Tag: Mercury

Red flag challenge

The theme for WR today was “challenge”. The idea was to pick some way to challenge yourself. But then the wind turned out red flag and the wind itself was quite a challenge. Previewing the forecast, I had already decided my challenge would be to fly the spinnaker in the stronger wind. Most of my spinnaker practice/experiments this summer have been under green flag so I wanted the challenge of trying it with more wind.

It turned out you had to look fast or you would have missed my spinnaker. I only got one run with it. It was the first race. As I’ve done a few times, my plan was to try the first hoist poleless. And it worked! I had actually rigged everything right the first time, I pulled the tack to the forestay, then the sail went up and filled and pulled nicely. We (I had Robin at the helm) jibed at the jibe mark and I floated the spinnaker across easily. I was a little slow with the drop but I thought to do a windward drop so I would be all set up for the next hoist and everything had worked!

Sadly, the hoist in the next race didn’t go so well. The sail went up half way and twisted badly. A number of things were wrong. This time I neglected to pull the tack around ahead of the hoist. If I had, I likely would have noticed that it had snagged on the snap shackle of the jib tack, which of course kept the sail from going up all the way. It was a mess, and I never got things sorted out again.

Sailing and racing was pretty intense with the red flag wind and the extremely short WR courses.


Main only

I was at CBI half an hour or so early for Thursday women’s racing. It’s late in the season, wetsuit restrictions are on, sunset comes early, so the plan set last week was to switch to Mercuries. Also there was talk of single-handing so I went out by myself for a bit. Problem was, the wind was up, 10 mph gusting to 20, although I think just yellow flag. That means single-handing a Merc with a full main and jib is a handful. I got in one lap up to the Mass Ave bridge and back before racing started. I had fun trying to keep up with a Sonar that left the same time as me, but omg, it was hard work. I was done with that for racing and furled the jib on the foredeck.

Furling the jib set up the lesson for the day. It turned out I was the only one that seriously considered single-handing and all the other women racers had paired up two to a boat and naturally were sailing full main and jib. I wasn’t afraid; since I was a little over powered with the jib, I expected my speed with main only to be nearly, or perhaps as, good. Wrong! I couldn’t believe how much faster the other boats were than me. I was winning starts but then I could never hold my lead. The other boats would just run me down. Wow, did not expect that. I remember Friday informal racing a few times with main only and I don’t remember being that much slower. And I remember single-handing once in similar conditions with main and jib while someone else (a very good sailor) was matching my speed to windward under main only. But not today. Two women racers to a boat totally kicked my butt single-handed.


I played Tiller Club roulette again and this time got paired with Jen (a different Jen than I sailed with last month in WR.) Jen had already rigged a boat so I was crewing in the morning. Wind was very light and variable seemingly adding a huge element of luck. Leoni complained at one point something like “there’s nothing to learn on a day like this.” Yet, a few sailors (like Jen) were still doing consistently well, placing in the top few places in each race. The lesson from that is that there is something out there that these top sailors have learned. We might not know what. It might be obscure or subtle. But there definitely must be something out there to learn.

Jen offered me the helm after the lunch break and I readily accepted, making us co-skippers for the day. One squishy spot I got into was a pinwheel at a leeward mark. I wish I had counted the boats involved because I don’t remember exactly, but I was about to be trapped pretty far on the outside of a number of boats, with still more boats beyond me. At the last instant possible, I fishtailed out and then back in so I could cross the sterns of the boats inside of me. Jen’s eyes went wide as she said “you have no rights over any of these boats!” True, but they appeared all well rafted up side by side and I was gambling that none of them would be able to break formation for a while. Again, I wish I had paid more attention. In that situation I really should have counted boats and checked sail numbers to see whom exactly I owed mark room. Eventually (this was all happening in super slow motion because of the lack of wind) a boat did appear to the outside of me. It was Leoni, and I didn’t know exactly where she came from. I waited to see if she demanded mark room but she didn’t, and was possibly giving me mark room. I couldn’t quite tell if she could have come up more or not. I asked her later if I fouled her at the mark but the thought hadn’t entered her mind.

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.

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:

Tiller Club

After so much talk of racing with the tiller club, I finally managed it. I showed up Sunday morning, was designated a skipper right away, and got paired with Thomas for crew. Wind was light and variable, generally N, 0 to 5 kts.

In one race I thought the pin looked favored and was half-way reasonably executing a plan of closing on the pin on starboard when I saw that no one else was around me. Maybe I could even tack start on port! I lowered my course a little to gain speed for the tack, but then, oh no, there was one other boat coming in fast on port. Now I was too low to lay the pin on starboard anymore and I was afraid I wouldn’t have time to tack in front the port tacker so I ducked and tacked and followed him out to the fleet. Neither of us were crossing though. He bailed and tacked, I waited a second to get out of his shadow then I tacked. That extra second had let the fleet get too close though. I came out of my tack slow enough that not just one but two boats overran me and tapped me on either side, one to leeward and one to windward.

Well, shoot. If there’s contact there must be a foul. What was it? The leeward boat was protesting port-starboard but that wasn’t it. I was through my tack. I decided not to do circles. I was probably somehow wrong for tacking to close but it was all messy and unclear. In the end no one bothered to file a formal protest.

I think part of the mess was that I was slow coming out my tack. Tacking was a problem all day. Mercuries are notorious for being slow to tack but in a racing fleet you see your performance compared to others and our tacks were slow. I was happy with the way Thomas was backing the jib but I tried to talk about weight management to effect a bit of a roll tack. As long as we talked about it and reminded ourselves to do it, the roll helped quite a bit. We were coming out of tacks still slow but not completely stopped. Our rolls were small, not deep, and I don’t think the sail trim was well coordinated with the roll, but I think it still helped.

I finished mid-fleet in some races, last in the last race, and got 10th of 11 boats over all. The standing was a bit disappointing but mostly I was super happy that I could race, that I could race the whole day, that I had good crew and had fun.