Tag: Racing

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

WR Chaos

Lots of 420s on the line tonight! As if our usual mix of sailing and racing skills isn’t chaotic enough, tonight we had breakdowns, reaching starts after a 60 degree wind shift, general recalls, and way too many collisions.

First, the breakdown was a main halyard that came loose, dropping both the main and halyard and ending sailing for the unfortunate boat (not mine.) In the debrief after racing, there was frustrated discussion about the incident, but it’s hard to just talk about how to tie a knot. Knot tying is much better demonstrated. I had my camera with me tonight so I grabbed a rigging sail and snapped some pics. There are two sequences here, demonstrating two different ways to hitch a halyard to the head of 420 mainsail.

This first sequence demonstrates the hitch I see somewhat more often. As in the upper left frame, pass the free end of the halyard through the cringle in the head plate. Lower left: pass the free end through again, making a round turn. Upper center: tie a stopper knot in the free end. A barrel knot is shown here, with my favorite way of tying it. It’s just a double overhand knot. Lower center: when you snug the double overhand knot, you can shape it into this barrel shape. Right: snug the stopper knot against head plate, pulling all slack through the round turn into the standing part of the halyard.

This can be varied in a number of ways. You can substitute a different stopper knot for the barrel knot. I like a figure eight knot. Stay away from single overhand knots — they jam badly. If the halyard diameter is small compared to the head cringle, you might want an extra round turn. If it is large, you might not even be able to do one round turn.

The sequence below shows another variation, actually my favorite way.

UL: Rather than putting the free end through the cringle, start by just tying a stopper knot in the free end. LL: Make a bight (a loop that doesn’t cross over itself) and push the bight through the cringle. UR: pass the free end with the stopper knot over the top of the head plate and down through the bight. LR: snug everyting tight.

The advantage I like with this variation is that for the first step of tying the stopper knot, you only need to be working with the halyard; there is no need to also be holding the sail. This makes for less time that you have to be juggling the sail in one hand and the halyard in the other. A slight disadvantage can come if the halyard line is stiff or thick or both. It can be hard to squeeze the bight through the cringle. If so, you have to abandon this variation and fall back on the first one.

Finally it’s worth pointing out that an advantage of either of these hitches over almost any other is that the hitch takes no space between the head cringle and the halyard sheave. They allow the sail to be hoisted to the maximum possible height.

So, racing. I had Andrea crewing for me, which was a delight because she was eager to roll with whatever crazy things I wanted to try. When the wind veered right strongly, It was clear we had a reaching start on starboard and that we were likely to lay the first mark from the start. It was almost like an America’s Cup start! Also watching many of these in the Extreme Sailing Series, I knew that the windward (boat) end of the line wasn’t necessarily best. You would think so, because it’s so heavily favored to windward, but if you can still lay the first mark from anywhere on the line, it’s not that much of an advantage. Sometimes the leeward end is best for securing inside rights at the mark, but then sometimes the middle of the line offers a winning compromise of speed and position. I expected the boat end to be crowded and targeted the middle of the line just hoping for clear air. It was fun to see how it worked out! I did get my clear start but turned out I had to sail close hauled to fetch the mark and the boats that started to windward of me were able to reach with better speed.

Also with Andrea I was trying to experiment with down-speed maneuvering in the prestart. I failed miserably at this a couple of times, calling my starts terrible, which Andrea thought was a little harsh. I was doing better in a latter race, killing almost all of the prestart while drifting slowly behind the line. I was pointing out to Andrea that I had the boat basically in safety position, with the tiller all the way down and the sails luffing, and that to accelerate we would just trim the sails and straighten the tiller. It sort of worked, but not quite. In safety position the boat still makes leeway. That means it’s moving, if slowly. I think there are better techniques. I was hypothesizing with Andrea that they would involve more active crew work, backing and trimming the jib slightly by hand to keep the boat closer to head to wind, and working with the skipper to either make slight headway or allow the boat to back in irons.

So, um safety position got us in trouble another time. I wanted to demonstrate something at the mast and so put the boat in safety position so I could leave the tiller and go forward. This was done, on starboard, for what it’s worth; we were both looking down in the bottom of the boat when there was a loud thunk. We looked up startled to see that we had just T-boned a Mercury on port. It was slow, of course, but still: proper lookout total fail.

