Today's Open/Close Times based on tide predictions

DateClub TimelineSunsetLow Tide
Mon Jul 15 Noon to 8:02 PM8:32 PM2.8 @ 12:52 PM

red means the Club will be closed. Note that current low tides are around 0.1 feet higher than predictions.

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Why controlled gybes are important

20220217-190304laser-gybe whoops-gybe

I've had chance recently to sail with some skippers that did uncontrolled gybes, on purpose.  As in, that's just how they gybed.  We're going to unpack a lot here.  What is a controlled vs uncontrolled gybe?  Why does it matter?  What can go wrong with an uncontrolled gybe?  Before we can even define controlled vs uncontrolled, first I want to talk about different types of gybes and when they're appropriate.  But before we can do that, first we need to talk about two different modes of sailing: planing vs non-planing.

We'll keep this quick and simple.  Non-planing is the "normal" mode of a sail boat, and especially most of our boats, most of the time.  The boat is pushing its way through the water, reluctantly and (relatively) slowly.  The dinghies we learn and teach on operate in this mode, except for in extreme and exciting circumstances.  When you get into more high-performance boats, like our RS500, they are made to plane, which means they pop up on top of the water and, almost literally, start flying across the top of the water.

Why is this relevant to gybes?  Because you gybe these two types of boats very differently.  On a planing boat, its fastest point of sail is, by far, on a broad reach.  And often you're flying a gennaker, because that's what they're made for, so you're moving at near (or above) wind speed.  To gybe, you go from a broad reach at really high speed and drive down fast onto a dead run, at which point the apparent wind drops to almost nothing (because you're still planing and moving fast). As you keep turning through the wind, you just let the main sail flop over on its own, because there's very little pressure on it (pressure on the sail is determined by wind speed minus your speed.  i.e., apparent wind speed).  Then you keep turning up onto the new broad reach, maintaining your speed, and continue on your very merry way (or you don't do everything perfectly and you capsize, but ssshhh we don't tell people about those).  This is often referred to as a racing gybe, as you're doing it at high speed and with minimal loss of speed.

But on a non-planing boat, or more accurately, on a boat in non-planing mode, you want to gybe differently, which is from a stable dead downwind course.  This is how we generally teach gybing in our lessons.  Get on a dead run, grab the main sheet falls and pull the main across.  Here is how I like to teach it.  Now, what you DON'T want to do is perform a racing gybe when you're not planing – which would be an uncontrolled gybe.  Let's talk about why this is significant.

Remember, the reason a racing gybe works on a boat that's planing is because the force on the main is fairly low, so the actual flop of the gybe is relatively gentle.  But if you're not flying downwind at high speeds with the kite up, the force on the main sail is much higher (due to the higher apparent wind), so if you just turn through a downwind course and let the wind catch the back of the main and flop it across the boat, it's going to do so with MUCH more speed and force.  Several things happen here:

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How (and why) not to anchor


We talk a lot about how, and when, to anchor properly, how and why to check your anchor is stored properly before leaving the dock, and what to do if things go wrong while anchoring.  Hopefully students are getting this talk several times while taking lessons, if not every lesson.  Anchoring can make your life easier, give you time to catch your breath, and save you from ending up on the rocks.

However, one thing we don't talk about often enough, imo, is why you maybe shouldn't be anchoring.  I will preface this as pertaining to junior skippers and above.  Students and novices should be anchoring early and often, for many reasons.  They take longer to deal with situations, and exhaust themselves more quickly in the process, because it's all new.  Newer sailors also tend to have poor positional awareness (where they are in relation to the lee shore, and how fast they're getting blown there).  I will also clarify that I still anchor (albeit rarely).  I check the anchor in case I need it, and re-run it if it doesn't look right.  I throw the anchor if there are problems and I'm getting close to shore.

But once you are a (decent) junior, your goal should be to anchor less and less.  I go so far as to say for me anchoring is a last resort.  I'll start with the why: 

1)  It's exhausting.  I know if I anchor in high winds, by the time I get the anchor back up and put away, I'm probably done sailing for the day.

2)  It takes a long time.  Even if I'm not done sailing, it's a long and arduous process that takes away from sailing.  If the goal is to get back to sailing quickly, anchoring is a bad way to get there.

