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.
Tonight was the last night to sail 420s in women’s racing. Sunset is getting too early and wetsuit restrictions are coming. But what fun wind we had! The flag was yellow. I called it dark yellow because of the many vigorous gusts of 15 to 20 mph. The gusts were exciting because wind was NNW, and so coming right over the buildings of MIT, which randomized them in strength and duration. Between the gusts wind was shifty, sometimes veering over 45 degrees to suddenly back the sails. Robin called these “autotacks” and encouraged not to fight them but to simply yield and tack.
It was really great to sail with Robin. Actually, I think I was a bit intimidated and was perhaps quieter than usual. Robin filled the space readily by feeding me continuous information and suggestions. One of my favorite things she would tell me was what she was doing with the jib. My experience is that crews will typically sheet the jib hard unless told otherwise. I have thought before that ideally the crew would sheet the jib hard but only as long as I was sailing close hauled. If by wind shift or course change I would fall below close hauled, the crew would automatically ease to keep the jib from stalling, but tell me that they were easing the jib. That would keep the boat moving and leave the decision to me on when and how to return to close hauled. Robin did exactly that. I loved it. Today this would happen sometimes from a wind shift, but sometimes because I wanted a different direction, or wanted more speed, or simply because I wasn’t paying attention. Regardless, Robin trimmed the jib for best boat speed and made sure that I was aware of what was going on.
We got in a few races, we managed to win at least one, and finished the day with a nice ride on a plane back to the cut. The final course was a single leg, a downwind start and finish at the cut. Technically we won that one too although I don’t think it counts because others seemed to be confused about the course. The line was skewed enough that the start was nearly a beam reach. I channeled my racers from the Extreme Sailing Series to target the middle of the line and try to get the time and distance right. Sadly we had no close competition but we did have this one nice big gust to finish the day and finish 420 racing for the year. Oh, there’s still women’s racing next week, just not in 420s. Plans are to be in Mercuries….
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.
Remnants of the storm, remnants of the summer sun. Eight of us showed up in time for racing in the red flag conditions, 7 mph gusting to 20 by MIT’s records. It was kind of disappointing that the wind wasn’t stronger. The gusts weren’t even that close together. I was sailing with Wei Yun and it was her first time on a 420. After three races we hadn’t even hit a plane yet, so I took the little break between races to bear off in a gust and see if I could get the boat out of the water. Not at first, but then yes. “Oh it’s like we’re flying!” exclaimed Wei Yun.
I think races today were mostly won on boat handling. A few times I fell behind from sloppy tactics but then was able to catch up again simply by holding a nice close hauled course. It was fun sailing but way too rushed. The equinox is tomorrow and sunset today was 6:42, which meant we were supposed to be in at 6:12. I think it was like 5:20 when were were signing out boats, so really, we shouldn’t have had any time on the water all. We squeezed 4 1/2 races though and we can all claim we sailed the hurricane — remnants.
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.
Charles Basin Invitational
CBI Leeward mark
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.
Blue, blue, blue
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:
Crack went the lightning half-way through women’s racing tonight! The flag went from yellow to green just as we were getting ferried to the high perf dock but as still 5 kts gusting to 10 from the SW. We got in a few races before a little gust front came through with a gust to 20, and then the lightning and the frantic scramble to get all the boats in and all the people off the water.
Aside from the excitement with the weather, I sailed with Pam and took advantage of her skill to play with the spinnaker a little more. I tried a hoist without the pole and the spinnaker rigging was tangled. I detangled for the next race and the hoist, jibe, and takedown went just fine, although the 420 spin on broad reach just doesn’t hold enough wind to do much of anything without a pole. On the next race I rigged the pole. The spin set and takedown went just fine, and on one of our tiny little WR courses! We didn’t have anyone near enough to us to see if we were really faster. But then the last race was the one scrubbed for lighting and I flew the spin on the way back to the cut. Here we had traffic all around us and sure enough we were noticeably faster.