Tag: Mercury

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!

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.

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:

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.

Brisk wind

The high today was 53F, the same as the historical average for the day, which combined with wind and clouds felt cold!  I sailed sometime between 2:30 and 4.  Winds were 10 gusting to 25 kts shifting from W to NW.  When I got there the wind was west, pretty much blowing down the length of the basin with enough fetch to build up some waves.  By the time I left it was more solidly from the NW and the waves had calmed down considerably.

CBI flag pole
Red flag day

I killed some time after I arrived, eating some lunch I brought with me and watching to see who else was sailing.  I watched a few people go out and maybe missed some chances to sail with others, but finally was ready to go out – singlehanded.  I rigged a centerboard Merc reefed main only.  I’ve had fun other days with reefed main and jib but for one I didn’t want to work that hard today and for two I still wanted to practice some of the official techniques from shore school.

Underway, the immediate problem was that I had the outhaul way too tight.  Strong wind with crazy gusts and I worry about performance tuning?  Yes!  A Merc with main-only is hard enough to maintain headway on, but with strong wind there’s more windage pulling back and reefed there’s less power pulling forward.  I’d stretched the sail like a drum before I went out and it was too much.  There was no pocket and the leech was even falling off a bit.  I was still able to get the boat going forward and get enough headway to tack but it took finesse and was a disaster waiting to happen.

I’d tied it with a snug two half hitches and adjusting it on the water wasn’t a good option.  In to the Longfellow dock, loosen and retie, right back out, and the boat was much easier to sail.  The sail had a nice shape now and pulled well.

Sailing was still work.  I thought if sailed to half river and then came back, that added to the first time out would make a whole lap and be a nice unit of sailing for the day.  But then there were other boats…  I wasn’t done comparing my sailing to theirs.  Then well, there were only a few boats between me and the Mass Ave bridge and I thought it would be nice to continue until I was the farthest boat from the dock.  Then they turned back, but, I’d come this far, I wanted to go the rest of the way to the bridge.  When to turn back?  I wanted to leave a little extra buffer.  One more gust to power through.  Then the tack.

On the way back I got to practice a few more gybes in the official shore school way.  A surprise here was discovering that my gybes were often already pretty close to school technique.  A number of the steps taught in class sounded questionable at the time, but on the water I realized that they were just about what I do already.  I just hadn’t realized that that’s what I was doing.

One lap to the the Mass Ave bridge and back was enough for me though.  The final lesson coming in was to plan a little more and take a little more distance in dropping sail for a wind-on-the-dock landing.  I tried one landing with the sail up but couldn’t kill enough speed.  I made a tight circle and dropped the sail this time, but I was right on the dock and couldn’t choose my landing spot.  Oh well, it was soft enough landing with the sail down, just not quite where I would have picked.

The sailing was fun.  The reef was the right call to keep things manageable.  “ease, hike, trim” worked well in the strong gusts.  With the biggest gusts I would have to ease a lot, but still just to the “verge.”  The boat would make a surprising leap of acceleration even with the little reefed sail.  I would hike, start sheeting back in right away, and sail to the next gust.

Oh, one more thing I focused on was not pinching too much.  Somehow in the past I’d learned to deal with being overpowered by pinching above a normal close-hauled course.  I think that might work on some boats, in some conditions, but might not be good in general.  With the over-tightened outhaul and super-flat sail for example, the boat would just make leeway if I headed above 45°.  To keep the boat moving I had to watch the true wind ripples on the water pretty closely, hold a 45° course, and ease the sail out pretty far to keep it from stalling.  After loosening the outhaul to have better sail shape, I could pinch but tried to hold the 45° course anyway.  It was more fun moving through the water faster and I think I was making better VMG to windward.

A few more pics:

First sail, 2017

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.

Then for the end of the day, a couple of pics.

Sun getting low
Last boat in