Following the windy Friday racing of the 4th, I was sore and bruised and needed some time to recover. Also a couple of days after that dunking in the Charles – coincidence or not – I came down with a bit of a cold. The forecast for WR today was green flag though, I was feeling brave enough to try sailing again.
With Elena running race control for us, the plan was racing in Mercuries. As the first racers were checking out boats, a non-racer was at the dock house looking for informal instruction. Come race with us! the racers urged. When I walked up a moment later, “Sonia, would you take someone for informal instruction?” Perhaps they know I like to give informal instruction, perhaps they thought I would be good at it, perhaps they were dumping on me. No matter; of course I was interested. “And race at the same time? Is she okay with that?” She was.
Allison had her green rating, but hadn’t bothered yet with classes. She had a little bit of experience sailing Hobie Cats. That experience turned out to apply well to Mercuries. You would think they’re pretty different boats, but a similarity is that neither boat tolerates sloppy tacks well. I think the Hobie experience had given Allison an appreciation of acquiring and maintaining headway through a tack.
Also (I’m writing a week and a half late, so I don’t remember well) I think the flag might have gone to yellow. Wind was brisk for green anyway. I like to tell new sailors that sailing is best with both theory and practice. The classroom knowledge is good and valuable but also sailing is a physical sport and there’s a “feel” for it. The feel comes more naturally for some than others and can always be improved with practice. With the nice wind we decided to work a little more on feel and a little less on practice. I coached her just enough to kind-of sort-of get us around the race course and we typically finished last (if at all) but I thought it was excellent practice for just getting the feel of sailing.
Red flag, gusty, with MIT recording gusts well over 30 mph, nearly 40 by sunset. I sailed with Eve, who had just passed her red test within the last week, and who I raced against in the light air Sunday.
I had the tiller off the dock and for the first race, and was barely in control, coming very near capsize more than once. We finished last, of the boats that stayed upright that is. Eve and I were getting reorganized after the first race and I was having her hold the tiller in safety position for a minute. “Do you want to sail the next race?” I asked. “Okay!” Eve is confident and eager.
We actually survived just fine with her at the tiller and me crewing. Crewing and frantically providing coaching for surviving the wind, that is. We got another last place, then as the fleet size was building, Eve got a respectable finish in our third race, finishing ahead of a few other boats. In the next race (I think it was) she was having trouble rounding the windward mark and had run into it. “We will capsize now,” I fatefully proclaimed, as I could not imagine staying upright hooked on the mark. The boat slowly turned head to wind though, and I said maybe we could back off of it. Eve handed me back the tiller, and I did in fact manage to back us off in irons then fall off on port clear of the mark.
I continued to helm then, for a wild ride downwind, and a second windward leg of this two-lap triangle course. Around the windward mark more easily this time, and on to the reach leg. In front of us was a reefed MIT Tech Dinghy that we were easily overtaking. They were actually right on our course to the next mark and I sailed right at their transom waiting to see of they would happen to turn one way or the other. Eve was beginning to panic that we were going to hit them. When they weren’t turning, I bore away slightly to pass them to leeward. Eve now switched from imploring me not to hit them to imploring them to understand that they were on our race course. They responded with blank looks of incomprehension and a wavering course. I was distracted with this pointless exchange, wanting it to end, and in this instant of inattention, we capsized. I heard later that in the end there were only two of our Friday racers that avoided capsize. It was crazy windy, but still I imagine many of the capsizes were as pointless and avoidable as mine.
It was the first Tiller Club series race of 2018. In contrast to other TC races where I showed up on the dock without pre-arranged crew, this time I had invited Katherine to crew for me. Sadly, the wind was very light and surely didn’t encourage Katherine to come back for Tiller Club racing another day.
We started the first race relatively promptly in the morning, it was just a single lap on a small course, and it took the entire morning! It was the only race we got in before lunch. Much of the time the water was glassy and we had very few clues of wind direction. The steam rising from the power plant is a good visible indicator but it’s pretty far from the local conditions on the water. Shroud tell-tails were misleading if you only looked at the shroud and the tell-tale. You had to be careful to sight the tell-tale against vertical lines of buildings on the shore. It was interesting at times to sight the tell-tales of other boats against verticals on shore. At times the best indicator of wind direction was to look at which boats were moving best, see how their sails were, and imagine the wind direction that their sails would be properly set for.
After lunch there was a little more wind and we got in two more races. I didn’t do well in any of the races, which I’m sure also wouldn’t have encouraged Katherine to return. We were there though, we got some series points, we got some racing experience.
