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.
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.
I squeezed in a short sail Tuesday after work. Flag was red, but I have no idea why. Wind seemed lighter than it was under green on Saturday. Really both days seemed pretty solidly yellow to me. When I first saw the red flag I briefly considered reefing a Mercury, just because I didn’t want to work too hard, but I watched the water for a while and saw there was no reason. There were some furled keel Mercs lined up on the dock so I took one of them. Keeping with my idea of not working too hard though, I sailed it main only. Omg, keel+main only+light red left me always wanting more wind. I would see a dark gust on the water and call to it, but it would always just gently wash over me. Oh it wasn’t so bad. I sat on the rail most of the time and the boat moved well. One lap up to the bridge and back then sailing around within half river right up until sunset.
Wind was SSW and a little shifty. I sailed the length of the basin on one tack by keeping on top of the wind shifts. Interestingly the gusts seemed to often be “righties”, heading me. The lulls then, were never velocity headers, but deceptive lifts that you had to notice and head up into. While this long tack to bridge was on port, I was speculating that any capsize today might come from someone on starboard getting hit with one of these gusts from the right. I thought that as I was sailing upwind to the bridge but then after starting back downwind I realized a more likely capsize would be an accidental gybe from one of these gusts. Anyway, I stayed out of trouble. The sail was the peaceful sail I wanted after work.
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.