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.
The plan for the day was two sails, first a sail with Stacy then the advanced 420 class. Stacy likes the Ideal 18 but not the extra time it takes to get ferried to and from the mooring field. We took a keel Merc today, and because we pulled off that spinnaker escapade on a Rhodes 19 recently, I grabbed a spinnaker and pole. Wind was shifty, mostly W but from SW to N and from 3 to 10 kts. It was green flag, but some of the gusts were fresh.
We beat to the Mass Ave bridge, as before, well almost, but the wind died to nothing. It was close enough to tack and set the spinnaker. Starboard jibe was the short jibe toward the Boston side though, we jibed to port for the long jibe down the length of the basin. Stacy’s work on the foredeck was well, functional, but I wanted to do or demonstrate something, we don’t remember what, and so I had her take the helm while I took the spinnaker. Just about then though, the wind happened to be coming up to one of its gusts. I struggled to organize the spinnaker but I knew that most important would be for Stacy to maintain a steady course. With every heel of the boat it would try to round up and I would shout at Stacy to keep steering. It was all sloppy and we were on the edge of control, but we rode this strong gust all the way down the basin. I called it a success. It was cool. We doused, beat back to windward and this time took the easy way down under just main and jib. Until that is, there was a Sonar next to us and I couldn’t resist the challenge. I hoisted the spin one more time. It pulled well and we we accelerated. Hard to say how the speed compared to the Sonar though. They went off on a different course.
On the dock again, there was just enough time to walk down the street and get a slice of pizza. With the inconsistent wind, I wasn’t sure the 3:00 advanced 420 class would be possible, but at 2:45 the wind looked good so I said goodbye to Stacy and went to check in. I was still the only person signed up, but Kate was on the dock and signed up at the last minute. Like the advanced Sonar class I had recently, this was valuable for lots of little tips and advice on rigging, and boat handling. Kate and I were both interested in flying the spinnaker on the 420 so that was one focus. We also worked on roll tacks.
After class, Kate and worked on roll tacks more, until we were both out of breath, maybe 10 minutes. We then turned to more recreational sailing and drifted around the basin soaking up the sun.
A fruit punch flavor rockstar happened to be packed in my sailing bag today. Oh, it was just what I needed to hype me up for some red flag sailing after work!
Wind was S, 8 kts gusting to 20. Nothing special was happening so I asked at the dock house if anyone was waiting for informal instruction. There was one person who wanted practice in a Mercury, but then wait, there were two more. Could I take two more? Sure, but not in a Mercury. My willing green rated sailors agreed to a Rhodes 19, which I assured them was just like a big Mercury. I said it was roomy, like a family station wagon. “Like a Volvo?” one of my young informal instructees asked for clarification. Um, yeah. Just like a Volvo.
Per dock house white board we rigged the main reefed, and then because none of three were indicating confidence about the jib, I left it furled it on the foredeck. So we sailed, we practiced, we got in one lap up to the Mass Ave bridge and back and then it was time to go in. We never did end up hoisting the jib.
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.
I was running a little late, so were others. At nearly 6pm Carol was gathering everyone to decide on boats. Wind looked great to me for the 420’s, that was my vote, but Carol was cautioning everyone that over the last hour winds had been gusting to 30mph at the MIT dock and that a number of high-school sailors had capsized and had trouble righting the boats. It was enough to make people shy away from the 420s. In fairness, the water is still chilly and a capsize wouldn’t be fun whether you could right the boat easily or not.
We sailed the Ideal 18’s. We had five of these and over 20 women racers so that meant four people to a boat and a couple of people sitting out on the committee boat. I got the tiller. On my boat, to start with anyway, was Laura, Jasmine, and Tessa. Laura is experienced with women’s racing and was valuable in the front of the boat, both at helping Jasmine and Tessa and at being an extra set of eyes for me, saving us from disasters more than once. The jib is pretty easy on the Ideal but I think Jasmine with just a green rating was learning from it. This is my point that you learn at a rate in proportion to the wind. With the strong wind, even the little self-tacking jib of the Ideal was giving lots of feedback. I let Tessa trim the main the whole time. She had some experience in bigger boats and so seemed totally unfazed at the boat heeling which was really good.
Lessons. Hmm, first lesson is to eat something before. Racing runs right across dinner time, and you can run out of energy. Today I had missed lunch and so grabbed a snack on the way to CBI. It made a huge difference. I felt better and hand more energy.
Another thing that went well was once on a final leg to the finish. We rounded the leeward mark pretty far behind other boats and looking for anything to try, I saw darker water on the left side and tacked over for it. Sure enough, the stronger wind was there. I sailed in it for a bit on starboard, then tacked in it on lay for the finish. Amazingly we crossed two boats just before the line. The first boat we crossed was complaining loudly about port-starboard but we got across without them having to alter course.
A thing that didn’t go well also involved a boat complaining. Approaching the leeward mark, the boat behind hailed overlap. This surprised me, I turned and looked and sure enough they were no where close to overlap. But in that second or two when I was turning and looking, we came up on the mark and there was no longer time to prepare my crew for a tight tactical rounding. We went wide of the mark and the other boat went inside to pass us. Now, it’s possible to fluster someone by yelling. Doing so deliberately in attempt to gain advantage might even be considered not fair sailing. But that’s not what was going on here. I wasn’t flustered, all that happened was I was delayed for a second. When I watch racing on the internet, I think I see the professional sailors do this to each other. They will hail or otherwise posture in some way that consumes some time or attention of the other boat. Every second spent evaluating the immediate situation is a second unavailable for planning the next situation. I think the best defenses are to have that next situation planned as early as possible, be aware of the current situation as much as possible, and possibly anticipate noise from the other boat so that if it comes you can dismiss it faster.
After racing I had a little sip of coke left, I drank a bottle of water, then another bottle of water with a cookie and was feeling okay. I have to give a lot of credit to Tessa for doing the work of pulling the main sheet for me. Otherwise I would have been demolished tired.
95F, CBI wind records show 10kts gusting to 20, starting WSW but then backing to SSW. This wind shift was most apparent on the third leg of our triangle course as it turned the reach into a run. In earlier races we jibed around the reach mark then reached to the leeward mark. In later races we jibed but then had trouble fetching. In a couple of races we had to throw in an extra pair of jibes. In one race I avoided the extra jibes by sailing past the reach mark so that we could fetch the leeward mark with a single jibe.
Oh, and we didn’t even win a single race but we sure had fun.
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.
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.