Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Training-partner-Claire muses on a weekends racing

I was away at the weekend, so Claire has given a report from the local racing scene.  Kudos to Claire for sailing a 2.5 hour race in winds up to 32 knots and keeping the boat upright!


Saturday saw the first down harbour and short course races. This, along with a good breeze, meant there were many eager sailors in the dinghy park, diligently taping their course cards down and generally bimbling around. Our happy sailing mood plummeted when we got to the start line and found the race officer had opted for an S (for secret or surprise) course for the down harbour race. In common with many of the other prospective starters I was pleased with my organisation in actually remembering the course cards and hadn’t got as far as bringing a pen. And with my memory not being what it was I managed to memorise the first 3 marks and that was it. Still, I thought, good incentive to keep up with the faster boats so I have someone to follow. Some of the other racers sensibly opted for the short course instead. 

So 13 boats set off down harbour, with a northerly wind blowing 15-23 knots it was a speedy downwind leg to Mill Rythe then some fun reaching across to Johns Folly and back, then upwind to Channel. Though I did have in the back of my mind all the time that the upwind all the way back was really going to hurt...Having no idea where I was going and having lost sight of the 29er, 400s and Finn,   I was pleased when I saw John and Simon in their Stratos, and the Lasers of Max and Lester ahead go to Channel, assuming we were then heading for home. But no, there was another lap to Johns Folly to go – more fun reaching though so no complaints. I was just starting the loooong upwind home when an ominously dark cloud appeared overhead and it became proper windy (32 knots when we looked later). John and Simon had their ‘maiden capsize’ but managed to right the boat in about a millisecond thanks to super speedy reactions! It was pretty wavy, my laser was being a bit battered around, and Emsworth looked an awfully long way away, but the wind calmed down a bit after a while – still  I have never been so pleased to see our ‘home buoys’ of Tye/Shepherd etc. So my race took 2hrs 40 mins – definitely needed a long afternoon nap after that one. Big thanks to the patrol boats who kept an eye on us and a good win for the 29er ladies who got home 50 minutes before me.

The more sensible racers who had chosen the short course also enjoyed gusty close racing around the more local buoys. Great to see 9 Slipper boats out for this race all racking up points for the short course series which is sure to be hotly contested. 

Sunday saw a pleasant force 4ish breeze and a 3 race series hosted by race officer supremo James Mant and a crack team. They set a nice long start line for the 25 starters and a triangle/sausage course. There was close competition particularly in the RS200s – just 20 seconds separated these 3 in Race 2, and in the Laser fleet with 13 Lasers out. The race team, with judicious use of the shorten course flag managed to get 3 good races in, and they only needed to use the black flag once. A great result for Paul and Caroline Fisk in their RS200 who were third overall and first Slipper boat. 

So a really fantastic weekends racing – many thanks to all the race officers, and patrol boat people who made it possible. Next races are the Pine Out of Harbour Race on the 11th May – this normally requires pre-registration – more details nearer the time – and Marsh 3 on the 12th May.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Initial observations from this weekends 300 open

So a quick post with initial thoughts on the weekends sailing at Bough Beech.

1.  300 sailors are Very Nice People
No aggression on the water, shouts of encouragement to other members of the fleet, and a very social bunch.  Even at crowded mark roundings, there was a gentlemanly discussion about who was entitled to what, and then we would all execute as agreed.  A marvellous meal on Saturday evening at a local pub in good and amusing company.  So if you have a 300 and you are thinking about an open I thoroughly recommend it, I was made to feel very welcome.

2.  Lake sailing is very different to Sea And Harbour Sailing
Here is what happens when you sail with windward heel on a lake: you get headed by 45 degrees and stop, up to your neck in water (I had to waterstart the boat, a la windsurfer).  There is no rhyme or reason to windshifts, but when they do happen they are major (forget worrying about 5 degree increments on the compass, we are talking 40+ shifts here).  The legs are 300m long, instead of 1+ miles.  But here's the curious thing, its great fun.  The variable wind means that the fleet stretches out and then concertinas up, everything is close quarter manoeuvring, and there is lots of boat-on-boat tactics.  I loved it, but I'm not very good at it.

