Thursday, June 30, 2011

Countdown to LongPac

Countdown to LongPac and why sailing is a team sports...the shore-based team is just as important

Thursday night:

  • remove malware from boat computer and test nav, sailmail and grib software (Internet-based)

  • West Marine run for any missing parts for self-steering system (including returning the wrong AIS system) - Nat
  • Get surgical tubing (Serge)
  • Forward hatch missing parts (Nathan)
  • Fix boat bridle (some visible corrosion) - (Nathan)
  • Shop for food and water non perishable  - (Serge)
  • Satellite phone arrives (test)
  • Parts for NKE autopilot arrive

Saturday (mostly easy jobs)
  • Change jib halyard into non stretchy line
  • Add big battery
  • Add jackstays and offshore gear
  • Install big solar panel
  • Add diamond to lifelines ( i have lines)   
  • Fix connectors for small solar panel
  • Fix second instrument panel and test spare autopilot
  • Re-install NKE brain and re-test (see if we need to debug further)
  • Put radar reflector up in rig
  • Install spare external halyard
  • Set up sheet-based self-steering system
  • Service winches   
  • Play with AIS and call ships
  • Fix forward hatch
Planning on doing a little loop outside the gate on Saturday night, and try the stove and dinner on the boat

Sunday (on the way to the Farallones or right before the trip)

  • Set up dodger
  • Load everything that's not perishable on the boat
  • Go off to the Farallones with Serge
  • Play with AIS and call ships
  • Play with self-steering system(s)
  • Hoist trysail
  • update deviation card for 2nd compass
  • Set up turning block so one person can hoist themselves up the mast and try it with self-belay system
  • Load everything that's not perishable on the boat
  • Test snailmail and computer-based stuff
  • Download grib and print out 5-day forecast
  • If need be: continue to work on NKE system and anything else that didn't get done on Saturday
  • fill up gas tanks
  • Shop for food perishables    
  • Put boat in the water
  • Install engine

Clean and Shiny Elise

Photos courtesy of Serge

Boat Safety

Yesterday at the LongPac skippers' meeting we talked about safety, even though there is no formal safety at sea seminar for this event. Thought I'd write a little bit about that.

  • Boat Safety
Making sure that the boat remains seaworthy and can be controlled is important. To this effect, there is a bunch of gear that's required:

Keeping water out to keep the boat afloat

  • bailing devices: bilge pumps (Elise has two, that can be operated from above deck as well as below deck and a manual pumps) and two buckets. The bilge is the 'inside' draining system
  • Drains: Elise's cockpit is self-draining, eg. it has two drain holes that are not connected to the bilge (so it doesn't compete for precious tube space). Also, if huge waves were to break onto the cockpit, we place washboard so that even if the level of water in the cockpit was high and it took a while for it to drain, there should be no water going inside and into the bilge
  • Throughhull plugs: Elise's instruments (speed and depth) require transducers that are inserted through the hull. This is the reverse problem...we don't actually want these to drain. There are plugs that are right next to them should they fail and need to be replaced. There are also additional throughhull plugs that may be used for offshore if the initial ones were to fail
  • Even with loads of water inside the boat, she would be a good liferaft ever - so Elise now has inflatable opti buoyancy inside its cabin. In addition, she is very beamy and hollow and a lot of air would be trapped on the boat if everything were closed, hopefully, helping her deck to stay afloat, until she could be towed to safety (or sadly abandoned...)
  • Washboards, ways to secure them (from inside and outside the cockpit) and a companionway hashboard are required to limit the amount of water that could get inside the boat (even in non-stormy conditions, with a choppy 25 to 30 knots, Elise's deck is super super wet as she has very little freeboard). A dodger helps keep the cabin dry and comfortable.

