Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bay Model - currents

I was amazed at the Bay Model - even though it isn't used for modelling anymore, it is an astonishing piece of work and it is wonderful to see the underside of the Bay.

I carefully looked at everything that I sail through regularly. I understand why there is so much current near the Golden Gate bridge for instance, with its naturally deep water channel. You can easily see what is dredged, what is naturally deep or shallow.

The scale is huge - you can walk around the model. It is also very impressive to actually see the water level move up and down and currents appear as they simulate tide movements.

Here is the rock by the North Tower which explains sometimes some of the eddies that you see there. It is still way too deep to pose any problem to navigation but an interesting phenomenon.

I learned that most of the Bay particularly San Pablo Bay became unnaturally shallow after the Gold rush because of 40 years of water mining that drove all sorts of sediments down to the Bay where they didn't belong to begin with... Sad.

I'd say that a visit to the Bay Model is a very useful racing tool and I'd recommend this to all SF Bay racers. Kame Richards from Pineapple Sails is part of the audio tour!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sailing at the beginning of last century

Cleve and I went to the Bay Model in Sausalito. There were some old photographs sailing-related. I loved those. Here is a ship wrecked by Duxbury Reef. Now there is a race to Duxbury reef every year (well to the buoy...not onto the reef...)

The foul weather gear in 1909 looks a bit different from what it is today...

Training with Libra for the Nationals

A week ago, Sergey, Marcia,  Dima and I went on a day training on Libra to prepare for the Nationals. Training days are in some respects tougher than race days physically as you do a lot of repeats. 

First I noticed an arrangement that I like about the lead of the fine tuning of the main sheet. I don't like where Elise's ends up but this is clever and I could make use of the traveler block up on the side of the cockpit which is unused right now. I took some pictures to refresh my memories later on.

Sergey actually owns buoys so we set up a start line and used a Berkeley circle mark as our windward line. The start line also became our leeward gate. We did several starts (2 per 'mock race') and then went around the course twice each mock race. We did 4 mock races. 

We tried every possible set, douse style, we gybed as soon as we rounded the mark, right before hitting the gate, etc...We wrapped and unwrapped the spinnaker. We tacked several times. I was trimming and boy that was a lot of work!!!

I noticed a GoPro but never saw a video of the practice.
The hardest part was floating the spinnaker. Dima is a great foredeck person. Quiet, efficient and with a great eye to details.

Libra keeps their engine forward. Easier to take out and better weight distribution. I can't do this on Elise offshore and we use the engine so rarely that I prefer to have it safely hooked up in the back.

Afterwards we debriefed over a drink and some food. Overall, the same type of issues as I have seen on many boats and that has plagued Elise from time to time. Tactician needs to make clear calls and not try to change their mind unless there is a compelling reason. I used to have that problem...

The practice simulated every single type of last minute changes and horror situations but 90% of the time, you want to stick to a repeatable routine as it reduces the rate of errors and predictability allows you to optimize maneuvers, and synchronize your team. 10% of the time you will be called to react to an unplanned situation. That particular training was to have us work as a team in this 10% of the time and we did one race simulating a regular 90% of the times to also allow us to get to know each other as a team. 

Clearly it doesn't replace 15 years of teaming up together like a lot of the top boats have but it never hurts :)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

South Beach Harbor Beer Can Race on Iniscaw

Last Friday, I had the pleasure to join a fellow SSS racer on Iniscaw. This is a 32 footer with a big spinnaker! Trimming the genoa and the spinnaker is a lot of work...I lack practice and I was fairly slow to get the winch routine down. An Express sail is a pocket handkerchief compared to any other boat...

The learning: if you do single handed, pick boats you are comfortable handling...(and of course that are seaworthy). Probably more important than comfort.

You don't pick your boat for when things go well. You imagine what it is like when they go wrong and how fast or easily you can recover.

It was game night, we were greeted back with cheers from the stadium!

Our happy skipper

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Beer can race in Richmond on Libra

I signed up to do the Express 27 Nationals on Libra since Elise is due to be back basically during the event. Libra had signed up for a beer can race and I joined as I wanted some practice.

I did foredeck and a fairly appalling job. Will from Motorcycle Irene was on the boat. He is an amazing professional sailor, and the top sailor in the fleet (or any fleet he sails in regularly for that matter). He is one of my sailing heroes.

It was incredible to watch him do tactics in the light air start, handling currents on both the upwind and the downwind legs and optimizing trim, constantly optimizing. We won the race and he had a lot to do with it.