3.  Its all about Not Making Mistakes
We had 7 races this weekend, and I led four of them at some point.  Each time, I threw the lead through a mistake that could have been avoided:
- Capsized when trying to be greedy on an inside overlap, fouling another boat in the process (sorry Martin, I just get carried away).  Lost 5 boats.
- Knew to take the left side of the run, but didn't because I was worried about being covered by the boats rounding behind.  Lost 6 boats in 200m.
- Managed to thread the tiller extension through the gap between the outhaul and boom on a gybe, capsized and thrashed the extension.  Lost 4 boats.
- Won one race, essentially through a good start and not making any catastrophic mistakes (it was the last race on Saturday, by which time I had started to calm down from my state of what the psychologists would call 'extreme arousal')
The event was won by the most consistent sailor.

4.  Never use a old mainsheet as a makeshift toothbrush
After refreshment on Saturday evening, I made it back to my van only to find that I had neglected to pack a toothbrush.  On scouring the van for a suitable substitute, I elected to use the end of an old mainsheet as a makeshift toothbrush, pressing the toothpasted polilite against my teeth with an index finger.  This was not a good idea, I could still taste the Thorney mud when I woke in the morning, and it didn't help with a hangover.  That said, thankfully I didn't go with the second option, which was a sock I found at the bottom of my kitbag.

More reflections on the racing and performance tomorrow, if Mrs R catches me doing excessive blogging after a weekend away I'll be properly for it.

Monday, 22 April 2013

First 300 open this coming weekend ....

So this is the first open following winter training, and the second event I've done since I've been sailing the 300.  I'm looking forward to it, but with a sense of nervousness and trepidation (obviously developing a state of 'high arousal').

The sailing is at a club called Beech Bough, a 250 acre reservoir in Kent.  I'm no judge of inland waters, but 250 acres sounds Quite Big, and looks to have attracted a good number of 300 sailors.  The weather looks a bit mixed, it strikes me as one of those forecasts that is pretty much meaningless 5 days out.  But if the forecast is correct, it shows a nice variance in conditions.  But one thing that is certain is that it will be cold on the Saturday night sleeping in the van!

The last time I sailed on inland waters was crewing at the ISO Inland Championships, which was held in a gusty October force 6.  After the umpteenth tea-bagging upwind, I declared to my helm that this was to be the first and final event in my inland sailing career.  [I should point out, the tea bagging was not his fault, the heading shifts were significant and immediate, and we couldn't see them on the water before they hit, they seemed to come down onto the boat from on high.  Horrible].  Unfortunately the entire 300 open calendar appears to be on lakes this year, so I'm breaking the declaration and embracing the challenging conditions of my 300 inland brethren!

If I have a bad day on Saturday, I plan to get fully involved in the refreshments in the evening to the point of not being able to operate my iPad for blogging. Come to think of it, I'll have the same approach if it is a good day.  So no updates before the end of the event.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

A new boat for the family fleet

Junior training starts at Slipper next week, and the youngest in our family has just got his first boat.

This boat was given to us by some friends at the club, as it needed considerable TLC.  In a windy race, the mast had dislocated from the cup holding it at the foot, and destroyed the front thwart.  The insurance company had written it off as beyond economic repair, but we like recycling old boats and thought we'd have a go at fixing it up.

Like all of these projects, I thought it would take 8 weeks but it ended up taking the best part of a year.  I wanted to learn how to spray gelcoat and refinished the hull and deck as well as fixing the thwart.  And of course the boat needed a new rudder and centreboard.  Looks like new now, but give it 3 weeks and junior training and the insurance company will be writing it off again.

Most of the jobs on the boat weren't really suitable for Oscar to help with (spraying gelcoat isn't nice), but he spent time helping me clean the workshop.  And tracking my progress with to-do lists, there's a budding project manager.

