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Scenes from a Solo Sail

On Wednesday, I got up well before dawn so that I could be through the 5am lift bridge in time for the beginning of Nautical Twilight (about an hour before sunrise).  I sailed (and sometimes motored) as far as I could before turning around and returning through the 10pm lift bridge just after the end of Nautical Twilight.

It was a magical day, with spectular predawn light and an unforgettable sunrise.  Here are some highlight photos.

Nautical Twilight

Just before Dawn


Sailing by Toronto

How Far did I get?



2019 GHYRA results and highlights

This has been another great GHYRA campaign for PERSPECTIVE.  Here are the highlights:

  • Line honours twice (first boat across the line): Thursday & Friday
  • Podium finish in every race
    • First place finish: Tuesday
    • Three Second place finishes: Wednesday, Thursday & Friday
    • Four Third place finishes: Sunday & Monday  (Yes, we even got thirds on Canada Day, eh!)
  • Ten regular crew members sailed at least one leg each
  • Three guest crew whom I’m sure we’ll see again: Tom, Trevor & Mark E
  • Glamping with Lazy Sheet
  • Tons of laughs
  • Ghosting in light breeze and flat seas where we were able to make (and keep) our own wind.
  • Some comments from other racers last night at the awards:  “Next year, I’m just following you guys”  (Battlewagon, Nauti-Buoy)

Indeed, we took the road less traveled for three of the last four races and each time it paid off in spades.

Final result: Third overall in our fleet.  Encore! Encore!

Lift bridge to Port Credit in 2.5 hours….TWICE

The run from the Burlington lift bridge to PCYC is 19 nautical miles.  With a typical breeze, one could count on a pleasant three to five hour journey, depending on wind direction.  But light wind can make this leg feel like Homer’s Odyssey — during the Susan Hood, a very similar leg (CCIW spider to PCYC) took us 8 hours!

But twice now, sailing with Rick Culver, we’ve done the trip in 2.5 hours.

The first time, the Monday after the Susan Hood, three of us (Lazy Sheet, Rick and me) were sailing upwind with the #3 on a close reach.  That meant an average speed of 7.6 knots upwind, and a peak speed of 8.1 knots — planing upwind!

Yesterday, the wind was just aft of the beam, and Rick and I only set the headsail (our old #1), leaving the mainsail neatly packed away.  Once again our average speed was 7.6 knots (downwind this time), with a peak speed of 9.1 knots.  Wit a bit of wave on the water, we could get PERSPECTIVE riding the gusts and waves for long stretches.  It’s amazing how smooth and creamy the helm feels when the boat pops up onto a plane.

Here’s an aside about hull speed and planing.  A displacement boat (monohull that sits in the water), has a maximum speed that is defined by its length.  This is the boat’s hull speed.  Bigger boats have higher hull speeds.  For a 10m boat (PERSPECTIVE) our hull speed is 7.6 knots.  For a Viper 830 (8.3m), the hull speed is 7.0 knots.  But light boats, like the Viper are able to lift up out of the water and begin to plane like a surfboard.  Once a boat is planing, there is no longer a speed limit, and the boat can go much faster than its hull speed.  PERSPECTIVE is quite a bit heavier, than a Viper so she needs more force to rise out of the water, but she can.  Every time we’ve sailed faster than 7.6 knots, we’ve been planing.  And when we do, because the physics of surfing along the surface of the water are so much different that the physics of pushing water out of the way, the experience on the helm is also very different.  When the boat rises up, the forces on the tiller become very light, the sound of the wake changes to a shhhhhh sound, and the smile on the helmsman face gets wider and wider.

So coming back to our two quick trips to PCYC this year, I notice that our average speed 7.6 knots is exactly our hull speed, which means to me that we were planing half the time!

Rick will be joining us on the Lake Ontario 300 this summer.  If he brings planing conditions with him for that race, we’ll have to give him a nickname, like “surfer dude”.

Trim to the verge of stall: North U Sail Trim Course

“Trim to the verge of stall” was our instructors answer for nearly every question.  And the reason always seemed to be because that would keep the keel working for us underwater.

Connecting those dots was sometimes clear and sometimes well over our heads, but we each took away some gems from our day at Lakeshore Yacht Club in Etobicoke.  Representing PERSPECTIVE were Kiwi, Four Hands, Twisted (do we still call Bert that?  I favour MacGyver :-)) and myself.  Total attendence was around 40 racing enthusiasts and our instructor was expert, engaging and mixed up his slides with animations, videos, whiteboard sketches and some fun stories.

