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The two-handed drill for puffs and lulls

The two-handed drill for puffs and lulls

A while ago, James Clarkson recommended one of Frank Bethwaite's books on sailing to me. I forget which one, as I now have three of them. They're incredible but incredibly dense, so I'd only recommend them to the "quants" of the sailing community. And even then, you'll read a lot more about  weather systems than you ever wanted to learn, and more detail on everything than you can comprehend. That's how Frank was. He was a pilot (of commercial flying boats, think about that), a meteorologist (the official metereologist of the Austrailian Olympic team in several Olympics in the 1970s), and a sailing fanatic as coach and designer. Three of his kids (sons and daughter) won Olympic medals, and one of them may have invented the gennaker (as always with inventions, there are priority disputes). Frank died in his 90s in 2012.

For the patient reader, there's really wonderful stuff in his books. One is an explanation of why sail twist needs to be very different in light winds than in higher winds (another post?). And there are many others.

One very practical thing I got out of his books was a technique and a teaching technique of how to respond to puffs and lulls. We all know how to do this, we do it, and we teach it to some extent. You have three controls: weight placement (out in a puff, in in a lull), tiller (pinch in a puff if the boat can do it, fall off in a lull), and sheet (easy in a puff, trim in a lull, not just mainsheet, but also jibsheet if you're really concerned about speed). I tell basic students that they have these three controls, and to use one or more  of them when they get a puff (at this point in their development, they're not so worried about lulls).

Frank was obsessed with keeping the boat flat and as fast as it can go (these are correlated). Assuming a decent wind, you're hiked out. We're assunming you have the tiller extension in one hand and the mainsheet in the other. A puff will heel the boat to leeward, and a lull will heel it to windward if you don't move your weight in either case. His technique is this: when the boat heels, don't move your weight, but move both hands to the down side, the sheet hand more than the tiller. Never luff.

So in a puff, you're easing the main as you're pointing slightly upwind. In a lull (or in the recovery after a puff), you're doing the opposite - sheeting in the main and pointing slightly downwind.

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gene Golfus
"Both hands away" is the most Wonderful thing i have heard as a beginning student. It is worth it's weight in gold. I would hat... Read More
Sunday, 12 November 2017 21:49
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An important fine point on Docking in Low Tide





One of the things I love about sailing is that I learn something every time I go out, I'm constantly expanding my knowledge and skills.Talking with several of the very best sailors in the Club recently, I heard the same sentiment.

We're in the season of low tides and early closings, and I learned something about low-tide docking.

I did a blog post a while ago on docking in low tide. I recommend looking at this post, as you need to dock in a completely different way than you normally do. You come in way upwind instead of downwind, and you don't (can't) slow sail (you'll just get pushed sideways into the seawall).

In the present post, I want to amplify a small but important detail, which I discovered recently docking in low tide (wind from the east in this case, but that doesn't matter). I was following more or less the course I recommended in the earlier blog: go upwind, downwind past the dock, and then shoot up:

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Rigging a Bahia's Reefing Line





I've had to correct mis-rigged Bahia reefing lines recently, so I thought I'd explain how to rig the line properly. You'll have to do this if the main sail is crunched at the leech when you raise it fullly or if you can't fully reef the sail.

It's a little confusing, as it's two lines in a "jiffy reef" system, so that you only have to pull on one line to pull down both the luff and the leach of the sail. But once you get the picture, it isn't that hard to deal with. Here's what it looks like:

The line through the leech of the sail attaches to a block in the boom. The line through the luff of the sail runs through the block and back out the forward end of the boom through the cleat.

So what happens when you reef is this. You pull on the line at the forward end of the boom. This pulls the block attached to the leach line forward through the boom, pulling the aft reefing line down and raising the boom to the reefing gromet. You get here:

At this point, the block is as far forward as it can be in the boom, so pulling more on the reefing line pulls the luff reefing line down to the boom (you ease the halyard as you do this). So you get to here:

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Ryan Alder
Nice description on how to get the right length of the two lines attached to the block! Not knowing the technique, it takes a lot... Read More
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 14:22
John Bongiovanni
The diagrams are based on the Bahia manual, so they're the manufacturers recommendations, for whatever that's worth. However, I b... Read More
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 15:52
John Shearer
Hi John! Excellent guide on the reefing process! I have to agree with Ryan on the routing issue. If the manufacturer recommende... Read More
Sunday, 13 November 2016 15:41
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Separating the Gybe from the Turn

Separating the Gybe from the Turn

Something I’ve found to help students when they’re learning to gybe is to separate the gybe from the act of turning the boat. A gybe can require no turning at all, and understanding this will improve your gybes and reduce your likelihood of capsizing.

Most of the time, the reason we are gybing is because we want to turn and go the other way while sailing downwind. Maybe we've reached Ashby Ave and we have to head back before we start to feel the disapproving glare of the day leader through their binoculars. Or we're doing tight circles around a buoy and have to keep turning through the gybe. But really, gybing has nothing to do with turning, other than if we're turning downwind, we have to eventually gybe or we just can't continue the turn.

