29 May 2009

Four Successes at Whiskeytown

Alrighty, Dean, I'm finally gettin' to the good stuff, the good racing stuff that is (the bad stuff probably makes for gooder blog reading.) I know you've just been dieing to know since Saturday "what I learned about the wind on the South side". And after I gave my self a lashing for being "too strategic", you must think I'm losing it--bet our call the other night didn't help much either. You see, this particular regatta was such a mix of really good and really bad that I got things confused. So here are the good things I can remember:
  1. My first beat strategy actually paid two out of four, not just one as previously reported. (The second one was quickly forgotten as it preceded the course screw-up.) That practice session on Friday did give me the insight needed. I had found that there was significantly more pressure in a band down the South edge of the lake. Venture just a few hundred yards "offshore" and it would really drop off. On Saturday, we appeared to have the same pattern. This is why I was happy to duck starboard tack boats at the start to get to the right (South) first. In the two races Saturday, I was first and second at the top mark. I also used the extra pressure on the downwind leg of race 2 to catch one boat and almost two others after my course blunder. (This pattern was gone by Sunday, but I didn't recognize that . . .)
  2. I was fast in light air. I was fast in light air. I was fast in light air! WooHoo. I usually suck in the light stuff. My two best finishes, a first and a second, were actually in the lightest air races. Being really diligent about good boat trim, staying quiet in the boat, and playing the sheet all the way really seemed to help.
  3. I was fast down wind, too. A similar focus to the upwind sailing along with proper positioning relative to the fleet helped me catch a boat or two after screw-ups and hold off pursuers after the good beats. Maybe my downwind tactics are better because I'm not distracted trying to figure out the more complicated upwind strategy.
  4. And finally, this had to be the best Fleet 3 Megabyte sailing, yet. A couple of other Megabyters made similar observations. The racing was much tighter with more mixed places than usual. I think this is the most boats, six, we've had finish all races in a regatta, and we found a new guy. Don from Lake Shasta who bought a Megabyte last year from somebody in Arizona showed up probably figuring he was going to be the only Megabyte there and subject to sailing in the open class. He was as surprised as we were. Hope to see him again soon.
Well, Huntington Lake is next. Hopefully I can create more successes and fewer screw-ups.

28 May 2009

Thank You, Phil Bolger

With great sadness, I learned yesterday that Phil Bolger had committed suicide. It's been said he "went on his own terms." That's troubling for me to try to understand, and I can't help but think he wasn't really "done", yet. After all, he was still producing some of the most deceptively innovative boat designs and continuing to share his remarkable insights through his writings. Here's the scoop.

Today, blogger Thomas Armstrong of 70.8%, a rather interesting continual boat ramble, has called for "readers who have built, bought or commissioned a Bolger boat to send me an email with your story and some photos." Although I have built four boats, none was designed by him. But, two were certainly influenced by him. After all, I've read Bolger's "Boats With an Open Mind" through and through many times studying his words carefully, skipping from chapter to chapter to compare related designs all the while thoroughly enjoying the read. Those who know Bolger know that he had a remarkable ability to make what would normally be a truly ugly boat beautiful and not just in a utilitarian way but in an absolute way. His "square boats" are perhaps the most recognizable example, but the skill shows up in other types, as well. His portfolio was particularly broad

I spent countless hours rereading his descriptions of what made good boats from flat panels--the kind easily assembled in garages from plywood, translating what I learned into creations of my own using rudimentary design software, building and testing scale models as described by "Dynamite"Payson who is responsible for teaching thousands of us how to build to Bolger's designs, and ultimately building two at full scale. The first, was a sort of box boat, warped to get the aesthetic I was after. It was commissioned by my Mom and her husband Bill to fit exactly in a virtual box, the space just behind and no higher than the roof-mounted air conditioner on their motorhome. Twelve and a half feet long, thirty inches or so wide, and fifteen inches deep. Stable with capacity for two. The result was a modifed punt.

The second boat shows the Bolger influence perhaps a bit more directly. Ironically, I ended up strip planking this boat despite its design for sheet construction and with no beveling required on account of the plumb sides. In fact, I glued up the strips in panels on the floor and then wrapped them around a jig as if they were plywood. The result was an "Electric Slipper Canoe." Dig it.

Mr. Bolger's influence will surely carry on for many years to come and thousands more will build, buy, or just noodle on the wonderful boats he designed. Bye Phil.

26 May 2009

Four Screw-ups at Whiskeytown

First, in response to Tillerman's musings on list posts, yeah, I do think they're kind of lame. Play to both the lazy blogger and the lazy reader; but whatever, I'm going to do another one anyway. Second, I'll do this in two parts. A list of lists? I suck.

