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.
I was at CBI half an hour or so early for Thursday women’s racing. It’s late in the season, wetsuit restrictions are on, sunset comes early, so the plan set last week was to switch to Mercuries. Also there was talk of single-handing so I went out by myself for a bit. Problem was, the wind was up, 10 mph gusting to 20, although I think just yellow flag. That means single-handing a Merc with a full main and jib is a handful. I got in one lap up to the Mass Ave bridge and back before racing started. I had fun trying to keep up with a Sonar that left the same time as me, but omg, it was hard work. I was done with that for racing and furled the jib on the foredeck.
Furling the jib set up the lesson for the day. It turned out I was the only one that seriously considered single-handing and all the other women racers had paired up two to a boat and naturally were sailing full main and jib. I wasn’t afraid; since I was a little over powered with the jib, I expected my speed with main only to be nearly, or perhaps as, good. Wrong! I couldn’t believe how much faster the other boats were than me. I was winning starts but then I could never hold my lead. The other boats would just run me down. Wow, did not expect that. I remember Friday informal racing a few times with main only and I don’t remember being that much slower. And I remember single-handing once in similar conditions with main and jib while someone else (a very good sailor) was matching my speed to windward under main only. But not today. Two women racers to a boat totally kicked my butt single-handed.
It was Elena’s birthday and she wanted to sail! We played hooky to skip out of work early and meet on the dock at 2:30. We took a spinnaker on an Ideal 18 with gorgeous, perfect weather. Blue sky, yellow flag, upper 60s, E wind 10 mph gusting to 16, and Elena had brought an internet radio for music! The goal was to enjoy the day and we sailed effortlessly, passing the tiller back and forth so that we didn’t have to change sides. With the great wind and a few hours before sunset we made a number of spinnaker runs down the length of the basin. I had positioned us right out in front of the dockhouse for a hoist when this happened:
I called it a 270 degree wind shift. Needless to say, the hoist didn’t go as planned. I turned the boat, trying to keep up with the shift, hoping it was a little eddy that would pass, as Elena dealt with the spinnaker continuing to back against the rigging, all to the delighted hoots of the spectators on the dock. We got it filled just as we were headed straight for the Longfellow bridge and had to douse right away.
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.
Tonight was the last night to sail 420s in women’s racing. Sunset is getting too early and wetsuit restrictions are coming. But what fun wind we had! The flag was yellow. I called it dark yellow because of the many vigorous gusts of 15 to 20 mph. The gusts were exciting because wind was NNW, and so coming right over the buildings of MIT, which randomized them in strength and duration. Between the gusts wind was shifty, sometimes veering over 45 degrees to suddenly back the sails. Robin called these “autotacks” and encouraged not to fight them but to simply yield and tack.
It was really great to sail with Robin. Actually, I think I was a bit intimidated and was perhaps quieter than usual. Robin filled the space readily by feeding me continuous information and suggestions. One of my favorite things she would tell me was what she was doing with the jib. My experience is that crews will typically sheet the jib hard unless told otherwise. I have thought before that ideally the crew would sheet the jib hard but only as long as I was sailing close hauled. If by wind shift or course change I would fall below close hauled, the crew would automatically ease to keep the jib from stalling, but tell me that they were easing the jib. That would keep the boat moving and leave the decision to me on when and how to return to close hauled. Robin did exactly that. I loved it. Today this would happen sometimes from a wind shift, but sometimes because I wanted a different direction, or wanted more speed, or simply because I wasn’t paying attention. Regardless, Robin trimmed the jib for best boat speed and made sure that I was aware of what was going on.
We got in a few races, we managed to win at least one, and finished the day with a nice ride on a plane back to the cut. The final course was a single leg, a downwind start and finish at the cut. Technically we won that one too although I don’t think it counts because others seemed to be confused about the course. The line was skewed enough that the start was nearly a beam reach. I channeled my racers from the Extreme Sailing Series to target the middle of the line and try to get the time and distance right. Sadly we had no close competition but we did have this one nice big gust to finish the day and finish 420 racing for the year. Oh, there’s still women’s racing next week, just not in 420s. Plans are to be in Mercuries….
Well, not so much, really. Hurricane Jose was forecast to start bringing wind and rain for WR practice today but conditions on the Charles turned out dry and light-yellow flag. Just a few of us showed up for practice. Abigail took the opportunity to take a yellow test, then when someone else was looking for crew for an Ideal-18 yellow test, we all changed plans to help out. Three of us, me, Trina, and Elena piled on board to help Art with his test.
Before going out, Art was asking — somewhat jokingly, but slightly nervously — what was the most common reason to fail a test. I don’t think he got a serious answer from us, but from the test. Ideal 18s are pretty easy to sail. By the time one is taking the test, tacking and jibing around the test course are not likely to be a problem. The trickiest part turns out to be bringing the boat to a stop, for both the man-overboard drill and the mooring pick-up. The Ideal 18 really likes to go. With just the littlest bit of sail not luffing it scoots forward. And then once in motion, it likes to keep going. It has that keel, but then, well, we had quite a bit of crew weight on board.
Anyway, that’s the hard part. I guess my recommendation for people practicing for their keel boat yellow is to really work hard on coming to a stop. Practice man-overboard a lot, practice stopping head to wind at buoy a lot. And if you can, practice with different total crew weights and see if you need to compensate for the difference in momentum.
Oh, and after testing the four of us went back out for a spinnaker run!
I’ll go with MIT’s wind record: NE 4 mph gusting to 12.
Nice wind, WSW 10 kts gusting to 15. I sailed with Jen again, in this wind even a little stronger than we had last Thursday. Elena set us a tiny little course, right in the middle of Mainsail class and right in front of the cut, and did an amazing job of running RC for most of us simultaneously with conducting a capsize practice for a couple more of us. We had a great time racing, careening around the wide-eyed Mailsail students, dodging the occasional keel boat passing through the cut, and just dealing with the wind. It was enough that Jen and I had at least one good planing reach, well you know planing as well we could with my weight in the boat.
One moment that a few people enjoyed was a pass at a leeward mark. Jen and I rounded the reach mark with another boat not too far behind. She let the boat head up a little after the jibe and I said something like oh good, you’ll have inside at the mark. Happy with that, she sailed for the mark and neither of us kept an eye on that boat behind us. Before we knew it, they rolled us to windward and got a big inside overlap before the zone. They passed us easily. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but of course the boat that passed us had a great time and Elena watching it all from the committee boat thought it was spectacular.