Archive for May, 2007

Race Report 5/29/2007

Who schedules a midweek racing night to start the first race at 6pm? This is the question that launches every week’s Tuesday Night Shuffle.

Sure your calendar shows you blocked out at 4pm, it’s even shaded that odd dark red that signals “out of office” for anyone (who looks) to know that it will be impossible to schedule a late meeting with you that day. Unsurprisingly, that seems to only attract the sort of last minute firedrills that can ONLY be resolved by you, today, right now, and without interruption.

Which leads us to the late afternoon call to the rest of the crew that my attendance on the boat is now in question. Quick discussion about the potential of them waiting for me…will we still make the first start…did I notice that it’s almost 80 degrees, the wind is forecasted at 10-15, and also by the way it’s Seattle in May, so it would be an unmitigated tragedy to NOT go afternoon sailing today…ok this isn’t helping

Next call, it’s now just past 5pm. I’m clearly not going to make it. Try calling their cellphones. No answers. I leave a message with Bill who is on his way. Don’t wait for me…

Call to my desk at work at 6:30. It’s Chris. I can hear the wind in the background. They’re DFL as usual, but it’s a great night. Will I make it down?

I drive by on my way home, finally, way after 7, and roll through the parking lot. All the boats are out, sunset on the water. It’s a postcard. The conditions look terrific, of course. Lucky bastards. I don’t bother to stop and watch.

It’s 9:30PM on Tuesday and the reports start rolling in. I tear myself away from the deep deep depression that has set in by missing the race this evening.

A few missed calls on my cellphone, one from Bill, probably on his way home from the race. Another is a text message from Peter that scrolls by on my phone’s small screen making it seem REALLY long and making me wonder if he typed it from home on a proper keyboard, or if he sat in his car with a windblown smile frozen on his face typing it slowly into his phone’s 10 key pad: “2nd to last in 2nd race and almost 2nd to last in third race – had to do penalty turns”

First of all you have to take my word for it that that message takes like a decade to scroll past on my cellphone, and second (if you’ve been following this blog) that a 2nd to last (i.e. NOT LAST) is like saying “we came in first” in our book. It was a monumental night on the race course. I check the standings on the CYC Website to confirm. After the weeks of trying to race just one clean race without a major tangle, tactical mishap, or fiasco, I have got to hear this one…

It’s noon on Wednesday and I meet up for lunch with Bill. He’s typically pretty analytical and critical of our performance. Today his is BEAMING. He’s positive about the entire 2nd and 3rd races. Even excited about the tactics they tried on other boats that didn’t work, because it was the first time we’ve been in a position to try any at all. There were tales of fast boat speed, upwind and down.

It was epic.

It was the week I was still at work.

It was the Tuesday Night Shuffle.

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Heavy Wind Jibes

Our heavy air jibes need work. They can be a bit, shall we say, hectic. I came across this from an interview of John Alofsin by Dave Dellenbaugh in Sailing Breezes:

As the wind builds, you make less and less of a turn through the jibe. When it’s quite windy, you need to steer an S-course jibe. To do this, bear off to start the jibe and get the main to come across. As soon as the main starts across and you know the jibe will happen, bear off immediately. There are two reasons for this. First, you have to counter the tendency of the boat to round up after the jibe, which is the most common (and disastrous) mistake in heavy air jibes. And second, by keeping the boat on a downwind course, you make it a little easier for the foredeck crew to do their jobs.

Here is the rest of the article can be found here.

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Simple Spinnaker Pole Upgrade

The bowman on a J24 is a tough job. The bowman on OUR J24 is a really tough job.

It’s getting slightly easier this week.

We’re been heading down the path of upgrading our spinnaker pole with either a tapered carbon fiber, or more likely a tapered aluminum pole. We’ve been sailing with the original non-tapered aluminum pole with bridles. The goal for us right now is to get rid of the bridles.

When the pole is up and the spinnaker is flying, the top and bottom triangles formed by the bridles creates a huge obstacle to moving cleanly across the deck to deal with any tangles, or hourglassed sail. Then when the pole is down the bridles always seem to twist themselves around the pole and make it difficult to trigger the ends to release.

We’ve tested having the bridles taped down to the pole and using it like a center-attachment pole, but it got a bit dicey in some higher wind conditions last year. The front tip of the pole was flexing at least 5 inches up, threatening to break the pole during a reach. So we’re going with a different approach for the short term that we found recommended online.

