Late September

Saturday, never mind gray sky and drizzle, Stacy and Jessica wanted to sail. In fairness, the wind was good. Green flag 4 mph gust to 12 at first, but building to steady 8 mph with gusts to 18. NE, so down the length of the basin. Not many CBI members come out on a chilly September day like this, but the basin was busy with multiple racing fleets. I had picked Sonar for us to sail and started out tacking downwind, skirting the edges of the racing areas. When I headed back up wind I realized I needed to stop and teach a lesson on the jib. As the wind built, I taught another lesson on the mainsheet, so I could have Stacy handle the main while I trimmed with the traveler and steered. Eventually the flag had gone yellow, and while we were doing okay, I thought it would be nice to reef just to make things easier. Here it was nice that Stacy at least had seen how to heave to. I spent one tack explaining how the reef would go, then we tacked over to heave to and the reefing went well. I thought we would be good to sail a while longer then but it turned out people were cold and ready to go in. Oh well, good practice.


Gusty finale

Tonight was the last night to sail 420s in women’s racing. Sunset is getting too early and wetsuit restrictions are coming. But what fun wind we had! The flag was yellow. I called it dark yellow because of the many vigorous gusts of 15 to 20 mph. The gusts were exciting because wind was NNW, and so coming right over the buildings of MIT, which randomized them in strength and duration. Between the gusts wind was shifty, sometimes veering over 45 degrees to suddenly back the sails. Robin called these “autotacks” and encouraged not to fight them but to simply yield and tack.

It was really great to sail with Robin. Actually, I think I was a bit intimidated and was perhaps quieter than usual. Robin filled the space readily by feeding me continuous information and suggestions. One of my favorite things she would tell me was what she was doing with the jib. My experience is that crews will typically sheet the jib hard unless told otherwise. I have thought before that ideally the crew would sheet the jib hard but only as long as I was sailing close hauled. If by wind shift or course change I would fall below close hauled, the crew would automatically ease to keep the jib from stalling, but tell me that they were easing the jib. That would keep the boat moving and leave the decision to me on when and how to return to close hauled. Robin did exactly that. I loved it. Today this would happen sometimes from a wind shift, but sometimes because I wanted a different direction, or wanted more speed, or simply because I wasn’t paying attention. Regardless, Robin trimmed the jib for best boat speed and made sure that I was aware of what was going on.

We got in a few races, we managed to win at least one, and finished the day with a nice ride on a plane back to the cut. The final course was a single leg, a downwind start and finish at the cut. Technically we won that one too although I don’t think it counts because others seemed to be confused about the course. The line was skewed enough that the start was nearly a beam reach. I channeled my racers from the Extreme Sailing Series to target the middle of the line and try to get the time and distance right. Sadly we had no close competition but we did have this one nice big gust to finish the day and finish 420 racing for the year. Oh, there’s still women’s racing next week, just not in 420s. Plans are to be in Mercuries….

Sea Breeze

Two weeks ago It worked out well to just show up for Tiller Club racing and get paired up with someone in the morning. I tried the same this morning but failed. We had an odd number of people and I perhaps wasn’t aggressive enough to secure a partner. Shanghaiing an unsuspecting crew on the dock wasn’t an option either as it was not a good day for sailing and no one was foolish enough to be there without previous plans. Eventually though, someone was looking for informal instruction so I adjusted my expectations for day to take them out.

It was Courtney’s first time in a sailboat ever! I apologized repeatedly for the wind, explaining that she would learn more and different things on a day with more wind. In my preparation for racing though, I had a pretty good handle on what little wind there was and we were able to make enough sense out it to sail anyway.

Oh wait, how bad of day for sailing? How little wind? The water was like glass and the tell tales hung straight down most of the time. One of the best wind indicators was the steam coming off the power plant across the river. Wind was actually North, and you could see this steam angling South as it rose. Forecast was for a sea breeze to fill in from the East at some point. I was chatting with Charlie (Z.) and he was cautioning that this time of year the sea breeze is less predictable. The ocean is warm this time of year, so there is less difference between the sun-heated land and and already warm ocean, he explained. Nevertheless, shortly after we talked, the first little Easterly zephyr came across the dock. More followed as the day went on.

This level of understanding was what Courtney and I needed to make a successful day out of the light wind. Like the racers, we were able to set the sails for the wind we expected, even though not always having clear feedback from the boat. We skirted the course, talked about the basics of sailing, and also enjoyed front row seats for the racing. A number of subtleties weren’t lost on her. “Why do they use that extra sail?” “Why are they wearing gloves?” “Why do both people make the boat lean?” Roll tacking. It goes like this… “That was scary!” She’ll do well.

Love you

By afternoon the Easterly sea breeze filled in nicely. Wind was light before that, but at least 5 mph with gusts to 15 from the East although the flag stayed green. Sonars were all taken so Stacy and I took an Ideal 18 with a spinnaker. Stacy’s been on the boat enough this summer that I kind of gave her the tiller without thinking, ordering “here, you sail” while I played with the spinnaker.