For Women’s Racing today we had a good turnout for red flag conditions, pretty dark red actually. I overhead dock staff staying there were gusts over 30. The gusts would have pretty solid white caps, but there was a good amount of white caps even in the steady winds. Wind direction was west, although down the river enough that the fetch allowed some (relatively) big waves. It was wet sailing for my crew, Victoria.
Before going out I suggested to some that maybe we would want to reef, but then our turnout held lots of skilled sailors and that idea was quickly discarded. —Discarded until people began to rig boats anyway. Change of plans, everyone wanted to reef now. I had already started rigging a vintage 2010 non-reefable sail though and didn’t want to go back. Over Debbie’s protest that it wouldn’t be fair, I finished rigging the full main.
Getting off the dock was a challenge. Wind was maybe WNW and so blowing onto the dock pretty hard. I had deliberately left a ring downwind of me so my boat could point more upwind. That lasted until the highschoolers came in and Alex directed one of them to the ring I had left empty. When we were ready to leave then, Alex again had to deal with our crowded spot on the dock. After a could of failed attempts to push us off, he decided an empty ring beside us would sure make things easier. He pushed a boat out of the way and then was able to give us a successful boom launch. On the water there were still a few things to rig, the cunningham, the vang, and hoisting the jib. I would put the boat in safety position and have Victoria nervously hold the main and tiller while I made adjustments. With the jib up I was happy but it turned out Victoria couldn’t hold it. Sailing with a luffing jib is somewhat harder than sailing with no jib so I put the boat in safety position once more to drop the jib and furl it on the foredeck.
We raced then, and a good lesson was that a Mercury with reefed main and jib is faster than a Mercury with full main and no jib. I couldn’t manage to win a single race! Competition was very good though. After Katherine won the first two races I said I was going to call her Paige now, after Paige Railey won the first two races in Hyères this week. One person noticed me doing a chicken gybe. In fact most of my gybes today were chicken gybes, mostly to keep things calm and slow onboard with my less experienced crew. In the end the full main was no problem at all. Not too hard to hold, and rarely needing to be luffed. I do wish we could have sailed with the jib as well. At one point on broad reach we were just starting to plane, even main-only with a keel.
My first WR of the year! I skipped last week as I wasn’t feeling well and the weather was unpleasant. Today was great. Flag was yellow, wind was gusty and shifting between SW and S. Six of us showed up to race in keel Mercuries. Pam and I were going to sail together but then we had two people relatively new that kind of needed to be paired with someone more experienced. I sailed with Annie.
The first race was comical as I mistook the pin for the leeward mark, rounded it and crossed in front of Pam and Trina, mystified at my strategy but happy to take the lead and go on to win the race.
The right side seemed to work best upwind. Once I tried the left and then met disaster tacking inside the zone. I didn’t have the boat speed on the left to win the mark easily. Pam was calling starboard on me and I decided to duck and then cross Molly. I tacked, but before I could accelerate enough Molly pushed her bow above my stern and then had to luff above close-hauled. I did two circles. Recently I’ve been rewatching the 2017 TP52 Super Series on youtube and that move totally would have worked in the TP52s. Not in Cape Code Mercuries though. I needed to sail just a tiny bit farther before tacking to ensure that Molly would stay below me.
Annie had experience in college sailing but had typically crewed rather than skippered. She was interested in skippering but the gusty wind today was intimidating and I ended up skippering all races. As soon as racing was over though, she took the tiller and we had a nice practice.
I was happy to participate in Tiller Club today and especially happy to be on the race control boat rather than on one of the Mercs. Wind was dark red flag and the CBI anemometer seems to have been blown offline. MIT was recording gusts over 30 mph and I tell ya the wind was mostly gusts. I helped Robin with RC. We had five boats racing. There were a couple of capsizes and a run-aground during the day, but wow I admire those sailors that raced today. They were amazing.
I was obsessed with figuring out the wind. I’m impressed with some of the sailing commentators I listen to on the internet, how well some of them understand the wind and can explain and anticipate it, and I’d love to be able to do as well. From the simple hourly forecast chart of the National Weather Service, I expected these strong winds to start WSW and veer W over the day. It turned out more complex. The wind started more strongly SW and ended up WNW, thus veering more than I expected. It was also oscillating a bit. Not a lot, but noticeably, and definitely enough for some racers to make gains and losses on the shifts. From the committee boat sometimes we could see racers making the mistake. “Oh, they’re going too far to that side” Robin or I would say.
It’s so much harder when you’re actually sailing, racing, though. I know I’m always so busy with everything and don’t have the luxury to just sit and watch the wind. It’s also much harder when you’re on a boat that is sailing all over the place as opposed to sitting at anchor at one spot and pointing mostly in the same direction.
