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.
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:
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.
And first post for this journal. The year I learned to sail (long ago) I kept a journal where I logged every time I sailed. I logged the time, the weather, where I sailed, what I did, anything interesting, and what I learned. I plan to do something similar this year.
So, it was today, April 2, 2017, and I sailed a Cape Cod Mercury at Community Boating (CBI) for…oh, I didn’t look at the time, but surely no more than an hour. That was time to sail a beat between the nav buoys, sail the length of the basin, stop and adjust the outhaul along the way, and sail a circuit of the practice course on the way back in. It felt really nice to be on the water again. I sailed between about 3 and 4 pm (I think). It was green flag, mostly sunny, air 56F, NNW wind 6 mph with gusts to 12.
Probably the most interesting I noted was how well the boat moved through the water, having a clean and freshly painted bottom. As the boats sit in the water over the summer they build up a coat of moss, river sludge, and even a few barnacles, all of which makes them increasingly sluggish.
After sailing I sat in on a shore school class. My goal was to get a more complete idea of what is taught in shore school so that when I talk with new sailors or sail with them I can avoid confusing them with conflicting information. The students were amazing I thought, remaining attentive through the long class and asking good questions.