Keelboat Docking - Part 2 - Space is Time

Docking our keelboats under sail is one of the most difficult skills required for the Senior Rating. This series of blogs is intended to give you a conceptual framework for doing it. With that framework and a lot of practice, you'll acquire this important skill.

For simplicity, we're talking about a "normal" upwind docking into a CSC slip, where the true wind is out of the West or South-West, but not too far South.

Here is a map of the south-east part of the Berkeley Marina, where J-Dock is, assuming a normal West or South-West wind:

And here's the blow-up of the turning basin and our docks:

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Keelboat Docking - Part 1 - Planning and Preparation

Keelboat Docking - Part 1 - Planning and Preparation

Introduction to the Blog Series

Docking our keelboats under sail is one of the most difficult skills required for the Senior Rating. You have to be able to do it in all wind directions and in several boat types that handle very differently. It takes a huge time investment and a lot of commitment and practice to make the grade.

Everything you've learned on dinghies applies to keelboats, and on dinghies you establish a solid basis of sailing skills. This is why we require a Junior rating to take keelboat lessons, and why it's important to get your Senior Dinghy test passed before getting serious on keelboats.

But the transition from a dinghy to a Pearson Commander is not easy, as the latter has a large mass and a full keel, so it handles very differently from a dinghy. It does everything slowly, including stopping, but also powering up. If you get below the critical speed for steering it, it can take 8 or 9 seconds for the keel to power up, and in that period you're being pushed sideways. You could end up pressed against a downwind piling or boat.

Our keelboat slips are faced approximately west, so normally into the wind, just like our dinghy dock in the South Sailing Basin. So in a "normal" west or south-west wind, you dock pretty much the same way. Slow sail on a close reach into the dock/slip. But the boats are very different, so the procedure becomes more challenging on a keelboat, not to mention the damage you can do if you screw up.

This is the first in a series of blogs on keelboat docking to help you understand the differences between dinghy and keelboat and the additional factors that become important with the latter. I will assume a "normal" west or south-west wind, as this is what you'll be dealing with 80% of the time, at least. And initially, I'll be assuming relatively constant wind, although later in the series I'll talk about wind shifts and how to deal with them. I'm also assuming that you're planning to go into one of CSC's docks with a reasonable amount of time to prepare and plan. As you get more advanced, you will be required to do very quick impromptu dockings, but that comes much later.

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Ryan Alder
Great post! Looking forward to the series. I wanted to reiterate this part: "Finally, you can swing the boat in the turning bas... Read More
Thursday, 20 September 2018 15:53
John Bongiovanni
Excellent point, Ryan. I think that why this isn't so much a problem in dinghies is that they're usually going slower when they do... Read More
Friday, 21 September 2018 01:49
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Docking Like a Pro

Docking

There are a couple ways to come into the dock. The method new skippers gravitate towards at first, because it's easier, is to come in with plenty of speed and do a final turn up into the wind at the end to avoid banging into the dock. Or they don't even do the turn and just bang into the dock... I guess this would be a 3rd way, but highly undesirable.

The preferred method more properly utilizes slow sailing. Docking and COB are the main reasons we teach slow sailing. When you have a firm grasp on slow sailing, you will be able to come to a stop 1" from the dock as your crew casually steps off the bow.

Here are the steps for docking like a pro:
(Credit where credit is due, I've had this best explained to me by Robert O. Come work the keelboat dock during open house sometime and watch Robert dock a keelboat singlehanded to get an idea of the ideal you're shooting for.)

- When you're coming in to the docks watch the wind socks to get an idea of the wind direction at the dock, which may be different than it was when you were out sailing.  