Also by the forecast I expected the sun to come out and the strong gusts to moderate a bit in the afternoon after racing. I hoped it would be nice for a little pleasure sail. That didn’t happen. It stayed overcast and the wind held the whitecaps across the river. So what did I do? Sail anyway of course! I was prepared to go out by myself on a reefed Merc but Trina showed up on the dock and was interested in a sail. I switched plans to grab us a Rhodes 19 that someone was just bringing in. I thought it would surely be easier and drier than a Mercury. Well, it was still a handful, even reefed, and still cold wet sailing. But Trina and I sailed a lap up to the Mass Ave bridge and back so we could say we sailed today. I was glad we did. It’s good to sail, good to challenge the strong wind and cold spray.
First day of sailing for the season. CBI opened a few days early!
I started this journal a year ago but for me anyway, sailing seasons are separated with a long winter so its making sense at the moment to archive 2017 and start the 2018 journal clean. The 2017 posts are at https://soniasailing2017.wordpress.com now. WordPress.com has a pretty good feature for moving content, but unfortunately, the theme and settings were not preserved. I may try to improve it up a bit or I may just leave it.
Sailing again felt good! I got to the dock with Stacy a little after 5:00. Stacy was remembering jumping straight on to a boat and sailing, but I was giving her an estimate of an hour before we would be sailing. It took a little time to renew the membership, move back in to the seasonal locker, and otherwise get all ready for sailing, trying to be extra careful to remember all the little things that have to be done. A little before six we were rigging a centerboard Mercury and soon joining the Friday Informal Racing underway, with a good fleet, largely of Tiller Club racers.
Flag was yellow under heavy overcast sky, surface air temp 54F. Wind was NNW at around 6 kts in the lulls and 12-15 kts in the very distinct gusts. I hadn’t looked at the weather much beforehand but arriving at the river, I looked at the water and said to Stacy, “Oh, this is a tough wind direction…” The wind comes through the buildings of MIT quite shadowed, and as it attempts to reconnect over the water, there are these big changes in wind speed and direction both.
My race performance was unimpressive against this competition. I sailed just one race (which was my plan) and finished last. The prestart seemed to be going okay but I badly misjudged how slowly Mercs accelerate. I’ve been watching all this high performance sailing on the internet where boats wait just behind the line until the last few seconds (literally!) then sheet on and leap across the line at full speed. The boat end didn’t seem terribly crowded so I maneuvered to a couple of boat lengths behind it with 30 seconds to go and told Stacy “at 20 seconds, we’ll pull in the sails and start racing.” Beep, beep. “We’re racing!” I said. We trimmed the sails — and sat there — for the 20 seconds it took the boat to start moving. As the start signal sounded we were moving, but still two boat lengths back. A sad second tier with little company as most of the fleet was on the line of course.
I hung on their heels but didn’t make any progress through the fleet. Excuses: 1. I wasn’t watching the wind hardly at all. A fatal failing in this wind. I was paying more attention to delivering a smooth and easy boat ride for Stacy. Her body doesn’t fit well in the little Mercs, and especially not the centerboard Mercs. I think I maybe only subjected her to the centerboard Merc once last year. Excuse 2: I didn’t always make Stacy trim the jib as well as it could have been. Oh, I told her to do plenty with it, but I let lots of stuff go rather than give her continuous direction. Excuse 3: The sail was way too flat. I tried easing the outhaul to the limit of they way I had tied it with a taut-line hitch, but that wasn’t nearly enough. It was still too flat most of the time. Once the boat got up to speed, and especially in gusts, it was fine, but it didn’t have enough pocket to accelerate well when we needed it, for example after our non-roll tacks.
My plan, with just one hour to sail before sunset, was to race one race, then daysail, or, evening sail. As RC went into sequence for the next start, I headed up river and asked Stacy how much time we had. 25 minutes. The plan was to sail 10 minutes, turn around and head back. Close timing, but it was close reach toward the Mass Ave bridge and then broad reach back. If the wind held, it should be doable. Under the overcast sky, it seemed likely. I don’t know exactly but I think we arrived at the dock somewhere very close to the posted time of sunset so we weren’t getting scolded. We were however the last boat back.
In spite of a last place finish, a sloppy jibe at one point, being last boat in, and an inexcusably hard docking, sailing felt good and went well. The worst came later that night as my hands and fingers cramped badly, being five months out of shape for holding the mainsheet.
Last year on my first post I included two nice pics, one from the dock at sunset and one of last boat in. This year I had Stacy snap this pic from the dock with her (very primitive) cell phone. I couldn’t get that pic of the last boat in though, because we were that boat!