As to the boat name, he choose "Toy 2 Many".  "Eggy Chocolate Rampage" was a close second, and I have to say I was disappointed he didn't go with it.  One happy sailor:

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

An unsolicited observation : "You should stop sailing that g*y boat and start sailing a Finn"

The clocks have changed, and evening sailing is now a reality.  There is no better way to break up the working week, and for the past two evenings I've been out sailing 300s with Matt.

Matt is still prevaricating about what singlehander to buy - D1, Finn or 300.  I sense a leaning toward the Finn as he thinks it suits his build, but there is a little 300 scene in the harbour now, and class racing is attractive.  A rather unexpected intervention into the selection process took place on the water tonight - we came across a couple of X boats in the Itchenor channel as we were beating to Rockwood, the leading X gave Matt an unsolicited observation : "You should stop sailing that gay boat and start sailing a Finn".  Both Matt and I were somewhat taken aback, not so much by the comment, but the fact that an X boat appeared to understand he was on port tack and kept clear. Highly unusual!

As to the sailing, we had two evenings of F4 warm winds, maybe up to F5 in the gusts tonight (looking at Cambermet I see there is now 31 knots off TISC, that would have been exciting).  Wind over tide, so some nice short chop to play with offwind.

Matt is getting used to the whole by-the-lee thing, but still looks terrified sailing downwind.  Upwind he is rather quick and I will discourage further practice lest he improves further.

Some observations from my sailing:
- I forgot to put the wind indicator on the boat tonight, and so sailed without one.  The result of this was that I spent far more time looking at waves outside the boat than a wind indicator inside it.  Speed downwind was good, planing most of the time.
- Lots of chop in the channel going upwind, with the bow of the boat underwater in the steepest of chop.  Even with weight back in the boat it felt slow, Matt seemed to be punching through with more speed and momentum, but that might be down to weight difference I think.
- Have started to mess round with outhaul upwind, letting a little outhaul off as the vang comes on seems to keep power in the lower sail.  It seems to me that putting vang on naturally reduces camber in the lower sail and less outhaul is required to maintain the same depth off the boom.

I've sailed 6 of the last 7 days, legs are tired, and need a day or two off I think.  That said, good practice for Minorca!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A checkpoint on downwind sailing

Saturday was a windy day, and I mounted the GoPro on the bow to have a look specifically at bear aways and downwind sailing - it remains the area that I think needs most improvement in stronger winds.  I've sent the output to Steve Cockerill to see if I can get some Boat Whisperer advice, but in the meantime I thought I'd post up my own analysis.  This is the video, all faffing and upwind/crosswind sailing has been deleted, its just downwind.

I should point out that the wind was coming over the Thorney shoreline, so the water state was quite benign.  But the wind was offshore and very gusty, F4 in the lulls F6 in the gusts.

Some points re the bear aways:
- Not enough hiking in the first half of the bear away.  The trouble is that there is a balance between getting the boat heeled to windward to bear away, and an ability to get back in the boat from a hiked position before it skews away and capsizes to windward.  The centripetal force generated by the turn makes it difficult to get back in.
- Each bear away seems to take forever, with over cautious sheeting and heel.
- On a positive note, I'm getting better at sorting the rig before turning, and getting well back in the boat to get the bow out.
- Another positive note, the manoeuvre looks quite controlled (even though it felt like a knife edge at the time).

And the downwind sailing:
- Some OK transitions from BR->BTL and vice versa
- At times the boat looks very slow sailing BTL, and it might have been better to come up to a BR to get momentum going again.
- 2x capsizes due to the need to bear away excessively to BTL and beyond.  Not sure what I could have done to stop them, hopefully Steve has ideas.
- Finally look to be kicking the 'steer the boat under the mast' habit, there is no footage that sees the bow nose diving or underwater.
- The video seems to make it look as if I have a degree of control.  In the boat it certainly didn't feel that way, it's a very intense experience that requires total concentration.  The psychology books would have described my state as 'highly aroused'.  I would describe my state as 'bricking it' and 'nearly being sick with fear'.  'Highly aroused' doesn't quite cover it.
- I've calibrated the mainsheet, and have marked the position of the 'F5 Knot' to stop the main going too far out downwind (and capsizing the boat to windward).  Seems to work, as I've not capsized to windward for a while.  But the downside is that you can't sheet out loads if the boat wants to head up.  For the moment, I'll take it - the occasional head-up is a good trade for stability.