Keeping control
  • Steering: there is no requirement for a spare rudder for LongPac, perhaps because it is not really far at sea and there would be ways to get towed back in by another competitor or the Coast Guard if things were really really bad. There is some minimal steerage that can be done via the sails alone if you do not have to keep that up for weeks on end, and if you were to give up on racing, you could rig a spinnaker pole, the oar and some wooden boards from the boat to do a makeshift rudder that could power the boat at 2 knots max through the water...and sail under storm jib in a 10 knot breeze...
  • In a storm, you can use a sea anchor or a drogue to keep the boat pointing the right way
  • Under engine, your engine can actually steer your boat
  • There is a requirement for a spare tiller (a piece of wood that we can screw on or latch on to replace the existing tiller) - it is very sturdy and slots right in. Elise could still race if this emergency tiller was used (unlike a lot of wheel-based boat that see their performance suffer badly when they have to take out their emergency tiller!)
  • Storm sails: if the weather gets really bad, it is important to trade speed for control, and in some cases, you actually improve VMG by improving control. Overpowered, Elise (or other boats) would have a lot of leeway and move more sideways that toward their destination. So even if boat speed is reduced, speed toward destination is improved. Elise's offshore mainsails have two (and I think that our cruising main has three) reefing points which allows considerable reduction of sail area. It will also carry a trysail (you need to remove the mainsail from the mast slot to hoist it, but you could still roll the main around the boom since the trysail does not require the use of that spar) which is a storm mainsail. It is more difficult to trim effectively and point but it offer a way to stabilize the boat and can actually allow racing in pretty high winds. In terms of headsails, Elise has a #4 (which qualifies as a storm jib) and has an actual storm jib (for a 22-24 footer) on order to provide even less sail area, for short-handed upwind capabilities). It has a blast reacher for very windy reachy conditions (a reach is a point of sail) and downwind, there is a shy kite that it's hoping to win on eBay ;-)) it's a tiny little kite but that would fly much higher than any other headsail and allow her to run very close to downwind, compared to a traditional headsail. It also carries a 1.5oz spinnaker with a narrow shoulder. It is narrow where there is more breeze (up high) and of a heavier cloth so it can take in more wind. The shy kite is of light material.
  • If Elise has to run barepole (or under storm sail but tucked in and only for stability purposes) before a storm or decides to ride it out heaving-to, it is useful to make sure that the boat faces the wave. Offering its beam to a high breaking wave increases the risk of being rolled over. Elise will carry a couple of extra drogues to achieve this purpose (laying stern-to) and could even improve on that drogue by tying up empty spinnaker sailbags and throwing them over the side to increase the drag. Elise has a sea anchor which can be used to have the boat lay bow-to. The bow is more designed to cut through the wave and is stronger. It would also typically slow down the boat (and nearly park it) as there woudl be a lot more drag with a sea anchor than with a drogue (the weeny little drogue use to pull out the man overboard pole is not suited to slow down Elise in any kind of way ;)) - and because the boat would most likely face upwind, it would be in a 'stopped' position and not run before a storm/waves. It is a lot more jerky and hard on the boat, so this could be for extreme storm situations which we do not expect to encounter. It is not a required item, and it is heavy. I may decide not to take it on the LongPac and just make a makeshift sea anchor with an actual anchor and a couple of these additional drogues I was mentioning. (note: there is so much force applied to these things that you need to deploy them with very sturdy lines, ideally that can stretch a little bit so they can absorb some of the effort and with a plan to recover the lines on the winch (basically make sure that there is at least one turn on a winch somewhere along the line), otherwise, you'll probably lose whatever you have thrown overboard)

Elise is a boat that is particularly suited for me (an Elf, according to Nathan) in that, it really doesn't require a lot of muscle to steer her, even in pretty heavy wind, so adjusting sail area will do wonder on that boat, and she is much more stable than a lot of other light displacement boats on any point of sail (quite impressively so, she is sailed like a dinghy but is so well built that she can withstand pretty nasty offshore conditions in a safe way, even though it won't be fast), she really is quite something of a boat - and for such an affordable pricepoint (have I said that I am a big fan of Express27s before? These boats do not exist in Europe and I wish they were there. They would do wonders on the Atlantic and absolutely revel in these conditions)

Be seen:

  • Radar reflector during the day (AIS transponder if you have one)
  • Keep a lookout (or electronic lookout) and call ships around so they know about you
  • fog horn in the fog (although I doubt it can be heard from the bridge of a big ship)
  • navigation lights at night (and even flash light straight into your white mainsail if you are worried about poor visibility)
  • Monitor the AIS system: you can see the names of the ship - if they get too close, say 3 to 5 miles or so, call them on the VHF and let them know you are around - you technically have right of way as a sailing vessel but you can be really hard to find as a tiny speck out in the ocean...
  • You can also call Vessel Traffic Control (channel 12 outside SF Bay, 14 inside which is actually really helpful in the event of heavy fog, which is not unusual during the summer) and let them know about you, they will let ships know about you.