We’ve replaced the loose, floppy wire bridles, with some high tech low-stretch cord pulled very tight up against the pole. That way there is just enough stretch to allow the bridle to carry the load appropriately for the pole design, but with a much smaller triangle effect. Plus, once the pole is released and back down to the deck, the bridles snug up right against the length of the pole instead of flopping and tangling on the deck.

We test drove it in the last two weeks (including the 20+ knots evening) with the wire bridles still on, but taped up to the pole and the second set of rope bridles carrying all the load. It worked well, so the wires have now been cut off.

The pole is now lighter, easier to use, and saved us from having to spend $400+ bucks.

I think we’re probably good for another season, or until the bowman / trimmer / driver improve enough that the equipment becomes and isssue.

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How to revive an old J24, Part 1

When we bought our J24 it had been abandoned in the Seattle Parks and Rec Marina at Leschi for a few years. The city periodically auctions off boats that haven’t paid their moorage to try to clear out the debt, and we were lucky enough (It felt like it at the time anyway…) to find this J24 listed on eBay, where pretty much no one buys one-design boats, and got a good price on it. When we went down to see it, the boat had a generous share of mold, dirt, and bird crap caked on even after the marina had pressure washed it for the sale. Of course we optimistically saw through all that and envisioned surging to top finishes in the local Tuesday night one-design series that we had previously crewed in.

After buying it we gave the deck and cabin a thorough scrub out with cleaner to de-must the boat and to start the process of breathing some life back into it.

A former owner had decided to paint the deck with a green epoxy coat to make a nice green color theme for the boat. They had managed to apply the first of what probably required several coats to a random 3 foot blob-shaped section of the foredeck before giving up. This left the boat with a transparent dark green swirled splotch on the deck that looked like toxic waste. Nice. It turns out that our boat was pretty well known in our local fleet because it was always easy to identify by that dark green splotch. Later, after our first season of racing we repainted the deck, and for a while no one recognized us. They thought some ringers had brought a new boat to the area. Ok, not ringers… They realized it was us after seeing our sailing performance.

The boat also featured:

    Running rigging that was crusty where it wasn’t moldy

    The remaining sticky-back portion of a weathered away hull number from a long ago regatta gracing the bows

    Every race boat’s favorite one-design optimal “Lines led aft” configuration allowing maximum tripping hazard for minimum ease of raising and lowering the sails.

    Half wire halyards. The other half was rotten rope.

    Cabin top winches that hadn’t been serviced in years, and conveniently needed a different gauge winch handle than the primaries.

    Old bulkhead compass in the cockpit with the reader card jammed sideways in the globe and half the oil drained out.

    A port-a-potty. Remember this had been sealed inside a closed cabin for years of hot sun and cold winters. All I remember now is that it definitely didn’t feel empty when we lifted it off the boat, and unceremoniously walked it immediately to the dumpster.

    2-3 inches of salad growing on the hull below the waterline. We trusted that their was indeed a bottom in there somewhere.

We initially just replaced the main sheet, genoa sheet and started sailing the boat on Tuesday nights for practice. We would sail around the outside of the area where the one-design fleets were racing and watch and practice handling our boat. We spent the rest of that summer sailing and cruising at least once a week, getting plenty of use out of the boat, and with no idea how very little we were actually preparing ourselves for the boat prep and learning curve that we’d face in racing the boat.

It had a complete set of sails on board including one ancient and one slightly newer spinnaker. The condition of the main and genoa were what you might call “cruising” quality. Soft and dirty and bagged-out from (literally) decades of use might be another way to describe them. That fact did not stop us from deciding to register to compete in the Tuesday night racing series with these sail the next summer.

Rapid escalation in boat optimization, deck layout, handling, and crew work in the next installment…

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The Importance of Starting Sequence Flags

Last Tuesday we had some confusion at the start. We miss judged the horn and timed our start about a minute too early. We later realized that when the postponement flag which had been flying was taken down a signal was fired off, and it was this that we took for the 5 minute warning signal. One issue was not knowing the start flag sequence well enough.