I had more collisions! I tried to shut out some barging boats at a start and one barged in anyway. I cried protest. Carol just cried as our brand new 420s bumped against the committee boat. Later I hit a mark. I did my circle, but you know, it’s wear and tear.

And it wasn’t just me. There were a number of other stories of collisions today. Carol was dismayed to say the least.

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.

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!”

Cool gray

Friday was a cool gray day for mid-July but the rain was passing south of us so it was fine TGIF sailing weather.  Stacy was eager to start the weekend early and I think we were at the dock before 5.  Friday of course also has informal racing and Stacy was intrigued enough to agree to some racing.  The RC, exasperated with the cat herding exercise of rounding up boats just started a sequence with potential racers scattered across the basin.  I actually managed to get us across the line first, within maybe 30 seconds of the starting signal.  RC cheered at the first participation.  My lead didn’t last long.  I wasn’t paying attention to wind direction and managed to let everyone by me before the first mark.  I recovered a couple of the positions before the finish.

It was fun.  Surely my first Friday informal race in a long time, maybe close to a year.  I was busily trying to explain things to Stacy and coach her on things like keeping the jib sheet from snagging on the spinnaker halyard cleat.  “You have to float it across” I kept saying.  Stacy was struggling at these obscure mystical concepts.  I was pointing out how another boat was maneuvering to pass us on the downwind.  She was still stuck on what “downwind” was.

In the second race I managed to foul another boat.  The situation starts similar to that of case 11 in the World Sailing Case Book.  I was PW in this diagram.


Case 11 discusses my right to hail for room pass S as an obstruction but I didn’t hail.  Racing involves lots of judgement, judging time and distance.  I was first thinking that PL and I would both be able to duck S.  I failed to properly judge that PL was able to sail high enough to just clear S’s stern and that there would be no room for me.  When I realized I was in trouble I decided to tack.  Unfortunately it was already too late.  I was tacking too close to S and he had to luff up to avoid me.

I had options for other things I could have done, if I had started earlier.  I could have hailed PL, I could have just slowed slightly to pass S after PL, or I could have tacked sooner to stay clear of S.

Anyway, that was enough racing fun for the day.  Stacy and I sailed away down to the Mass Ave bridge and back.  We heeled the boat for fun, to sit on the low side and put fingers in the water.  It turns out that’s work in a keel Merc on a green flag day.  I’m tired now.

Wind was light.  I was calling it light green flag, maybe “mint,” from the East and somewhat shifty, especially as it came over the trees from the Boston side.  It was my failure to pay attention to these wind shifts that set me back spectacularly in some of the racing.  The difference in wind speed recorded at the CBI dock and at the MIT dock is also telling.  With wind from the East, CBI was recording 0kts with gusts to 2 or 3, while MIT was recording 10mph with gusts to 15.  I think on the race course it was somewhere in between.

Properly Initiated

Again I’m writing late, but I’m pretty sure it was the 15th that I sailed with Women’s Racing again.  Molly asked if I would sail with her and I said yes! that I wanted to hear about the capsize.  We raced 420s, although interestingly a few lasers raced with us.  Flag was green but Carol was cautioning that conditions were gusty and more like yellow or red.  CBI records show wind at the dock about 7kts gusting to 15 from the SSW.  I helmed the first race.  The pin looked strongly favored and I was jabbering about it to Molly as I almost ran out of time getting there before the start.  Two of our more favored teams had staked out positions there and I had to go around them and start third.  Focusing more determinedly on sailing, Molly and I managed to round the first mark in first though.  I turned to Molly and said, “so, tell all about the capsize.”  On the downwind, the fluky winds coming off the Boston side weren’t keeping the sail full.  I made weak and distracted efforts at refilling it but I was mostly listening to the capsize story.  Before I knew it, the fleet was on us and blanketing us.  They completely rolled over us and we rounded the second mark behind many boats.

