Tag: Reefed

Sloop conditions

Double Red Flag

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.

Time on the water

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.

A Breezy Sunday

I’d taken a couple of days off from sailing to heal and recover strength.  Then wind this weekend was up, gusting to 30 knots much of yesterday and today, so I was hesitant to go back out too soon.  I needed just a little sailing today though.  My goal was to do something easy.

When I got to the dock, maybe 3ish, the staff had already worked a number of capsizes.  Restrictions were pretty much reefs, keel mercs, and two to a main.  That suited me fine.  I asked at the dockhouse if they could find me someone to sail with and yes, I soon met Carla and Katrin who had also been waiting for someone to sail with.  So never mind the 30kt gusts, we had three people on a keel merc with a reefed main.  This was going to be easy, just what I wanted.  Better yet, Carla and Katrin were hoping to practice man-overboard for their red tests.  They would do all the work and I would be along for the ride!

We rigged, I looked around for dock staff to push us off the dock.  No one was nearby.  I thought about pushing us off and jumping in, but wind was a little bit on to the dock and takeoff would be a little less hectic with a push.  I walked back toward the dockhouse, got Kaela’s attention.  “Will you give us a push?”  “Sure, do you need a lifejacket?”  Omg, I still don’t have the reflex to always have a PFD on a boat.  I grew up on small lakes decades ago and we played on the water and in the water all day long every day and never wore lifejackets.  Times have changed, but old patterns are still hard to change.

On the water Carla was sailing but I was talking fast, trying to go over what I thought was important.  Carla and Katrin were doing just fine though and very soon I made myself slow down, take a deep breath and relax.  We beat to windward, most of the way to the Mass Ave bridge, Carla and Katrin traded off at the helm, we sailed back to mid-river and went through some man overboard drills.  We decided to go in, but I had one more fun little activity for the sail back, I had rigged a jib for us and left it furled on the foredeck..

I know the red test is with full main and jib, but you don’t learn as much if you’re struggling to survive so I had left the jib down for practice.  For a few broad reaches back to the dock though, I unfurled and hoisted the jib.  The sail area of the jib is a relatively a big addition to a reefed main and it was striking how the boat accelerated.  Carla and Katrin obviously knew how to sail with the jib.  Was I over-conservative to have left it down for the practice and drills?  Possibly.  I think it might have been a bad distraction though.  It was really fun to have an easy sail to windward, and for the man overboard drill it felt right to focus more on the pattern of maneuvers.  There will be plenty of time another day for practice with a jib.

Roughly 3:30 to 4:30, 85F (yes, that warm again!) mostly cloudy but with a little sun now and then.  Red flag, WSW wind 15 gusting to 25kts, but fading somewhat.  Wind had been stronger earlier in the day and then later in the day the flag went to yellow.

Brisk wind

The high today was 53F, the same as the historical average for the day, which combined with wind and clouds felt cold!  I sailed sometime between 2:30 and 4.  Winds were 10 gusting to 25 kts shifting from W to NW.  When I got there the wind was west, pretty much blowing down the length of the basin with enough fetch to build up some waves.  By the time I left it was more solidly from the NW and the waves had calmed down considerably.

CBI flag pole
Red flag day

I killed some time after I arrived, eating some lunch I brought with me and watching to see who else was sailing.  I watched a few people go out and maybe missed some chances to sail with others, but finally was ready to go out – singlehanded.  I rigged a centerboard Merc reefed main only.  I’ve had fun other days with reefed main and jib but for one I didn’t want to work that hard today and for two I still wanted to practice some of the official techniques from shore school.

Underway, the immediate problem was that I had the outhaul way too tight.  Strong wind with crazy gusts and I worry about performance tuning?  Yes!  A Merc with main-only is hard enough to maintain headway on, but with strong wind there’s more windage pulling back and reefed there’s less power pulling forward.  I’d stretched the sail like a drum before I went out and it was too much.  There was no pocket and the leech was even falling off a bit.  I was still able to get the boat going forward and get enough headway to tack but it took finesse and was a disaster waiting to happen.

I’d tied it with a snug two half hitches and adjusting it on the water wasn’t a good option.  In to the Longfellow dock, loosen and retie, right back out, and the boat was much easier to sail.  The sail had a nice shape now and pulled well.

Sailing was still work.  I thought if sailed to half river and then came back, that added to the first time out would make a whole lap and be a nice unit of sailing for the day.  But then there were other boats…  I wasn’t done comparing my sailing to theirs.  Then well, there were only a few boats between me and the Mass Ave bridge and I thought it would be nice to continue until I was the farthest boat from the dock.  Then they turned back, but, I’d come this far, I wanted to go the rest of the way to the bridge.  When to turn back?  I wanted to leave a little extra buffer.  One more gust to power through.  Then the tack.

On the way back I got to practice a few more gybes in the official shore school way.  A surprise here was discovering that my gybes were often already pretty close to school technique.  A number of the steps taught in class sounded questionable at the time, but on the water I realized that they were just about what I do already.  I just hadn’t realized that that’s what I was doing.

One lap to the the Mass Ave bridge and back was enough for me though.  The final lesson coming in was to plan a little more and take a little more distance in dropping sail for a wind-on-the-dock landing.  I tried one landing with the sail up but couldn’t kill enough speed.  I made a tight circle and dropped the sail this time, but I was right on the dock and couldn’t choose my landing spot.  Oh well, it was soft enough landing with the sail down, just not quite where I would have picked.

The sailing was fun.  The reef was the right call to keep things manageable.  “ease, hike, trim” worked well in the strong gusts.  With the biggest gusts I would have to ease a lot, but still just to the “verge.”  The boat would make a surprising leap of acceleration even with the little reefed sail.  I would hike, start sheeting back in right away, and sail to the next gust.

Oh, one more thing I focused on was not pinching too much.  Somehow in the past I’d learned to deal with being overpowered by pinching above a normal close-hauled course.  I think that might work on some boats, in some conditions, but might not be good in general.  With the over-tightened outhaul and super-flat sail for example, the boat would just make leeway if I headed above 45°.  To keep the boat moving I had to watch the true wind ripples on the water pretty closely, hold a 45° course, and ease the sail out pretty far to keep it from stalling.  After loosening the outhaul to have better sail shape, I could pinch but tried to hold the 45° course anyway.  It was more fun moving through the water faster and I think I was making better VMG to windward.

A few more pics: