Tag: Mercury


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

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.

Spinnaker practice

I showed up for Tuesday WR practice but I’d missed the memo that it was cancelled for the day.  Fortunately who did I run into right away but Adam Minoprio Trina!  Her plan, with light air and WR cancelled, was an SUP but she quickly agreed to join me in a plan of spinnaker practice instead.  Just after leaving the dock I realized I had forgotten the pole, but once last year I liked practicing some sets without a pole so it seemed fine to continue without the pole today rather than go back for it.

Wind was just about right for beginner level spinnaker practice.  SE wind was 3 kts gusting to 8 according to the CBI log.  Mostly it was enough wind to fill the chute and let us experiment with trimming but not so much as to present challenging loads.  Only a few times were we frustrated that the wind wasn’t enough to hold the chute up.  On the other end, we had a couple of very nice rides in the gusts.  Only once did I luff the spinnaker because we were having difficulty with the strength of a gust.

Our technique was always to drop the jib before hoisting the spinnaker.  My goal was to simplify things, so there would be less to deal with and also to make it easier to see the spinnaker.  But I think having the jib down probably helped keep the spinnaker full, especially with the light air and especially without a pole.  It usually flew real well without the pole, both running and broad reaching.  On a run it would fly stably out in front of the boat.  On a reach the guy would sit hard against the forestay and it worked to pull the tack right up close to the forestay.  I think having a pole would have helped when the wind would go light and the chute would droop.   Also a few times the chute got twisted and I think the pole might have helped avoid a few of those twists.

Anyway, we got in a few nice runs.  We traded off practicing the different roles of helm and foredeck, and mostly just logged some experience time.  And, I thought it was fun!  I don’t have that much experience with spinnakers and my past experiences have been a mix of small successes and confusion.  Today was relatively easygoing.


Wind was forecast to be yellow with gusts to red and the flag turned out just like that.  I took out a centerboard Merc mailsail only since I didn’t want to do all the work of the jib.  I planned to focus on not over-exerting myself for the day.  Cast off from the dock was actually a disaster.  There was a little gust and I was letting the boom into the space of the next boat to let the sail luff.  The dock staff started to push me out but of course the boom snagged in their rigging.  I pulled it in and we retried.  “Ready?”  “yes”  and they pushed me straight back again.  The problem this time was that I wasn’t holding the tiller.  The rudder went hard over the boat stopped and just blew up against that next boat over.   I drifted back past their stern and tried to continue sailing backwards, but no, in a replay of the run-aground last week, the boat fell off and ran back into the dock.  Bleh.

On the basin, there was a test course set up and I started sailing a quick lap.  On my second lap I saw some other Mercuries converging on the course and a skiff nearby.  I hailed the skiff, “Am I in the middle of a class?”  “No, testing.  You’re the cheat sheet!”  It was funny but I sailed off to play around some other marks.  Then a run down to Mass Ave bridge and the beat back.  It was a nice sweet spot between going fast but not having to hike too hard or be overpowered.

I came in to rest, hang out on the dock a bit, and then go get some lunch.  After lunch I finally decided to try one more sail, this time in a Laser.  At the dockhouse the computer had somehow lost my red rating.  Yes I am quite sure I got my Laser red last year.  I remember my test well.  But whatever, I’m dressed for the capsize so sure, I’ll take a yellow test.  The test was uneventful.  My only regret after the test was that I didn’t do some fun or spectacular wet capsize.  A snap windward capsize on a run for example might be worth more spectator points than simply pulling in the sail at low speed stalled on beam reach.

After the test, one lap down to the Mass Ave bridge and back.  I tried my kinetic rolling and pumping technique that worked so well last time I sailed a Laser but didn’t have as much success with it.  Conditions were near planing without any kinetics so rolling the boat would sometimes roll it off the plane, being counterproductive.  Some other technique must be better.  I didn’t have the time to experiment.

On the beat back, in contrast to the Mercury sailing, I was overpowered and had to luff quite a bit of the sail.  I was overpowered sitting on the rail and not hiking very hard, that is.  I was wary of hurting myself like I did last time I sailed the Laser.  Anyway, it was fun, and in the end I didn’t hurt myself too much.

Cool gray

Friday was a cool gray day for mid-July but the rain was passing south of us so it was fine TGIF sailing weather.  Stacy was eager to start the weekend early and I think we were at the dock before 5.  Friday of course also has informal racing and Stacy was intrigued enough to agree to some racing.  The RC, exasperated with the cat herding exercise of rounding up boats just started a sequence with potential racers scattered across the basin.  I actually managed to get us across the line first, within maybe 30 seconds of the starting signal.  RC cheered at the first participation.  My lead didn’t last long.  I wasn’t paying attention to wind direction and managed to let everyone by me before the first mark.  I recovered a couple of the positions before the finish.