The starting flag sequence is given in Lake Washington Racing Program General Sailing Instructions:


Races will be started by using RRS rule 26 except a blue shape will replace flag P. [Note for web version of racebook: This link to RRS rule 26 is to the 2001 rules. Rule 26 is unchanged in the 2005 rules, but US Sailing does not have the 2005 rules available individually.] The race committee may give a hail to the next class whose warning signal is about to be made.

Which refers to the RRS:


Races shall be started by using the following signals. Times shall be taken from the visual signals; the absence of a sound signal shall be disregarded.

Start Flags

Signal Flag and Sound. Minutes
Warning Class flag; 1 sound 5
Preperatory P, I, Z, Z with I, or black flag; 1 sound 4
One-minute Preparatory flag removed; 1 long sound 1
Starting Class flag removed; 1 sound 0

So this is what the sequence should normally look like (with a “blue shape” replacing the P flag):

At 5 minutes:

Flag J24 Class

At 4 minutes:

Flag J24 ClassFlag P

At 1 minute:

Flag J24 Class

Recognizing these flags will give a more consistent pre-start countdown.

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Project: Hotrod Outhaul System

We’re ready to disassemble the boom, shake out the several decades of dirt and spider-webs that must be sealed inside, and re-build our mainsail outhaul. The class regs allow up to a 6:1 outhaul purchase. I’m fairly certain that ours is still the stock 2:1. At any rate, the rope portion of the line that exits midboom for cleating is so worn it looks like an old clothes line. It’s seriously overdue for replacement.

We had planned to buy the outhaul replacement kit from Annapolis Performance Sailing, or just buy the same parts from Fisheries Supply or West Marine locally. The kit comes with all the parts and line you need and 3 of the 4 swages completed. The last swage connects the wire to the shackle end after it passes through the sheave-box on the end of the boom, so it must be done as the last step of installation. This means that buying or borrowing a swaging tool…

I sent and email to our fleet listserv and got back some offers to lend swaging tools, but more importantly, got some guidance on upgrading the outhaul to an all-rope system and eliminating the wire portions all together. 3 different replies came in from top boats in our fleet with the same recommendation: go with the high tech ropes, get all the wire that isn’t required by the class off your boat. One recommendation even eliminated the shackle – they just tie the end of the outhaul line into the sail with a bowline. That is serious go-fast mode.

My new plan is to buy the couple of double and triple blocks needed, then construct the rest from rope. I’ll probably go with knots to ensure that I can get all the lengths right, and decide later if we should pay a rigger to go with splices instead.

The intended shopping list is:

  • Harken H227
  • Harken H228
  • About 35′ of 1/4″ line with a poly jacket that will be the cleating end that also runs through the block system inside the boom
  • About 10′ of 1/8″ 12 braid line from which I’ll make the two different portions
  • An 18″ pennant that runs from the sail shackle, through the sheave and connects to the block system inside the boom, and
  • A 5 1/2′ section that connects the block system inside the boom to it’s anchor point inside the gooseneck

I’m hoping to get it all assembled and installed this weekend. We’ll see how it works in next Tuesday night’s race.

2 Comments »Layout and Hardware, Tuning

The Bowman

There was the time, for example, in the early days of the 1987 America’s Cup campaign, when Kirby was sailing aboard the 12-Meter, Eagle, with Davis, Toppa, and Kimo Worthington, among others. They were scrimmaging the Italians off Long Beach, and testing people in different crew positions. In one race Davis was trying out a new man on the bow; Kirby was at the grinders. Moments before the start, Kirby saw that the bowman’s wave-through to Davis was over-optimistic — the committee boat was anchored in deep water with lots of scope, and Eagle was going to foul the rode. With a wing keel and 14 knots of air in the sails, this was an unpleasant thing to contemplate, and Kirby started pulling off his seaboots. Eagle hit the rode a second or two later. Davis tried to tack away from it, and the rode looped over one wing; he then turned downwind, and the rode looped over the other wing as well. Now Davis had no steering, and Eagle was reeling in the committee boat at high speed. Kirby grabbed his knife, ran forward, and dove off the bow. He followed the leading edge of the keel down, took a good thump as the rest of the keel hit him, hung on with one hand, and cut the rode when the committee boat was a few feet from Eagle’s transom. At that point, Eagle took off again.