The gybe itself is nothing more than changing tacks (from port to starboard or vice versa) while sailing downwind. Or to put it more simply: a gybe is flipping the sail from one side of the boat to the other. If you’re on a dead downwind run, there is no turning needed. In fact, there are reasons to gybe that don't involve a turn at all. A common case is during racing--if you're on a dead run and want to obtain right of way by switching from port to starboard tack. No turning needed. Or maybe you're headed back home and the wind shifts a bit and you realize you're now sailing by the lee, so you flip the sail to get yourself out of accidental gybe territory. No turning needed.

I've noticed a lot of students (understandably) connect the turn and the gybe and want to turn through the gybe, from broad reach to broad reach, which can often result in a capsize. To help disconnect the two actions I've started doing this exercise:

  • Get on a dead run. Get the jib to cross to the center of the boat and try to keep it there. Watch out for the accidental gybe, and tell your crew to do the same. If you have crew you may want to have someone hold the boom in place to avoid a gybe before you're ready.  They'll also be able to feel the main starting to get back-winded, so they can let you know you've turned too far off the wind.  Maintaining a dead-run can in-itself be tricky, and if you can hold this reasonably well in waves, you're off to a good start!
  • Look at what you're heading towards on the horizon. Try to find a fixed reference point.
  • Now gybe. Try to keep the boat headed dead downwind. Use your reference point on the horizon if it helps. Once the wind catches the sail on the other side, it will try to turn the boat up, so maintaining your heading will require some counter steer with the tiller.  Think of it as a light version of the S-turn.
  • Once you're confident you're still on a run, gybe again.
  • Now do it faster, back and forth, while maintaining course.
  • Try to get down to a few seconds between gybes.
  • By now you're probably at the rocks, so better tack your way back up to the restaurant and do some more.

I've found this tends to create a light bulb moment and hopefully makes gybing in general a little smoother.

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Michael Sherrell
I don't think I'd encourage correlating wind direction with landmarks. One of the most widespread problems at the club is sailing ... Read More
Saturday, 02 July 2016 07:53
Ryan Alder
Yea I'm on the fence about that part for that reason, and I don't always mention it, depending on how the student is doing. This i... Read More
Sunday, 03 July 2016 23:53
John Bongiovanni
On a dead run, you have some pretty good indicators on the boat. Ryan mentioned one in a way I hadn't thought of - the jib, and tr... Read More
Wednesday, 06 July 2016 22:50
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Slow Sailing

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Slow sailing is a Junior skill and an important one. The objective of slow sailing is to get to a fixed point in space (a dock, a man-overboard,
a buoy) with zero speed. The idea is to come in on a close reach course, where you have an accelerator and a brake.
With the mainsheet all the way out, the sail is depowered, and the brake is the wind and sea against the boat. Pulling in the mainsheet on the falls is the accelerator. You line yourself up on a close reach
course and sail to the target.

There are two skills involved:

1) lining yourself up on a close reach course to the target, and

2) slow sailing on that course to it.

Let's talk about hitting a buoy at zero speed, as it's the hardest of the maneuvers. When you dock, you usually have some room for error, as you don't have to get to a precise point on the dock. But wait, what about a busy Saturday where you have to thread the needle between the only two boats where there's any space between them to dock? If you can lightly touch a buoy on a slow-sail, you can do precision docking.

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Ryan Alder
I think 'maintain forward momentum' is the big one (once you get the concept of finding the right angle to the wind). I know I ha... Read More
Thursday, 23 June 2016 11:16
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Sailing Small Circles

Sailing Small Circles
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Small Circles

This is one of the most difficult Junior skills, and it's quite important. But why is it important? In real life, how many  small circles are you going to do? Probably none, after you pass the Junior Test. But you probably will need to do fast turns upwind or downwind, and do fast tacks and gybes, possibly to avoid disaster (like hitting something). And maybe with newbie crew. Think about approaching the dock on a big south wind and getting turned in the wrong direction (like into the sea wall). That's what this maneuver is about. You may never do another full circle in your life, but you may need one or more of the maneuver's components.

The maneuver is also a stress test of your sailing skills. You have to do a bunch of things quickly and competently without time to think - they have to be instinctive. It's also a stress test of your crew communications skills for the same reason.

A real circle?

