Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New Series

First race of the second half of the summer, and I had a Plan for my start.  I wanted to start 1/3 of the way up the (short, beam reach) line and be upwind of the competition.  That part worked, but my plan for a fast approach didn't as Steve and Bruce were early, and turned head-to-wind on the start line in front of me.  We started about even, but Steve managed to pull out ahead, inch by inch.  He told me later he'd sheeted his jib for the reach, and heeled the boat to weather.  It was a close reach, and so I wouldn't have thought that to be the best approach, but it worked...

We changed the course before the start: Down to X, up to 11, X, 11, finish, which gave two windward legs.  11 is in the lee of Bay Island.  Therefore, the center of the windward leg had a big wind shadow, and we had to decide which site to approach on.

We went around the corner toward the leeward mark, and we were overlapped with two boats.  We had already decided on a starboard rounding, and I was on the right side of the other boats, except Steve who was, as usual, in the process of disappearing in the lead.  So I rounded the lee mark in 2nd place and stayed on starboard across the channel.  I figured the better wind was on the right side of the island, so I tacked on to port and stayed there until I was almost at the layline.  This turned out ok, and we got closer to Steve than we had been at the leeward mark.

After the windward mark, though, I had to deal with Jonathan coming up on starboard tack, and then got stopped.  Steve went right, but I tried to follow and had NO wind for a minute or so, and of course the boats behind, Jonathan and Bruce, caught up. 

Jonathan's and my courses converged going downwind, and he blanketed me for a time.  Then, fortunately, he decided to go right to get the inside overlap, which cleared my wind.  Bruce caught up while we were slowing each other down/playing tactics.  When we started back upwind, I must have got on the wrong side of a shift or otherwise goofed up, because I had to duck Bruce on a port-starboard crossing.  I'm pretty sure we had the boat trimmed ok, and were moving ok, but Bruce made up a number of boat lengths in the first part of the beat.  Gotta figure out how that kinda stuff happens, and make it not happen :-)

Anyway, Jonathan got a bit slow for a part of the upwind leg pinching to try to avoid tacking -- not a good idea in a J22, and we got a solid 3rd place.  In retrospect, I generally consider Bruce to be the most important competition and should probably keep at least a loose cover on him when I get the chance, which is rare.  The split early in the 2nd leg gave him a chance I didn't need to give him, and it worked for him real well. 

Trying to keep learning: that's where the fun is!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sundowner Series, final race of first series

The ALYC Sundowner series is actually two series; the first is May and June, the second is July and August.  The last race of the first series was held last night in 6-10 knot winds inside Newport Harbor and started between Lido Island and the mainland.  Our group of six UCI J22s lined up for the start about 150 yards downwind from the sailbase.  Very convenient, in a way.  It's a very crowded start area. 

One of our group, Jonathan, elected not to raise his jib until the start, and had his jib already set up in the whisker pole.  Very clever, I thought.  I was about 10 seconds late to the start due to a misjudgement, and the series leader, Bruce, got a great start.  He tried to escape the wind shadow to the right, then was immediately blanketed by two other boats, so didn't get away, and we caught up gradually on the left side of the course.  The six boats jockeyed position all the way down the harbor to mark 6, a pylon channel marker, and I was about third rounding, right behind Bruce.  I tacked to get clear air and the next time I was in the group was in fifth position.  Every tack, I would look upwind and see one of our boats on my wind.  I started to feel like I had a target on me. 

The series leader and the third place boat for the series, Jonathan, were first and second at this point, and everyone else just ahead of us would tack onto our wind.  Oh, well.  We tried to ignore them and sail for speed on the shifts, but it was a challenge.  Definitely went the wrong way at least once, as one of the boats behind, Dave O' passed us.  We got ahead of two of the boats and Dave got by and away from us, so we established a solid 4th place.  As we went up the channel, the wind picked up a bit, and we were coming closer and closer to the third place boat, Dave O' who also was closing on second place Jonathan, but were unable to get close enough to threaten.

It was a very satisfying race, despite finishing 4th out of 6 boats, because it was so tight overall.  Going dead downwind in evenly matched boats is a very interesting exercise in tactics (protecting your wind, getting inside at the mark), and strategy, seeking the strongest winds.  I believe we ended up in 2nd place in the series, maybe 3rd.  We'll see how the scorers count it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

ALYC Sundowner Series 1, penultimate race

As the club is scoring this race, Bruce Thompson and I are tied for first heading into this one.  Naturally, I plan to get a great start, lead wire-to-wire, and win.  So much for that plan. 