Ways to remove harmful or useful material out of harm's way or into a useful deployment capacity
  • this could be a saw, or a set of pliers to remove the rigging if it menaces to puncture the hull, or it could be the cockpit knife to free up a line that has jammed against a cleat, or a personal knife to cut loose a halyard of a spinnaker gone wild and threatening to take the mast with it.
  • it could be quick release knots for anything that might have to be moved out quickly (like a liferaft)
  • Make sure you know where things are and that the way is clear to these items (Elise has one fire extinguisher near the companionway hatch and one near the stove at the other end of the boat for example. The boat hook is easy to access. The engine will be mounted on the stern so it can easily be deployed (mainly if there is no wind and Elise needs to get out of the way of a ship) and the anchor will take its place so it is very easy to get to and throw overboard in a pinch if the boat was getting too close to a lee shore)
This is actually why I keep asking people to put things back exactly where they found them. It is not that I am maniac (although I could be), it is just that if this particular something becomes needed in a hurry, we dont' want to spend 30 minutes looking for it. This is also true of the corkscrew.

People Safety

  • lifejackets et al is important but single-handed I would say that keeping your tether clipped on at all times would be the most important piece of personal safety. I will also wear the remote control for the autopilot (if I can get that to work) as it might be helpful to get the boat to steer back toward me...but I don't expect my boat to know about its crew if it leaves her and her sails are well trimmed)
  • Keep a knife so you can cut through any jammed line would be helpful
  • medical kit (my floating hospital) and a manual. Most importantly I will take phone numbers to physicians I know so I can give them a call for assistance if I need to (or the race committee that can put you through to someone knowledgeable)
  • EPIRB or communication devices (keep spares in your grab bag so they stay with you, not the boat...) ideally with positioning capabilities since if someone is out to find you, it's helpful if you tell them where you are) - I will have a GPS-enabled waterproof hand-held VHF on me while I am on deck. If I were to fall overboard, at least, I'll have a shot at calling someone immediately. This is an organized event and there *might* be a boat passing near by that could retrieve you before the cold sets in too hard
  • Stay warm, bank on sleep whenever you can (you never know if you'll hit a storm that will require you to be up for 48 hrs) even if you are racing, eat well and stay hydrated. In any emergency situation, if you are fit and well fueled up, your chances of survival are much much greater
  • Dress well: foulies when you need them, shorts if it gets too hot, etc...go below on a regular basis if you get too cold outside, or try to get some shade, or cold water on if you get too hot. Either extreme is bad :)

It is also good to know your limit: learn when you are tired, when you are hungry, thirsty and listen to your body whenever possible
Learn about what you can handle: I know I can sail in 45 knots of wind pretty safely AND race. I know I can leave a spinnaker up in 40+ knots of wind because I have done it before, in pretty unfriendly swells (Coastal Cup). Above that, I know I will move into storm tactic and worry more about staying safe than sailing fast - downwind, I might still be able to race quite effectively, but I probably wouldn't want to have a spinnaker up. I will probably rig the spinnaker sock when I hoist the heavy weather spinnaker too, just so that I can easily decide to swap to a white headsail to gain more control without exhausting myself gathering a spinnaker. I can then deal with it at my convenience.

Know your boat: Elise right now is the safest boat for me to do these races in. I know that she can bury her bow into a wave and come right back up, I know how stable she is downwind, I know how much she can take upwind, I can read some signs that would tell me: reduce your sail area, get off the breeze, etc...I know she can heave-to, etc...all these are not only reassuring, but they are very helpful in that it helps you be a step ahead of a 'critical' situation, or not precipitate yourself into a self-created one...I also know how to fix up a few things...and loads on Elise are very manageable for someone like me. I can carry sails around without exhausting myself in the process. I can steer her without actually requiring a lot of muscle power - which means that I can be more comfortable for much longer - hence safer.

I have also found that it is best not to upset marine mammals. They can get a little itchy...

Update on Elise's self-steering capabilities

Main Racing Autopilot ('Nick')

  • The brain unit was reset by the US NKE distributor and will be overnighted back to SF
  • Spare parts were purchased so we can continue debugging this weekend without having to depend on another shipping cycle since the start is Wednesday

This is by far the favorite means of self-steering.