I encouraged Molly to helm the second race.  She was tentative but of course had no problems.  On the last leg though, I happened to notice I had been bleeding.  Blood was soaked into my hiking strap and smeared all over the boat.  It looked much worse than it turned out to be.  Using the first aid kit on the committee boat, I determined that I had only superficial scrapes, almost certainly from kneeling on the fresh non-skid on the floor of the brand-new 420.  I sat out the remaining races.  Really this was best for me anyway because my back was still sore from Laser sailing.  Lesson for the day:  Do not kneel with bare knees and scoot around on fresh non-skid, especially if you have soft tender skin, and your skin is wet, and you are overweight.  You will tear up your skin and it will be a mess.

Women’s Racing

I was running a little late, so were others.  At nearly 6pm Carol was gathering everyone to decide on boats.  Wind looked great to me for the 420’s, that was my vote, but Carol was cautioning everyone that over the last hour winds had been gusting to 30mph at the MIT dock and that a number of high-school sailors had capsized and had trouble righting the boats.  It was enough to make people shy away from the 420s.  In fairness, the water is still chilly and a capsize wouldn’t be fun whether you could right the boat easily or not.

We sailed the Ideal 18’s.  We had five of these and over 20 women racers so that meant four people to a boat and a couple of people sitting out on the committee boat.  I got the tiller.  On my boat, to start with anyway, was Laura, Jasmine, and Tessa.  Laura is experienced with women’s racing and was valuable in the front of the boat, both at helping Jasmine and Tessa and at being an extra set of eyes for me, saving us from disasters more than once.  The jib is pretty easy on the Ideal but I think Jasmine with just a green rating was learning from it.  This is my point that you learn at a rate in proportion to the wind.  With the strong wind, even the little self-tacking jib of the Ideal was giving lots of feedback.  I let Tessa trim the main the whole time.  She had some experience in bigger boats and so seemed totally unfazed at the boat heeling which was really good.

Lessons.  Hmm, first lesson is to eat something before.  Racing runs right across dinner time, and you can run out of energy.  Today I had missed lunch and so grabbed a snack on the way to CBI.  It made a huge difference.  I felt better and hand more energy.

Another thing that went well was once on a final leg to the finish.  We rounded the leeward mark pretty far behind other boats and looking for anything to try, I saw darker water on the left side and tacked over for it.  Sure enough, the stronger wind was there.  I sailed in it for a bit on starboard, then tacked in it on lay for the finish.  Amazingly we crossed two boats just before the line.  The first boat we crossed was complaining loudly about port-starboard but we got across without them having to alter course.

A thing that didn’t go well also involved a boat complaining.  Approaching the leeward mark, the boat behind hailed overlap.  This surprised me, I turned and looked and sure enough they were no where close to overlap.  But in that second or two when I was turning and looking, we came up on the mark and there was no longer time to prepare my crew for a tight tactical rounding.  We went wide of the mark and the other boat went inside to pass us.  Now, it’s possible to fluster someone by yelling.  Doing so deliberately in attempt to gain advantage might even be considered not fair sailing.  But that’s not what was going on here.  I wasn’t flustered, all that happened was I was delayed for a second.  When I watch racing on the internet, I think I see the professional sailors do this to each other.  They will hail or otherwise posture in some way that consumes some time or attention of the other boat.  Every second spent evaluating the immediate situation is a second unavailable for planning the next situation.  I think the best defenses are to have that next situation planned as early as possible, be aware of the current situation as much as possible, and possibly anticipate noise from the other boat so that if it comes you can dismiss it faster.

After racing I had a little sip of coke left, I drank a bottle of water, then another bottle of water with a cookie and was feeling okay.  I have to give a lot of credit to Tessa for doing the work of pulling the main sheet for me.  Otherwise I would have been demolished tired.

95F, CBI wind records show 10kts gusting to 20, starting WSW but then backing to SSW.  This wind shift was most apparent on the third leg of our triangle course as it turned the reach into a run.  In earlier races we jibed around the reach mark then reached to the leeward mark.  In later races we jibed but then had trouble fetching.  In a couple of races we had to throw in an extra pair of jibes.  In one race I avoided the extra jibes by sailing past the reach mark so that we could fetch the leeward mark with a single jibe.

Oh, and we didn’t even win a single race but we sure had fun.