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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

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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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Tips for skippering with crew on the wire

Tips for skippering with crew on the wire

Almost all of Cal Sailing's dinghies are equipped with a trapeze kit, and with good reason: our typical stiff summer breezes make it all but a necessity to send someone out on the wire. Having crew out on the wire  can be tons of fun for both you and your crew, but can also be quite a challenge. Here are some tips which can help.

Let's assume that you as skipper have two goals:

  1. Move the boat upwind as quickly as possible.
  2. Make your crew feel comfortable on the wire.

Now, your crew will probably be most comfortable if the boat is kept relatively flat, sudden changes to heel angle are avoided, and the crew is not required to shift her weight. In other words, she can calmly stand on the rail doing nothing but admiring the view (and calling out gusts and lulls).

On the other hand, in order to make your boat move upwind as quickly as possible, you want to keep the boat flat, and to keep  your close-hauled jib at the proper angle of attack to the wind, so that it neither stalls nor luffs.

You, the skipper, have three controls at your disposal: tiller, main sheet, and your body weight. So how do you keep both your crew and the boat happy? Firstly, steer with the tiller to keep the jib at the proper angle to the wind. Secondly, use a combination of body weight and main sheet trim to keep the boat flat. In practice, it is a good idea to hike out moderately and then trim the main accordingly. Indeed, the more you power up the main (while keeping the boat flat), the faster you go. Furthermore, if the wind comes up or down, you still have two controls at your disposal: in a gust, dump the main and hike out hard, and in a lull, sheet in and shift your weight leeward.

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Michael Sherrell
So this technique requires you to distinguish between a wind puff and a wind shift when you suddenly get an increase of heel, does... Read More
Friday, 05 September 2014 14:08
Michael Sherrell
Gives me something to work on, for sure.
Friday, 05 September 2014 14:13
Stefano Maffulli
Waves also play a role in changing the apparent wind: when the bow nose dives into a wave the boat may slow down changing the appa... Read More
Friday, 05 September 2014 14:38
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Single-Handing in High Wind

Single-Handing in High Wind

Most senior dinghy tests involve assessing the skipper's ability to single hand a dinghy in high winds. And indeed, this is an essential skill. Imagine that you're out in the South Sailing Basin on a beautiful summer afternoon. It's blowing 15 knots, and you and your crew are hiked out all the way when suddenly the hiking strap breaks, and your crew ends up in the drink. (See e.g.  http://youtu.be/ZZTwH8C5bjo for an excellent demonstration by our current Commodore). If you can't pull off a single-handed crew overboard maneuver, your crew will end up on the rocks by Emeryville while you wait for the rescue skiff to arrive.

Here are a couple of pointers which will help you single-hand like a pro.

Depowering the sails. Unless you have the stature of an NFL linebacker, chances are that you will have difficulty keeping the boat flat unless you take some steps to depower the sails. Reefing the main and furling the jib are good starting points. Tightening up the luff of the sail with the Cunningham and/or reefing line will help to flatten the sail, reducing its heeling force. Loosening up the vang or gnav will allow the head of the mainsail to twist and luff, all the while keeping the bottom of the sail powered up.

Balancing the boat. Balance is always key in sailing. Since you no longer have crew in the boat, you'll have to use your own weight much more effectively. Moving forward is essential; otherwise, the bow of the boat gets battered around by waves. Aggressively hiking out will help keep the boat flat. If you're lucky enough to be wearing a harness and your tiller extension is long enough, you can even go out on the trapeze! 

Tacking and jibing. Tacking a dinghy while single-handed in high wind can be quite challenging; large swells crashing against the bow of the boat tend to slow the boat before it passes through irons, causing the tack to fail. Furling the jib and loosening the vang as suggested above compound the problem, as the boat no longer points as high. In some situations, jibing the boat is the only viable option for switching tacks. For this, loosen up the vang (if this wasn't already done), and start the jibe with a maximal amount of boat speed. You'll have to aggressively use your weight and the tiller to keep the dinghy from rounding up and broaching.