But most importantly, he reminded us it is HARD to get it all right, and even the pros don’t get it right all the time.  His funny stories about situations on board showed us that even the best of the best find themselves perplexed by situations that are very familiar to us.  But like the racing tactics we studied this winter, if we start to get things right more often than before (and more often than our competition), we will come out ahead!

So, what did I learn today?

Trim to the verge of stall

We do this with the spinnaker all the time (easing until it just starts to curl).  We should do this with the jib and the main.  For the mainsail, the tell-tales sneak behind the main about 30% of the time (more at the top).  For the jib, we should install leech tell-tales too, so that we can do the same for the foresail.  In this mode, we are getting the maximum lift/drag ratio from our sailplan.

Steer to see the inside genoa tell-tale lifting

Yep, just like we learned this winter, but Geoff suggested we add more tell-tales to the sail, one behind the other to get a sense of how close we are to the edge of stall.

How to set the outhaul

In 2017 we sailed with the main backwinded a lot by the genoa.  During 2018, we got this mostly under control by flattening the main through the outhaul, backstay and mainsheet.  But that leaves the question: have we done enough? have we over-done it?

Geoff explained that when the mainsail has too much depth, it becomes impossible to trim the main to avoid simultaneously luffing at the luff and stalling at the leech. (yup, we had that for sure in 2017).  The best spot for the outhaul is when you can stall the mainsail right at the point where the luff of the mainsail begins to quiver.

How to depower the sailplan

There’s a well-defined sequence to this.

  1. First we flatten the sails
    • Tighten the Outhaul
    • Harden the Backstay. And tightening the backstay has multiple effects (opens the leech, moves the mainsail draft aft, tightens the forestay, moves the genoa draft aft), so we need to compensate by
      • Harden the Mainsheet
      • Ease the Traveller
      • Tighten the Cunningham
      • Tighten the Jib halyard
      • Ease the Jib cars
  2. Second, we sail higher, feathering more often (ie: inner tell-tales straight up)
  3. Only when that is not enough, we decrease the angle of attack, by easing traveler and mainsheet

It’s amazing how all the sail controls are connected.  Obviously, in a gust, we need to respond quickly with the traveler or sheet, but our ultimate goal should be to rebalance the boat with the above steps 1, 2, 3 so that gusts aren’t as disruptive and we keep the keel working to push up upwind.

How to depower even more

In bigger wind, we need to go even further, because steps 1, 2, 3 will eventually lead us to a situation where the genoa is backwinding the mainsail, the gusts are turning the mainsail inside out, and we can’t point high any more.  (Yes, this is very familiar on PERSPECTIVE.)  The solution is:

4. crack the jib in high winds.  Yes, we will feather more, and the genoa will be luffing, but in this situation, the trailing edge of the mainsail will be drawing, and the power delivered to the boat will be better balanced around the keel.

And wait, there’s more…

But I think this was already enough!  Let’s go sailing and try it out 🙂


Winter Series session 8: Starting, part B

Last week we focused on three objectives for starting (clear air, well-timed near the favoured end, and freedom to tack) and the standard approach for starting.  This week we looked at variants of the standard aproach and other starting ideas, but quickly reverted back to think through what it would really take on board to execute the standard approach well.  Simple answer: practice!  But we can help ourselves by trying to be systematic.  There’s really a lot for us to be taking in and using for decision making, so we came up with a scheme like this.

Who does what

There are basically three phases.

  • Before our start sequence we should be focused on gathering data and setting up for the race.  We should sail well below the line (under spinnaker if conditions permit) and then put in long close-hauled tacks back to the starting area so we can gather data.  During this phase there should be minimal traffic to monitor
  • After the five minute gun we are maneuvering among our fleet trying to get the best position for the start
  • Approaching the line we are managing time and distance

Here’s an idea about how to achieve all of that.  We’ll have to try it out to see if it works.

Who Before the 5 minute gun After the five minute gun Approaching the line
Bowman Enter line into compass Monitor overlap Monitor overlap/Call the line
Mastman Enter line and course/marks into iPad Traffic Traffic
Pit Record headings & TWD Record headings & TWD Call out time & distance
Foresail Watch other starts Maneuvers Sail Trim/Manage boat speed
Mainsail Record headings Maneuvers Sail Trim/Manage boat speed
Helm Traffic Drive/consult with tactician Drive/make decisions and call for
Tactician Plan the race Find the favoured end.  Plan the start Position of other boats/Call Burn-down

Managing Speed

Sometimes we need to slow down.  The easiest way is to spill one of the sails!