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Greg Sweriduk
I would just add that if you have a choice, and assuming the usual SW wind shown, go in and tack near the sea wall and approach th... Read More
Wednesday, 15 August 2018 15:06
Gary Prost
How do you "backwind the main," and can you do it when the jib is furled? If you do it by pushing the sail away, won't it turn the... Read More
Thursday, 16 August 2018 10:13
Ryan Alder
Gary, good questions. You do back the main by pushing the boom all the way out/forward. The jib being furled or not doesn't real... Read More
Friday, 17 August 2018 12:40
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Small Circles - the Gybe

Small Circles - the Gybe

I did a blog a while ago on Small Circles and how to teach it.

I think doing Small Circles is an important skill and rightly a required Junior maneuver, not so much for the circles, but for other things. However, as Nathan has pointed out in the blog comments, doing circles quickly is important in racing, if you're bad.

In Small Circles, there's a lot going on in a short amount of time, so it's a stress test of your sailing skills, your boat control, your weight balance, and your crew communication. Sailing a circle flawlessly (of whatever radius, but constant) is a challenge. One very good Club racer told me that one of the best racing exercise is doing lots of circles in a row, maybe 100.

But really tight circles is a different beast. It has all of the challenges above, but it requires some rudderless techniques to make the turns really fast and tight. My blog of a couple of years ago missed an important thing.

In the blog, I talked about how you do fast upwind and downwind turns, which to me is the real value of learning this. You might have to do either near the dock, combined with a tack or a gybe. But I glossed over the gybe itself, which is an important part of it.

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Rig Failure on a Cruise to Treasure Island

Rig Failure on a Cruise to Treasure Island

When we're going for Senior, in both dinghy and keelboat, we're quizzed on how we would deal with rig failure, a shroud or even worse a forestay. We know the answers, and we carry line and maybe shackles to jerry-rig something, and we think about the extra lines we can use, especially on the keelboats where there are multiple halyards, topping lifts, and the rest.

But it's one thing to "know" how to deal with it, and completely another to deal with it when it happens.

I was doing a dinghy qualifying cruise to Treasure Island under Mark Playsted's supervision. Not a difficult cruise, beat out, run back. It was blowing pretty hard, gusts into the twenties, forecast for higher. We had two Ventures with 3 people in each, which worked out well with one person on the wire a lot of the time going out. 

We were almost to Treasure Island when it happened. I saw Mark on the wire in the other boat go into the water, then I saw the mast at maybe 20 degrees off the vertical. It was clear that they had lost their forestay, and I thought the mast was next. But it wasn't. They were holding the mast up by hand and getting the mainsail down. Within about 15 minutes, Mark had rigged the auxiliary stay to the bow and the boat could sail. They made it back under main and gennaker, and BTW the gennaker took a lot of the load that the missing forestay would have.

It could have been my boat, and I don't think it would have come out so well if it had been. I'm thinking dismasted here. It was great to see how this could be handled, if you do all of the right things quickly.

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Joel Gussman
Great blog post, John. What material are you using for your 6' and 12' lines that you are carrying in your life jacket?
Sunday, 13 May 2018 09:28
John Bongiovanni
5/16" double-braid. BTW I checked out all of the other Ventures today, and 2 of them were missing rings on the same pin holding t... Read More
Sunday, 13 May 2018 11:33
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Dry Capsize on a Quest

Dry Capsize on a Quest

Dry capsize is a very useful skill. It means not going into the water on a capsize and getting into the boat as it comes up. The first part is relatively easy, but the second can be difficult, especially in a Quest.

I went out in some seriously high wind the other day, and I wasn't happy with my dry capsize skills. I hadn't capsized in quite a while, so I was a bit rusty on it. I could get the boat up, but not me in it as it came up. So it was time to practice, which I did.

If you're single-handing or with one crew in high winds, it's important to get someone into the boat when it comes up to get it under control, prevent a re-capsize and prevent it sailing away from you. That said, if you're out with a group of students or inexperienced crew, you shouldn't do it. You want everyone in the water after the capsize, especially if the crew is new to the situation. If they see you climbing up over the hull, they'll all want to do it, which will make your job righting the boat that much harder. Better to get everyone in the water and comfortable and go from there.