First of all, it's not really a circle. We think of it as looking like this, here counter-clockwise around a buoy:

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Michael Sherrell
John, do the instructions vary by wind speed? What wind speed are these instructions optimal for?
Thursday, 07 April 2016 06:50
John Bongiovanni
I think in any wind speeds where small circles make sense (that is, approaching 10 knots and more). In talking to people, the one... Read More
Thursday, 07 April 2016 17:35
Michael Sherrell
No, I think this is great. Actually made me rethink my own technique, such as it is, for which, thanks!
Thursday, 07 April 2016 20:23
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How to Make the Most of your Weight in High Winds

How to Make the Most of your Weight in High Winds
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During the summer months or during the addiction-satisfying winter storm sailing, you can often find yourself overpowered. I’ve also heard of this several times during senior tests where the tester “falls” overboard for the legendary single-handed man overboard, occasionally where the tester is “unconscious”, typically in something like 20 kts. As the wind comes up from a comfortable 10 kts, the full sailed Bahia and JY will begin to require a bit more leverage than hiking out supplies, depending on crew weight. This is the beginning of the wind range that requires, or at least benefits from, using the trapeze. If you’re comfortable with your crew and/or your ability to drive the boat, start to use this. It’s a lot of fun to trapeze while single-handing and is arguably the most fun you can have without flying the kite, but be prepared to swim on your first few outings.

As the wind increases further to the over 15 kt range, the challenge really starts to kick in. Depending on your and your crews weight and skill, you'll need to consider various ways to depower, the most obvious being reefing. If you're luffing your sail more than not, you should be reefed. Another way to depower your main sail, is to pull on your cunningham. As the wind comes up, you should also use your vang/gnav to flatten the sail and change the placement of your draft in balance with your additional cunningham. This is the standard sail trim and depowering technique. As you struggle to keep the boat powered and moving, you can start to ease your jib a bit. This has the tendency to twist off the top of the sail and allow the boat to breathe a little bit by opening the slot between your main and jib. Closing this slot is what causes the “speed bubble” in the main, due to the wind coming off the jib backwinding and the main. As you’re “more” overpowered, you can ease your vang/gnav to twist off the top of your main sail.

One of the things that I haven’t seen done often at CSC is changing the placement of the centerboard while sailing. It’s commonly thought, at least at first that your boat is “under control” if it’s upright, but in reality, your boat is only under control when you are able to make headway and able to maneuver in some capacity. For this reason, I suggest that when extremely overpowered (repeatedly capsizing or completely luffing), you try raising your centerboard a bit. If you look at the diagram, you can see that as the length of the centerboard is reduced, you allow the boat to slip sideways more, but at the same time, you’re reducing the rotational torque that it’s causing on the boat by reducing both its lever arm and area. This allows the boat to slip sideways more but also reduces the leverage and reduces the heeling “force.” Although you may immediately argue that this is hurtful to your ability to get upwind, it allows you to trim your sails as opposed to luffing. When your sails are luffing, the only force on them is to leeward. However, once your sails are trimmed and have some proper shape, you have a driving force forward. For this reason, it is best to trim your sails to your course, then trim your weight and centerboard to match each other in their torque (rolling force) on the boat. As the boat increases in speed, your centerboard will create lift, which will “lift” you to windward. This lift is proportional to your speed, so as your boat speed increases, your leeway will reduce dramatically. This is much preferred over the scenario where the overpowered boat drifts sideways and you can’t sheet the sails without risk of immediate capsize. 

In other words, if we focus on the rotation portion, the torque counteracting the wind and water comes from the crew weight (or the lead at the bottom of the keel in a keelboat). Torque is force multiplied by length, so getting your weight out of the boat more, such as being on the trapeze or hiking, benefits your righting moment dramatically. This is part of the reason sails are lowered when it’s windy, it reduces the heeling force (torque) on the boat. Likewise, you can do this by lifting your centerboard to “reef” your centerboard. This, like a reefing a sail, both reduces the area as well as the length over which this force is acting.

Another important thing that isn’t often mentioned around the club is the region around a beam reach that opens up in (very) high winds, which is affectionately called the zone of death (ZOD). The ZOD arises when it’s too windy to keep the boat upright with all your weight utilized to its limit on a reach. This is basically when you find yourself completely overpowered. In any case, the existence of the ZOD means that you are now limited to only upwind and downwind sailing and not too much in between. This is a result of a beam reach being your fastest and most powered up point of sail. When you’re sailing in winds with the ZOD, your next biggest concern, other than staying upright when sailing in a straight line, is getting between up- and downwind courses. To do this, you must make a smooth and decisive maneuver to bear away. It’s helpful to have your weight toward the back of the boat and have pre-eased the jib. Once downwind on a broad reach, you can relax a bit and steer for heel with the main eased a few feet off the aft quarter and ease in the gusts. The most important thing when sailing in these conditions is to keep the boat moving and flat. Once you have leeward heel, you will likely round up and broach, leading to your next chance to master the bear away. 

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Michael Sherrell
1. So running downwind in high wind conditions, you're saying to keep the main close to the centerline of the boat, just eased a f... Read More
Thursday, 17 March 2016 07:32
James Clarkson
1. In high wind conditions, what you really want is control over the boat and the best way to do this is with speed. The more spe... Read More
Thursday, 17 March 2016 10:23
Michael Sherrell
On all our dinghys except the Laser, you don't raise the centerboard, you swivel it. A little bit of it disappears into the hull, ... Read More
Sunday, 22 May 2016 20:32
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Demystifying Apparent Wind - Part 2

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Last time, we looked at apparent wind and how it changes as you change point of sail. In that discussion, the speed and direction of the true wind was the same and the boat direction changed. Here we look at what happens when you're keeping the boat course the same, the wind direction doesn't change, but the wind speed does. It increases (a puff) or it decreases (a lull). You get both of these as you're traversing the Novice Area on a normal day (westerly winds), as the trees and gaps between them on the breakwater to the restaurant cause this uneven wind.

