30 August 2009

Time in the Boat

Somebody ("they"?) said to be proficient in handling a boat one needs "time in the boat." That sounds right to me and makes any time in the boat, whether it all comes together as planned or not, an opportunity to learn more, to improve one's skills. So it was last Friday.

With the Megabyte North American Championship now just three weeks away, I've been trying to find a time to get down to the venue for some practice driving the boat in a good blow over some steep Bay chop. Last attempt was thwarted by a little two much of the good stuff. So with Friday afternoon free, I checked the wind indicator at RYC and saw that the wind strength was steadily building. Add to that a lot of heat east of the foothills where I live, and things were shaping up. I guess I should have checked the temperature on the Bay, too. As I dropped down to sea level on Richmond Parkway, It occurred to me that my air conditioning was still humping. That's weird. Let's see . . . whoa it's 95 degrees here by the Bay. And, hot equals still. Crap. This is going to be a waste of time. Or, maybe time in the boat is time in the boat?

So, no, I didn't get to practice driving in waves, but I did get to calibrate my senses that will come together in some way to help me when I do see waves. I felt the spring in the carbon mast as I raised and stepped it; I measured the all up weight as I walked the boat down the ramp into the water; I learned where the boat catches itself when rolled deeply to one side; I saw the effect of fore and aft trim on my wake; I discovered the asymmetrical technique required to quickly turn the boat with rudder alone; I recalibrated the tug required to set the outhaul just so; and I built on the excitement of sailing this boat on that water.

Of course, in the more typical summer conditions on the Bay, the dynamics of all this will be different. Then again, maybe the North Americans will be a sloppy drifter, and I'll be perfectly prepared. ;-) Either way, I can't help but think I know my boat a little better than before.

28 August 2009

Fastest Shape?

Aerohydrodynamically balanced or skinny and low wetted surface? The Megabyte will steer itself downwind with just a slight heel to weather. Feels fast without any drag induced by corrective rudder action. With that slight heel, however; there's still a lot of flat aft section dragging along the water surface. Would it be faster to crank the boat way over to weather like the Laser sailors do? This would indeed reduce the wetted surface of the hull, but the asymmetrical shape would then need some rudder to keep on course. Last Friday, I decided to give "excessive" weather heel a try while out chasing the Fleet 76 Vanguards around. First challenge was learning the balance point with the boat that far over and close to capsize. The boat is definitely more prone to rolling when positioned up on its edge like that, but of course that's an indication that those big flat sections are no longer dragging water. I found that putting some firm pressure with my hand on the lee rail would quickly suppress a roll to weather. Good to know. As for speed differences? Don't really know--only had V15s to run down, and a Megabyte can do that without much trouble no matter what the boat's attitude.

An unusually strong ebb tide running counter to the prevailing wind, meant that the downwind legs were effectively much longer than the upwind legs. That worked to my advantage as I beat the Vanguards round the windward leeward course two out of three times.

22 August 2009

Somebody's got to go

Too many boats.

Which one goes?

Sail to Live Another Day

The trees were already bent over by 8am. No worries, it's just a morning blow. Should ease up by mid-day. And no problem finding a place to park the trailer at the office complex I was visiting for my meeting Tuesday morning--a consequence of the recession, no doubt. Turns out the guys I was meeting with where sailors, too, and more than accommodating to move the dialog along quickly and allow me to get out on The Bay for a good practice session in Feraligatr. By one O'clock I was around the corner at the marina anticipating the thrill of punching through and surfing over the chop on the open bay. But wait, how come the wind is still howling? Shouldn't there be a little letting up before the afternoon fog comes back in? Whatever the cause, it was blowing hard through Richmond's Marina Bay. Do I go out and get some high wind practice? Learn to manage an already overpowered boat in overpowering conditions? Not via this marina, and not by myself. A quick mental zoom through at least four things that could go really wrong, given the wind strength/direction and the particulars of the marina layout, and leading to visions of damaged property and reputation, convinced me that this was not a good day to go sailing by myself.

So, I packed it in, and got back on the road for home. Disappointment and second guesses filling my brain, I cranked some Metallica to help sour my mood further. But then halfway up I-80 it occurred to me that a slight detour would have me presently in Benicia, another Bay Area micro climate. What the hey, let's go check it out.

And, it was perfect. Warm weather, moderate breeze, slack tide. OK, none of the waves I had hoped to get some practice on today, but perfect otherwise. Out I went. Just a few days before, I had finally installed my tactical compass and was looking forward to what it might tell me. Instead of the typical down the strait, today the wind was dropping in over the South bank hills making for very shifty conditions as each gust dropped to the water and decided which way to scatter. Recognizing that a shift has occurred is not hard to do in these conditions. Each seemingly random switch is a recipe for a capsize either to weather or to leeward. But with the compass, a repeatable pattern emerges. 3 3 3 3 6 -tack- 6 6 6 6 3 -tack- 3 3 3 3 6 -tack. (Yes, it really was shifting 30 degrees--not unusual when Benicia gets this Southerly wind.) After syncing up, it's easy to determine just which wind you are in at any given moment (and anticipate what is coming next and when.) Stay in phase, and the absolute tacking angles are only 60 degrees--a huge advantage on the way to a weather mark. Out of phase, and it's effectively 120 degrees. For you geometry buffs, in these big shifts, the out of phase boat sails 1.7 times as far as the in-phase boat. Wow.