most of our sail.  I just wanted a little time on the water between sailing last Sunday and (hopefully) racing tomorrow.  Kathryn was interested more specifically in Sonar practice.  Wind was 10 gusting to 20kts under red flag, dock staff asked us to reef and that was fine with both of us.  That’s a pretty easy and comfortable wind strength with the reef in.  Unfortunately though, the wind direction and temperature were not.  The winds would shift 45, then 90, then 180 degrees on us, and while it had been sunny and 60F earlier in the day, by 6pm when we got on the water the temp had fallen to 50, the sky was heavy, and there was a chilly mist in the air.

One nice thing about clouds though, people stay away and you practically have the river to yourself.

One focus for the day was mooring practice.  Leaving the mooring I know some people like to wait for some “right time” to cast off.  If I have the tiller I usually don’t care and just just have my crew cast off whenever and I just deal with whatever the boat is doing at the time.  I went up on the bow and called back to Kathryn, “do you want to wait for the boat to swing around or can I just throw the rope in the water?”  Hesitation, so I waited.  In this case, like I described above, the wind was really swirling and making the boat swing on the mooring — and we were on a mooring by the island — and at moment the boat was pointed at the island.  I waited.  The boat had kind of sailed up over the mooring was was taking a minute to drift back down.  When the mooring line finally went taught again the boat swung the other way to point away from the island.  I have to admit, that was a much easier departure than it would have been the minute before.

On the basin, we practiced some mooring approaches on the green nav buoy.  Kathryn was asking me advice on slowing down, much as I had been asking Niko advice on slowing down another day.  I told her what she already knew, just as Niko had told me what I already knew.  The problem is that without practice, the all the possibilities like luffing sails, turning the boat, furling sails, and backing sails don’t come as second nature, even if you know it, even if you’ve done it in the past.  Practice helps, talking about it helps.  When we brought the boat in for the night, we still had a little bit of speed at the mooring.  Having just talked about it, I pushed the boom forward to back the sail,  the boat stopped, and we were on the mooring for the night.

A small lesson rigging the boat was that it’s just as easy to pull the outhaul too tight on a Sonar as it is on a Mercury.  Reefed, the outhaul is the the reefing line, but when we got on the water I saw that again I had the sail too flat.  The Sonar is so well behaved that it wasn’t hard to sail or tack like the Merc was, but still I knew from my recent experience it would do much better with the outhaul loosened a little.  Nicely though, this is perfectly easy to do underway on the Sonar, unlike the Mercury.

We sailed, we talked and told stories, we tried to act like it was easy and effortless sailing.  But really we were pretty busy.  I had my camera around my neck and I kept thinking I would take some pictures, but always we seemed just a little bit too busy for me to pull out the camera.  I’ll take pics another day.

A Breezy Sunday

I’d taken a couple of days off from sailing to heal and recover strength.  Then wind this weekend was up, gusting to 30 knots much of yesterday and today, so I was hesitant to go back out too soon.  I needed just a little sailing today though.  My goal was to do something easy.

When I got to the dock, maybe 3ish, the staff had already worked a number of capsizes.  Restrictions were pretty much reefs, keel mercs, and two to a main.  That suited me fine.  I asked at the dockhouse if they could find me someone to sail with and yes, I soon met Carla and Katrin who had also been waiting for someone to sail with.  So never mind the 30kt gusts, we had three people on a keel merc with a reefed main.  This was going to be easy, just what I wanted.  Better yet, Carla and Katrin were hoping to practice man-overboard for their red tests.  They would do all the work and I would be along for the ride!

We rigged, I looked around for dock staff to push us off the dock.  No one was nearby.  I thought about pushing us off and jumping in, but wind was a little bit on to the dock and takeoff would be a little less hectic with a push.  I walked back toward the dockhouse, got Kaela’s attention.  “Will you give us a push?”  “Sure, do you need a lifejacket?”  Omg, I still don’t have the reflex to always have a PFD on a boat.  I grew up on small lakes decades ago and we played on the water and in the water all day long every day and never wore lifejackets.  Times have changed, but old patterns are still hard to change.