So let's assume you're single-handing and you capsize. Getting up on the hull as the boat goes over is no problem, as it happens pretty slowly. You can climb up using the mast as a step or even the hiking straps. When I practice, I find that it's pretty hard to capsize the boat without going into the water. I just have to keep pushing weight to leeward and then climb up when it's past the point of no return.

So you're on the hull and drop down to the centerboard. You should have thought how you're going to lever the boat up. There are several options, depending on how large you are. As yet, there are no righting lines on the Quest (coming, maybe). If you're large, you can just pull on the gunwhale to bring the boat up (I can't do that). The next option is to pull on the jib sheet against the fairlead, NOT against the sail (this works for me, 147 lb. male). That doesn't work for smaller people, so bringing the bow painter around the mast and using it allows you to get far out on the centerboard to bring the boat up.

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Ryan Alder
Good post, the goal of every new dinghy sailor: not getting wet during capsizes anymore! Couple things to add: 1) I think the m... Read More
Thursday, 14 December 2017 16:06
John Bongiovanni
Thanks for the comments, Ryan. They make great sense. I had been puzzling for some time about how to demonstrate capsize recovery... Read More
Thursday, 14 December 2017 22:35
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A quick and dirty guide to asymmetrical spinnakers

A quick and dirty guide to asymmetrical spinnakers

Introduction


Many dinghies, including the RS 500, RS Venture, and Laser Bahia, can be equipped with a gennaker, also known as a kite or asymmetrical spinnaker. This large sail can be used effectively on points of sail between a run and a beam reach, and may greatly increase boat speed. It can add a lot of excitement and get you up and planing when the wind might otherwise be insufficient.

The purpose of this short guide is to touch on the finer points of flying the gennaker on a dingy similar to those mentioned above. I assume that the reader is familiar with the basics of dinghy sailing.

Rigging

To rig the gennaker, you should:

  1. Attach the tack of the gennaker to the bowsprit;
  2. Attach the gennaker halyard to the head of the sail;
  3. Run the dowsing line through the retrieval points on the sail;
  4. Attach the gennaker sheets to the clew of the sail;
  5. Run the sheets through the gennaker blocks and tie them off.

 

The trick is to do this all without anything getting tangled up. It can be helpful before starting to first make sure the gennaker is untwisted. You can do this by making sure two of its edges are untwisted; this will automatically untwist the third.

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How to survive 30 knots, or, what to do if you've bitten off more than you can chew

How to Survive 30 knots: class outline (this class was given in CSC Advanced Dinghy several times). The student executes the following nine steps, which are those recommended under the conditions in the title. Under mild conditions, please try to imagine waves over three feet and rain in the face like shotgun pellets.

 

  1. Sail to upwind Junior line.
  2. Capsize
  3. Deploy anchor
  4. Lower mainsail
  5. Right boat
  6. Furl mainsail
  7. Raise anchor
  8. Jibe jib only at least twice (for practice)
  9. Sail back to dock

Notes:

  1. Before launching in exciting conditions, it is wise to carry a radio and to notify the Day Leader they may be needed.
  2. When deploying the anchor, the rode must go out the front of the boat (to keep the bow pointed into the wind) or this maneuver will not work.
  3. Before the drill capsize, please get at least 90% of the way from the rocks to the upwind line. If you capsize too much before you get there, try sailing main only.
  4. It is hard to point very high sailing jib only, and nearly impossible to tack, so to go upwind you need to jibe quickly so as not to lose much ground during the turn. Use this opportunity to practice pointing as high as possible and making quick jibes. Make sure centerboard is fully down, and do not oversheet as this would make it hard to point very high.
  5. If you have an unconscious sailor, particularly one with a head injury, contact the Coast Guard immediately on channel 16.
  6. The Coast Guard will only pick up sailors, not boats. (If you have to go, leave it anchored and maybe the Club can get it back.)
  7. If you need help but can’t reach the Dayleader on 69 (might happen if you’re north of the Berkeley Pier), you might try contacting the Berkeley Marina harbormaster on 68 and asking her to pass a message to the DL.