Again, we're using our Bahia-like dinghy and a 5 kt. wind. You're sailing close-hauled, so it looks like this:

The boat is 45 degrees to the true wind, but only 30 degrees to the apparent wind. Normal. Then you get a puff, say a pretty big one (10 knots, double the speed but out of the same direction). In that instant, your boat speed doesn't change (it needs time to do that), but your apparent wind does. It looks like this:

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Michael Sherrell
The point being that when you get a puff you can head up and sail closer to the true wind, i.e., get upwind faster, rather than si... Read More
Monday, 22 February 2016 10:35
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Demystifying Apparent Wind - Part 1

Demystifying Apparent Wind - Part 1
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A very common problem my students have voiced is that they have trouble figuring out where the wind's coming from. On the one hand, it shouldn't be so hard - turn your head and feel the wind on your ears. When it's the same on both ears, you're either looking straight into the wind or straight away from it. Or (less accurate) look at the yarn on the side stay.

Yet it's not so simple. You think of the wind as coming from the same direction, but when you sail, it doesn't seem to do that. It seems to shift a lot. And "you told me we couldn't sail higher than about 45 degrees into the wind, but that yarn on the stay has a much smaller angle than that". And (yet more observent) "We're sideways to the waves, so we should be on a beam reach, but the yarn says we're still somewhat upwind".

Welcome to the world of apparent wind. This is a simple concept to explain and  understand at a high level, but very hard to get at a detailed level. Everyone gets the simple explanation - you're peddling a bike at 10 knots on a calm day, what do you feel? A 10 knot headwind. The speed you're generating adds to the wind speed to create the wind you feel, the apparent wind. The apparent wind is what you and the bike feel. Peddaling 10 knots in a 10 knot headwind, and you're pumping against a 20 knot apparent wind. Doing the same in a 10 knot tail wind, and Bob's very much your uncle.

Those with a math background easily grasp that this is a vector algebra problem - the boat wind speed adds up with the true wind speed as vectors, where both the speeds and the directions interact. But even if you get that, it's truly hard to see how it all plays out on the water. And I'm speaking as someone with a graduate education in mathematics. In editing this blog, I realized that I had messed up a calculation in my first draft. If you sit down to do the calculations, you have to determine what your boat speed will be at a given true wind speed and point of sail (angle of the boat to the wind). Polar performance diagrams will show this, but good luck finding these for any of our dinghy's.

So my point is that it's quite difficult to build a mental model of this. Instead, you can get a feel of how it happens on the water without trying to understand why, exactly. I did the math from a guess of a polar diagram for a boat similar to a Laser Bahia at 5 knots wind. If you're not racing, it doesn't matter how accurate this is. But it should be pretty typical.

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Michael Sherrell
The yarn on the shrouds will also tell you the precise apparent wind direction, in anything over a few knots.
Tuesday, 01 December 2015 13:07
Nathan Ilten
It would be a great senior project for someone to make some polars for our dinghies! There are enough people in the club with GPS ... Read More
Tuesday, 01 December 2015 23:06
Michael Sherrell
What is a "polar"?
Wednesday, 02 December 2015 07:36
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Cruising above the 49th Parallel

Cruising above the 49th Parallel
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Over the past several years, CSC has organized a number of epic dinghy cruises: to Angel Island (with camping!), out under the Golden Gate Bridge, and to China Camp, just to name a few. Although I've missed out on most of these, I recently got to take part in something equally awesome: a three-day cruise from Vancouver to Keats Island, organized by the UBC Sailing Club.

Keats Island lies northwest of Vancouver along British Columbia's Sunshine Coast, about 13 nautical miles from Jericho Sailing Center, where UBC Sailing houses its boats. The island is home to Plumper Cover Provincial Park, which sports a beautiful campground, and is only accessible by boat.  The route there from Jericho involves sailing out from the English Bay into relatively open waters in the Straight of Georgia, before passing through a channel north towards Keats.

 

Our fleet left Vancouver on the morning of Saturday, August 1st, and consisted of seven Vanguards, two Hobie 16s, two F18 catamarans, and one RS500. We had a chase fleet consisting of a larger powerboat, a Boston Whaler, and a small Zodiac. Most of our gear, as well a number of participants not lucky enough to get a sailing spot, got transported to Keats on a water taxi. All told, we had about 40 participants. Since Plumper Cove doesn't allow campsite reservations, we had shipped a number of tents and a few brave campers over several days earlier to stake out our spot. The first Monday in August is a holiday in British Columbia, so we needed to ensure that we had somewhere to camp.

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Right-of-Way Trivia

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I love trivia. Probably my age, or my geek background.