On the water Carla was sailing but I was talking fast, trying to go over what I thought was important.  Carla and Katrin were doing just fine though and very soon I made myself slow down, take a deep breath and relax.  We beat to windward, most of the way to the Mass Ave bridge, Carla and Katrin traded off at the helm, we sailed back to mid-river and went through some man overboard drills.  We decided to go in, but I had one more fun little activity for the sail back, I had rigged a jib for us and left it furled on the foredeck..

I know the red test is with full main and jib, but you don’t learn as much if you’re struggling to survive so I had left the jib down for practice.  For a few broad reaches back to the dock though, I unfurled and hoisted the jib.  The sail area of the jib is a relatively a big addition to a reefed main and it was striking how the boat accelerated.  Carla and Katrin obviously knew how to sail with the jib.  Was I over-conservative to have left it down for the practice and drills?  Possibly.  I think it might have been a bad distraction though.  It was really fun to have an easy sail to windward, and for the man overboard drill it felt right to focus more on the pattern of maneuvers.  There will be plenty of time another day for practice with a jib.

Roughly 3:30 to 4:30, 85F (yes, that warm again!) mostly cloudy but with a little sun now and then.  Red flag, WSW wind 15 gusting to 25kts, but fading somewhat.  Wind had been stronger earlier in the day and then later in the day the flag went to yellow.

Women’s Racing 2017

Women’s Racing happens on Thursday evenings at CBI, and yes, okay, we did meet last week but stayed indoors due to cold, rain, snow, thunder, and lightning.  Carol made a party out it with a bag of chips and a this harrowing youtube video of a sailboat being tossed under the Redondo Beach Pier by the surf.  Tonight was the first night we got into boats though.  While we had a few women with proper wetsuits, many of us (like me) did not have suitable clothes for 420’s on 50F water..  After an agonizing decision between Mercuries or Ideal 18s, we finally filled five Ideal 18’s and raced five races in somewhat chilly yellow flag conditions.

I sailed with Trina and Dorothy.  Both had raced with us a time or two last year but given the conditions I helmed all the races.  (I hate hogging the tiller by the way.  I would most like to let others build their skippering experience but this wasn’t a good night for it.)  I was happy to see that our fleet of five was usually fairly close in all of the races.  It was good to see that we had good boat handling competence on all the boats.  Special thanks go to Robin for running race committee for us.

Racing rules were followed with somewhat less competence, but I’ll describe one interesting situation were there was contact rounding the jibe mark of the port triangle course.  We were overlapped inside.  The other boat, sail 13, but let’s call it L3, had been holding us high before the zone just to make things difficult for us so we were approaching on a run.  I actually had in mind keeping the rounding “seamanlike” and was trying to round relatively directly.  Still, when we jibed, our boom fell against L3’s shroud and L3 later did a penalty turn.  Were they clearly wrong?  I’m not so sure.  I can imagine a number of possible arguments that my rounding was not sufficiently seamanlike or that I could have anticipated the contact and did not give L3 room to keep clear.

Our boat was last to get a ferry from the mooring back to the dock so the three of us missed most of the debrief.  We were assured that we made fun of though.  Carol was showing a — paperweight — that was an America³ memento with a piece of rope inside.  I don’t quite remember the whole story, but the significance for women’s racing is that the America³ foundation was sponsoring an all-women’s team for the 1992 America’s Cup.  See for example youtube (since I’m posting youtube links.)  I didn’t even know.  All I knew about America³ was cuben fiber, but when I mentioned that I just got “Sonia, don’t be an idiot” looks from people.  So I didn’t think to say anything at the time, but somewhat related, in professional women’s sailing there was Jo Aleh competing in the WMRT this week.

Also back on the dock I was cornered by a few of my competitors to ask why I was “going wide” at the leeward mark.  In more than one race I had given up a place or two at the leeward mark.  Did I have some strategy?  Carol leaned in with a smirk and a raised eyebrow, “Yeah Sonia, what were you thinking?”  For reference, the wind had veered since the course was set and it was a long port tack from the leeward mark to the finish line.  I rationalized:  Well, in some races you couldn’t quite fetch the line from the mark so there was no need to tack immediately.  There might be an advantage to maintaining more speed during a roundup, and then doing a tack as a separate maneuver.  I backpedaled more then and said I was deliberately not sailing as hard or aggressively as I could, which was closer to the truth — which was that I was just being lazy and sloppy.  I think there’s  still a lesson here though.  How can just a little bit of relaxed sailing repeatedly cost a position or two?  Mostly by not doing the long tack first.  Rule of thumb: always do the long tack first.  Another way I’ve heard it said is that once you’re on the layline, only bad things can happen.  In this case with the mark close to the layline, the right thing to do would generally have been to tack hard right on the mark to start making progress toward the line as soon as possible.

