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.
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: