In my day job, I work with asteroid data. Space rocks. Part of this work is understanding the chance of an asteroid impact on earth. The thought is scary enough that lots of people get excited about “near misses”, occurrences of an asteroid passing near the earth. This excitement causes me great anxiety because I disagree strongly. No one should be excited. A miss is non-event.
To put things in perspective, I try to draw an analogy to traffic. Any two-way street, or even a divided highway, is a place where cars traveling opposite directions come almost straight at each other and then miss by mere tens of feet. Are people excited or concerned about this? No, they are so used to it they participate in this madness without a second thought. Why? How?
Part of it is that people generally watch where they’re going. Something about the consequences of swerving across the centerline generally keeps people watching where the’re going. If you don’t watch, bad things happen. Keep your eyes on the road. Stay in your lane.
There’s automobile traffic, then there’s air traffic, then even — boat traffic! The routine sort of “near misses” happen continually. Even without other traffic, bad things happen if you don’t watch where you’re going. And yet, somehow, it’s extremely common for inexperienced sailors to just stop watching where they are going. Folks, in a car, you all know what happens if you’re driving and you just look down become absorbed in your belly button, or your knitting, or your phone. So what in the world do you think might happen if you are sailing and half way through a tack or a jibe you face aft and become absorbed in the tiller and the tiller extension and how floppy they are are and you begin to stress about being uncoordinated and wonder what you should do. It’s not might. It’s happening. Your boat is spinning round and round. Your boat’s heading is not anything that’s on your mind. Your boat is out of control and you don’t even know it because you’re not watching.
Saturday, never mind gray sky and drizzle, Stacy and Jessica wanted to sail. In fairness, the wind was good. Green flag 4 mph gust to 12 at first, but building to steady 8 mph with gusts to 18. NE, so down the length of the basin. Not many CBI members come out on a chilly September day like this, but the basin was busy with multiple racing fleets. I had picked Sonar for us to sail and started out tacking downwind, skirting the edges of the racing areas. When I headed back up wind I realized I needed to stop and teach a lesson on the jib. As the wind built, I taught another lesson on the mainsheet, so I could have Stacy handle the main while I trimmed with the traveler and steered. Eventually the flag had gone yellow, and while we were doing okay, I thought it would be nice to reef just to make things easier. Here it was nice that Stacy at least had seen how to heave to. I spent one tack explaining how the reef would go, then we tacked over to heave to and the reefing went well. I thought we would be good to sail a while longer then but it turned out people were cold and ready to go in. Oh well, good practice.
Labor Day! Sunny, warm, with wind fresh and steady. WSW 10 kts gusting to 16, yellow flag when we got there around 11:30, but a couple of stronger gusts came through as we were getting ferried to a Sonar and the flag went red. Red these days at CBI pretty much means keelboats reef. Oh darn, I wasn’t going to have to work as hard. With the wind, the Sonar handles just fine without the jib so we cast off the mooring with main only and had no problems getting underway and out the cut. In fact I was a little tense at first, not having been on a Sonar under red flag in a while. After a couple of tacks though, and seeing that the “gusts” today were relatively gentle, I took a breath and relaxed.
We beat to windward. I coached Stacy on sheeting the jib hard before it fills on the new tack because without a winch handle it’s about impossible to sheet when it’s full. I practiced sheeting with the traveler and before we knew it we were at the Mass Ave bridge. I coached Stacy on the bear away. We went though it and were flying downwind. Broad reach, my favorite way to go downwind was fun, but in the stronger wind I wanted to practice DDW, Dead Down Wind. I bore off more and Stacy was able to fly the jib opposite the main in wing-and-wing or “milkmaid” configuration. We did some jibes, we slalomed through kayaks, and beat back to the bridge.
On this second run, I thought I’d try something new, “heave to.” I explained it Stacy, we tacked, I gave the boat a moment to lose its headway and was able to bungee the tiller to leeward with the bungee that holds it centered while the boat is moored. The boat was lying hove-to nicely, I scooted forward on the bench and kicked back. It was like having a blanket in the park except it was a boat on the water. Actually I liked watching how the boat responded to gusts and lulls. After a while Stacy and I traded sides of the boat and I got the other perspective on how the boat was maintaining a stable heading through gusts and lulls. Eventually, after drifting maybe half the length of the basin hove to, I had Stacy bring the jib across as I bore off to broad reach and trimmed the main. We were up to speed in seconds.
We sailed around at east end of the basin for a while, kind of stalling because we had decided to go in after two laps but it was so nice out there! Actually, as we had suspected, the flag was back at yellow. Really there had just been a couple of gusts that justified the red flag. I decided to try one more little technique before we went in, we’d shake out the reef. I headed up, pulled the reef ties as the boom came in, and tacked us over to heave to again. Cunningham off, vang off, reef line off, then hoist the main. Main halyard on the cleat, cunningham on, vang on, then out of heave to and we pulled the trigger! It was fast and easy. The boat was noticeably faster with the full main, but we were done. One more tack and through the cut.
A fruit punch flavor rockstar happened to be packed in my sailing bag today. Oh, it was just what I needed to hype me up for some red flag sailing after work!
Wind was S, 8 kts gusting to 20. Nothing special was happening so I asked at the dock house if anyone was waiting for informal instruction. There was one person who wanted practice in a Mercury, but then wait, there were two more. Could I take two more? Sure, but not in a Mercury. My willing green rated sailors agreed to a Rhodes 19, which I assured them was just like a big Mercury. I said it was roomy, like a family station wagon. “Like a Volvo?” one of my young informal instructees asked for clarification. Um, yeah. Just like a Volvo.
Per dock house white board we rigged the main reefed, and then because none of three were indicating confidence about the jib, I left it furled it on the foredeck. So we sailed, we practiced, we got in one lap up to the Mass Ave bridge and back and then it was time to go in. We never did end up hoisting the jib.
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.
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.
I got in another hour on a Sonar today. More importantly, so did Kathryn who steered for most of our sail. I just wanted a little time on the water between sailing last Sunday and (hopefully) racing tomorrow. Kathryn was interested more specifically in Sonar practice. Wind was 10 gusting to 20kts under red flag, dock staff asked us to reef and that was fine with both of us. That’s a pretty easy and comfortable wind strength with the reef in. Unfortunately though, the wind direction and temperature were not. The winds would shift 45, then 90, then 180 degrees on us, and while it had been sunny and 60F earlier in the day, by 6pm when we got on the water the temp had fallen to 50, the sky was heavy, and there was a chilly mist in the air.
One nice thing about clouds though, people stay away and you practically have the river to yourself.
One focus for the day was mooring practice. Leaving the mooring I know some people like to wait for some “right time” to cast off. If I have the tiller I usually don’t care and just just have my crew cast off whenever and I just deal with whatever the boat is doing at the time. I went up on the bow and called back to Kathryn, “do you want to wait for the boat to swing around or can I just throw the rope in the water?” Hesitation, so I waited. In this case, like I described above, the wind was really swirling and making the boat swing on the mooring — and we were on a mooring by the island — and at moment the boat was pointed at the island. I waited. The boat had kind of sailed up over the mooring was was taking a minute to drift back down. When the mooring line finally went taught again the boat swung the other way to point away from the island. I have to admit, that was a much easier departure than it would have been the minute before.
On the basin, we practiced some mooring approaches on the green nav buoy. Kathryn was asking me advice on slowing down, much as I had been asking Niko advice on slowing down another day. I told her what she already knew, just as Niko had told me what I already knew. The problem is that without practice, the all the possibilities like luffing sails, turning the boat, furling sails, and backing sails don’t come as second nature, even if you know it, even if you’ve done it in the past. Practice helps, talking about it helps. When we brought the boat in for the night, we still had a little bit of speed at the mooring. Having just talked about it, I pushed the boom forward to back the sail, the boat stopped, and we were on the mooring for the night.
A small lesson rigging the boat was that it’s just as easy to pull the outhaul too tight on a Sonar as it is on a Mercury. Reefed, the outhaul is the the reefing line, but when we got on the water I saw that again I had the sail too flat. The Sonar is so well behaved that it wasn’t hard to sail or tack like the Merc was, but still I knew from my recent experience it would do much better with the outhaul loosened a little. Nicely though, this is perfectly easy to do underway on the Sonar, unlike the Mercury.
We sailed, we talked and told stories, we tried to act like it was easy and effortless sailing. But really we were pretty busy. I had my camera around my neck and I kept thinking I would take some pictures, but always we seemed just a little bit too busy for me to pull out the camera. I’ll take pics another day.