When I go over right-of-way rules with students, I tell them this is a trick question. Sailboat and kayak - who has right of way? Any answer they give is wrong, although it's interesting to see the reasoning behind it (kayak more maneuverable, etc.), and that in itself is useful - on the water, what would you do?. The answer is that it's not covered in the Naviagation Rules. Really. I was a kayaking instructor for 10 years, and in a moment of boredom, I read the entire Navigation Rules looking for things that applied to kayaks. Exactly one reference:

Rule 25 - Sailing Vessels Underway and Vessels Under Oars 

(ii) A vessel under oars may exhibit the lights prescribed in this rule for sailing vessels, but if she does not, she shall exhibit an all around white light or have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.

Not useful for right-of-way. O course the generic any vessel rules apply to a kayak (sailboat overtaking a kayak, or for that matter a slow moving powerboat, must give way).

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Nathan Ilten
Interesting post, John! I do believe, though, that Colregs and Racing Rules agree on the definition of windward/leeward. In your... Read More
Sunday, 12 July 2015 10:19
John Bongiovanni
You're probably right, but I have to say that the Navigation Rules (and official USCG guidance) are pretty vague. I've always thou... Read More
Sunday, 12 July 2015 13:09
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Docking in Low Tide

Docking in Low Tide
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I posted while ago on launching in low tides. The idea was close attention to sail trim. The common mistake is to over-sheet the main leaving the dock, and even with full centerboard you'll drift sideways into the Cal Adventures dock.

Here I want to talk about docking in low tide. 

There are several problems. One is recognizing that it's low tide. It's easy going out with a "fresh" boat (you push the centerboard/rudder down and feel the mud, so you bring it up a few inches). But coming back you have to recognize and plan it. My rule of thumb for Bahias is that a tide of under +2.0 means you have to raise the centerboard and/or rudder. Plan for it, and raise both on the way in. When it's all the way down, the centerboard is about a foot lower than the rudder fully down, so you can adjust the two differently.  In very low tides, the rudder will be just below the water, horizontal. It will work, but it will be very  hard to use, and hard to turn quickly. Also, the stress on the rudder when it's parallel to the water surface is in a direction it's not designed for. So it's best to limit the amount of time you sail with the rudder in that position.

You will find that the boat handles differently with the centerboard up (or raised above the normal, fully down position). An important thing in docking is that the pivot point of the boat is farther aft, which means that where the boat actually turns in the water will also be farther aft.

The dock approach will be different in low tides. You can't use the standard "come in on a beam reach and slow sail to the dock". Your leeway with the centerboard up will be too much. Even if you aim for the south end of the dock, you'll be lucky not to hit the sea-wall (painful personal lesson here).

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Michael Sherrell
Alternate technique: Uncleat the rudder, keep your speed up, let the mud raise your centerboard, and plow through the mud! (Note J... Read More
Tuesday, 09 June 2015 11:20
John Bongiovanni
In a south wind, you'd be toast. Right into the seawall. The centerboard will still be dragging a bit in the mud, preventing you f... Read More
Tuesday, 09 June 2015 22:56
Michael Sherrell
That's probably true, but the idea would be to be on a line into the dock before you hit mud. A south wind would help drive you th... Read More
Friday, 26 June 2015 17:15
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Advanced Boat Handling - Another Great Advanced Dinghy Lesson

Advanced Boat Handling - Another Great Advanced Dinghy Lesson

The Advanced Dinghy lessons this year have been uniformly great.

This week's was no exception - boat handling by Jonas Kellner, a club member who's been sailing for over 30 years and teaching sailing and racing for almost as long.

Someone asked Jonas before the class whether he'd be teaching racing tactics. He said that he could, but knowing the best tactic for a given situation is useless if you can't execute the maneuver. He'd be focusing on the latter.

We had a pre-sail briefing, where Jonas explained what we'd be doing. 8 exercises around a set of buoys in a line perpendicular to the wind (so basically beam reach). The first and last exercises were slalom course, where we were to keep as tight to each buoy as we could.

The intermediate exercises were ovals around the set of buoys (counter-clockwise in all cases). They were technical exercises, designed to improve boat handling skills:

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Downwind sailing and the evils of rounding up

Downwind sailing and the evils of rounding up
One of the common pitfalls of sailing a dinghy downwind is that in a sudden gust, the boat will start to head up, leading to a capsize. In this blog post, I'd like to share some of my thoughts on the factors in play and how to best deal with them. This discussion applies to sailing with just main and jib, as well as to those thrill-seekers using a gennaker.
 
To begin with, why does your dinghy insist on heading up in a gust? There are (at least) two factors involved. To begin with, your dinghy typically has a bit of weather helm: to get technical, the center of effort (COE) on your sails lies slightly behind the center of lateral resistance (CLR) created by your dinghy's foils. In normal conditions, a bit of weather helm makes for a nice responsive tiller that helps you to better "feel" the boat and the wind. However, as the force on the sails increases as happens during a gust, the discrepancy between the COE and CLR is amplified, causing more and more weather helm. This effect will cause your boat to want to head up more strongly during a gust.
 