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Michael Sherrell
If things look too hairy, consider capsizing immediately and hoping the COB can make his/her way to you. Although usually when som... Read More
Monday, 22 February 2016 11:02
Nathan Ilten
Great suggestion, Mike. Even better: anchor. If it really is that hairy, chances are that your capsized boat will still be moving ... Read More
Tuesday, 23 February 2016 11:10
Michael Sherrell
If you're trying to tack and nearly make it but not quite, chances are at the highest point you reach you will start being blown b... Read More
Monday, 25 July 2016 10:38
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Use The Force

Use The Force

When we sail we use all our senses, but the one we rely most heavily on is our sight.  This was brought home to me when I took my first Wednesday night keelboat lesson several years ago.  I had grown accustomed to using the telltales on the shrouds to get a general sense of the wind when sailing the dinghies.  I even carried some bits of yarn in case the boat I was on didn’t have any.  I took the helm on the keelboat on a dark night and--oh crap--I couldn’t  see the tell tales.  I struggled that night, but realized that what had started as an aid had become a crutch.

The last Monday night advanced dinghy class, we worked on sailing without any sight at all.   But you don’t need a class to try it.  First make sure you have decent crew who is not blindfolded, and that you’re in an area with a lot of space (few boats and no obstructions).  Pick a day with moderate wind.   Put a blindfold on and try to hold a course.  Your crew can give you feedback.  Try to feel the puffs of wind before they hit the boat.  Pay attention to the balance of the boat.  Listen to the sound of the boat moving through the water.  Play with the main sheet.  Can you tell when the boat accelerates and decelerates?  Smell your gear, yeah, you should probably wash it.   Try sailing different points of sail.  If you’re feeling confident try a tack.

It’s as easy as bagging womp rats back home in Beggar’s Canyon.

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John DuMoulin
Thats a great idea! I used to do that when I was learning to windsurf. If I was having some inexplicable problem with sailing diff... Read More
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 16:34
John Bongiovanni
This was a great exercise in the advanced dinghy class. I figured out that the tension on the mainsheet was the clue. Head up unti... Read More
Friday, 11 July 2014 21:25
Michael Sherrell
Very useful comment, John. I was there but I didn't figure that out. By the way, Seamus, what the f*** is a "womp rat"?... Read More
Sunday, 13 July 2014 11:23
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Friday the 13th Cruise to Clipper Cove

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It was Friday the 13th, and a full moon. What better time to go on a cruise; what could possibly go wrong?

Eleven sailors in five dinghies left the dock at about 4:30pm. A little later than the announced departure time, but about when I figured we would actually shove off. The wind was very light in the junior area but picked up to a lovely 10 knots or so once we got a bit past the restaurant. We had a pleasant and uneventful sail to Treasure Island, and pulled our boats up on the little beach at Clipper Cove. Of course we had the traditional capsizing of the last boat to arrive.

 

[Left: Josh Leihe and Auric Horneman taking down the last Bahia; Right: CSC boats beached at Clipper Cove]

With the boats pulled well above the water line, we made the short walk to the Treasure Island Bar and Grill. I don’t know about everybody else, but while I enjoyed my food I kept thinking: I hope the wind doesn’t die, I hope the wind doesn’t die, I hope the wind doesn’t die. After eating, kibitzing and telling lies about how fast we had sailed there, we walked back to the boats. I looked out over the water and, you guessed it, the wind had died. Now, this wasn’t the end of the world. We had the sketch motor mounted on the Venture, but it was going to be a slow slog back with a 2 horsepower motor and 5 boats. As we looked despairingly eastward at the glassy water, what did we see? Could it be? Yes, it was Michael “The St. Bernard of the Sea” Moore coming towards us on the rescue skiff! He brought the skiff up to the beach and casually asked “Do you guys want a tow?” We got the boats off the beach, and Michael maneuvered around so we could each attach our bow painters to the tow line.

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Rudderless But Not Adrift: Sailing Without Your Rudder

We covered rudderless sailing at our Monday afternoon advanced dinghy lessons last week. Knowing how to rudderlessly sail is crucial not only in the (sort of rare at CSC) event that your rudder falls off (!), but also deepens your understanding of sail trim, boat handling, and makes you look pretty epic out there on the Bay. And let's face it: if you look good, you're probably sailing gooder.

It's also a skill you need to know to pass your senior dinghy & keelboat practical tests at CSC.

