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.
W 10 kts gusting over 20. It sure seemed like the wind spent most of its time closer to 20 and I would have guessed the gusts were higher, but the CBI wind log shows it really wasn’t gusting much over 20. It was brisk and fun anyway. Stacy and I sailed an Ideal 18 a couple of laps down to the Mass Ave bridge and back.
We rigged reefed in the mooring field. It took a little creativity though as the reefing line was missing from the boom. I put the outhaul shackle on the reef clew and just tied the full clew to the end of the boom to keep the sail tidy. For this cast off from the mooring, I made sure it was as controlled as possible. We were starting from the corner by the kayak/windsurf/laser dock (the beach, I call it) with little room to maneuver and with the wind a little bit wild. I got the boat pointing away from the dock and had Stacy unfurl the jib right a way after she cast us off. The wind grabbed the jib and we were off.
As usual, Stacy wanted to sit on the low side to drag her fingers in the water. No, not today. When I told her she had to sit on the high side I got a look of disbelief and hurt. As we sailed through the cut and into the wind on the basin though, I think she understood. Seriously, it was a blast for both of us. She had some new lessons, about jib sheets under load, and about moving her weight from one side to the other in a tack or jibe. I think the wind might have been a little eye-opening.
For me, I really liked this red flag time in the Ideal 18. I don’t have much red flag experience in the boat so it was good to log an hour or so. With just the two of us, were were a little bit light for the wind strength. I liked playing the gusts to try to keep the sails as full as possible and keep the boat speed up as much as possible. A mantra for gusts is “ease, hike, trim.” Ease when the gust first hits, not only to limit heel, but because the apparent wind direction comes back. Then hike. As the boat accelerates, the apparent wind streams back again and the sails can be trimmed back in. Today in the Ideal, the hiking part was a little different. Stacy’s not much into hiking, I’m still trying to take things a little easy myself, and we’re in a keel boat where hiking counts less than it does on a dinghy. Interestingly though, ease-hike-trim works even with limited hiking. As a gust would hit, I tried to ease the main some but still allow the heel to come up somewhat — not so much that there would be excessive weather helm but enough that the keel would give some more righting moment. Then it worked to almost immediately sheet back in. The boat would accelerate as I sheeted and luffing would be minimal.
I encouraged Stacy to wear a headband to keep her hair out of her eyes, but I didn’t take my own advice at first. In the middle of our sail though the wind was coming up even more and I wanted to minimize distractions. It was time for a few minutes in safety position while I tied up my hair as well.
Hmm, a couple of other small lessons. One was that windsurfers can move through the water with some significant speed even with their sails in the water. I tend to think of them as being stationary when they hit the water but that’s not a safe assumption. One capsized a bit in front of us when we were on a run. There was other boat traffic I was avoiding and I planned on sailing by this capsized windsurfer, well, not terribly close but a little close. As we got closer though, the person was pulling his sail around in the water and the whole windsurfer rig moved significantly through the water to come against us as we passed.
Also I was a little sloppy with my jury rig tie on the main clew and at one point a loose end started to tangle in one of the mainsheet blocks. In the strong wind it was a little hectic to go head to wind and try to organize it a little better. Safety position doesn’t help if you need to do something at the end of the boom!
That was the day. I was a little sad I couldn’t do more. There was that Laser red test I would have liked to take, and calls from the dockhouse for crew for red tests in addition to the usual informal instruction. But one nice sail in the red flag wind was enough for the day.
Wind was forecast to be yellow with gusts to red and the flag turned out just like that. I took out a centerboard Merc mailsail only since I didn’t want to do all the work of the jib. I planned to focus on not over-exerting myself for the day. Cast off from the dock was actually a disaster. There was a little gust and I was letting the boom into the space of the next boat to let the sail luff. The dock staff started to push me out but of course the boom snagged in their rigging. I pulled it in and we retried. “Ready?” “yes” and they pushed me straight back again. The problem this time was that I wasn’t holding the tiller. The rudder went hard over the boat stopped and just blew up against that next boat over. I drifted back past their stern and tried to continue sailing backwards, but no, in a replay of the run-aground last week, the boat fell off and ran back into the dock. Bleh.