However, the natural weather helm caused by the discrepancy between COE and CLR isn't typically what will cause you problems. Instead, it is the additional weather helm caused by excessive heeling. Indeed, as the boat heels more, the hull's interaction with the water creates extra weather helm. Furthermore, your rudder is now only partially submerged, giving you less control over rounding up. And that is just the beginning: assuming that you are sailing below a beam reach, the more the boat rounds up, the more the heeling force on the sails increase. This causes more rounding up, which causes more heeling which causes... you can see that this will probably end with you getting wet.
 
Now that we know two of the main factors in play, let's consider three different scenarios.
  • First scenario: you're sailing on a dead run when a gust hits. The force of the wind on the main will indeed cause the boat to want to round up a bit. However, since you're on a run, it won't cause much heeling, so you only have the first aforementioned factor to deal with.
  • Second scenario: you're on a broad reach when a gust hits. Now you're in trouble -- you have both excessive weather helm coming from the force on the main, as well as weather helm caused by heeling. As you round up towards a beam reach, you can't depower the main, and you may end up capsizing.
  • Third scenario: you're on a beam reach when the gust hits. Again, both factors will apply, but as the boat rounds up above a beam, the main will start to depower, reducing heeling and weather helm and saving your bacon.
From the above analysis, we see that the danger of rounding up and capsizing is greatest when sailing close to a broad reach. But never fear: we have some powerful weapons at hand in combating the evil demon of weather helm.
 
First, we would like to be able to depower the main sail while sailing on a broad reach; this will decrease both natural weather helm and excessive heeling. Our first weapon for doing this is the vang or gnav. Easing this control in a gust lets the top portion of the sail twist away from the wind. While crewing for one of our club's most experienced dinghy sailors during the infamous Fast Track squall of May '12, my skipper had me blowing the gnav in every gust, and this is what let us limp back to the club in (more or less) once piece.
 
Our second weapon in depowering the main is of course the main sheet. If the wind is howling 20 knots and your Bahia is screaming along on a broad reach, chances are that your high boat speed is shifting the apparent wind far enough forwards that your main sheet should not be all the way out. The added bonus is that when the gust comes, you can now ease the sheet to help balance the boat and depower the main. If you instead neglected to sheet your mainsail in at all, you can't depower  by easing the main! 
 
Apart from depowering the main sail, the above analysis tells us that we want to do everything possible to keep the boat flat. Anticipating the gusts and aggressively falling off is key. Likewise, hard, aggressive hiking (or even sending crew out on the wire) are also important. Keep in mind, though, that if you are already hiking out hard before the gust hits, you won't be able to up the ante when you need to. Just as with the main sheet, it is highly advantageous to have a bit of room to make adjustment during gusts. Finally, aggressively sheeting in the jib (or gennaker) in gusts so that it stalls a bit will shift the COE forward in the boat, which will also decrease weather helm. Likewise, raking the centerboard aft slightly will shift CLR aft, also decreasing weather helm.
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John Bongiovanni
Great post, Nathan. One thing that I can't figure out is sheeting in the main on a broad reach. I guess the apparent wind has to ... Read More
Saturday, 09 May 2015 17:55
Nathan Ilten
John: Thanks! First of all, let's suppose that you've sheeted in the main "too far" so that the sail is stalling a bit. You are a... Read More
Saturday, 09 May 2015 22:41
John Bongiovanni
To reinforce something you mentioned but didn't highlight. I was out today with James C (great, wet experience), and he showed me... Read More
Saturday, 13 June 2015 20:37
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Advanced Dinghy Lessons Start with a Bang!

Philippe on the subject of sail trimming and especially use of the gnav (according to him, an under-used tool).

Philippe is an an incredible sailor and an amazing instructor.  We spent about half of the time on land with an RS Venture looking how the various sail controls affected sail shape and talking about what sail shape you want for what conditions (it was blowing over 15 kt. this evening, by the way, with pretty big seas - we  had a lot of weight on the boat on land to make sure it didn't capsize into the cars parked near the clubhouse). On land, it was much easier to see the effects of various controls on the sail shape.

This is my lesson summary (feel free to comment):

Scope: Dinghies which generally don't have travelers.

