Lessons Learned

Hi gang, one of our members has written a good story about his recent singlehanded assault on the fully crewed, Wednesday night racing scene. I've left it unedited with the exception of bolding the "Lessons" for those who want to get right to the meat of the article.


Our "Wednesday night race boat" (a Hobie 33) had just been painted and wasn't ready to sail yet so I suggested we race my BB 10 meter instead. Well the weather was dismal as was the wind forecast, so by dockout time, one by one I got the sorry sounding texts that "babysitter couldn't stay", "my cat is sick" and "I forgot to tell you I'm on my way to New York". The last text, honest and straightforward, said "Dry here, wet out - I'll pass". Hmmm

I had the sail cover off already so I raced singlehanded. The Magothy races have short legs and the RC set a straightforward WL x 2 of about 5 miles total. Wind perked up to about 8 knots and despite the dampness I was happy to be out there.

I informed the RC that I was sailing my boat instead of the Hobie 33 and that if they wouldn't mind, I'd start with our division and that there was no need to score me. They were surprisingly, ok with that.

I carefully started last to not interfere and quickly found myself busy. The new jib's leech line had never been adjusted, Outhaul needed tightening, "where did I put that other winch handle?" and "wish I had taken a leak earlier". Tacking for clear air, I found some peace (on the wrong side of the course) and set my tillerpilot to take over while I sorted myself out. Lesson #1 - think ahead and do all your housekeeping before the start) Taking over again, shortly (noticing that the speedo indicated that Tillerpilot was steering faster than me), it was soon time to tack as we were nearing the lay line. Trying to remember which combination of buttons makes Mr TP (Tillerpilot) tack, I just steered through the tack and it was reasonable but a second winch handle out would have been nice. Crossing behind most of the fleet (but ahead of the boat that rated the same as mine) I set up for the rounding and subsequent spinnaker set.

I cast off the genoa sheet and dumped the main. I took a moment to set Mr. TPs buttons to centralize the tiller with Flicker heading dead downwind then pulled out the hatchway spinnaker bin. Then I pulled the topping lift to raise the pole (it's a double topping lift with one end attached to the mast pole slider and the other to the pole bridle, so the pole goes up horizontally). I had remembered to put the guy in the pole (knowing it would be a port rounding) but of course, the outboard end got stuck to leeward of the forestay. Skipping up to the bow, I freed it and while up there, pulled a bunch of spinnaker guy through the pole. Back in the cockpit I finished pulling up the topping lift and then tried pulling back on the guy (Lesson # 2 - always pull the guy back as far as you can before setting - it reduces twists and helps it fill sooner). I pulled the spinnaker out of the bin and dumped it on the companionway slide. Uh oh, Can't pull up halyard with main all the way out, pinching the halyard against the spreaders and shrouds (Lesson # 3- don't just dump the main - let it out about 3/4 of the way).

Now hoist. Nope - about halfway up I learned that the spinnaker sheet was under the folds of the jib as I dropped it. (Lesson # 4 - Never ease the jib out before hoisting, more than a little. Keep it in tight because when eased, it gets over the spinnaker sheet, especially when you drop it!) Next time, keep it sheeted in. Another scamper up to the bow to pull the jib in and on the deck, freeing the sheet. Taking a moment to put a sail tie or bungee on would help keep it dry if all is going well. I left it to run aft and finish pulling up the spinnaker halyard.

I quickly topped the halyard and then pulled the guy back the rest of the way. Spinnaker quickly filled and pole skyed! (Lesson #5 - always set the windward twing down. Unless very windy, you don't need a pole downhaul. It can cause all sorts of mischief with the sheets, so I rely on the twings just aft of the shrouds to keep the pole from skying) Quickly setting the twing (and the leeward one down too, as it was a run) I had a full kite once the sheet was trimmed and we started to move well downwind with Mr TP still steering well dead downwind. I took the time then to carefully toss (never coil or flake - just "shoot" it down along it's length, on to the cockpit floor or into the cabin). I trimmed Mr. TP to a good course then looked around.

The other gybe was favored. I set the helm for a dead run and eased both twings up about 2', which effectively eased the spinnaker. I trimmed the main in a few more feet and then went forward to gybe the pole. This went extremely well and the spinnaker stayed full and when I scampered aft again I tossed the main over. Done! That was easy. Not quite. (Big Lesson # 6 - this ended up as the downfall of the race later on. OK, when you gybe the pole, be sure to pick up the leeward jib sheet and put it on your shoulder. When you gybe the pole, make sure the new outboard end goes under the jib sheet, keeping the jib sheets on top of the pole and forward of the topping lift! You'll be sorry if you neglect this! If you gybe back, still make sure the jib sheets are on top of the pole. Easy way is to just carry the sheet on your shoulder and pass the pole under it. You need long sheets and they must be uncleated to get the slack you need.)

