Tag: Sonar

Watch where you’re going

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.


Late September

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.

Sonar Spinnaker

I sailed with Patty, who was trying to work in as much sailing as possible before a trip out of town. Uncharacteristically for me, we sailed in the morning, when the sun and wind were best for the day. Wind was W at just 1 kt when it was slow but gusts were nice, to 6 kts. We got in some nice runs with the spinnaker. All my recent practice with spins, Patty’s steady hand on the tiller, a light blue spinnaker, and we looked good on the water. Sets, trimming, jibes, and takedowns all went pretty well. For the sets, I worked on having the spinnaker tack ready to be trimmed and then getting it pulled around to the pole first thing. The first takedown was a little rushed, and I was doing it to leeward. I got the clews in my hand but then let the halyard down faster than I could gather the sail and the spinnaker hit the water. The second takedown (with the spinnaker now dry again) went better. I tried it to windward this time. I eased the sheet, took down the pole, hauled the tack to windward and the rest of the sail followed easily.

Heave to

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.

Two sails

Two sails in one day. First a little day sail with Stacy and Jessica. Stacy has grown fond of the Ideal 18. It’s easy and comfortable and spirited. Wind was 3 kts gusting to 8, shifting between south and east, but it was cloudy. The primary effect of clouds at CBI, strange as it seems, is that not many members come and sail. Other than the well attended CBI 420 regatta going on, traffic on the water was light. We had a nice little sail but I dropped them at the dock because I had other plans for the afternoon, an advanced Sonar class.

Only two people were signed up in advance for the class. When I signed up at the desk, I made three. Then one person dropped out and Max had just two of us. It was pretty nice really to have an instructor all to ourselves on a boat for an hour or so. Max talked fast and we listened eagerly trying to soak up as many ideas as we could about rigging, sail trim, and all the controls on the Sonar. Then we got right into spinnaker practice, again nice to have this extra instruction beyond what is taught in the regular keelboat class.

One little point that clicked with me for the first time was a neat effect of the guy hook (or twing on other boats.) A problem I had seen a number of times was the spinnaker pole riding back down the guy, away from the spinnaker tack. Putting the guy on the hook fixes this problem! The downward pull on the guy immediately drives the pole forward against the tack. A silly little thing maybe, but I never really understood it before.

Friday unwind

I was at CBI Friday after work but undecided on what to do with the evening. I wasn’t sure I wanted the workout of informal racing. I had thought on and off of a little practice in a Laser, but the water quality has been poor lately. I was sitting on the dock watching others eagerly rig boats when I was invited to sail on a Sonar with Kate, Pam, and Susan. It took me less than a second to accept this easy option. Susan took the tiller and mainsheet first. Kate and Pam declined repeated invitations to take the helm but of course I couldn’t resist.

Wind was a little puffy, 6 gusting to 14 but from the south, which seems to make it a little erratic as it comes over the Boston side. The flag was yellow most of the time. They had red up momentarily earlier in the afternoon when one 30 knot gust came through but that seemed isolated. I think it might have dropped to green at the very end of the day.

I paid attention to a couple of recently learned lessons. We pulled the main almost to the top of the mast but not hard. A little cunningham tension brought the tack close to the boom then. I was explaining to Kate how I had had trouble with the top batten with the sail too high. She laughed and pointed to the tack and said “learn.” I also watched the cast off from the mooring. From a mooring in the middle of the field, Susan at the helm had Kate simply cast off whenever she was ready. We were in irons head to wind but starting to fall off. Susan, with much more experience than I, right away called for the jib to be unfurled as she explained that the boat wouldn’t start going without it. Just the lesson I had embarrassingly learned recently.

Sailing was perfect but I forgot until the last tack in that I had brought my camera. When I remembered, Kate was eager to grab it and snap a few pictures. Here’s me at the helm of the Sonar with Friday racing in the background and the Cambridge shoreline behind.


Sonar Lessons

First though, a link relevant to last week’s post, When to communicate… an article at Sailing World, describes the situation I discussed with a boat on starboard and multiple boats on port.  (See the section “crowded situations.”)

Now, the first Sonar lesson:  don’t run aground.  Oh, I did.  It was almost comical but still horribly embarrassing.  It happened leaving the mooring.  Green flag, wind was East at 1kt gusting to 6 by the CBI dock.  That means blowing somewhat toward the island from the mooring.  I was starting from a mooring ball closest to the island.  That means very little room to maneuver, little room for retries if thing go wrong.  …  Almost any accident has multiple factors that lead to it.  A factor here was that I didn’t take measures to ensure that I would get off the mooring as reliably as possible and not need that retry.  A typical mooring cast off involves planning which tack you want, and either waiting for the boat to be heading in the right direction or backing a sail to get the boat heading in the right direction.  I typically don’t bother.  I just have my crew cast off and then I sail from however the boat happens to be headed.  Bad plan here.  I had my crew cast us off.  We happened to be stationary, head to wind.  This didn’t concern me a bit.  Close as we were to the island, there was plenty of room to back up and fall off on port.  I did.  The sail filled, and then … the boat made leeway.  More leeway, it wouldn’t start making headway, and wouldn’t do anything except round back up to windward.  Now I was starting to get concerned.  There was still a little room behind me.  I could try again, but no, not enough was different.  I needed the jib, which was furled.  Becoming a bit frantic, I had Stacy unfurl it.  She held the jib sheet the only way she knew, which of course was not backed.  I was shouting by then for her to let go of it.  … You know, shouting just hardly ever works.  It was too late.  I felt the keel nestle gently against the island.  I listened, watched, and waited a few seconds to see if maybe the boat would rotate against the island or begin to drift off the end of the island, but no, the light and steady wind was holding the boat in place.  In resignation I refurled the jib and dropped the main half way to signal the dockstaff for help.

The next Sonar lesson was soon after we had been freed from island and had entered the basin.  The top batten was stuck on the backstay.  I had a terrible time freeing it.  In the first jibe, it stuck again.  The only thing I could think of that might help enough was lowering the mainsail a bit.  I had made sure when I rigged that I had the main hoisted to the top of the mast.  Now it seemed that full height was too much.  There were a few inches between the tack and the boom.  I eased the halyard those few inches and retightened the vang and cunningham.  Another jibe to see if it worked.  The batten stuck again but at least this time it took only a little push on the backstay to free it.  The “fix” seemed to be enough.

The air temperature was mid-70’s after a week of days near or over 90 and the day was wonderfully pleasant.  Our Sonar was in demand and we yielded it after an hour.  After rigging an Ideal 18 on a mooring, one in the middle of the mooring field this time, I wanted to try again at casting off in irons.  I failed!  I tried to have the Ideal 18 stationary and head to wind for the cast off, but I couldn’t hold it head to wind.  It fell off and began making headway immediately.  Experiment over, we just went sailing.  But was it just two random events or are the Sonar and the Ideal different in this way?  The Sonar jib is larger (relative to the main) than the Ideal.  So the jib of the Ideal may not make as much difference as it does on the Sonar.  That is, the Ideal may stay relatively well behaved without the jib, including naturally making headway under more conditions.  The Sonar may be more “crippled” without its jib, and may be more prone to making leeway, much as a Mercury is prone to making leeway under main only.  Just some ideas.  It will take more experience to confirm.

Anyway, we sailed a little more in the beautiful weather, without further incident.