  1. Sail shape is very important. The usual things about depth and power, and location of sail draft. With lighter winds, you want a fuller sail and a draft a bit aft. With heavier winds, you want a tighter sail and a draft forward.
  2. In heavier seas, you want more power, even with stronger winds.
  3. Tensioning the Cunningham brings the draft forward.
  4. The outhall affects the lower third of the sail.
  5. Several controls bend the mast aft, which tighten the sail and move the draft forward. Tightening the mainsheet and the gnav do this.
  6. In high winds, you don't want the boom near the center of the boat, as the lift from the sail is mostly sideways to the boat. But just easing the mainsheet induces twist in the sail. Tightening the gnav overcomes this, allowing the mainsail to go to a better angle, but preserving the sail tightness.
  7. Bearing off from close-hauled, you want to do several things.  One is ease the mainsheet. Another is to keep weight on the windward side to help turn the boat downwind. A third is to ease the gnav (and then tighten it when on course).
  8. Gybe-ing:
    1. Blow the gnav before the gybe (this will depower the sail and cause the top of the sail to back-wind before the bottom of the sail, producing a gentler gybe).
    2. Weight the boat to windward to turn it down-wind through the wind. If you reach across to pull the boom across, you'll mess this up.
    3. If done correctly, the wind will gently pull the mainsail across. Grab the sheets as this happens to buffer it.
    4. Power up after the gybe by tightening the gnav

Then we went out and did it, both upwind and downwind. And it worked. I was prepared for hikiing really far out with the winds we had, but we didn't have to. And it was amazing how gentle the gybes were with this technique. Note that in bearing off and gbye-ing, you're doing what you would do rudder-less - moving weight to turn the boat. After the class, I discussed that with Philippe, and  his opinion (as a racer of some renown) is that the more you can use your weight to  maneuver the boat, the better (i.e. faster) you'll sail.

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John Bongiovanni
I want to add a couple of things to this. One is that I talked with Philippe today and asked hiim if I got it all right. He said ... Read More
Wednesday, 22 April 2015 19:52
Francisco Kattan
Thanks to John and Philippe for the great writeup and lesson. I've got some new things to try, especially releasing the gnab du... Read More
Thursday, 23 April 2015 18:07
Christian
Great stuff. Thank for the post!
Thursday, 23 April 2015 18:56
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There be dragons here!

There be dragons here!

While you spoiled Californians may have been venturing out onto the water all winter long, most of us in Vancouver are just starting our sailing season -- we don't like frostbitten toes! This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of crewing on a Dragon in a one-design regatta. The Dragon is a "modern classic": designed in 1929 with extremely elegant lines, this 29 footer has been updated again and again to remain an exciting keelboat. She has a furling jib, a symmetric spinnaker which launches from a chute below deck (very similar to our Bahias), and really feels more like an incredibly large dinghy than a keelboat. Her RYA handicap puts her just a bit slower than a 470, so she would destroy one of our Bahias in a race.

This was my first time racing on a keelboat, and I don't know why I waited so long to do it! It was fascinating to see a keelboat set up for racing, in contrast to our Commanders which are set up for, well, pretty much the exact opposite of racing. Did somebody say "spinnaker practice?" I must have hoisted and doused the kite ten times, and I can't even count the number of times we gybed with it up. At the beginning of the day I was just concentrating on not wrapping the jib sheets around the spinnaker pole, but by the end of the day I was doing end for end gybes on the foredeck fairly smoothly. As they say, practice makes perfect. Even with my bumbling help, our Dragon "Rum 'n' Monkey" managed to place solidly in the middle of the fleet. I look forward to honing my skills throughout the summer; I think once our crew of three gets dialed in, we'll be unstoppable (or at least close to it).

If you ever get a chance to sail a Dragon, I recommend you take it -- they are pretty fun boats! But even more importantly, all you aspiring dinghy sailors should take any opportunity you can to crew during keelboat races. It's fun, and you'll learn a lot, including many things which will improve on your dinghy sailing. Fortunately, Friday evening racing at Berkeley Yacht Club has just started up for the season. If you show up at O-dock at the Berkeley marina around 5:30pm any Friday evening (dressed to sail and with a six-pack for after the races) chances are you'll get a crew spot on a boat. It's a chance too good to miss.

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Lester Gee
Dragons are gorgeous boats. Saw them racing during my brief stay in Seattle. Similar boat you can find here locally are the Colu... Read More
Thursday, 16 April 2015 08:34
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Man Overboard on Dinghies

b2ap3_thumbnail_MOB-Broad-Reach.png

There are at least 4 ways of doing this, and all of them have their advocates  (which means that there are advantages and disadvantages of each, and each is optimized for different circumstances). 

I think most instructors at the Club teach the Broad Reach (or Deep Beam Reach) procedure.

1. Immediately go to a Broad Reach
2. Sail for a small number of boat lengths (it doesn't matter how many, just get far enough away from the MOB to give you room to maneuver and sail back)
3. Tack around, furl the jib
4. You're on a close reach, slow-sail to the MOB

Advantages:

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Michael Sherrell
1. Picking up MOB on downwind side of boat or over transom only works if MOB is conscious and functional. To haul them in with bru... Read More
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 08:26
Stephanie Evans
While Quickstop makes a lot of sense theoretically, the reality of crew going over board is typically a high wind situation where ... Read More
Monday, 16 March 2015 14:08
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Leaving J-Dock

Leaving J-Dock
So, you're getting ready to take a keelboat out for a sail.  You have three goals in mind for getting the boat ready and departing the dock:
1) Safety of you, your crew/guests, and other marina users;
2) Avoiding damage or excessive wear and tear to your boat and others nearby; and
3) An efficient and enjoyable preparation and departure so that you get out sailing quickly and without unnecessary stress.  

