Thursday, October 16, 2014



Tuesday October 14, 2014

I started this Tuesday morning like I usually do with a cursory look at Sailflow to see what kind of wind we would have.  It was a dismal forecast of 8-10 knot breeze and I was wondering if we would even be able to race in these conditions.  I was quite surprised when someone commented on how windy it was outside.  On the way to the harbor, I was wondering if we would have the time to swap out the 155 for the 135.  Sure enough as I pulled up to the boat, my crew was already in the process of changing the headsail.

As we motored out of the harbor, there was 15 knots of breeze in the harbor and it looked like victory at sea out in the ocean. There were already two boats out so we ventured on out.  The waves at the harbor entrance did not look too bad, but as we sailed further out toward the start buoy, the waves got bigger and steeper with a very short period.  It took tremendous concentration to keep the boat going straight up the faces of the waves and angling down the backs.  The slightest distraction would douse the whole crew with buckets of water.  Four boats ventured out: Free Spirit, Aeolian, Pair A Dice and Kicks.  Free Spirit was heading for the harbor as we were leaving the harbor.  As if to lend credence to the conditions we were fighting, a 32 foot sailboat lay grounded on seabright beach next to the harbor entrance.   Aeolian went over toward the pier and lowered all sails to motor into the harbor.  Kicks was just coming out when we decided to head back in to the harbor.  There was no way I wanted to negotiate the entrance in diminished light.  Suffice it to say, the boats that did not come out did not miss much, except a little learning experience.

Back at the Crow’s Nest we discussed the various techniques we all used to get into the harbor.  Someone asked me why we sailed into the harbor with both main (reefed) and the jib (partially furled).  There were several decisions that came into play.  Someone thought it would be good to decrease sail area by furling the jib and someone else pointed out the danger: the boat would be out of balance and if a wave caused us to broach, we could get rounded right up into the rocks!  We could have lowered all sails, but doing so would leave us with no control if something should happen to my small, 11 horsepower engine.  Another problem that occurs in rough seas is dirt getting stirred up in the fuel tank and clogging filters.  Engines seem to have perfect timing to go out just when you really need them, so it is usually best, in gnarly conditions, to at least have some sails up. Of course a boat without a folding prop and a strong engine could feel safer motoring in with no sails up.

A proper tack:

One of the maneuvers that sailors must complete that can lead to big gains or losses is tacking.  Done correctly, you lose little, done poorly and competitors will leave you behind.  While the helmsman plays a crucial role, the crew’s actions can improve or destroy a tack.

The following are my observations of  what constitutes a perfect tack.  The proper tack begins with a helmsman announcing their intentions, waiting for the “Ready” signal from each crew member.  The loaded sheet should be uncleated or taken out of the self tailing jaws in preparation.  As the helmsperson begins the tack, he announces either “tacking” or “helms to lee”.  The mainsheet trimmer can travel up on the main to help turn the boat. The helmsperson begins the tack by turning the wheel quickly until the boat is head to wind.  One exception is in very light wind, this turn of the wheel should be much more gradual so there is not much drag from the rudder.  As soon as the boat is head to wind, the loaded jib sheet is released.  The crew member releasing this sheet should make certain the line is free to go (not tangled or lines being stood on.)  Stalling momentarily with the boat head to wind, accomplishes two goals: coasting directly upwind and it gives the crew time to get most of the sheets in while the sails are not full. The helmsperson after the momentary stall, continues on with the tack until the boat is between  3 to 10 degrees beyond hard on the wind.  Less in more wind and up to 10 degrees in very light wind.  This allows the boat to accelerate.  As the boat accelerates and the helmperson comes up to hard on the wind again, the crew cranks in the sail until it is almost touching the spreader, while someone goes forward to skirt the jib.  What is fun is to practice tacks to see who can tack the boat with the least drop in speed in the process.  I encourage comments from readers on ways to improve this maneuver.

Midwinter series:

This winter, SCYC will be putting on the midwinter series.  It is time for all of us to show off what we have learned this year on our Tuesday night sails.   These races are very fun and often run in very light conditions and a perfect way to get introduced to fleet racing.

See you out there next Tuesday,


Barry L. Keeler

Sailing Pair A Dice


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