Supplement: How to survive 40 knots

In an incident in the first half of 2017, on a Thursday race night most of the club’s best sailors were confronted with 40-knot winds. All boats capsized. Most were unable to right their boats even with mainsails down. Only two crews were able to survive with any grace.

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Your Anchor is your Friend

Your Anchor is your Friend

I admire David Fraser's willingness to share his "less than optimal" sailing experiences in these blogs so that others can learn from his mistakes. They say there are those who don't make mistakes (I don't believe that), those who learn from others' mistakes, those who learn from their own mistakes, and those who never learn. Aiming at the second category, I want to imitate David's example by offering a recent experience of my own.

The other day I got to the Club a little early, and thought I'd play with jib-only sailing on a Quest before lessons started.

I left the (Cal Adventures) dock under jib only, having done nothing with the mainsail. I was planning to go out and dock under jib alone a few times before students showed up. That was the plan, at least.

The wind was pretty much westerly, so I was leaving on a beam reach. I knew that jib trim was really important, and that I shouldn't start out pointing too high. But for whatever reason, I couldn't point high at all. No matter what I tried, I was going slowly downwind, toward the rocks. Maybe I wasn't handling it correctly, maybe the Quest can't point high on jib alone, who knows? Sometimes it's you, sometimes it's the boat, sometimes... who knows what it is? What mattered then was that I couldn't do it.

I decided to heave to and get the main up, admitting failure (better than landing on the rocks). The mainsail doesn't always go up easily on the Quests (especially on this one), and it looked like getting the boltrope into the mast track might take some doing. When you're properly hove to, you have some sideways way on--that is, you're slideslipping--and I was going slowly, slowly toward the rocks. I had no idea how long it might take to get the main up.

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Rama Hoetzlein
Thanks for the interesting story. Based on these experiences, I wonder if you have any tips on what to do differently to sail upw... Read More
Tuesday, 11 July 2017 23:11
John Bongiovanni
What I didn't say in the blog was that I went out a few days later and did much better, as the purpose of the blog was the importa... Read More
Friday, 14 July 2017 17:28
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The two-handed drill for puffs and lulls

The two-handed drill for puffs and lulls

A while ago, James Clarkson recommended one of Frank Bethwaite's books on sailing to me. I forget which one, as I now have three of them. They're incredible but incredibly dense, so I'd only recommend them to the "quants" of the sailing community. And even then, you'll read a lot more about  weather systems than you ever wanted to learn, and more detail on everything than you can comprehend. That's how Frank was. He was a pilot (of commercial flying boats, think about that), a meteorologist (the official metereologist of the Austrailian Olympic team in several Olympics in the 1970s), and a sailing fanatic as coach and designer. Three of his kids (sons and daughter) won Olympic medals, and one of them may have invented the gennaker (as always with inventions, there are priority disputes). Frank died in his 90s in 2012.

For the patient reader, there's really wonderful stuff in his books. One is an explanation of why sail twist needs to be very different in light winds than in higher winds (another post?). And there are many others.

One very practical thing I got out of his books was a technique and a teaching technique of how to respond to puffs and lulls. We all know how to do this, we do it, and we teach it to some extent. You have three controls: weight placement (out in a puff, in in a lull), tiller (pinch in a puff if the boat can do it, fall off in a lull), and sheet (easy in a puff, trim in a lull, not just mainsheet, but also jibsheet if you're really concerned about speed). I tell basic students that they have these three controls, and to use one or more  of them when they get a puff (at this point in their development, they're not so worried about lulls).

Frank was obsessed with keeping the boat flat and as fast as it can go (these are correlated). Assuming a decent wind, you're hiked out. We're assunming you have the tiller extension in one hand and the mainsheet in the other. A puff will heel the boat to leeward, and a lull will heel it to windward if you don't move your weight in either case. His technique is this: when the boat heels, don't move your weight, but move both hands to the down side, the sheet hand more than the tiller. Never luff.

So in a puff, you're easing the main as you're pointing slightly upwind. In a lull (or in the recovery after a puff), you're doing the opposite - sheeting in the main and pointing slightly downwind.

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gene Golfus
"Both hands away" is the most Wonderful thing i have heard as a beginning student. It is worth it's weight in gold. I would hat... Read More
Sunday, 12 November 2017 21:49
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Wear Your Lifejacket To Work Day 2017

Friday May 19, 2017 help get the word out about life jackets!

Join your colleagues, peers, and friends around the world in demonstrating how easy it is to wear a life jacket - even at work!

Just prior to National Safe Boating Week and the day before the eigth-annual "Ready, Set, Wear It!" event, we are asking you to take a photo of yourself wearing your life jacket at work on May 19!

Don't forget to post your photo to Facebook.com/ReadySetWearlt or tweet @ReadySetWearlt and @CalSailing using #readysetwearit to show off your style.

SZX2KOF

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An important fine point on Docking in Low Tide

One of the things I love about sailing is that I learn something every time I go out, I'm constantly expanding my knowledge and skills.Talking with several of the very best sailors in the Club recently, I heard the same sentiment.

We're in the season of low tides and early closings, and I learned something about low-tide docking.

I did a blog post a while ago on docking in low tide. I recommend looking at this post, as you need to dock in a completely different way than you normally do. You come in way upwind instead of downwind, and you don't (can't) slow sail (you'll just get pushed sideways into the seawall).

In the present post, I want to amplify a small but important detail, which I discovered recently docking in low tide (wind from the east in this case, but that doesn't matter). I was following more or less the course I recommended in the earlier blog: go upwind, downwind past the dock, and then shoot up:

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Why Winter Sailing can be a Great Learning Experience

We are blessed in the Bay Area with incredible summer sailing conditions - 15 to 25 kts every single day from the West to South-West and waves to match. What could be finer?

Fall-Winter-early Spring is problematic. The system that creates the big daily summer winds in gone, so the winds are typically very light, except in storm systems, where they can be over-whelming (35-40 kts, typically from the South). So many just don't sail in the winter. I think this is a mistake, for at least two reasons.

One is that you learn an awful lot about sail trim and boat balance sailing in lighter winds (5 kts or less).

Everything changes, from the way the winds are produced atmospherically to how you set the sails. For example, in lighter winds the wind at the sea surface is practically zero, and difference between the wind there and the wind at the top of the mast is (relatively) large. So you're getting most of your power from the top third of the sail, which you want to keep happy. In higher winds, there isn't that much difference between surface wind and wind at the top of the mast.

In very light winds, the wind may not be strong enough to hold the mainsail and boom to leeward. So you need weight to leeward to tilt the boat enough so that gravity pulls the sail to leeward and forms the sail shape. With the sail shape formed, the wind will power it. And the battens bay not flip on a tack or gybe, so you might have to shake the sail to get that to happen.

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Ryan Alder
We had some really good 15-20knot Southerly winds this weekend, which makes for exciting docking. We get spoiled being in the win... Read More
Monday, 20 February 2017 11:40
John Bongiovanni
Great technique, Ryan. I'll add that you can practice the maneuver before you get to the dock to see how the boat will handle whe... Read More
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 19:54
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End Of Summer Delta Trip

End Of Summer Delta Trip

I'd visited the Delta 3 times previously - all for the ABK windsurfing camp; on the last two occcasions I had organized the trip - and I can tell you, trying to get more than a few windsurfers in one place at the same time with a cohesive set of gear is a challenge.  Being a sucker for punishment, and never having sailed Sherman Island outside of ABK, I organized a club trip back in September for end of summer.  This is a recap.