It might seem that these goals conflict, and that in order to prioritize goals 1 or 2, you might have to sacrifice goal 2 or 3.  Sometimes, that happens. But that should be the exception, not the norm. The point of this post is to offer a big picture framework for how you can meet all of these goals at once.  Note that this is NOT a comprehensive checklist - your checklist fits within these steps (mostly in step 2).  

  1. Choose your equipment (boat, jib) based on conditions, your crew members, and the goals of the trip.  You probably have thought about these factors before you even get to J-dock, but be ready to reconsider your plan if conditions are different than you expected.  Remember to consult the maintenance log.  
  2. Prepare the boat and your crew while doing everything except raising the sails (raising the sails comes last).  While you and your crew are doing safety checks and getting everything set up, you should be thinking at least as much about your crew as you are about the boat, especially if you have not sailed with the crew much on the keelboats.   
    1. Ask questions about each person’s experience and comfort with the boat and conditions.  
    2. Give each person tasks to help with preparations.  Watch how they complete these tasks, and ask questions.  Do they demonstrate skill and familiarity with the equipment?  Are they comfortable moving about the boat?  Are they clumsy?  Give pointers as needed.  Evaluate who your most and least skilled crew members are.  Is there anyone that you will need to pay extra attention to in order to ensure their safety and comfort while sailing?  
    3. Does everyone have appropriate gear (foulies, whistles, lights, water, etc) for the activity and conditions?  
    4. Do you need to change the plan, equipment, etc based on what you’ve learned about your crew?  Do you need to get one (or more) skilled crew members?    
  3. Include everyone in a brief discussion about safety on the boat and the departure process.  Consider asking one of your more experienced crew members (any senior wannabe) to give the safety talk and propose a plan for departure.  Give feedback.  Make sure that everyone understands their role for the departure plan.  Does the dock person know how to step on?   Encourage questions! Take your time answering.  It’s best to handle questions before the sails are up because it is quieter, calmer, and avoids unnecessary wear and tear on the sails.  
  4. Take off all dock lines except for the one(s) you’ll need to keep the boat in proper position while raising any appropriate sail(s), given the wind direction.  Reposition the boat, if needed.  Raise the sail(s) and cast off.  Have crew help to avoid rubbing the boat against the dock while repositioning and raising sail(s). Be safe and have fun!  
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Low Tide Launching/Docking

Low Tide Launching/Docking

We've all experienced this, either as sailors or instructors.

You're going away from the dock, parallel to it, but somehow you're getting pushed sideways into the middle dock. Or you're docking, and you have a huge amount of leeway, pushing you into the seawall.

What I learned in the Advanced Dinghy class from Yves is that it's all about sail trim. Even with the centerboard completely down, you have a huge sideways force if you oversheet. Not only is the sail not as efficient as it could be, but the force is more sideways than forward. With the centerboard up (for low tides), the effect is worse.

This is the season of rip-roaring tides (it can go from more than 6' at noon to negative '1 at 6 pm, and the dock time has been as early as 3:30 some weeks).

Thanks to what I learned from Yves, I've been doing the following in my lessons when we had to dock with less than full centerboard. As soon as we get away from the dock, I raise the centerboard, and we sail, completely focused on sail trim. Jib is easy, mainsail more difficult (but more important). I try to get the students completely focused on sail trim. I tell them "They'll tell
you that you can't tack without a centerboard, but they're wrong" after they've tacked without a centerboard.

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Main Sail Trim by the Tell Tales

Main Sail Trim by the Tell Tales

There's a great book called Mainsail Trimming by Felix Marks that goes into this in great detail. A lot of it doesn't apply to dinghies (travelers, for example). But one thing does - trimming the mainsail using the mainsail telltales.

The telltalls are on the leech (back edge) of the sail, and when sailing upwind from a beam reach  and forward (when the sail is a wing), the tell tales should be streaming, just like both of the jib telltales. But what if they aren't? For the jib telltales, we have the guidelines "move the sail toward the telltale that isn't streaming" or "move the tiller toward the telltale that isn't streaming", and students seem to get that. But I don't think we talk enough about trimming the mainsail using the telltales (I could be wrong here, just my observation).

So (on a beam reach and above), if the mainsail telltales aren't streaming, they're curling to one side--windward or leeward. That's just like one of the jib telltales not streaming while the other one is. Move the sail that direction (as in, ease out if streaming to leeward and trim in if streaming to windward), or move the tiller that direction. Essentially the same thing as you would do to trim the jib.

I've seen a tendency in students to oversheet the main, so I think it's useful to sensitize them to this, and the mainsail telltales are one way to do this.

You can also use the mainsail telltales in a gybe. I went on the water once with Stefano Maffuli and a friend of his who had been head instructor at St. Francis Yacht Club (grazie, Stefano). He said that the mainsail telltales were the best indicator of when to pull the main across in a gybe. They show exactly when the main is back-winded--a much better signal than the jib coming across.

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