On the basin, there was a test course set up and I started sailing a quick lap. On my second lap I saw some other Mercuries converging on the course and a skiff nearby. I hailed the skiff, “Am I in the middle of a class?” “No, testing. You’re the cheat sheet!” It was funny but I sailed off to play around some other marks. Then a run down to Mass Ave bridge and the beat back. It was a nice sweet spot between going fast but not having to hike too hard or be overpowered.
I came in to rest, hang out on the dock a bit, and then go get some lunch. After lunch I finally decided to try one more sail, this time in a Laser. At the dockhouse the computer had somehow lost my red rating. Yes I am quite sure I got my Laser red last year. I remember my test well. But whatever, I’m dressed for the capsize so sure, I’ll take a yellow test. The test was uneventful. My only regret after the test was that I didn’t do some fun or spectacular wet capsize. A snap windward capsize on a run for example might be worth more spectator points than simply pulling in the sail at low speed stalled on beam reach.
After the test, one lap down to the Mass Ave bridge and back. I tried my kinetic rolling and pumping technique that worked so well last time I sailed a Laser but didn’t have as much success with it. Conditions were near planing without any kinetics so rolling the boat would sometimes roll it off the plane, being counterproductive. Some other technique must be better. I didn’t have the time to experiment.
On the beat back, in contrast to the Mercury sailing, I was overpowered and had to luff quite a bit of the sail. I was overpowered sitting on the rail and not hiking very hard, that is. I was wary of hurting myself like I did last time I sailed the Laser. Anyway, it was fun, and in the end I didn’t hurt myself too much.
Again I picked today for sailing because the forecast was for gentle winds and again it turned out to be red flag. Nicely though, the winds were fairly steady. WSW 10kts gusting to 15 most of the time, with a few gusts up to 20. It was a pretty gentle red flag, as red flags go.
Stacy was with me again today. I had prepared her that there might be people looking for informal instruction. In fact we hadn’t even cleared the front desk when I hear the call from the dockhouse for anyone to give informal instruction. It was a perfectly beautiful day. All the Sonars were out. I suggested we take a Rhodes because it would hold more people. After a little bit of coordination we got three members to sail with us.
The most important lesson of the day was keeping a lookout. We were practicing a jibe when there was a loud TOOT beside us. It was one of the Charles Riverboat cruises and we were about to cross in front of it. I grabbed the helm and steered us parallel until the boat passed. Terrible. None of had seen the boat, including me. Now, the Charles riverboats are a little different because they go relatively fast, but still, no excuse.
Saturday, Fourth of July weekend, winds were forecast to be gentler in the morning before getting gusty in the afternoon. I was talking about sailing and my roommate Stacy wanted to come with. We did make it before noon, 10:30 ish, and the dock was relatively calm, with a couple of the usual classes going on. We took out an Ideal. Stacy liked that there was no centerboard trunk and that there was enough wind to heel the boat. She liked sitting on the low side so she could put her hands in the water. I obliged, sailing with the rail near the water as much as possible. Traffic on the water picked up as the day went on. All the usual duck boats and Charles river cruises, more than usual recreational power boats, a couple of police boats for the fireworks barges, CBI sailboats, kayaks, and more and more kayaks. It got interesting at times threading the Ideal through the traffic. After a while I suggested we were done for the day but then Stacy asked about the 420s. She had heard me talk about them. She wanted to know what they were like. We took the Ideal in. We drank some water.
And then we did. We went back out on a 420. So much for gentle sailing. It was after noon and the flag had gone to yellow. Stacy’s knowledge of sailing is mostly what she has picked up from me carrying on about the Extreme Sailing Series and other such stuff I follow on the internet. Then, without going into too much detail, neither Stacy and I are ideal physically for a 420. Oh, lets add to the navigation challenges I just described the challenges of a skittish boat, inexperienced crew, and increasing wind. Ha. Oh, and me starting to get tired. We sailed a little. Up to the fireworks exclusion zone, then a bear away. We pretended we were Alinghi in the Extreme Sailing Series. Well, I did. We had a couple of nice gusts where we planed for a little while. Imagine that, a little heavy to be on a 420, a CBI guest, but riding a plane, for a couple of gusts anyway. We got our experience, and I seem to have got on and off the water without hurting myself.
As we got back to the dock they were just going to red flag. I looked back over the water and there were three capsizes going on. We left in search of something cold to drink.
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.
