Tag: Practice


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.

WR practice

A couple of weeks ago Elena restarted women’s racing practice on Tuesdays.  She ran a few of these practices last year and they were successes as practices for basic boat handling and mark rounding.  This year she is working up exercises for more specific racing skills.  I’m writing here a couple of days later but a memorable moment was when I was crewing for Trina and I coached her into a port flyer start.  We were SAP in this video starting one minute before the start (1:39:40 in the replay.)  Watch us downwind of the pin at 45 seconds before the start.  As we sailed off the left end at 30 seconds, Trina was asking for confirmation, “this way?”  “Yes, yes” I was saying.  “Should I tack?”  “Not yet, wait, wait, okay you can tack any time now.”  We were tacking just off the left of the pin.  At 10 seconds before the start watch in the video as we appear on port tack on the far side of all of the other boats.  Now, in real life, it wasn’t quite like this because the other women racers weren’t doing quite as good of job at being near the line at the start, so a camera looking up the line would have had a clearer view of us.  But still it was exciting.  Listen to commentator Niall Myant Best right after the start “and SAP Extreme with a port flyer start.  You do not see that in women’s racing often!”

Two weeks later

After two weeks of rest I couldn’t resist the nice weather.  6pm, sunny 80F, W wind 6kts gusting to 12.  They were just replacing the yellow flag with green.  As I was opening my locker I heard calls on the PA system, first for crew for a Sonar, then for informal instruction.  I took the time I needed to get ready then walked to the dockhouse.  “Sonia!  What are you doing?”  It was Fan, who I met just once earlier this year in women’s racing.  “Um, I don’t know, I just got here…”  “Would you sail with me on a Sonar?”  Oh this was perfect.  I had been apprehensive about doing too much work.  Sitting on a Sonar should be easy.  Fan had just completed the keelboat class over the weekend and was eager to practice.

So, it should have been easy.  That was my plan.  But I can’t resist hand trimming the jib, especially when it’s gusty.  Then there was a Merc run aground on the Boston side where there’s poor visibility from the dockhouse.  No launch seemed to be coming.  I said we should lower our sail half way.  In contrast to the little Mercury against the shore, we would be highly visible.  It would be work though.  We sailed to mid river.  I looked one last time and there was still no launch.  Sail down half way.  Launch coming right away.  Sail back up.  More sailing.  Mooring at 7:30.

One thing I left in my locker was my gloves.  It was just green flag but my hands are so sore.

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!