Last year I took the three-part series of “Learn to Race” classes. While I learned race decades ago, I had no one to teach me. I learned to sail and to race just by doing. I really appreciate now having some more formal instruction. To follow up the classes, there was a series of on-water racing clinics, but I didn’t have the chance to do these last year. There was a clinic scheduled today though and I just showed up and asked if I could join. Also there was Trina, and having sailed together a few times recently it was natural that we sailed in a boat together for the clinic. We traded off rolls as usual and had a great time.
Wind was red flag but just barely. 8 kts gusting to 16 from the west for a while, but dropping somewhate part way through the clinic. We sailed a centerboard Mercury and had no problems with the wind strength.
We practiced, we debriefed, and then Stacy met me for a quick sail in an Ideal 18. She is now hooked on red flag sailing but sadly the flag had gone to yellow. Here’s a pic from the Longfellow on our way to Mead Hall after sailing.
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.
Wind was forecast to be yellow with gusts to red and the flag turned out just like that. I took out a centerboard Merc mailsail only since I didn’t want to do all the work of the jib. I planned to focus on not over-exerting myself for the day. Cast off from the dock was actually a disaster. There was a little gust and I was letting the boom into the space of the next boat to let the sail luff. The dock staff started to push me out but of course the boom snagged in their rigging. I pulled it in and we retried. “Ready?” “yes” and they pushed me straight back again. The problem this time was that I wasn’t holding the tiller. The rudder went hard over the boat stopped and just blew up against that next boat over. I drifted back past their stern and tried to continue sailing backwards, but no, in a replay of the run-aground last week, the boat fell off and ran back into the dock. Bleh.
On the basin, there was a test course set up and I started sailing a quick lap. On my second lap I saw some other Mercuries converging on the course and a skiff nearby. I hailed the skiff, “Am I in the middle of a class?” “No, testing. You’re the cheat sheet!” It was funny but I sailed off to play around some other marks. Then a run down to Mass Ave bridge and the beat back. It was a nice sweet spot between going fast but not having to hike too hard or be overpowered.
I came in to rest, hang out on the dock a bit, and then go get some lunch. After lunch I finally decided to try one more sail, this time in a Laser. At the dockhouse the computer had somehow lost my red rating. Yes I am quite sure I got my Laser red last year. I remember my test well. But whatever, I’m dressed for the capsize so sure, I’ll take a yellow test. The test was uneventful. My only regret after the test was that I didn’t do some fun or spectacular wet capsize. A snap windward capsize on a run for example might be worth more spectator points than simply pulling in the sail at low speed stalled on beam reach.
After the test, one lap down to the Mass Ave bridge and back. I tried my kinetic rolling and pumping technique that worked so well last time I sailed a Laser but didn’t have as much success with it. Conditions were near planing without any kinetics so rolling the boat would sometimes roll it off the plane, being counterproductive. Some other technique must be better. I didn’t have the time to experiment.
On the beat back, in contrast to the Mercury sailing, I was overpowered and had to luff quite a bit of the sail. I was overpowered sitting on the rail and not hiking very hard, that is. I was wary of hurting myself like I did last time I sailed the Laser. Anyway, it was fun, and in the end I didn’t hurt myself too much.
Saturday, Fourth of July weekend, winds were forecast to be gentler in the morning before getting gusty in the afternoon. I was talking about sailing and my roommate Stacy wanted to come with. We did make it before noon, 10:30 ish, and the dock was relatively calm, with a couple of the usual classes going on. We took out an Ideal. Stacy liked that there was no centerboard trunk and that there was enough wind to heel the boat. She liked sitting on the low side so she could put her hands in the water. I obliged, sailing with the rail near the water as much as possible. Traffic on the water picked up as the day went on. All the usual duck boats and Charles river cruises, more than usual recreational power boats, a couple of police boats for the fireworks barges, CBI sailboats, kayaks, and more and more kayaks. It got interesting at times threading the Ideal through the traffic. After a while I suggested we were done for the day but then Stacy asked about the 420s. She had heard me talk about them. She wanted to know what they were like. We took the Ideal in. We drank some water.
And then we did. We went back out on a 420. So much for gentle sailing. It was after noon and the flag had gone to yellow. Stacy’s knowledge of sailing is mostly what she has picked up from me carrying on about the Extreme Sailing Series and other such stuff I follow on the internet. Then, without going into too much detail, neither Stacy and I are ideal physically for a 420. Oh, lets add to the navigation challenges I just described the challenges of a skittish boat, inexperienced crew, and increasing wind. Ha. Oh, and me starting to get tired. We sailed a little. Up to the fireworks exclusion zone, then a bear away. We pretended we were Alinghi in the Extreme Sailing Series. Well, I did. We had a couple of nice gusts where we planed for a little while. Imagine that, a little heavy to be on a 420, a CBI guest, but riding a plane, for a couple of gusts anyway. We got our experience, and I seem to have got on and off the water without hurting myself.
As we got back to the dock they were just going to red flag. I looked back over the water and there were three capsizes going on. We left in search of something cold to drink.
Again I’m writing late, but I’m pretty sure it was the 15th that I sailed with Women’s Racing again. Molly asked if I would sail with her and I said yes! that I wanted to hear about the capsize. We raced 420s, although interestingly a few lasers raced with us. Flag was green but Carol was cautioning that conditions were gusty and more like yellow or red. CBI records show wind at the dock about 7kts gusting to 15 from the SSW. I helmed the first race. The pin looked strongly favored and I was jabbering about it to Molly as I almost ran out of time getting there before the start. Two of our more favored teams had staked out positions there and I had to go around them and start third. Focusing more determinedly on sailing, Molly and I managed to round the first mark in first though. I turned to Molly and said, “so, tell all about the capsize.” On the downwind, the fluky winds coming off the Boston side weren’t keeping the sail full. I made weak and distracted efforts at refilling it but I was mostly listening to the capsize story. Before I knew it, the fleet was on us and blanketing us. They completely rolled over us and we rounded the second mark behind many boats.
I encouraged Molly to helm the second race. She was tentative but of course had no problems. On the last leg though, I happened to notice I had been bleeding. Blood was soaked into my hiking strap and smeared all over the boat. It looked much worse than it turned out to be. Using the first aid kit on the committee boat, I determined that I had only superficial scrapes, almost certainly from kneeling on the fresh non-skid on the floor of the brand-new 420. I sat out the remaining races. Really this was best for me anyway because my back was still sore from Laser sailing. Lesson for the day: Do not kneel with bare knees and scoot around on fresh non-skid, especially if you have soft tender skin, and your skin is wet, and you are overweight. You will tear up your skin and it will be a mess.
Not feeling well I’d been away from sailing for while more. Forecast for Saturday was perfectly pleasant. Forecast for Sunday was hot and windy. I elected to sail Saturday and skip Sunday. As I often do, I first asked at the dockhouse if anyone was waiting for instruction. No one was so I took the day for myself with a Laser. The Laser might be seen by some as physical or challenging but for me it’s like home. It’s similar in size to the Butterfly that I learned on as a teen and while a little faster and more responsive has a similar feel. My Sonar red test last year was hard. The problem was that I didn’t really have much time in the Sonar or even any similar boats. My closest experience of any significance was in the Rhodes 19s on harbor trips in the past, but really it wasn’t that much experience and anyway the Sonar is different enough, and the sailing different enough, that I’m not sure how well the experience translates. My Laser red test on the other hand was ridiculously easy. While I have very few hours in the Laser, it’s similar enough to the Butterfly that sailing it comes as second nature.