Winter Series Session 7: Starting, part A

We’ve got our head in the wrong game.  Most of the time, our approach to starting has been to tangle with boats going for the boat end of the line as if we are in a match race.  Sure, it’s exciting and really fun to push someone over the line, or pinch them off at the committee boat, but the risks are high, and even if we are successful, we find ourselves in a starboard tack parade of bad air, unable to tack.

Walker suggest we put our head into a different game, with three goals:

  1. Clear Air
  2. Well-timed start near the favoured end of the line
  3. Freedom to sail to the preferred side of the course

Basically, we should only pay enough attention to the other boats to make sure we have the tactical position we want.  That makes sense, but what position do we want?

Collecting Data

This depends on the wind: ODSSSIC.  If a persistent shift is expected, we know we want to sail on the headed tack early in the leg.  Our start should give us the flexibility to do that.  And if the wind is oscillating, we need to be able to tack to take advantage of the shifts.  We’ll know this by collecting data before the start.  True wind angles, compass readings on close-hauled headings, what’s happening in the sky, what’s happening to other fleets.

We also want to know which end of the line is favoured.  Starting near it can put us a few boat-lengths ahead.  In oscillating winds, the favoured end can change from one fleet to another, so we need to monitor closely.

Where to start

By collecting data, we should know which side of the course we want to sail on, and which side of the line is favoured.  Now we have three choices:

  1. Leeward:  (Starboard-tack start just to leeward of the fleet):
    1. Pros:
      • Freedom to continue in clear air toward the left-side of the course.
      • Choose our own spot away from traffic.
    2. Cons:
      • Can’t tack onto port in a header or to get to the right side of the course.
    3. When to do this:
      • Boat end favoured
      • Pin end favoured
      • Left-hand side of the course favoured
      • Oscillations minor/unlikely
  2. Windward: (Starboard-tack start just to windward of the fleet):
    1. Pros:
      • Freedom to tack
    2. Cons:
      • Backwinded
      • Tricky and crowded
    3. When to do this:
      • Boat end favoured
      • Freedom to tack is important
  3. Port-tack start
    1. Pros
      • Really Macho
      • Yeehaw!!!
      • Clear air
    2. Cons
      • Tricky
      • May have to duck much of the fleet
    3. When to do this
      • Pin end favoured
      • Right side of course advantageous
      • Moderate air

The standard technique

Okay, now we know where to start.  How do we get there?  Walker advises that we

  1. Choose where we want to start
  2. Draw an imaginary layline to that position (use something on shore as a range)
  3. Identify a position along that layline approx 100m from the start line
  4. Note: 100m at 6 knots takes about 30 seconds to sail once powered up after a tack
  5. Sail a base leg on port to that position, arriving there about 45 seconds from the start
  6. Tack and go for it!

Of course, we have to watch for traffic, execute a great tack and keep our eyes on time and distance to make sure we aren’t early.  Getting this right will take practice.  And it will take technology!

Time and Distance

Fortunately, we have that technology.  The iRegatta app has a starting mode with a burn-down indicator that will glow red when we are early, and “green means go”.  We just gotta start using this tech!

Winter Series Session 6: The Weather Mark

I love a good parade!  Many fond memories.  Top of the list was the electric light parade at Disney World.  But If I’m honest, I have to admit the last few I attended with my kids were becoming a bit old.  Especially waiting curbside in the December slush for Santa Clause.

So I was really glad when Walker recommended that we avoid joining the Starboard-tack parade too early on the approach to the weather mark.  There are several good reasons:

  1. We’ll be sailing in the bad air backwinded off the boats ahead
  2. Since many of those boats are from slower fleets, we’ll effectively be slowed down to their speed.
  3. Our pointing ability will also be compromised.
  4. And judging the layline from a distance is tricky.  Odds are we’ll either miss it, or overstand. Neither are good.
  5. If there is a knock, we’ll have to put in two extra tacks in quick succession (emergency tacks)
  6. If there is a lift, we won’t get much benefit from it, aside from being able to crack off sheets a bit.

Instead, he advocates that we stay 100m+ below the layline for our approach, and then join the parade about 100m+ from the mark

  1. That’s far enough to have clear air, so we can sail fast and high
  2. If there is a lift, we get the full benefit
  3. If there is a knock, well, we were planning to make two tacks anyway
  4. We’ll nail the layline from a much closer position.