One simple resource that can be useful to get your started is this rudderless e-book (click the link to download), written by CSC member Joel Brand. 

Some pointers from our rudderless practice session and discussion last week:

If in a dinghy, try and get your rudder completely out of the water. It can still affect your course if it's in the water. As with all these tips provided below, however, try all sorts of different ways to maneuver and see what happens. Try it with the ruddder up, then down and swinging freely. Wind strength, waves, sail plan, and weight in the boat will all affect how your actions impact your course corrections...much like on any given day. Experiment!

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Nathan Ilten
Great tips! Here is another: Loosening your gnav will help with jibing.
Wednesday, 04 June 2014 10:34
Peter /"Margaret"/ Kuhn
Sit down sailors--especially those of modest proportions--often don't appreciate that rudderless sailing in CSC dinghies requires ... Read More
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 08:17
Michael Sherrell
Antony's rudder fell off last week. S*** happens.
Friday, 11 July 2014 09:44
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Memorial Day Cruise to Angel Island

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What gets a bunch of sailors out of bed before 8am on a weekend?  The annual cruise to angel Island of course! 30 CSC members and guests poured into Commanders and Merits for a gorgeous sail to the aptly named Island, for a sizable feast that would make your grandmother proud. 

Creaking at the seams, some of us chose to hike off the calories, others napped, and many took the short hike/quick nap combo that capitalized on the best of both worlds. 

The sail back was mostly uneventful, with half of of us sailing down Raccoon straits, around the Island and into Berkeley, and the other half taking a straight shot back to Berkeley. It was scorching in the wind shadow of Angel Island, but cooled off nicely with a 5knt breeze as we cruised into the Berkeley Marina. 

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State of the Fleet

State of the Fleet

Sailing in the Bay is rough on equipment, including our club's fleet of dinghies. These boats are kept operational through volunteer work spearheaded by our co-first vice commodores, Dan Rolinek and Seamus Vanecko. They were kind enough to take a break between the never-ceasing boat repairs to fill us in on the state of our fleet. 


What is the current state of our dinghy fleet? How much life do our dinghies have left in them? 

The Ventures and 500s are new and holding up well.  The Bahias are starting to show their age.  The biggest issue is that they develop cracks in the cockpit floor.  We’ve developed a fix for this (you may have notices a few with big platic pieces glued and screwed to the floor), but we don’t know how long that will hold up.  Not much will stick to polyethylene, you need a special epoxy.  It’s a somewhat complicated process that involves flame treating the plastic so that the epoxy will adhere.  We just found a new product that may be simpler, but we haven’t had a chance to test it yet. The JYs are showing their age too, but they seem to keep going.

We've just got a number of new exciting RS boats, but what about our older workhorses? Is it possible to purchase replacement JY15s and Bahias? 

Unfortunately the Bahia manufacturer is not doing well, and it’s not possible to buy new Bahias currently.  It’s also difficult to get things like spars and foils. We probably won’t purchase more JYs as they are fairly expensive for an older design that doesn’t have a kite.  They don’t get sailed a whole lot except for racing.  Seniors want to fly the kite, and juniors for the most part are more comfortable on the boats they first learned on.  That’s too bad though.  I think the JY is a better boat if you’re a junior and can’t fly the kite. 

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How to (Not) Break a Mast

How to (Not) Break a Mast

 

 

 

Thursday, November 21st, 2013. After days of poor wind, the forecast finally calls for winds of above ten knots, with things getting pretty crazy later in the evening. I decide that it is time to skip out early on work and head down to the club. I ask my sailing buddy (and co-2nd vice) Chris Lalau Keraly if he’s up for a sail, to which he replies “Screw science, I'll be there at 3:30!” Chris is good to his word, and right as he arrives at 3:30, a Bahia pulls up to the dock, with gennaker rigged and ready to go. I take over the boat, and after putting our foulies on and picking up an aspiring junior as our third crew member, we’re ready to go!

The wind is coming from the north, so as soon as we get away from the dock, we hoist the gennaker and take off towards the toilet basin on a broad reach. Before getting too close, we jibe and start making a beeline for the southwest corner of the senior dinghy area. The windspeed seems to be varying between 10 and 15 knots, pretty patchy at times,  but we get in a good enough run with me at the tiller.

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