Thank you Carol for promoting this blog to everyone.  Someone said pictures, so I grabbed my camera for this cheesy group photo of most (all?) of us that raced tonight.

CBI Women’s Racing April 13, 2017

Um, so, that’s me front row second from left, with the white stripes on the maroon sweatshirt.

Informal Instruction

April 11, 90F.  That’s right, look! it really happened, according to the CBI weather station, anyway.  Forecast as the day approached was upper 70’s, then mid 80’s, then look what happened.  Even better, while the forecast was sun, by 5:30 when I got to the dock, it was mostly overcast, so there was less glare, less risk of sunburn.  I put sunscreen on my face anyway, which has noticeably flushed with color lately, but left it off my pasty white shoulders.  Sailing stories to come, but first this photo from the pedestrian bridge as I walked from the Charles MGH T station:

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Routine Sailing Catastrophe

RSC stands for “Routine Sailing Catastrophe” or more importantly “Rudder, Sail, Centerboard.”   That’s the sequence to remember when you run aground!  You can see here that the sailors have dropped their sail.  Let’s hope they also pulled out the rudder and set it the bottom of the boat, and raised the centerboard.  An important observation though is “routine!”  The sailors are calm because here to rescue them are highly trained and experienced CBI staff Alex and Martin in a CBI launch.  Oh, I think there might be a report for the sailors to file when they arrive back at the dock, but their “RSC” should have prevented damage and kept this run-aground “routine.”

On the dock, I expected lots of new members eager to sail.  It was highly likely I would find someone interested in informal instruction.  That was kind of my plan.  The minute I waked in the door though, there were the racers.  “Sonia!  will you race with us?”  “Uh, well, I might… I don’t know…”  Omg, I might not have communicated yet how much I love racing and so how pulled I was, but my head was all set up for informal instruction.  I wanted to give it it first priority.  I walked straight to the dock house to ask (and share my photo with Alex.)  There weren’t actually any cards in the queue then, but by the time I was ready to sail, Alex had someone for me.  It was V.J., actually one of the students in Alex’s shore school I sat in on last week.

Yellow flag, and as you saw if you followed the link earlier, 8 kts, gusting to 20 from the south.  V.J. was great, I think he had a good time in spite of me leading us into a couple of very close calls.  I was explaining at one point how sailing is part intellectual — diagrams on the white board and sequences of steps — but part muscle memory — like most sports.  V.J. related immediately.  He is a musician, and said piano playing is just like that.  At some point your fingers just move on their own.

So, um, close calls, yeah.  It would have been so embarrassing to fill out a capsize report.  Worse, V.J. was wearing very nice leather shoes.  I think they got a little wet but hopefully weren’t ruined as they certainly would have been in a capsize.  He was also wearing prescription glasses, who knows, maybe as expensive as the shoes.  I tried to reinforce as a final lesson for the day the importance of a croakie ($5 at the front desk), and a change of clothes, just in case you end up sailing with a reckless instructor.

Technically, my mistakes were carelessness with weight placement.  You can only present or stress so many concepts on a first sail.  I didn’t put that much emphasis on weight because I’m heavy enough I can move my weight around and mostly control things and other concepts just seemed more important.  But then I can’t resist picking the biggest gusts to demonstrate a gybe, and V.J.’s on the wrong side of the boat because I haven’t bothered to remind him of what to do, and I have just b a r e l y enough weight to avoid disaster.

Another close call was docking.  I was letting him dock (how exciting, docking on your first sail!) because conditions were ideal for a first docking, but still his first approach was a little fast so I took the tiller to steer us around for another try.  Problem was, in snatching the tiller and main and having him scoot forward for a moment, the main had wrapped around the tiller and was fighting me to steer us into the island.  Fortunately I had just enough strength to pull against the main and not be that person in the photo at top.  Anyway, on the second try V.J. docked perfectly.  I hope he was excited as I was.