This is great advice and should be worth a few boat-lengths.  A couple of tricky things we need to consider to take advantage of this option

Joining the parade

When we join the parade, we have to choose whether to lee-bow a boat on the layline by tacking just to leeward of them, or to push through to the windward side.  The main considerations (in rank order):

  1. How do we want to exit the rounding?
    1. If we want a bear-away set, it is worthwhile to push through to windward so that we have clear air when we hoist
    2. If we want to jibe-set, the inside position is better
  2. Are we sailing in light air?
    1. Push through to windward no matter what.  Accelerating after the tack will take all the clear air we can get
  3. Are we still pretty far from the mark?
    1. Push through.

But in moderate air, when we are near the mark and want a jibe-set, we should go for the lee bow.  When we do that, we have to pay attention to the rules, particularly if there is a neighbouring boat that calls for room to tack.  That’ll be exciting!

Putting in a good hoist

Yes, I am guilty of joining the parade early.  But it has been primarily because I have wanted to allow the crew ample time to set the pole.  For this reason, in high wind, I think it is still best for us to join the parade early so that we can have a good secure pole in place before the hoist.  A nice tidy bear away will always be more important than some backwinding on the layline in these conditions.  But in moderate wind and light air, we will be just fine hoisting without the pole and setting it after the kite is flying.  We’ll just need to practice that.


Winter Series Session 5: Oscillating Wind Shifts

So a few weeks ago I made a claim that we could gain 100 seconds in an average race by using oscillating wind shifts to our advantage.  The theory is clear:  when the wind is oscillating, we can shorten the course significantly by “tacking on the headers” to always be sailing on the lifted tack.  In the past, only the helmsman has been noticing knocks and lifts, but we have not really been keeping track of whether we are sailing in wind that is lifted or knocked relative to the median wind.  And that is the key.

This was hammered home by repeatedly playing the wind game.  It always tacked when the wind direction swept through the median direction (and even kept a rolling average of the median wind direction).  Great, it works on the computer — how to make it work on the water?

Well, turns out this is what the compass is for. Go figure!  I still remember the way Doug Folsetter’s shoulders slumped during leg one of the 2017 GHYRA when he asked where our compass was.  (actually, it was when I confessed that we didn’t have one).  He asked how we tracked the headers and lifts?  As usual, I didn’t know what Doug was talking about and mumbled something noncommittal in response.  He was too much of a gentleman to press the point.  But now I know what he was getting at!

With the boat trimmed, and steering to the tell-tales, the helmsman responds to the shifts in the wind by steering, and the heading of the boat varies.  The compass can show us clearly if we have deviated significantly from the original heading on any given tack.  In fact, the Velocitek uses the first 20 seconds or so after tacking to detect when we are in the groove and then begins to track deviations from that heading.  There are bars at the top that show if we have shifted 5, 10, 15 degrees or more.

Good, that will tell us how the wind changed since we tacked.  But surely we can do better than that!

Yes, we can.  First, we should follow Walker’s advice and write down these headings before the race and during the race.  That will give us an idea of the range of oscillations on each tack so we can make live decisions.

But we can do even better than that.  Our iRegatta app on the ipad tracks the TWD (True Wind Direction) as a function of time, updating it every 30 seconds and plotting a nice Wind History graph so we can see how much it has been varying on any given night and whether it is currently veered or backed relative to the median wind.  Bingo!

So now we know:  pay attention to how the wind direction changes, tack on the headers (ie: when the TWD oscillates through the median wind), watch the compass, write down headings, and check the Wind History every once in a while.  100 seconds, here we come!

Fun Facts:

  • On windy days, the oscillations are biggest (20 degrees!) and most frequent (every two minutes)
  • In moderate wind, expect 2-3 shifts in a beat
  • Have a look at other boats to see how the wind is affecting them.  If we are all on the same tack, we’ll feel more ‘side by side’ when on a lifted tack, and more ‘one behind another’ when headed….time to tack!
  • Oh, and boats on opposite tacks might tell us what wind is coming next.  Treat it like a persistent shift.  If they are lifted and we aren’t, tack now, and tack back when the header comes.

Offshore Installations

Getting ready to tackle Category 3 Monohull Offshore races like the Susan Hood and LO300 involves quite a bit of gear, but the biggest projects were to install a fixed compass and radio (with masthead antenna).  Yesterday David led team RADIO (with Lazy Sheet as trusty assistant) and Gil lead team COMPASS (while I handed him tools and ran the vacuum cleaner).  Before drilling a 4.5″ hole in the boat, Gil and I spent over an hour measuring, thinking, planning.  Then in 90 seconds….presto!  Here are some snaps of a chilly day in the boat yard.

(Have I mentioned that PERSPECTIVE has the best crew on the bay?)