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Don't be afraid of the radio

Chatting with a buddy boat underway

Some radio advice for those that hope to start sailing the bay (or beyond).

It's required by Coast Guard that if you have a radio, you have to monitor channel 16.  There are good reasons for this.  But beyond talking to the dayleader for a radio check, we don't actually use the radio much.  On the keelboats, often times we get annoyed by all the chatter on 16 and just turn the radio down, which is understandable.  Usually if we're sailing, we're teaching, and the noise is a distraction.  Add to the fact that whenever we are monitoring, we hear a lot of official chatter that can make using it to hail another vessel, or the coast guard, seem like a big deal, which it isn't.  So spend some time listening to the radio.  Pay attention to how the coast guard talks.  If you're on a cruise or out in the bay near shipping channels, turn on channel 14 (vessel traffic).  You'll hear how the container ships and ferries talk to vessel traffic control about where they are and where they're headed.  That way if you do have to hail the coast guard it won't seem like an unfamiliar and big deal.

I had another opportunity to hail on the radio recently.  We were headed out of the gate and were between Angel Island and Alcatraz.  We had seen a container ship coming from Richmond that was now out of site, and could now see a container ship outside the gate, but couldn't tell which way it was going.  We were about to potentially be in the way of both of them, depending on where they were headed.  So I went to channel 14 and basically just asked 'hey where are these ships going?':

Me: Vessel traffic this is sailing vessel Mariya (not the name of my boat but it's not an easy, radio-friendly name, so I often make something up) on 14.  Do you copy?

VTS: *Hesitantly* Sailing vessel Mariya... this is vessel traffic?

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Lessons learned during a missing POB search


On the way back into the Berkeley marina on a Sunday afternoon, we heard a panicked 'maydaymayday, I'm in the water just off the Berkeley pier'.   

I had been watching a Santana 22 near the gap luffing it's main and bobbing around and was wondering what they were doing, so we knew about where the person must be.  There were 3 other sailboats nearby that must have had the same thought.  Everyone got their sails down and motors started ASAP and headed over to the boat.  We didn't see the person so we all went different directions in search.  The Coast Guard started talking to a couple of the boats about search efforts.
I'll give my timeline of events as we saw them.
It took about 15 minutes for the first CG boat to show up.  Another 15 for the helicopter.
In the meantime, one of the other sailboats went over to the adrift Santana, which was slowly sailing itself away from the pier (thankfully).  Someone hopped on and they started heading to the marina.
We kept running sweeps until the helicopter showed up and started circling.  Figuring they were going to see a person long before we could, we headed in, in very poor spirits.  After 30 minutes of not hearing the guy on the radio, and CG still searching, we were pretty sure we'd just heard someone's last words over the radio.  I thought 'I hope this isn't yet another story we hear too much that ends with "if they'd just been wearing a PFD...."'.
We'd been anchored out for the weekend, so we made a stop at the pump-out dock on the way in, and saw that the adrift boat had been brought there and tied up by it's rescuer, so we talked to the people that brought it in.  In a pleasant turn of news, apparently one of the other sailboat's found the guy early on and got him out of the water, but never radioed on 16.  So all of us, including Coast Guard, were out there searching for quite a while before anyone knew.  Later, the CG pulled up to us near the rescued boat and asked us to throw some of the gentleman's things inside, who had been taken to the hospital for hypothermia, but was otherwise fine.  I was glad to see one of the items was an auto-inflated PFD with radio attached.
Things I learned from the experience:
1)  Coast Guard response time is not always as fast as you would want it to be, especially if you're the one in the water.  Thankfully there were multiple boats right there.
2)  PFD and radio are crucial.  If he hadn't been able to call that mayday, even though there were boats nearby, who knows if anyone would have happened to notice him any time soon.
3)  Monitor 16.  The reason he got rescued quickly was because every boat in the area was listening on 16.  It's legally required to monitor, yes, but also you could literally save someone's life.  Think about if you're the one in distress calling a mayday.  I was very proud of the response by the sailors.  
4)  I haven't talked to the skipper, so I can't say what happened, but it was the end of the day and everyone was coming in, pulling down sails.  The jib was down on the foredeck and main still up, so it's likely he was out of the cockpit prepping to come into the marina, and fell off.  Remember the rule, one hand for yourself, one for the boat.  Always have a hold of something, especially when you're by yourself.  
Thankfully he did the big things right.  He had a PFD with a radio attached, which no doubt saved his life.  In sailing, things go wrong FAST when they decide to go wrong.  There is no 'oh I'm going to do this thing real quick, I don't need to put a PFD on.'  Which is why at the club we require a PFD at all times, and a radio when out of sight of the dayleader.
Stay safe out there, always.

Advanced (and basic) Hoist Usage

Advanced (and basic) Hoist Usage

There often isn't enough communication around how to use the hoist properly.  In this post we're going to talk about safety, efficiency, and some tips on dropping and pulling a boat single-handed.

Personal and Boat Safety

The two big rules of using the hoist are:

  • Never ever EVER be under the boat while it's in the air.
  • Don't hit the shrouds or spreaders on the hoist arm.

The first issue most comonly happens when the centerboard falls down and someone reaches under the boat to push it back up.  Or if there's a long line of boats waiting to come out of the water and as soon as one boat starts to go up into the air the next person walks their boat down towards the sea wall.  Then when the boat in the air swings out, it's over the other boat.

Both of these are huge no-no's.  The sling/hoist does break.  This happened recently with a Venture in the air that ended up falling 5 feet back into the water.  The boat and everyone around was ok, but If there had been another boat underneath, waiting their turn, it'd be two broken boats instead of zero.  If there had been someone on that boat waiting to attach the sling, as there often is, it would have been way, way worse.  Always beware of where the boat is, and never get underneath it, and please say something if you see someone about to.

For the shrouds and spreaders, this is the most likely way to damage the boat while on the hoist.  Always keep an eye on the mast and shrouds to make sure the boat isn't going to spin into the hoist arm.  This is why someone should have control of the boat at all times.  The person on the sea wall doesn't let go of the stern until the person on the dock is pulling on the bow line so the boat can't spin.  Same with coming out of the water.  The person on the dock doesn't let go of the line until the person on land has their hand on the stern.

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Launching and docking in an East wind

Launching and docking in an East wind
dropping boat
docking boat

Winter is a time of interesting and fun winds.  We're pretty spoiled most of the year with wind pretty consistently out of the West/South-West.  In the Winter an East wind is fairly common.  When the wind is out of the East you cannot dock on the normal side of the dock with your main up, as it is now a downwind docking and you'll just run into it full speed (yes, skippers do this surprisingly often). 

For your first Winter sailing, this will be a new and unique experience.  Here are some tips for when the wind is blowing from the East:
For departure, after putting the boat in the water like normal, walk it all the way down the dock and push it around to the other side (by the pilings).
You'll have to use your foot a lot to keep it from banging/scraping as the wind wants to push it into the dock.  Once it's around the other side you'll need to take the bow painter in your left hand and hug each piling so you can hand it off to your right hand so you can get the boat around them.  Tie the boat off and from there everything is normal, including the push-off/backwards sailing away from the dock.
For returning, if you're coming towards the dock and you're on a starboard tack, you won't be able to depower if you try to dock on the normal side, but you should be able to slow sail up to the pilings side.
Check your slow sailing course and take a couple passes if you need to.  It's a new docking experience so nothing wrong with circling around a couple times until you feel like you've got it.  Bailing out of a docking when something doesn't feel right is a good show of seamanship, and if anyone on the bench makes fun of you for taking 3 tries to successfully dock feel free to throw them over the sea wall.
The other option for docking is to sail upwind, which would be past the Cal Adventures dock, towards the 3rd dock, drop the main, and sail jib alone back downwind.  Furl or blow the jib early to give the boat time to slow down (it will take longer to slow than you think when going downwind, even with no sails out) and you should easily and gently reach the dock.
Another option, if you get between the docks and realize the wind is wrong, is to dock on the West side of the Cal Adventures dock, drop your sails, and bare poles or go jib-alone over to our dock.  When single handing this may be easier than trying to drop the main while sailing.
As a general rule, regardless of the way the wind is blowing: If your main isn't luffing, abort the docking attempt and reevaluate the conditions.  Do not dock!

Docking Like a Pro

angle of approach

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.  

- Pick an exact spot on the dock. This is where you're going to try to end up. You don't have to tell anyone else the exact spot. If you don't hit it exactly, and are a foot off, no one else will be the wiser, it will still just look like a really good docking to them.

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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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