The day ended under double red flag, but much of the day was simple and beautiful red flag. Today was the first CBI Open House of 2017, a day promoted to encourage people to visit Community Boating, try sailing, and (hopefully) join! Me, slug that I am, I had not committed to be an official volunteer, and so had a lazy morning at home and got to the dock maybe around 3:30. I hadn’t even finished applying sunscreen when there was the call on the loudspeaker for informal instruction.
Soon I was on a Rhodes 19 with three new sailors, Ken, with a yellow rating, but two new members, Jon and Luic, who had just joined and gone through orientation, rigging class, and shore school that day. We got a Rhodes because the Sonars were all out, but I explained to my crew that the Rhodes would be good for them because it is much like a big Mercury, both in the way it is rigged and the way it handles on the water. I said that, but then I rigged it reefed to start with, which added a complexity they probably won’t otherwise have to deal with for a while on the Mercs.
The weather really was nice, just a little overcast, 84F, and initially anyway, wind 10kts gusting to 20 from the W. So with four people on a Rhodes 19 with a keel, reefing might seem a little over-precautious, but I wanted things to be easy for my first timers. Also I rigged the jib, but left it furled on the foredeck. The sail configuration was just fine for them all to take turns sailing. I pointed out a Sonar that was sailing reefed as well, just to show that we weren’t the only cautious ones.
We practiced all the usual stuff for new sailors, steering the boat, sheeting the main, tacking, jibing, and also “safety position.” One question was on the difference between “in irons” and safety position. Aren’t both with the boat stopped with sails luffing? Yes, but, in-irons is with the boat head to wind and safety position is with it on close reach. More importantly, in-irons is unstable—the boat will begin to drift backwards and will fall off on one tack or the other. Safety position though is stable. You can let go of the tiller even and the boat will maintain a close reach heading with the sail luffing and will make very little headway. Safety position is also not in irons because you can make the boat go again as easily as pulling in the sheet.
After an hour or so and a couple of laps up and down the basin, we thought it was time to make things more interesting with the jib. The extra power was impressive, and made the sailing much more interesting and challenging. I commented that the wind might be coming up slightly, but most of the extra power was coming from the jib. Before long though, some much stronger gusts started to come in. I was laughing at this point still, saying that all this power was not just from the jib. I scratched my plans to shake out the reef. In fact, as the wind was continuing to come up, I decided to take the jib back down. The earlier lesson on safety position was valuable now as I demonstrated putting the boat in safety position so I could go up on the bow and take down the jib. I gave the helm back to new sailors then, but not for long. The wind was still coming up and they were struggling.
I had stopped laughing and suggested I take the helm for a bit. As we sailed we started to marvel at the whitecaps. The basin was now filling in solid with whitecaps and we were watching multiple capsizes. Conditions were no longer optimal for learning, we’d had a good long sail, so I added “you know, maybe we’ll just head in.” There was one last technique to demonstrate for the day, the “chicken jibe” which is of course not a jibe but a 270 with a tack. As we surfed the growing waves and chicken jibed our way back to the cut we saw carnage all around us. Not only the capsizes but run-agrounds as well. I got us quickly moored and as the sail was coming down I saw more. A downwind mooring pickup under bare poles, a collision with a moored boat, then Isaac motoring around announcing “these are sloop conditions!” The wind that had generated the solid whitecaps was steady 20kts gusting over 35, and the flag had gone to double red, sloop rating required.
Sloop rating at Community Boating is almost mythical. The idea is that it’s a rating past red. To get any rating you have to test for it, which typically means you need a little practice at it, but of course if the wind is so strong that red-rated sailors aren’t allowed out, then the US flag often comes down and the program is closed. It’s safe to guess that not many of these ratings have been awarded. The test requirements have always been a bit vague as well. Basically it’s demonstrating that you can deal with a boat that is severely overpowered.
I had to refresh my skill on the chicken jibes a little. If you can make the turn quickly and smoothly enough, you might pull it off with little sheeting, but it’s not best. The extra luffing can be enough to stop the boat in irons. It happened on one of my jibes. I just did the quick three-point turn and was on my way, but you know it would be best to avoid that. Also the bear away is a little smoother if you are easing a filled main rather than bearing off to the point where an already-eased main fills. So, my recommended chicken jibe is to sheet in as you round up to minimize luffing and keep the sail more full and keep the boat speed up. Go through a pretty normal tack then, but when the sail fills on the new tack, ease it as you continue bear away to your new downwind course. And hold on, because the boat will really take off.
Anyway, wow, what a fun and exciting way to end the day.