So, on with the Four Screw-ups at Whiskeytown
  1. Too much (attempted) strategy, not enough tactics: I focused too much on picking (guessing?) the best strategy for the fickle lake winds and then trying relentlessly to execute. I started each race with an all-in bet. It only paid once. Only way I recovered was to dump the ill fated strategy and start picking my way back through the fleet with a sharp tactical focus taking every opportunity as presented rather than seeking ones that really weren't there.
  2. My starts suffered for the same reason. I kept trying to make my own start, thinking I had some kind of strategic advantage. For example, I would run the line on port ducking boats as needed to get the the right first. Would have been better to make a more tactical start, driving others back, and staying in the mix instead of committing early to what would ultimately be a bad choice. Get a strong start, hold my lane, and see how things start to play out.
  3. I misread the course chart. Race two was one of those lake tour courses where they send you off all over the place. From the weather mark three quarters of the way up the lake we were to angle off somewhere towards the upper corner of the lake. The hand sketched "not to scale" chart wasn't much help, and small white marks were impossible to pick out at such a distance. Charles rounded first and headed off on a close reach to the corner of the lake. I pursued, but by the time we were half way cross I could tell there was no mark there. I then spied a mark up to weather. Hoping that was it, I hardened up, sailed into a nice puff, and and soon had the rest of the fleet astern. That is, until I saw Charles, now down to leeward, gybe. He had seen the class behind us, Snipes and Lasers, cutting directly across the lake on a beam reach apparently lead by some locals. Extrapolating their course, the speck of a white mark appeared along the shore half a mile dead downwind from my current location. After letting fly some salty language, I headed off to take up my position now at the back of the fleet. I manged to climb back to fourth, but that score doomed me.
  4. I blew a close cover on the last leg of the last race giving up second place for the regatta. I had Dean to leeward when a Snipe from another class tacked right on me. As I was sucking bubbles, Dean started to get away. I chose to tack out of there and hope for the best. Bad move. Dean got into the right hand shift to the right of me and that was the end of it. In hindsight, I should have footed off out of the lee of the Snipe and down over Dean’s bow to maintain cover even if it would have put me right on top of him.
OK, enough of the ugly stuff. Good stuff in the next post . . .

23 May 2009

Four Things My Dad Did That I'm Too Chicken To.

Here you go, Tillerman.

1) Take the family cruising down the West Coast of Mexico in a thirty-two foot boat for seven weeks. Wow, what an amazing trip that was. I was about eleven or so, but still remember so many parts of it as if we did it yesterday. Would I do this with my family? Hard to imagine. Too soft. Too busy. Too I don't know.

2) Take the family (save for my sister) on the Guadalupe Island Race--a notoriously wild one. This was the three leg version: San Diego to Guadalupe, Guadalupe to Ensenada, Ensenada to San Diego. On the first leg we managed to blow out both the three quarter and the ounce and a half chutes. One just went bang, the other managed to shred itself on the masthead instruments somehow. On leg two, most of the other boats broke something and/or dropped out, and we filled the boat with so much water that I was floating in the lee quarterberth.

3) Send my son, me, 12 or 13 at the time, the smallest of the crew, up the mast to retrieve the bits of the blown out spinnaker. I made it about to the spreaders before just about crapping my pants when I looked down to see the boat swinging to and fro in the heavy seas.

4) Leave my daughter, my eighteen year old sister at the time, home alone while the rest of us were gallivanting around some rock three hundred miles offshore. Upon returning home, little brother found all the evidence of what all had happened. From stories leaked by the neighbors years later it sounds like it was quite the party.

My sister still won't say how the banana ended up smeared on the ceiling.

Worth the Drive

It just felt like it was time for a road trip. Whiskeytown is three and a half hours away. It's a beautiful lake, and their annual regatta is this weekend. So I made The Drive. I made it up here early enough yesterday afternoon to get out for a practice session on the lake. 85 degrees, clear sky, clear water. truly beautiful. I sailed nearly up to the end of the lake, and on the way back, sitting comfortably in the boat downwind, I had the feeling that if I just packed it in and drove all the way back home it would still have been worth it. Just perfect.