We got a great start at the pin end, which appeared to be favored for getting down the course - closer to the leeward mark on the downwind start.  Again,  a traditional downwind start for the ALYC.  Would it have been so painful to send us up to a weather mark first?  Apparently, downwind is how ALYC starts, and that's that.

Only half of my regular crew was on board, B, plus Claudia who is delightful, obedient and very new.  While I thought B was up to speed with whisker pole work, I learned quickly that I was mistaken.  He and I have only spent one session doing the pole, and that simply wasn't enough to get the concepts cemented in place.  We spent the first 4 minutes of the race discussing how to set the whisker pole, and quickly slid from first to last place. 

In retrospect, I should have had him hold the tiller and keep the boat on course, while I set the pole up... but i didn't realize until too late that would have been the right course of action.  Oh, well.  We live and learn, right?

I spent the long downwind leg jockeying for position between Jane and Dave, i.e. between 4th and 6th place.  Somehow, I managed to break the overlap ahead with Dave toward the leeward mark, and then Jane had an encounter with a starboard tacker coming the other way, and took my stern.  So I got the mark rounding ok, then spent the rest of the race trying to figure out what tack to be on.  We did catch up a little on the boats ahead, but not nearly enough. 

So Bruce ended up over the horizon in first place, and I got a well earned fourth place.  I think this series will go to Bruce, unless a miracle happens next week. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sailing for Performance III

One thing Frank B talks about in High Performance Sailing is "modes."  There are three basic modes of sailing: underpowered, adequately powered, and overpowered.  When underpowered, the sails need to be tuned to maximize lift, which pulls the boat forward most effectively.  The extra drag that goes with it is not important (or not so important) because we need full sails that give lots of power to accelerate and move quickly in light air.

When the power is adequate to power a boat at hull speed, the situation changes a lot.  To go upwind in this situation, the sails need to be set for maximum efficiency, or max lift/drag ratio.  To get there, we pull on some vang, flatten the jib some with halyard, apply some cunningham and outhaul to the main.  Twist is not needed, and the jib should flow as smoothly around the back side of the main as possible.  Efficiency means smooth airflow, sticking to the sail as much as possible.

Of course each of these three modes are subdivided further.  Underpowered goes down to "drifting" where you heel the boat like crazy just to get the sails to hang in a sail shape.  We do this so that when some air does start moving, it moves the boat in the desired direction.  Then as wind picks up to 2-4 kt, you set the sails for maximum fullness with lots of twist and flatten the hull out, maybe heeling a few degrees to leeward to help the sails keep their shape and give some weather helm.  Twist is needed because the apparent wind is more forward at the bottom of the sail than at the top.  Why?  The wind at the top of the sail is stronger than that at the bottom of the sail, and so the boat's forward motion affects the low, weaker wind more than the stronger, higher wind.

Monday, May 21, 2012

ALYC Sundowner Race 2

We left the dock as the "wind" went from a moderate breeze to a light breeze, and saw it shift from SSW to S in direction a few minutes before our race started.  The start was essentially a beam reach, and the race ranged from a close reach to a broad reach, out on starboard, back on port.  At times, the race was a drifter, then gusts came out of nowhere and pushed us forward.

The race was almost a parade, although I managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory...  I had a great start, right by the pin, moving at "full" speed, right as the horn sounded.  I might have got there a half second early, but the R/C called "all clear", and I started to breathe again.  Steve Reed was two boat lengths behind me, but I got hung up looking at him and not steering my boat, and let him go to weather of me and roll on by.  We stayed in second for the entire trip around.

In retrospect, I should have luffed early and decisively, and made it clear that if anyone wanted to pass, they could try, but only to leeward. One problem I had is that I thought the south wind (beam reach) was shifting back to a southwest wind, but it never really happened, and I'm not sure why I thought it would

Later in the first leg, we were in a gust and I had a chance to threaten Steve's lead: I went to weather slightly, he luffed hard, and I dove to leeward.  Back in my windsurfing days, a move like that might have worked, but in a J22 in light air?  Not so much. 

By the end of the race, I was 150 yards behind Steve, and the third place, Jonathan, was 200 yards back.  It was a parade, but not a tight one.