Peter Stalkus, a former major-league bowman who would later become Tom Blackaller’s navigator on Defender was on board Eagle at the time. “Stalkus knew I’d pop up somewhere,” said Kirby. By the time he hit the surface, Stalkus had a line trailing in Eagle’s wake; Kirby grabbed it and Stalkus hauled him aboard. Eagle restarted, chased the Italians, and lost by only 20 seconds.

1 Comment »Boathandling

Race Report 5/16/2007

Filed by: Brian

Yesterday it was midsummer weather in Seattle. But just for one day. It’s back to late-winter conditions. It was 80+ degrees and clear unobstructed sunshine at the start of our race at 6PM. By 6AM this morning it was about 55 degrees with a thick blanket of light gray marine layer where the sky is supposed to be.

A quick recap of the wind conditions of the last three weeks of racing: 3 weeks ago – Wind so light that you could see the crystal clear mirror reflection of the boats around you and we literally had to “will” our way towards the finish line. 2 weeks ago – Survival conditions with sustained 20mph and gusts close to 30, struggling to keep the downwind lifelines out of the water and all hands on deck. Last night – HOT weather, but nice and breezy (for the first race). Spring sailing on the lake is wonderfully unpredictable.

We had some juggling around of crew due to some vacations and last minute work conflicts, but filled in a couple of great alternates and ended up sailing with a full crew of 5. We’ve stopped our practice of rotating the 3 co-owners through Driver, Trimmer, and Bow each week and have kept locked in one role for each person for the entire season so far. We had our friend Aaron out as a coach for us a couple of times last season. His quote was “Rotating crew positions may be democratic, but it is surely slow.” So Peter has been our driver this season, Bill our trimmer, and I’ve been on bow / tactician. Chris and Nate are our normal middle positions, though Nate’s had enough experience and practice to take on the bow position full time and move me to Pit to really focus on strategy and tactics and keep our driver’s head “in” the boat for now.

The learning curve has stayed steep even with keeping us in fixed positions. Part of the issue is that you lose the luxury of the excuse that changing positions each week supplies you. Now the mistakes are more obvious and the small gains are hard fought. I’m convinced that it’s the right approach for us to improve, and it’s certainly forcing a more racing oriented, and less sunset cruising oriented vibe on the boat.

Last night we had Weston filling in for Nate as our mast man, and Jenn filling in for Chris as our Pit (wo)man. Both of them did a great job in their first time racing with us.

Now to the report –

Pointing problem solved?

I got to the boat early and, armed with another gem of insight from our tuning guide, marked out 1 inch increments from the black band on the boom. We setup the main with a 1″ off the band setting for the night and left it there. The theme for the night was “No Fiascos”. We must sail a clean race without tangles, mishaps, or gross mistakes.

Click to find out if we had any fiascos…
Continue Reading »

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Low and Fast Upwind, Slow and Slower Downwind

The wind for tonight’s race is looking like it’ll be back into our normal 5-10 knot range. This should put us back into focusing on handling and trim, and not so much on survival and keeping the boat right side up like last week.

So far this season, we’ve been getting nice clear starts and feel good about our upwind boat speed. We’re tending to get to the first upwind mark ahead of some other boats in the fleet in the first beat, losing a ton of ground downwind, fighting to keep or close gaps on the second beat, losing more ground on the second downwind, and struggling to finish within 10 boat lengths of the tail end of the fleet. Clearly we have some work to do on roundings and sailing fast downwind.

However, one improvement we’ll test this week is pointing ability on the upwind legs. I know it’s the classic balance/tradeoff between pointing high with less boatspeed, or choosing to point lower for faster boatspeed. Finding optimal VMG. Since we have been consistently losing crossing battles with other boats, we started thinking that we were choosing to sail a bit too low for the tradeoff we were gettting in speed gain.

Easier said than done. We’ve now entered the zone of tweaks and nuances to get slightly better pointing ability.

First on my list is the outhaul. We haven’t upgraded to 6:1 pull so it’s almost always too loose according to the specs in our tuning guide. The result has been a leech that refuses to hook to windward, even with the traveler all the way up and mainsheet pulled on all the way. Tonight, we’ll try setting the outhaul on harder than before (and leaving it on in the downwind legs if need be) to see if that nets us a more trimmable main sail.

Next upgrade project will be assembling and installing a 6:1 purchase kit like the one Annapolis Performance Sailing sells here.

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Rules 101

Who’s fault is it?


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