So the problem this day was that it was too nice. I sailed to the Mass Ave bridge once, then even though I was feeling some warning signs of pain, I set off to do it again. Half way there the pain was worse. This is just pain from using muscles that were very sadly out of shape. I continued. I was sad when I got to the bridge that I had to turn around. I sailed the length of my perimeter fence and headed back. Then on the way there was the test course. One quick circuit of the test course before I conceded and headed in.
The biggest lesson for the day was that rule 42 stinks. That’s the “propulsion” rule: “…only the wind and water…to propel the boat.” Recently I’d watched with amazement some Finn races under flag Oscar — which allows them to use “kinetics” to propel the boat, in variance of rule 42. Most interesting was the rocking and pumping downwind. I tried it. I had seen that while sailors would pump at different times, most would coordinate a pump with a roll to leeward. I found that without pumping, the sail tended to be strongly full on the roll to windward but would often go slack right when the boom was coming closest to the water. So, it’s pretty simple and easy to pull the sheet at that time to keep the sail full and re-ease it as the boat rolls back to windward. Wow that worked well. The boat was going nicely, then I stopped the kinetics and it was like sailing into a hole. Most surprising was that this particular technique didn’t take much extra strength or effort. It doesn’t take much effort to get the boat rolling. Then if the sheeting is done when the sail is nearly slack, that doesn’t take much strength. This is different than what you read on the internet. You read that it’s physical and requires strong athletes. Hmm, maybe some techniques are physical but this one isn’t. How does it work? All you read on the internet is that the sailors are “pumping” with their strength and “rowing” with the sail. I think something really different might be going on: the rolling is increasing apparent wind and the pumping is simply trimming to cycle of the apparent wind. Not too hard and very fun.
Oh, but just sailing I think was overexertion for me. I won’t detail it all but writing 24 hours later here I’m still in pain.
Weather: 82F, partly cloudy, Wind WSW (straight down the basin) at 10 gusting to 20 mph. This is by MIT data since the CBI weather station seems down. MIT gives speed in mph while CBI always said knots. Flag stayed yellow all day even though the wind picked up a little more later in the afternoon. MIT showed gust to 25 for a while but I might have been off the water by then. Either way the Laser was planing nicely off the wind in the stronger gusts. I had some great rides on beam reach.
It was Thursday Women’s Racing. We had wind, lots of sailors, and competition! A year ago women’s racing at CBI was kind of in a phase of building, or rebuilding. A week ago I commented on how well everyone was sailing. Tonight everyone was eager to step up the game and get more competitive. There was more close maneuvering and more pushing on the racing rules.
Carol thought we were wimps to pick Ideal 18s over 420s, but it was chilly out there and most of us didn’t want to risk getting wet. Temp was 53F dropping to 50 over the hour from 6pm to 7. Wind recorded at the dock was 4kts gusting to 8 but perhaps from a direction (east) with a wind shadow. Out on the water it was certainly more, perhaps twice that. Wind started out E but backed to NE over the hour.
The wind shift, unnoticed by most of us, meat that the pin end of the line became increasingly favored. I think there was a failed port tack start in one race, and then a successful one in a later race when the port end was more favored.
I sailed with Debbie and Kathryn, we traded off the tiller and each got to sail a couple of races. I was called over early in my first race and didn’t handle it well. I started steering back and forth a little trying to figure out how I was going to have room to turn back. It was hard because there was traffic behind me and on either side. My mistake was not just slamming on the brakes as hard as I could to let people pass me. It was long enough back to line that we never caught the fleet again and scored a DFL as Debbie said.
Another costly mistake (not me at the tiller this time) was a leeward mark. We were gaining on the boat in front of us but hadn’t quite caught them when the boat ahead called back to us “no overlap at the zone” or words to that effect. The mistake was then sailing into an overlap. The lesson is, well, don’t do that. If you’re going faster, then steer to the outside as sharply as you have to avoid sailing into an inside overlap. If for some reason you can’t do that immediately, then work on making it possible as soon as possible. Again, slam on the brakes if you have to. You can’t live there for long and you’ve got less than three boat lengths of sailing to do something about it.