Monday, May 14, 2012

American Legion Sundowner Series 2012, Race 1A

Race 1A, because the R/C had some serious difficulties last week, and threw out the first race.  Oh, well.

Tonight, the wind was brisk, about 8-15 kt out of the west making almost a dead downwind start.  I sailed Sunday, and the wind Sunday was stronger and much gustier, with sharp edges on the gusts and sudden drops from 15 kt to 5 or so kt.  On Sunday Brent and Alice sailed with me.  Today when Alice and I arrived about 5:10 pm, Brent had the boat half rigged already.  Getting away from the dock went smoothly, and we got to the start with 15 minutes to spare, and got to time the line and the distance from the dock to the pin (port) end of the line before the A class started milling to start.  We were able to sail on a constant heading with the main luffing enough to determine that the wind changes were not big shifts, except near land which is normal, but mainly just speed changes.  In stronger breeze, I like to reach with a luff in the mainsail and use the amount of luff in the main while holding a heading to discern any significant changes in wind direction.

We figured we could get away with a close reach start, and with 1:30 to go before our start we were near the line.  We did a quick circle to kill time, then got into position for the close reach to the line.  We were set up with about 30 seconds to go, about 20 seconds from the line and moving slowly.  In 12 kt or so, it seems to take these boats about 15 seconds to accelerate to speed.  We slowly sheeted our sails in and started accelerating toward the pin with 20 seconds to go.  Other boats were on the line to our right, and one was behind us and after the start went left, and we got the left-most spot, and started with good speed within a few seconds after the start horn.  Nice!  Flogging around doing practice starts on Sunday really paid off!

As we were running downwind, the majority of the boats were bunching up to our right.  We noticed that the skipper who had been behind us, Dave O, had gone way over to the left, maybe 4  boat lengths closer to Lido island than us, and he was starting to pass us.  I gibed to port and went left to join Dave at Lido Island, then gibed back to starboard as we got close -- we were overlapped, and I had no interest in a luffing match.  I got maybe 1 boat length outside Dave, and steered more or less rhumb for the corner, and gibed again on a shift.  Yeah, I know I said the wind direction we measured before the start appeared steady.  You have to sail the wind you see, not the wind you expected!  I have to wonder if my method to determine shifts is not sensitive enough, or if the wind we saw on the course was actually shiftier than what we had before the start. 

At times, as we approached the lee of the island, the apparent wind was light, and we heeled the boat as needed to fill the jib.  When the wind was stronger, we heeled to weather to steer the boat where we were going with no force on the tiller.  I'm sure to an observer from shore, it looked like we were making very random movements.  Many compliments to Alice and Brent for following these changes constantly, conscientiously, and very smoothly.

We got into the lee of Lido Island in first place, and all the other boats were hollering and jostling for position.  Nice for us.  Dave got stuck close to the island, and as he told me later "got spit out the back".  Bummer.

Alice and Brent shifted gears really well again as we got into the dead air on the lee corner of the island, and we heeled to leeward and softened our sheets for temporary light air trim.  We knew we were getting into strong air soon, so our vang, jib halyard, cunningham and outhaul were tight, but we worked hard to take advantage of the minimal wind in the hole at the bottom of Lido Island.  We passed about 2 feet from the edge of the dock on the corner of the island, but that was enough for me, although my crew felt we should have maybe left some more space.  In the wind hole, we got a little lucky puff and shot away from the pack, and out into the gusty winds in the channel. 

As we tacked  up the channel on the north side of Lido Island to mark Z, Jonathan's was the closest boat behind and he managed to catch up by catching some good wind while I was in a hole.  I stayed on the right third of the channel which usually gives the best wind, but that didn't work so well today.  I may have messed up tactically -- I probably should have kept a loose cover on Jonathan as soon as he got close, but I really felt as if I was racing the pack not just him. 

As it happened, we got a fortunate shift on the right side and I was able to get  back in front of Jonathan, then tack on top of him.  That slowed him down some, and then Bruce caught up to him, and they started slowing each other.  That gave us the opportunity to pull away some and keep between the two of them and the wind, so we opened up some distance.

We went around mark Z - the only mark of the race - with a big lead, and it never shrank after that, so the race was basically over, although we kept sailing as fast as we know how, because you never know what might happen.