Specifically what I learned:

  • focus helps. Will is singlemindedly focused on the race at hand
  • every detail needs to be paid attention to: light helm movement in the light air, constant trim of the jib and main TOGETHER (to optimize the air flow between the two of them and balance the boat better), constant small movement of the pole and sheet on the downwind, as well as trimming the main. Not one second is spent without looking to see if something needs to be optimized because there is a small change in conditions - always weighing benefits of moving weight about and gains from that change
  • he trims the spinnaker a lot with the twings. It is less drastic changes and doesn't require as much effort to move the pole back and forth. I really liked that and on Libra both twings are ringed so that you can easily trim them from the cockpit. I may make that change on Elise.
Fantastic day on the water, and great dinner sharing impressions with Marcia and Sergey.

Simpsons Regatta on Current Affairs (ex-Discotheque)

As I await for Elise to come back, sorely missing her, I am spending quite a bit of time on other boats. It is a great school to get a new perspective. 

I did the Simpsons Regatta on Current Affairs. 

Seth bought the boat only a few months ago so this reminded me of my first months with Elise. Express 27s are fantastic boat but they need a little getting used to.

A lethal combination: bringing the pole forward and pulling hard on the sheet while going downwind in a breeze - usually results in a round up as the main and the spinnaker are both pushing the boat up into the wind. It depowers the boat if you release the sheet but makes you more likely to round up. When going very deep, you'd usually square the pole back. I now prefer to depower by twinging down and trying to get the chute to settle more to avoid wide movements of the boat, and depower the main primarily via the vang. Releasing the sheet too much increases the likelihood of rounding down. Like any other sail used within its wind range, the spinnaker just needs to be trimmed, and like any other sail, balancing the boat for the conditions should get you fast someplace stressfree.

There was a massive overwrap - and we had to lower the halyard of the jib to fix it. Note that there are way to many people attending to the problem. The boat could continue to sail where it is supposed to go with as many people on the rail as possible as you really need one person on the low side and the jib halyard can be released while on the rail. However, it is very natural for everyone to want to help, a human reflex. It is very hard to have the discipline to trust that the other team members will call for help if and when they need it.

In-between races, changing jib to the #3.

Rounding the leeward gate

Dropping the chute to windward

At the finish after some really nice surfing.

In-between races, sailing along the start line

Waiting for our start

Sailing on the boat was a ton of fun - everyone seems to be truly enjoying themselves. There was no shouting whatsoever.

Weight distribution....

I believe that this is strega?


The first two races, we had to short tack up the city front to access the early ebb.

Race committee

The winner of the race by 30 seconds! Motorcycle Irene. The fleet has some of the best sailors in the area.

Taking down the chute

Living dangerously.

Getting ready for a windward douse with a human pole

Peaches, Elise's neighbor on the dry

Crowded start

mark boat going to get their buoy

The top of the fleet

Our round up frame by frame

The other problem here is that the crew released both the guy and the sheet. In a round up, you just release the sheet which pretty much kills the power of your chute as it collapses the sail. If you release the guy too, the spinnaker can do what it did that day and knock  off your windex at the top of the mast!
It also makes it harder to recover as the chute is now way to leeward, and if you want to put the boat downwind again, you need some of that sail to windward.

Recovering slowly

looks like the downhaul was released too?

The spinnaker only had a small hole in it afterward!

as we were so close to the gate, we decided to douse and hoist the genoa.

Strega got t-boned by a boat in the other fleet.

Battling for first place

Will end up being a very tight race

Sailing to the nearest cove to get both current and wind relief in-between races

Going upwind

Dousing the spinnaker to windward

Unfortunately, halyard released before the foot of the spinnaker was inside the boat...

but nice recovery.

Dima on Libra

And the end of the last race.


  • The boat is pristine. Optimized deck layout for buoy racing, light and efficiently organized
  • No shouting, a lot of mistakes mostly because of lack of practice but silent recovery and we just keep going is a good dynamic
  • Very good foredeck work
  • Slow tacks (Elise had this problem too at the beginning)
  • Good boat speed downwind, pointing problems upwind.
  • Main trim can be optimized (a lot of it is a matter of learning the boat) 
  • The entire team seems to be scared of the spinnaker and gybes - there is nothing mysterious about them, and a lot of it is getting used to the sail and practice. So that's an issue that's easy to solve!!

On Elise we pick the area where the biggest improvement would be gained and we focus on that. In this case, I'd recommend  focusing on the tacks. This is an area where on Elise we made a lot of improvement and we wouldn't lose the ground preciously won and hard fought over.

I had a ton of fun!