  • It has a very low power consumptions (as far as autopilots are concerned) and during the day would take in as much power as the solar panel would be able to push into the battery, thus not depleting them (our experience so far with the big battery) - 
  • It has a gyrostatic graphic computer which means that is knows about wave and how to steer around them making it pretty effective
  • It is good both downwind and upwind (windvane systems are not very good downwind as they rely on apparent wind, and particularly not in a surf as something the apparent wind can be zero! and can cause round-downs)
  • It has a fast response rate (adjustment) so any small change can be corrected very quickly making it a pretty competitive robot-driver
  • It is named after a friend of ours who is one of the best sailors I it has to live up to some pretty high expectations
  • The whole installation is below deck which makes it less likely to get salt, wind, UV damage, etc...
  • It can apply a lot of force on the tiller (pretty big ram!!!!) so can steer is pretty high winds (usually autopilots break down in heavy breeze, which is when windvanes actually become more effective as apparent wind increases)
  • It can be operated with a remote control (imagine you are at the bow and need to make a small adjustment, well, you can!)


I think that we will have tried everything we can on that one, and there is still hope that we can fix it by Wednesday


Spare Tiller Pilot ('Ray')

  • The corroded connector was changed
  • It just needs to be tested (eg, the second instrument panel needs to be screwed back on so we can bring power to the autopilot)

It is not a favored method of self-steering because

  • In any kind of heavy breeze, it will break
  • it is slow, and does not know about waves, so it basically is a very crappy driver
  • It is all self-contained and mounted above deck and subject to a higher risk of breaking on the job even in light air
  • It cannot withstand as much force as the other autopilot
  • For a worse performance, it eats up a lot more power than the NKE system

There is no reason to believe that this one will not work by Wednesday. In any case, it was always meant to be a backup though...


Sheet-based self-steering  ('Elise')

Something like the below is what I will be trying out this weekend on a trip to the Farallones. It works according to the same principles as heaving-to, eg. uses tiller and sails to counteract each other and keep the boat in line. The minute the boat wants to round up because of a puff, the tiller is pushed to windward and prevents this from even starting. In a lull, the exact opposite happens. The tiller is connected to the main sheet that way, thus react symbiotically with the mainsail.

Technically, it can work for all points of sail except dead downwind but anything less than close haul isn't very stable and it isn't clear that this would work.


  • Big pro is that it requires no power, so if I need an autopilot at night for any reason (and for more than a few minutes at a time which the batteries will be able to accommodate without any problem, such as the need for a gybe, or a bio-break), this could be a solution
  • If you can achieve balance, it can be very stable. Unfortunately, if the wind velocity keeps changing on a course that's not close-hauled, you probably have to constantly fiddle with the sails or the system to get to that balance. The fact that Elise behaved under simple bungee (not connected to the sheeting system) during Spin Cup is very encouraging though and makes me feel pretty good about this whole thing
  • It should be pretty robust, and even though things can break, replacement parts are easy to come by and will be on the boat anyway (turning blocks, lines, surgical tubing or bungees)
  • It is super light
  • It is super cheap :)
  • It probably isn't very competitive but it might be better than 'Ray' (Ray is our Raymaine autopilot) - and it would have to be called 'Elise' as it really is the boat steering!!!


Bungee-based/blocked tiller self-steering  ('Bungee')

  • This is what Nathan used during spinnaker cup
  • Bungee is connected to the tiller and probably toe rail on either side and can absorb shocks yet allow the tiller to mvoe with waves and right itself
  • Only good for a few minutes at a time (but that's what I woudl expect 'Ray' to be good at anyway...) and might allow for longer periods only in particularly stable conditions (like 'Ray')
  • Good backup for sheet-based steering


Heaving-to (the 'P' of sailing)

  • Heaving-to is great (and the reason why autopilot are NOT a safety requirement, the boat can be kept safe without any means of self-steering) but is absolutely not competitive!!!!! Whatever distance you have covered steering is lost while you are is like racing in the Paris-Dakar and decide to park your car while the others are driving forward...Or imagine someone doing the Tour de France and take a nap in the afternoon while everyone else keeps going...
  • So this is the safety backup of's just very slow since you're basically drifting...and often away from where you're supposed to be going!
  • You can heave-to for a few minutes close to land if you need to have something done (like go to the bathroom, make yourself a cup of tea, etc...) so long as you have sea-room
  • You can heave-to for much longer at sea (so long as you have sea-room) if you need to sleep/rest
  • If you get close to shore, and you need to sleep/rest, I'd pull in somewhere and anchor or moor somewhere (from a safety perspective), I wouldn't rely much on an autopilot either there and take long naps. Rocks, traffic, etc... loads of stuff can be happening