So lets see what Steve has to say, given his input in the past I've learned to expect the unexpected!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

How hard can it be to calibrate a tactical compass?

No racing this weekend as there were two open meetings at the local clubs - a Feva open on Saturday and a Tera open today.  I wondered if the Feva open was going to be held as the forecast for Saturday was brutal, but 16 boats made it to the start line and raced in gusty f4-6 conditions.  I thought some of the adult sailors  at the club would take the opportunity to come out training, especially given the bravado of the Slipper Laser fleet at the instructor-curry-evening on Friday. But no such luck, it appears that the Feva and Tera sailors are a more hardy and salty bunch than their parents!

Despite the lack of racing I was fortunate to be able to get out on the water over four consecutive days in a variety of conditions, from a very pleasant force 2 on Thursday to a rather less pleasant f5-6 on Saturday.  but spring is finally here, temperatures are up, the sun is out, and the promise of warmer days is finally with us.

Anyway, some observations from the sailing:

- One of the objectives for the early season is to get better at using a compass, and I thought I'd use the lighter winds on Thursday to sort out tacking angles - you need to get the tacking angle figure to set up a tactical compass.  How hard can that be, all you have to do is take a bearing on one tack, go about, take the bearing on the other tack, and subtract A from B.  The problems are that tacking angle varies by wind strength, tide appears to play some role (but I can't work out why, this isn't a GPS compass, its a Tacktick Micro), and also clearly pointing/footing modes vary the angle.  My angles appeared to range from 70 degrees (which clearly isn't right!) to 90.  In the end I found that the Yahoo 300 group has guidance  from good sailors that place tacking angle at 85 degree in light/medium winds and 90 in stronger winds.  The tactical analogue compasses used by Lasers have lines set to an 80 degree angle.  I've set mine to 85 and am going to force myself to forget about trying to refine it, other training will pay better dividends!

-  Friday was windy, and I chose to go windsurfing instead of sailing, 4.7m on an 85 litre board, happy days.  The lovely thing about windsurfing is that I view it as purely recreational and don't have any objectives etc, its just good fun and very relaxing.  And a great workout for the arms when you are out of practice, so contributes to the sailing in a small way.  One interesting point is that on a windsurfer I find myself far more attuned to the prediction of gusts/lulls - unless you can read the water you end up swimming, and can't get planing as quickly.  So I guess it is a skill that is naturally acquired as you learn and progress.  Strangely it doesn't seem to translate directly into a dinghy, I wonder whether this is because there is so much more happening in a boat, and also I suppose your head is closer to the water in a dinghy and maybe doesn't have the same visibility.

- Saturday was also windy, I had to give myself a stern talking to, as rain and a f5/6 is not the most motivating of conditions.  But I'm glad I went out, managed to practice a lot of upwind processes, lots of bear aways, and a fair amount of rather terrifying downwind work.  Managed to get through the session without capsizing, although there were a few close shaves:

That's not a controlled transition to by-the-lee, it is an uncontrolled entry to a buttock-clenching gybe! 

That's not the end of the gybe, it is in fact an advanced method of checking the daggerboard for weed.  I also thought the sea water would lubricate the clew strap on the boom.  However you look at it, the boat gets to be a bit of a handful in 25 knot gusts, but going out in these conditions makes anything less seem a lot easier, so worthwhile (so I keep telling myself, I imagine an impartial observer may take a different view).

- And finally today we had sunshine, a f4 decreasing to f2 clean southerly wind, 6 boats on the water for some impromptu upwind/downwind sailing, and an excellent time had by all.  Mike, Emma, Dave and Ed were all out testing with new Rooster ISO sails, that look superb.  They are quite roachy sails, and look very open in the top of the leech, but there were no problems with either pointing or speed.  I think Emma broke one of the job cleats on the ISO, more bimbling required!  I played about with rig settings and could just about match the ISOs for speed up wind, using a little downhaul and loosening the outhaul a bit.  Playing the vang in sketchy conditions seems to work as well, the boat feels dead in the lulls until you let just a little vang off.