The first hoist went badly as I had not double checked that the halyard was rigged clear of everything else. The sail went up halfway and then stopped much to the amusement of Elena, on another boat, probably with UAP crew. She hooted and hollered as I brought it back down, detangled, and rehoisted. I hailed “love you!” back to her and Stacy and I sailed off, now with the spin nicely set.

We got in I think about 2 1/2 nice runs down the length of the basin, with a number of jibes thrown in for practice. One jibe didn’t go well, with the sail tangling around the forestay. Here I had to grab the tiller back from Stacy to expedite a jibe back to get it untangled. I was describing it later to Justin and he suggested jibing with both twings on to keep the sail a little more in control. I’ll have to experiment with that another day.


Remnants of the storm, remnants of the summer sun. Eight of us showed up in time for racing in the red flag conditions, 7 mph gusting to 20 by MIT’s records. It was kind of disappointing that the wind wasn’t stronger. The gusts weren’t even that close together. I was sailing with Wei Yun and it was her first time on a 420. After three races we hadn’t even hit a plane yet, so I took the little break between races to bear off in a gust and see if I could get the boat out of the water. Not at first, but then yes. “Oh it’s like we’re flying!” exclaimed Wei Yun.

I think races today were mostly won on boat handling. A few times I fell behind from sloppy tactics but then was able to catch up again simply by holding a nice close hauled course. It was fun sailing but way too rushed. The equinox is tomorrow and sunset today was 6:42, which meant we were supposed to be in at 6:12. I think it was like 5:20 when were were signing out boats, so really, we shouldn’t have had any time on the water all. We squeezed 4 1/2 races though and we can all claim we sailed the hurricane — remnants.

Teeth of the storm

Well, not so much, really. Hurricane Jose was forecast to start bringing wind and rain for WR practice today but conditions on the Charles turned out dry and light-yellow flag. Just a few of us showed up for practice. Abigail took the opportunity to take a yellow test, then when someone else was looking for crew for an Ideal-18 yellow test, we all changed plans to help out. Three of us, me, Trina, and Elena piled on board to help Art with his test.

Before going out, Art was asking — somewhat jokingly, but slightly nervously — what was the most common reason to fail a test. I don’t think he got a serious answer from us, but from the test. Ideal 18s are pretty easy to sail. By the time one is taking the test, tacking and jibing around the test course are not likely to be a problem. The trickiest part turns out to be bringing the boat to a stop, for both the man-overboard drill and the mooring pick-up. The Ideal 18 really likes to go. With just the littlest bit of sail not luffing it scoots forward. And then once in motion, it likes to keep going. It has that keel, but then, well, we had quite a bit of crew weight on board.

Anyway, that’s the hard part. I guess my recommendation for people practicing for their keel boat yellow is to really work hard on coming to a stop. Practice man-overboard a lot, practice stopping head to wind at buoy a lot. And if you can, practice with different total crew weights and see if you need to compensate for the difference in momentum.

Oh, and after testing the four of us went back out for a spinnaker run!

I’ll go with MIT’s wind record: NE 4 mph gusting to 12.

Camera Day

It was a good day to pack the camera. Wind was light, Stacy was with me, and there was interesting stuff to photograph. First, the Charles Basin Invitational Regatta was going on, hosted by the Tiller Club. This was a big regatta for Community Boating, with 30 boats registered and 27 on the starting line. The wind was a small disappointment. It was first forecast to be very light, then there was a chance of it filling in a little, but no, it didn’t come in time for racing. CBI showed 0 kts occasionally gusting to 1 with direction not registering. MIT showed 2 mph gusting to 4. I think truth was somewhere in between.

The racers left the dock before us and the leaders were already around the windward mark when I took this first photo. Interestingly the second photo shows four of them compressing on the downwind. Stacy and I didn’t continue to follow them to the leeward mark (a gate maybe?) but I think I heard race control shortening the course. Later I heard they sailed just three legs so this last photo should be as they were finishing.

As has become routine, we had a spinnaker with us, on a keel Merc it was today. Wind had shifted from W to E (racers said it was a 120 degree shift) so with it now blowing away from the course (we didn’t know racing was over) we dropped the jib and hoisted the spinnaker. Sometimes it would fill, sometimes it wouldn’t. I had forgotten the pole again. Without the pole I could never get it to catch enough wind to fill on a run but most of the time it would stay filled pretty well on broad reach.

In the second photo above (captioned “no pole”) you can see that the spinnaker isn’t at its best without a pole but it’s at least full and pulling, with the luff lifted off the forestay. You can see we’re on broad reach by the “capillary” waves, the small ripples made by the wind immediately blowing on the water. I’ve been talking about these waves all summer, claiming that they’re one of the main ways I tell the direction of the wind. Unlike the shroud tell-tales, they tell the direction of the true wind. The images below show these waves better. The larger waves, maybe a foot across, are termed “gravity” waves. The capillary waves are the the little ones, maybe just an inch across.
The gravity waves build up over time as the wind blows, but the capillary waves form and dissipate minute by minute as the immediate wind changes.

Off the water, one more look back: