CHESSS CHALLENGE (July 8th and July 9th 2017)

CHESSS had its second successful challenge of the season. This Challenge was chosen to build on the single-handing skills explored in the warm-up Challenge in June. The Challenge began at C-1 at Hacketts Point (north of the Severn) and finished with a raft-up in Grays Inn Creek (on the Chester River). Several of the boats put up spinnakers in the light reaching conditions at the departure point.

The breeze quickly built into the mid-to high teens and shifted westward to a beam reach making for some sporty conditions for single-handing under spinnaker. Once north of the Bay Bridge gusts into the high teens began to occur with greater frequency.

John Zseleczky on the Pearson 30 ‘Old Blue’ took some rather dramatic knockdowns before skillfully dousing his chute and continuing under main and genoa. Jeff Halpern on the Farr 38, ‘Synergy’ was able to carry the chute to Love Point, dousing at the turn into the Chester. Even without spinnakers, the breezy conditions made for fast passage times for all involved.

The single-handers rendezvoused at the planned raft-up in Grays Inn Creek. Besides for John and Jeff, Lauren Anthone single-handed her Nordic 34, Rover and Jim Little single handed his Pearson 28. The single-handers were also joined by three double-handed boats all of which chose to anchor on their own and dinghy over to the other boats.

Most of the fleet had not been to Gray’s Inn Creek, a beautiful but comparatively unknown, and therefore very quiet anchorage off the Chester River. At the raft-up, there was a lively discussion about single-handed spinnaker flying strategies and especially safely flying a spinnaker in the gusty conditions experienced.

In the debriefing, John described how it felt to be on ‘Old Blue’ during the knock down. Those of us who were not onboard had used terms like ‘scary’, and ‘terrifying’ to describe howe the knockdown appeared. But John described it differently. From onboard, he could tell that the boat was not really in trouble of sinking or breaking something big. He knew that his rudder was not effectively in the water and that he could not turn the boat while heeled over that far. But more significantly he was aware that the gusts were only gusts, meaning short bursts of high speed wind. Because of that, he decided that the best strategy was to wait out the duration of the gust, maybe 10-20 seconds and then when the boat began to come up, to turn downwind and douse the chute.

There was a good discussion of how to douse a chute in heavy air. Both John and Jeff were using symmetrical spinnakers without a sock. They both used the same technique to douse in the heavy going. The technique consists of allowing the tack of the chute (the corner of the spinnaker at the pole) to fly free, and then gathering the foot of the sail together from aft of th boom forcing the upper part of the sail into the lee behind the mainsail. Out of the wind, the sail is easier to manage bring aboard safely.

Jeff also explained his approach to carrying the chute. To begin with, Jeff explained that he had previously experimented with how far Synergy could heel before the rudder began to lose grip and that part of his strategy was keeping an eye on the inclinometer to avoid getting within 5 or so degrees of that heel angle.

To help control heel angle, the spinnaker is depowered by keeping the pole low, and the luff stretched. This permits the sheet to be eased thereby opening the upper leech of the chute. The mainsail is vang sheeted and bladed out.

In a gust, the traveler is lowered leeward to quickly unload the main and the boat turned sharply to leeward, deepening the angle to the wind and thereby partially blanketing the trailing edge of the chute and decreasing the apparent wind a little. Once each gust stops, the boat is returned to a course above the rhumbline so as to provide room to bear off in the next gust.

Another topic that was discussed as a single-handing strategy in heavier breezes was to intentionally sail a course that was well high of the rhumbline in order to make sure that there was adequate sea room to leeward (between the boat and the shoals to the west of Kent Island near Love Point). The idea behind that strategy is that the boat needs to be on a course that close to a run in order to drop the chute single-handed in heavy air, and therefore needs room to leeward to be able turn downwind if the conditions worsened.

To stay ‘clipped on’ it was suggested that an inflatable harnesses with two tethers be used while flying the chute. Both tethers should have releasable snap shackles at the chest rings so that you can quickly hook in with the ‘lazy tether’ and quickly release the prior ‘working tether’ if it becomes snagged during a maneuver where you need to move quickly.

After broad ranging discussions, not all sailing, and a tour of the boats, the skippers retired to make dinner on their own boats, and then reconvened in ‘Old Blue’s cockpit for dinner together and more lively conversation.

After dinner the fleet peeled off to anchor individually for the night. The fleet was treated to a beautiful full moon rise and a live Viola concert by John Zseleczky.

The next CHESSS Challenge is intended to occur on the same day of the Corsica River Race. The Challenge will end up at the Corsica River Yacht Club, on the Corsica River off of the Chester River. This will be a chance for CHESSS Racers to meet with CHESSS cruisers, get to know each other and kick around ideas. If you are interested in participating in a future CHESSS Challenge please email Garner Bennett at

In other news: CHESSS is also initiating ‘Solo + One’, with goal to provide the newbie or inexperienced single-hander some assistance in understanding how to single-hand their boat and the reassurance that they can single-hand safely. .

In large part the ‘Solo+One’ program is intended to help more people start to single-hand their boats. We all have been here, thinking that starting to single-hand their boat is frankly daunting.

But it’s a little like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, often it’s only about having been conferred a degree as a “Dr. of Thinkology”, or in our case as an experienced single-hander. The idea is to provide an opportunity for people considering single-handing to have an experienced CHESSS single-hander on board as an observer while they are getting into and out of their slip and sailing their boat. Think of it as a buddy system to start single-handing.

But also, there are people who say. “I’d like to single-hand my boat, but it is not set up for it.” But often, the relative ease of short-handing is not about how the boat is set up, but more about preparation for a maneuver, knowing where to stand and how to move when doing specific tasks, and the sequence in which the individual steps are performed.

The CHESSS member observer will be there to lend a hand only when one is asked for. The main goal is to watch how the new single-hander does basic operations. The goal is to talk through options that make each maneuver safer and easier for that individual and that particular boat. Watch this space for more news.

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