It was fun.  Surely my first Friday informal race in a long time, maybe close to a year.  I was busily trying to explain things to Stacy and coach her on things like keeping the jib sheet from snagging on the spinnaker halyard cleat.  “You have to float it across” I kept saying.  Stacy was struggling at these obscure mystical concepts.  I was pointing out how another boat was maneuvering to pass us on the downwind.  She was still stuck on what “downwind” was.

In the second race I managed to foul another boat.  The situation starts similar to that of case 11 in the World Sailing Case Book.  I was PW in this diagram.


Case 11 discusses my right to hail for room pass S as an obstruction but I didn’t hail.  Racing involves lots of judgement, judging time and distance.  I was first thinking that PL and I would both be able to duck S.  I failed to properly judge that PL was able to sail high enough to just clear S’s stern and that there would be no room for me.  When I realized I was in trouble I decided to tack.  Unfortunately it was already too late.  I was tacking too close to S and he had to luff up to avoid me.

I had options for other things I could have done, if I had started earlier.  I could have hailed PL, I could have just slowed slightly to pass S after PL, or I could have tacked sooner to stay clear of S.

Anyway, that was enough racing fun for the day.  Stacy and I sailed away down to the Mass Ave bridge and back.  We heeled the boat for fun, to sit on the low side and put fingers in the water.  It turns out that’s work in a keel Merc on a green flag day.  I’m tired now.

Wind was light.  I was calling it light green flag, maybe “mint,” from the East and somewhat shifty, especially as it came over the trees from the Boston side.  It was my failure to pay attention to these wind shifts that set me back spectacularly in some of the racing.  The difference in wind speed recorded at the CBI dock and at the MIT dock is also telling.  With wind from the East, CBI was recording 0kts with gusts to 2 or 3, while MIT was recording 10mph with gusts to 15.  I think on the race course it was somewhere in between.

Light air practice

I had decided to sail today, so I did.  Early forecasts showed likely strong gusts late in the day.  Early in the morning CBI had tweeted that there would be red test conditions in the afternoon.  But this is the Charles, so what really happened?  0 kts, gusting to 2.  I watched for a while after getting to the dock, then finally mustered the courage.

Centerboard Merc, mainsail only.  The idea was to practice roll tacking.  Supposedly you can gain speed on a roll tack and so can propel yourself even with no wind.  Is it really possible?  On a Mercury?  When you’re just learning and barely know what your’re doing?  And struggle a bit with difficulty moving around the boat?

It turned out yes!  Well, maybe not gain speed, but certainly not lose too much.  I was able to tack and come out of the tack with headway.  Any headway at all was good in that wind, but it seemed pretty much full headway.  This meant that I could tack again almost immediately and repeat and make progress to windward, even with glassy water and slack tell tales.

Start on close hauled course with headway, close hauled sail and a slight heel.  Sheet a little harder for extra weather helm and either let the tiller fall to leeward if it wants to or push it over if it doesn’t want to.  As the boat starts to spin, level it to take out that little bit of heel.  The boat doesn’t like to pass through the eye of the wind as well with any heel as it does flat so it must be flat before it gets to the eye of the wind.  As the sail luffs, let the sheet go slack and pass it behind your head, shore school style.  In the light air, push the boom out to keep it dead with the wind as the boat continues to spin under it.  As the boat approaches the new close hauled course, lean as much as possible to leeward for the roll.  With the sail exactly in line with the wind, it doesn’t back, it just slices straight to leeward.  Then center weight to roll back to vertical.  This is where the sail fills from rolling and propels the boat forward.  It’s at the verge of a luff while the boat is rolling even though it is eased pretty far.  Also as the boat returns to vertical, sheet the main back to close hauled trim so that the sail stays filled.  The tack should be complete to the new close hauled course, with headway, and with the sail trimmed close hauled.

That was my theory anyway, what I was attempting.  I was going through it super slow motion, muttering the steps I was taking, and it was awkward and sloppy.  Still it was kind of sort of working.  I would tack, check my wake, then tell myself “tacking in 3, 2, 1…”

Next, on another day, try with more wind, with things happening faster, with crew, and with rolling the boat much more.  And go back and review roll tacking videos on the internet and advice from others.

Finally worth mentioning, a problem with this light of wind was that it would stop completely and then come back in from a random direction.  I had problems getting downwind to practice tacking because I would run down wind, then have the wind come in from a new direction so that I wasn’t downwind anymore!