In the run up, I'd had interest from over 20 indivuduals.  There's usually a lot of attrition and these events, and worse, as the day drew near, the forecast was for sun, but little wind.  At the final count, we ended up with 8 - Myself, Wayne, Dora, Ceci, Christina, Zach, Jamie and Will joining us in the afternoon.   We met at the club bright and early, and loaded up with more gear than we thought we'd possibly need.  As it turned out later, we did need it.

We set off for the hour or so drive.  Even with GPS, where to go isn't completely obvious - after crossing the bidge in Antioch, you drive for about 2 miles, then turn off along a narrow road along a river embankment for a further few miles.  At the end are some new (this year) confusing one way systems and lots dirt due to ongoing construction.  The park itself is at the end, and is $5 to go into the parking area by the "playpen", which is the nominal novice area.   Only Christina and Jamie managed to get slightly lost, but not for long.

As we rigged up, the extra gear we'd broght came into use.  Ceci's sail had no pulley - oops!  Winching the downhaul on Dora's sail, on a non-matching mast, we put the top through the mast sleeve.  Oh man!  And finally, one of the booms was lacking a head.  In the end, everyone ended up with workable gear - at least as much as the wind would allow.

I had hoped to teach some beachstarting - Sherman Island is fantastic for this - but the morning wind barely topped 3-4 knots, so it wasn't really to be.  Despite that, both Christina and Ceci, with some lucky gusts and a little encouragement, did in fact achieve their very first beach start - hooray!



Ceci had graciously offered to prepare both lunch and dinner - also facilitating my vegan requirements - as it turns out, the non-vegan echiladas had been placed too close to a bunch of ants, and had to be picked out!  However, both the enchilads and later, the curry (thankfully non-spicy), despite their simplicity, proved to be a hit with everyone, after some ingeious cooking on the tiny camp stove.



In the afternoon, the wind really died, to perhaps 2-3 knots, and we were reduced to some low-wind practice.  I did venture about half way out in the river to the river marker - not something I'd attempt if there'd been much current (the delta has some quite strong tides), and we were the only sail power on the river; a couple windsurrfing in the morning had gone elsewhere.


Zach showed us some fancy backwinding, and we also saw all kinds of funky things in the river, including both live and dead fish!  Also, strangley, there was an interrmittent "burping" sound, which could not be identified - no doubt a river monster or somesuch.
Apart from the lack of wind, it proved to be a beautiful day.  Unfortunately, a vist that time of the year is always going to be subject to the capriicious wind gods; and although in recent years there has been wind at the end of September, it was not to be.



No matter.  We'll be back.  I'm already planning a trip for Spring.   The ABK California schdule for 2017 has yet to be decided, but that will likely happen at the end of summer too.

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New Wetsuits Have Arrived!

New Wetsuits Have Arrived!

 

The club has new wetsuits from Xcel Wetsuits and so far they've been a smashing success with sailors and windsurfers alike.To keep our wetsuits from turning into swiss cheese, take a moment to review the guidelines for wetsuit wear at CSC:

 - Find your size - hold up a suit to your body and see if the crotch and neck line up, that's a good starting place. Your wetsuit should fit like a glove, but not like a noose - if it won't zip, get a larger size. Wearing ankle socks will help the suit slide over your heel so you don't have to yank on it with your sharp fingernails.

 - Wear a bathing suit under your wetsuit - you never know when you'll end up with the suit with the peekaboo crotch, and being able to strip down to swim trunks makes it easy to rinse off your wetsuit when you come off the water.

 - Sailor must wear foulies over wetsuits - dinghies are the #1 cause of butt tears, stretched groins, and random punctures - even walking around in the crowded boat yard can be hazardous to wetsuits. Wearing foulie overalls over the wetsuit greatly increases their longevity and helps us save money for things like those shiny new Quests.

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Rigging a Bahia's Reefing Line

I've had to correct mis-rigged Bahia reefing lines recently, so I thought I'd explain how to rig the line properly. You'll have to do this if the main sail is crunched at the leech when you raise it fullly or if you can't fully reef the sail.

It's a little confusing, as it's two lines in a "jiffy reef" system, so that you only have to pull on one line to pull down both the luff and the leach of the sail. But once you get the picture, it isn't that hard to deal with. Here's what it looks like:

The line through the leech of the sail attaches to a block in the boom. The line through the luff of the sail runs through the block and back out the forward end of the boom through the cleat.

So what happens when you reef is this. You pull on the line at the forward end of the boom. This pulls the block attached to the leach line forward through the boom, pulling the aft reefing line down and raising the boom to the reefing gromet. You get here:

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Recent Comments
Ryan Alder
Nice description on how to get the right length of the two lines attached to the block! Not knowing the technique, it takes a lot... Read More
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 14:22
John Bongiovanni
The diagrams are based on the Bahia manual, so they're the manufacturers recommendations, for whatever that's worth. However, I b... Read More
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 15:52
John Shearer
Hi John! Excellent guide on the reefing process! I have to agree with Ryan on the routing issue. If the manufacturer recommende... Read More
Sunday, 13 November 2016 15:41
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Heart Health: CSC has an AED!

Everyone knows sailing and windsurfing are good for the heart. Even so, CSC periodically sponsors First Aid classes to keep club members knowledgeable of what to do in an emergency.

Back in June, CSC sponsored a CPR/first aid class that went over the new standards in CPR and first aid, and also taught us how to use an AED  (automated external defibrillator). 

Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the US, accounting for 1 in every 4 deaths.

The most common reason for a sudden cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation, which is an arrhythmia that interferes with the heart’s ability to beat properly and pump blood. We were advised to start with CPR (which circulates blood in the body), but a shock from an AED can restore a heartbeat if the arrhythmia is one that's "shockable". 

After taking the class, one of our Executive Committee (Excomm) Members, Joel Gussman, took up the special project to get an AED for the club. Thanks to his efforts, we now have one set up and ready to use in the clubhouse!  In an emergency, we should always call 911 right away, but while we wait for emergency vehicles, we have CPR and the AED to try and help improve the victimes survival chances.

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Separating the Gybe from the Turn

Separating the Gybe from the Turn

Something I’ve found to help students when they’re learning to gybe is to separate the gybe from the act of turning the boat. A gybe can require no turning at all, and understanding this will improve your gybes and reduce your likelihood of capsizing.

Most of the time, the reason we are gybing is because we want to turn and go the other way while sailing downwind. Maybe we've reached Ashby Ave and we have to head back before we start to feel the disapproving glare of the day leader through their binoculars. Or we're doing tight circles around a buoy and have to keep turning through the gybe. But really, gybing has nothing to do with turning, other than if we're turning downwind, we have to eventually gybe or we just can't continue the turn.

The gybe itself is nothing more than changing tacks (from port to starboard or vice versa) while sailing downwind. Or to put it more simply: a gybe is flipping the sail from one side of the boat to the other. If you’re on a dead downwind run, there is no turning needed. In fact, there are reasons to gybe that don't involve a turn at all. A common case is during racing--if you're on a dead run and want to obtain right of way by switching from port to starboard tack. No turning needed. Or maybe you're headed back home and the wind shifts a bit and you realize you're now sailing by the lee, so you flip the sail to get yourself out of accidental gybe territory. No turning needed.