When we rounded the bottom end of Lido island again headed for the finish line, a cruising (crushing?) style boat named 401k was headed on starboard, about 15 boat lengths ahead of us.  Ahead of her there were two boats on port.  One was ahead and to leeward of the other, and 401k was heading right for that one.  401 called "starboard", and barreled on into the port tackers!  The leeward boat headed up to close hauled, then the windward one followed suit, and then the starboard tack 401 did the same.  I think there was some crunching of fiberglass based on how much hollering was going on.  Geez, how much beer are these guys drinking on these beer can races?  Just tack, hail "protest" and put up a flag.  Don't run into the other boat to prove the point!

When all this crap happened, I got kinda mesmerized by it, and here I was on starboard headed for the melee!  As soon as I "woke up" we tacked and got out of there.

At the awards ceremony, the other UCI J/22 sailors all carried a bottle or two of wine up to the race committee, and I got the honor of carrying the remainder of the case-and-a half we bought as homage for the committee gods.  They appreciated the grape juice, I'm sure.  It was a great honor to be able to take the major part of the gift up to the hard-working committee.  They had some serious screw-ups last week, to the point where they had to throw out the whole thing.  I have done race committee work and know just how stressful it can be when things go badly.  To make it worse, most of the racers who did well will bitch and moan for awhile.

It's a lot of work some dedicated souls do, so that others can enjoy themselves.  A nice gift to show our appreciation is the least we can do.


1st  us
2nd Bruce
3rd Jonathan
4th Jane
5th Dave O
6th Bill / Marty

Monday, May 7, 2012

ALYC Sundowner, race 1

The American Legion Yacht Club puts on a Sundowner series on Monday nights all summer long.  May 7, 2012 was the first race of the series for the year and UCI fielded six J22s for the race.  Wind was about 4 to 6 kt out of the southwest.

Our boat was the last one to leave the dock, and we had to sail as fast as possible to get to the starting area.  We arrived with about 4 minutes to the start, and quickly figured out what end to start at.  It was a downwind start, and the port end was more downwind, so starting somewhere near there seemed best.  I didn't get settled and figure out a starting strategy, and ended up tacking onto starboard about 30 seconds before the start and trying to get some speed.  There were two boats to windward, and the closer, faster one was Bruce Thompson.  Bruce got a great start, hitting the line with speed at the right time.  We got an ok start, crossing the line a few seconds after the start but with not much speed.  Bruce was a few boat lengths ahead by the time we got up to speed.

Bruce seemed to be in better air, and his lead just kept stretching and stretching.  I think at one point he was 150 feet ahead, while we had maybe 50 or 60 feet lead on three boats behind.  But then, 2/3 of the way down the downwind leg, the wind dropped way off, then filled in from behind, which compressed us all as we approached the leeward mark.  I was amazed that we caught up to Bruce, although we were not able to establish an overlap.  Bruce went below his rhumb course to defend me trying to get inside.  I told him it looks like he's below his proper course, and he tells me that the rule forbidding sailing below proper course to prevent a pass to leeward no longer exists.   Some sailors you can't trust if they talk about rules on the racecourse, and some you can.  I'm inclined to trust Bruce.

Meanwhile, though, Dave O' got an overlap inside (to the port side) of us, as we approached the mark.  I went as low as I could, so that when we all turned toward the mark he'd be behind me.  Didn't work though, so I was maybe 10 ft behind Bruce, with Dave O inside our boat.

On the rounding I went real wide hoping Dave would leave room for me to fit inside on the exit.  I didn't go wide enough though, and turned downwind then sharply upwind to get clear of Dave's stern and get back to the inside.   I tacked onto starboard as soon as I could, but had killed what little speed we had, and not much wind to accelerate with.  Seemed like the whole fleet was getting by me, but we set our sails to the wind we had, and eventually we started moving on starboard.

This turned out to be a fortuitous situation, although I have to say it seemed like a complete disaster at the time.  The wind was better out in the middle, and we had a little favorable current.  I went out a ways from the shoreline toward the middle of the bay and tacked back to port.  Meanwhile, Bruce was hugging the shoreline and, I think, never tacked from his close hauled port tack he'd left the mark with.  It looked to me like I had gone too far, that it would  be a close reach up the channel to Y mark, so I eased sails and sailed on the close-reach side of close hauled.