This demon remained hidden till the first tack after rounding but we will get to that later.

My long skinny easily driven boat sails very well on a run and we had gained significantly on this leg having sailed a shorter distance. Approaching the mark I knew that I'd have to do everything well in advance (Lesson # 7 - obviously, set up and do things far earlier than on a crewed boat - a simple concept but often lost in the heat of the moment!)

I set up the backstay and opened the companionway bin. Then I hoisted the genoa, getting the proper tension on a winch (Lesson # 8 - don't forget to tension backstay first because if you tension the jib on a loose forestay downwind, when you turn upwind, the sail's luff will take ALL the load and take a season's life out of it! Better to round with scallops than with it bar tight!)

I thought ahead about which side to take it down on for the next downwind leg and as the port gybe was favored I was ok with taking it down to leeward. (Lesson # 9 - Take a moment to think about which side to take it down on - which is determined by what gybe you will be on when you next set it) . Taking it down to windward is hard unless you want to run up and disconnect the guy from the pole and maybe even stow it, beforehand. (Lesson # 10 - steer dead downwind to take your kite down! No matter what the course, sail downwind to allow it to come down in the now hoisted jib and mainsail's wind shadow) I pulled on the leeward twing to get to the sheet, then dumped the guy carefully, as I gathered in the foot (Lesson # 11 - get control of the foot and the rest will be easy. You will probably have to ease some spinnaker halyard but bundle up the foot first) I then let go the halyard and pulled the sail into the bin then stuffed it forward (that sliding bin is indispensable for spinnaker setting and dousing. Far easier than a turtle - at least for boats of small to mid size). With a boatlength to go to the mark, I trimmed the main most of the way in and then loosely sheeted the genoa. (Lesson # 12 - nothing slows a boat faster after a leeward rounding than turning with a pre sheeted jib! Better to have it luffing than the big stall after dragging it sideways through the wind.)

I popped the tiller out of the Tillerpilot and turned the mark. Not a bad rounding. Giving a great heave on the genoa sheet, I pulled it in then self tailed it to upwind trim. Then a final mainsail trim and upwind we go. Feeling good and under control, I took stock. I had closed on the boats ahead, was still ahead of Beagle (who rates the same as I). The left side of the course had paid off last time around so the sooner I got there the better. First I had to lower the spinnaker pole to the deck. As I did, I noticed that it was on top of the lazy genoa sheet. Setting Mr TP, I went forward and unclipped the inboard end and put the sheet on top of the pole. Big mistake! Now it was trapped inside the topping lift, which I should have seen, rather than congratulating myself for seeing the "fouled sheet". (Lesson # 13 - appropriate- If things were clear before, changing them is sure to make them foul. Think about the problem and remember that. )

I released the jib and tacked - and blew the race! I hadn't cleared my jib sheet when I gybed and now it was over the pole but inside the topping lift. As I tried to sheet in the genoa it dragged the pole aft and outboard end overboard.

(Lesson # 14 - if something is wrong when you tack, immediately, tack back. Fix things while sailing well if possible - even if in a direction that isn't optimal) Losing way with a flogging genoa, half sheeted and with the pole dragging in the water, I lost steerage way to even tack back. What a mess! (Lesson # 15 - when it all goes South, keep your cool and just do what you have to do. This is when you are most at risk of going over the side while focused on a problem and you need to put things in perspective and solve the problem methodically. ) I kept the cursing to a minimum and undid the topping lift. I unhooked the fouled flogging jib sheet and pulled the pole aft to the cockpit and slid it down below. Back in the race I sheeted in the jib and heard a ""Hi Dad, how's it going?". My son, out for a paddle in his kayak had been watching and paddled over to check on me having seen me flailing around on the foredeck (and hopefully not hearing me!). Perspective!

He paddled off after I assured him it was ok and I looked around to see if I could still beat Beagle. She had taken the other side of the course and though far away, it looked like my tack, messy as it was, was correct in putting me on the nice, long, inside of a geographical lift. Despite the foul up, I looked like I could still cross her when we both tacked for the mark.

And I did. I stayed ahead and beat her to the mark. The spinnaker was set after gybing onto the proper and favored gybe and I remembered to keep the jib sheeted in tight while hoisting. I pulled the pole out from below, hooked it up and off we went. One last gybe (with the jib sheet over my shoulder), laying the finish and I crossed, well ahead of Beagle, with my dignity intact and was rewarded with an excellent close spinnaker reach back up the river to my Club. As the mist turned to rain, it didn't even dampen my spirits after a fun race. (Lesson # 16 - enjoy yourself and learn from every race - no matter what)

Tom Price "Flicker"

88 views0 comments