Of course, I did stick around for the regatta, and what I learned about the wind on the South side of the lake yesterday paid off today :-)

21 May 2009

One Sheet, Two Sheets, This Way, That Way

I guess sailing a boat doesn't seem all that complicated until you try to do it in the most efficient way. I had thought through, even written down, all the various boat handling moves prior to hitting the water for our first race practice session in Lapras, but that all changed once we got into it. What had played so well in my mind just looked whacked as Dean tried to execute each maneuver on the foredeck. But no problem when you have a mechanical engineer up there. He just re-engineered the process, ran a couple of tests to check it, and then moved on to the next problem. By all was said and done, we'd switched to a 2:1 jib sheet obviating the need to fuss with the winches, extended the whisker pole considerably, changed its attaching point at the clew, and reworked the whole cane dance gybe thing.

With the Catalina 250 National Championship Regatta fast approaching, we'll need a couple more days of practice to at least feel competent if not fast. Still trying to line up an extra crew or two. If need be, Dean and I can double-hand it, but better to have help.

No practice in the big boat this weekend. Off to Whiskeytown to defend my title in the Megabyte. More on that later . . .

12 May 2009

Rethinking Sail Shape

The Megabyte has an identity crisis. No, I'm not talking about some sort of wannabe Laser complex--not worth going there. It's a case of two rigs on one boat. The Megabyte was first introduced in 2000 with a Laser-like sail--it was even designed by the same guy. OK, not exactly Laser-like with its full length top batten and cut for a much more flexible carbon mast, but not radically different either. Then, in 2007 PS 2000 introduced a new skiff-like rig for the boat with all full length battens, an even more flexible top mast, and a big fat roach (no, not that kind!). I've sailed both for a while now usually suiting up the old sail for fun and practice preserving the new sail for racing.

My initial thoughts had been that there wasn't all that much difference between the two rigs (maybe more speed downwind in light air with the new rig, but without any side by side testing hard to really tell), but that was before I saw the new coaching video that Ian Bruce put together for the Megabyte's little sister, the Byte: http://byteclass.org/ (click on "technical" link.) Watching that made me realize I was sailing the new rig in the old style. So, time to experiment and see what this new rig can really do.

I went our last Friday afternoon for some testing. My focus was on observing the sail with the traveler pulled all the way to weather and working out the mechanics of the sheet and traveler controls when tacking. I found that tacking the traveler isn't that big of a deal as long as you don't try to do everything at once--just as described by Ian in the video. As for the sail shape, yeah, sheeting to weather allows the sail to really twist, so much so that the top weather telltale is spinning circles while the lowers are streaming aft. When I'd observed this during early experiments with the sail, I thought it was a bad thing. Now, I'm not so sure. Despite the telltale direction, the leech ribbons all looked good, and the boat felt powered up and fast. I think next time I'll take a GPS with me and try to measure any speed and VMG differences between twist and no twist.

More to come . . .

08 May 2009

But We'll Get Wet

"Of course we will. We always get wet when we go sailing."

Five guys standing around the parking lot drinking beer on a rainy evening. "What, no sailing today?" I guess all they needed was a sixth to fill the third boat and make it obvious that sailing was still a good idea despite the weather. I've found that rigging and unrigging in the rain is a bit sloppy, but once out on the water, you don't even notice it coming down. Kinda weird actually.

Since the races for the night had already been called off, we decided to just go out and mess around so as not to tick off those who had packed it in and gone home. Turned out to be great fun. We had an unusual and shifty southerly whispering across the Strait and a rather strong flood. Made for some interesting tactics as we chased each other over to the Martinez Marina and back. The return trip was particularly strange. As the wind begin to wane it was nearly impossible to make any real progress out in the middle of the river. So, we footed off to the North shore where we found some current relief, maybe even a little eddy, and scooted on back to Benicia. Didn't even notice it was raining until we pulled the boats out. :-)

01 May 2009

No Going Back?

You know what they say . . . Well, I tried a trimaran last weekend . . . or, was it a skiff with training wheels? The Weta is a fourteen foot by eleven foot three-sailed fun-machine. After a quick tutorial, Dave at WetaWest let me solo this tri on Potrero Reach--my first time on any sort of multihull on any water. Three first impressions: 1) It's weird to sail a small boat without any thought of tipping it over. 2) Forget ease/hike/trim. This boat doesn't load up. With any puff, it just squirts forward. Almost makes the boat feel slow and then you look down and realize you're rippin'. 3) This fourteen footer is three feet wider than my twenty-five foot keel boat. In close quarters, wouldn't want to forget that ama is out there, but the width allows a ridiculous amount of lounging space. I found a couple of positions on the tramps that felt just like sailing from a hammock. Nice.

For what you get--a stupid-fast, fully rigged on custom dolly, ready to sail right out of the box tri-skiff thing--the Weta seems reasonably priced. But, it's still about three times what my Megabyte would sell for. Do I bite? Hmmm.