After a few minutes it dawned on me this was really a one-sided beat, and I was giving away distance, so I went up to close hauled again and we actually got a lift to where it appeared we might be ahead of Bruce.  Then we got a header, and Bruce's lead became clearer.  The boats behind seemed far enough back to not worry about, so I settled into following Bruce on the port tack beat and seeking opportunities to make up ground.  As the beat tightened up in the channel, we had some traffic to contend with, and a few tacks to make up the channel to Y mark, and we got on the right side of some shifts and caught Bruce up a little.  Meanwhile, Dave O was catching up behind us, as he made several better decisions on the shifts in the channel than Bruce and I did.

Bruce looked to me like he had tacked above the layline to mark Y, so I tacked just below his course behind him.  Near Y the wind dies almost completely sometimes, and I was worried that this tack was a horrible decision, but the wind filled in and I was able to round without tacking again.  More good luck.  Bruce was on a dead run on starboard, and I wanted to get away from the light air near the houses of Lido Island, so I gibed onto port to get out in to the stronger wind in the middle of the channel.  Bruce decided to go out with me and gibed onto port, and about the time he gibed onto port, I gibed back to starboard, and he followed suit shortly after.  I felt like he was covering me, and I was glad to feel like I was on the attack, while he was playing defense.

We  fooled around a lot trying to get some advantage with the whisker pole.  However, it wasn't really a run, more of a broad reach, so the pole didn't really help much.  We held position with Bruce about 3-5 boat lengths ahead of us then we managed to catch up to within a boat length as we approached the eastern tip of Lido Island.  It was clear he was going to hug the shore, and I stayed with him until the wind got really flukey, then fell off about 30 degrees.  It was a big gamble, but I figured following him would get me second place for sure, so why not gamble a little?  I aimed to the closest point on the wind line trying to get to the better air quicker.  By the time we were both rolling along with good speed again, we were about even, and when I tacked, I had to duck Bruce.

Then when we crossed again, he ducked us, and we tacked as soon as he passed our stern.  I was worried at first that I had made a huge mistake tacking right then.  Tacking sooner would have preserved my starboard advantage, and I was risking him getting into my lee bow.  However, it worked out.  Our bows were dead even for what seemed like an hour, although it was more like 30 seconds, then we squeaked ahead.  Bruce said "It looks like you got me."  I wasn't convinced yet, though.  I managed to give him dirty air and no room to tack off, and built small advantage.  Then when he tacked clear onto starboard, I tacked too, keeping cover.  Ditto on the next tack, back onto port.  We were close to laying the finish line at this point, and Bruce tacked off.  I decided to call off the tacking duel and just sail to the finish line.  I did have to take a short tack to finish, but by then had a comfortable lead.

During the whole race, and notably while we were tacking to cover, Alice's crew work was flawless, even though I often gave no warning that we were tacking.  Kudos for her great crew work.

Lessons learned:

When heading for the leeward mark, I didn't try to cover Bruce's sails.  I worked downward trying to clear an opportunity to break the overlap with Dave O, who approached from behind.  I wonder if i should have tried to get on the high side of Bruce.  I don't like to get into luffing matches though.  If I had covered his sails from behind, he would probably have gone up to defend his wind.  Might that have created an opportunity to get inside him?  However, if i had got inside Bruce, without breaking the overlap with Dave, I would have been the meat in a leeward mark sandwich, which I really, really dislike.  OTOH, that would have screwed Bruce, so I need to consider that kind of option later in the season when the points situation is clearer.  For now, though, I think I took my best option, given that I was unable to get inside Bruce or break the overlap with Dave.

I can't believe, having sailed Newport Harbor for a year, that I would crack the sails on a lobsided beat.  Aargh.  That was really dumb.  Won't do that again.  Definitely important to have a "fast beat" mode though, where you're nowhere near pinching, and speed is maximized while still pointing.  Ditto to be able to pinch really high without giving away too much boat speed: max efficiency.  Bruce had his main looking tighter than mine, and I have to know when you can get away with that, and when you can't.  Sheeting to centerline and having the traveler high definitely works in light air.  When I sheet hard with the traveler centered, the leech seems overly hard, so maybe that's not a good idea.   I wonder if sheeting to the centerline and working the traveler is a good idea even in light breezes. 

We set our jib travelers for upwind while approaching the downwind marks.  This helped us enormously to transitions smoothly to beating.