Some possible evening sailing later this week, Matt J is still procrastinating on whether to buy a 300 and needs some more sessions to decide.  Looks breezy for Wednesday, lets hope his mast is insured.

Monday, 8 April 2013

A jaunt round the harbour, 300ing with Matt and Claire

After the Easter weekend sailing, RS400 sailor Matt J dropped me a line about sailing the following weekend (Matts quotes in this post are in no way made up for the purposes of blogging): "Mark, all the ladies at Slipper have been commenting on what a dashing figure you cut in your 300, I wonder if you could take me out in a borrowed boat, to see whether my meagre skills are up to the job".  OK that's not quite what he said, but we did arrange to go sailing, along with the ever reliable training-partner-Claire.

A few notes on Matt before we get into the sailing.  He has sailed a number of different classes including the Finn and RS400, and even had a brief dally with a 300 a number of years back.  He has placed in the top 5 in the 400 Europeans, and I think top 10 in the SB3 Europeans.  Given this impressive track record of performance, I thought that some video footage from Matts boat would be of interest to blog readers, but Matt was slightly reticent on having the GoPro mounted to his boat: "If you think you are putting that GoPro on my boat, you can ***********.  There is no way that you are going to post ******* video of me on your ******* blog."

He is looking to buy a singlehander to compliment the 400, and considering a Devoti D1, 300 or Finn.  Clearly my objective for the weekend was to try and sway Matt towards the 300.  We are physically quite dissimilar - I'm a bit light at the moment at 68kg, Matt is 100kg of brute force - and it was interesting to compare boat-on-boat performance.

To the sailing.  The only time we could arrange was for dead low water at Thorney, so launching was interesting given the 3ft of slip we had to work with.  "Don't worry, its only Mikes boat, I'll leave it floundering on the smelly Thorney mud whilst I sort the trolleys out" said Matt, clearly disrespecting the borrowed boat.  But we managed to get out into the channel after a bit of faffing - by this point training-partner-Claire had already self-launched and was ripping it up around Cambermet.  Sunny, force 3-4 easterly, and flat water, perfect.

At this point, the session started to feel remarkably similar to the Andy Gould sessions over Xmas.  All of my carefully planned process goals flew out the window as we immediately got into a 1.5 mile drag race to the main channel in the harbour, followed by an hour of boat-on-boat upwind/downwind cycles, much more like racing than training. It is impossible to stifle the competitive instinct in situations like this, unless the other person is also orientated towards the same goals!

But there were some interesting points of learning from the day:

- The difference in weight made less difference than you would expect.  Matt was marginally quicker upwind, faster on a close reach, but slower on any broader point of sailing.  Some of that will be technique (on both our parts), but nevertheless the boats were much closer in speed than I thought they would be.  So two boat tuning with disparate helm weights is plausible, but obviously sharing settings wouldn't be advisable.
- Upwind, there is definitely gains to be made by footing for a few lengths to get up to speed and then tweaking the boat up to point.  We both tried this and it works, but is counter intuitive to helms who naturally point. 
- Earlier this week I wrote down my process goals for the next 3-6 months.  A point of interest is that even the act of writing them down appears to have benefits.  As I approached the windward marks, my thoughts immediately focused on the aspects of a perfect bearaway, and lo and behold the body just seems to execute on them.

Will Matt buy a 300?  I sense he has a leaning toward the flashy D1, or technical Finn.  And maybe he has a chance of getting those downwind in more than a force 4 (only joking, this is my way of trying to provoke him into buying a 300).

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Process goals

I recently posted an article on the Rooster website about the psychology of sailing, and the benefits of setting process goals.  I've had a couple of emails on the subject since, and it seems that the literature is strong on theory but short on examples.  So I thought I'd post up my analysis/goals in the hope that it may be of use to others who are thinking about undergoing a similar exercise.
So here is my analysis of my sailing, the elements in red are the ones that I think are lacking and need work as a priority, orange is 'needs work but a second priority', and green is OK.