I've noticed a lot of students (understandably) connect the turn and the gybe and want to turn through the gybe, from broad reach to broad reach, which can often result in a capsize. To help disconnect the two actions I've started doing this exercise:

  • Get on a dead run. Get the jib to cross to the center of the boat and try to keep it there. Watch out for the accidental gybe, and tell your crew to do the same. If you have crew you may want to have someone hold the boom in place to avoid a gybe before you're ready.  They'll also be able to feel the main starting to get back-winded, so they can let you know you've turned too far off the wind.  Maintaining a dead-run can in-itself be tricky, and if you can hold this reasonably well in waves, you're off to a good start!
  • Look at what you're heading towards on the horizon. Try to find a fixed reference point.
  • Now gybe. Try to keep the boat headed dead downwind. Use your reference point on the horizon if it helps. Once the wind catches the sail on the other side, it will try to turn the boat up, so maintaining your heading will require some counter steer with the tiller.  Think of it as a light version of the S-turn.
  • Once you're confident you're still on a run, gybe again.
  • Now do it faster, back and forth, while maintaining course.
  • Try to get down to a few seconds between gybes.
  • By now you're probably at the rocks, so better tack your way back up to the restaurant and do some more.

I've found this tends to create a light bulb moment and hopefully makes gybing in general a little smoother.

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Recent Comments
Michael Sherrell
I don't think I'd encourage correlating wind direction with landmarks. One of the most widespread problems at the club is sailing ... Read More
Saturday, 02 July 2016 07:53
Ryan Alder
Yea I'm on the fence about that part for that reason, and I don't always mention it, depending on how the student is doing. This i... Read More
Sunday, 03 July 2016 23:53
John Bongiovanni
On a dead run, you have some pretty good indicators on the boat. Ryan mentioned one in a way I hadn't thought of - the jib, and tr... Read More
Wednesday, 06 July 2016 22:50
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Slow Sailing

Slow sailing is a Junior skill and an important one. The objective of slow sailing is to get to a fixed point in space (a dock, a man-overboard,
a buoy) with zero speed. The idea is to come in on a close reach course, where you have an accelerator and a brake.
With the mainsheet all the way out, the sail is depowered, and the brake is the wind and sea against the boat. Pulling in the mainsheet on the falls is the accelerator. You line yourself up on a close reach
course and sail to the target.

There are two skills involved:

1) lining yourself up on a close reach course to the target, and

2) slow sailing on that course to it.

Let's talk about hitting a buoy at zero speed, as it's the hardest of the maneuvers. When you dock, you usually have some room for error, as you don't have to get to a precise point on the dock. But wait, what about a busy Saturday where you have to thread the needle between the only two boats where there's any space between them to dock? If you can lightly touch a buoy on a slow-sail, you can do precision docking.

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Ryan Alder
I think 'maintain forward momentum' is the big one (once you get the concept of finding the right angle to the wind). I know I ha... Read More
Thursday, 23 June 2016 11:16
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Treasure Island Cruise

Treasure Island Cruise

On Tuesday April 19th, Mike and Nathan took Monica and me on a short cruise to Treasure Island. Why only two people? There were more spots on the boats!

It was a perfect day for sailing: the sun was out and a constant breeze blew gently. When I arrived at the club, Nathan and Monica were already getting the boats ready. I quickly changed into a "highly recommended wetsuit"(Did this mean we were aiming at getting wet?), choosing a sleeveless one because the beautiful conditions made me feel fearless.. I helped out as I could. I am new to the club, and what I like about CSC is that you are expected to quickly learn how to be independent on the water. It's both scary and fun— but today I was being fearless, after all.

Mike arrived and we got going pretty quickly. After a smooth beginning (ideal for nice conversations) the wind intensified a little bit and Nathan and I even rose the spinnaker! I was excited to get on the trapeze, something I remembered doing when I was younger. We arrived at Clipper Cove after noon; perfect timing for our picnic lunch. We took the time to enjoy the delicious chocolate brought by Monica and climbed on top of  the Yerba Buena Island to get a nice view of San Francisco.

The way back brought even more fun with swift wind in our back! I stayed on the trapeze almost all the way to the club, getting half soaked indeed but feeling invigorated. Mike and Monica had some trouble with their spinnaker, but enjoyed a nice speed anyway.

Having to put away the boats was only half-sad. You know why? Because I know I'll be going on another CSC cruise soon! 

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