The drawback with all these systems is that they are bling :) So the AIS system is pretty important. If you don't have crew on the boat to freak out about ships (someone knows who I am talking about), you need an automatic system to do that. I will call the ship alarm system on Elise 'Heather'



1992 PG-13 126 minutes

Technically stunning, Wind does for yacht racing what The Black Stallion did for the horse track. Matthew Modine and Jennifer Grey are experienced sailors determined to win the prestigious America's Cup yacht race. But their abiding love for each other is put to the test when she's removed from the crew and joins up with a maverick boat designer (Stellan Skarsgard) who has a new schematic that represents the cutting edge of sailing competition.

Matthew Modine, Jennifer Grey, Cliff Robertson, Jack Thompson, Stellan Skarsgård, Rebecca Miller, Ned Vaughn, James Rebhorn, Michael Higgins
Carroll Ballard
Action & Adventure

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

2011 LongPac web page

Nat Dancing Video (courtesy of Serge)

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug     Also, Serge varnished the the top of the tiller which can't be protected by the tiller cover from the sun and the elements. It shows how effective covers are!

NOOD 2011 Sunday Photo Set 4

All photos courtesy of Serge

Getting to the start on  Sunday

NOOD 2011 Sunday Photo Set 3

A little broaching
and tacking back

NOOD 2011 Sunday Photo Set 2

All photos courtesy of Serge

Elise starting

NOOD 2011 Sunday Photo Set 1

All photos courtesy of Ultimate Yachtshots

Elise sailing by what looks like the finish line...Upwind finish was the last race

Monday, June 27, 2011

NOOD mini writeup

Didn't feel too good this weekend - perhaps because it was the first summer race and still a crew that's not 100% used to working together in these conditions. It was still a ton of fun, and if I compare our average performance from a couple of years ago, we are much much better.

When we started, we were pretty much at the bottom of everything, learning to sail the boat well and fast. We now have flashes of genius and moment of mediocrity - our average is definitely up and we now need to work on consistency. After 3 years of campaigning the boat and really only two years of buoy racing and less than a year with this new crew, it really is not that bad.

Conditions were ultra typical of the Bay in summertime
SW - W - NW wind
Saturday 10 to 20
Sunday 15 to 25 (24-25 sustained during the second race of the day)
Nasty little chop that makes you wet and slows you down, but good conditions for the Express 27s and the Moores. They were built for this kind of stuff.

What went well this weekend

  • Starts were good 
  • Good average boat speed, we managed to keep up w/ top of fleet boats
  • Good trim downwind
  • Nice teamwork (pit person jumping to help foredeck person in a pinch for example)
  • Gybes (except for one where we nearly wrapped up the kite, they were really good and smooth)
What we can do better
  • Weight was definitely on the light side, but we won't be able to do much about this
  • Get back into the groove after mark rounding much much faster...
  • Elise had the offshore lifeline on because of LongPac and we couldn't really hike out upwind which made the above problem even more acute
  • Maybe lighten up the cooler...and see if each crew can leave spare clothing, etc... in their cars so we can lighten up the boat as much as possible during the race
  • Tacks (they were slow both days)
  • Mark rounding: we got every other one really really well, the other ones were not so good, we need to work on speed of execution
  • Anticipate your needs and the other crew's needs: on several occasions, lines were not ready, or not tight enough, etc...causing problems, thus creating more work for the team and exhausting everyone
  • Not go too far out on the edge of the course (which we did the first couple of races on Saturday, costing us a lot)
So back to basics: practice practice practice, and we should practice short tacking up the city front and do a lot of mark rounding, arriving at the mark in any position and having to drop the kite from any side (or hoist it from any direction) so we always have full tactical latitude and maneuvres do not get in the way. Would be my lesson. Team is a smart bunch and they are picking up fast.

NOOD 2011 Pressure Drop Photos

More awesome photos over there

The J105 fleet
I love the name!
Elise a little late to the game