And here are the goals that I've set, based on the above:

Fitness I've handled in a single diagram:

So lots of work to do, it is a never ending feast of training and racing.  Thank goodness Spring is here at last. 

Monday, 1 April 2013

Easter Monday Madness

Update 2/4:  Andrew F sent me the following photo, taken a couple of seconds before the start of the race at the business end of the line.  432 is clearly preparing for an almighty pump, the ISO is nearly up to speed.  Any comments about 432 being OCS will be heavily moderated!

The final race of the Easter weekend today.  The met office were forecasting a cold easterly f5-6, and again they were spot on. We sailed from 15:00 or so:

The cold weather and water must have put a few off, we had 10 boats sailing today. 

The start was a very orderly affair, whilst the pin end was again very biassed the number of boats sailing made for an easier start for most.  Then we had a lovely jaunt round the harbour, seemingly reaching for at least 80% of the course.  I could tell that the assymetrics were just loving the white sail reaches.

Some highlights of the day:

- Andy and stand in crew Simon had an interesting race in their ISO, but kept it together to lead the fleet to the finish.  There were a couple of boat handling incidents on the first downwind leg (more on this later), but they stayed upright and fast.  Andy had this to say after the race (and I am in no way making this up): "Given the cold conditions I decided to wear three wooley jumpsuits under my drysuit today.  I was warm, but found it difficult to move around the boat whilst having the flexibility of  a michelin man."  Time to invest in some SuperTherm Andy.

- Mike and Emma were subject to another Significant Grounding today, whilst trying to avoid the shenanigans in ISO 1037.  They had a full mast-in-the-mud-and-boom-in-the-mud experience.  Emma was not happy:

(Emma is on the right, highlighting the mud on the mast.  Training-partner-Claire is on the left, and looks as if she has spotted a bar that might supply her first glass of Blue Nun of the day)

-  The rescue boats had a busy day, superbly manned by Noel, Robin, Alex and Angela.  It is cold in those patrol boats, but they were out till the end.  And kudos to those who made it round the course in those conditions despite a few capsizes, it was windy and everyone did well to get back in one piece!

- A special thanks to Sarah ad Jonathon in the race hut, excellent race management and a superb choice of course (read the 300 report later to find out why).

Thats it at Slipper for the next couple of weeks, the tides are wrong next week and there is a Feva/Tera open the week after.  But with BST kicking in maybe it is time to start evening sailing.

300 Log : 1st April

Date: 1st April
Venue : ESC
Race : Handicap race
Tide : 45 after the start
Conditions : ENE f4-6, flat-ish water
Result : Probably 1st of 10ish boats

- Good start.  Kept on with the theme of getting in the mix at the favoured end and happily managed to win it today.  I really like the whole port tack approach, but should probably start to practice longer approaches on starboard I find them far more difficult to judge.
- Generally good speed about the course, but it was a course that certainly favoured the 300.
- Blistering run, fully planing by-the-lee and really gunning it.  But also in control (after getting the bear away sorted).  Managed some good transitions between BTL and broad reach, and felt as if I was controlling the boat rather than vice versa.  Very pleased to see the practice paying at least some dividends.
- Wind was very gusty and shifty - thought I was doing OK with the up-in-the-lulls down-in-the-gusts stuff.
- Nailed one gybe in a particularly harsh gust.  Not the cleanest exit, but safe.  Pleased that I didn't take the wearing-round option, although I did consider it.  Demonstrates a little fortitude and confidence.

Points for reflection:
- The boat is so much easier to handle in flat water.  So I think I'm going to practice a lot at Thorney this year, much more difficult conditions (at least so far this year).
- Sailed with lots of vang all round the course today, letting 1/3 to 1/2 off for dead downwind.  Rig felt great.
- Poor tactical decision after rounding Northney, should and tacked and taken the long tack!

But another Good Race, and a great end to the Easter weekend!