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.
A great learning experience is to sail on Racing Sundays in light wind. The skippers who win are those who learn how to tune the sails and the boat to get every last tenth of a knot out ot it. Learn from them, as what
you learn will transform into how to sail in larger winds.
And when the wind is not there at all, you can learn better ways to power the boat other than the paddle and sculling with the rudder. Rocking the boat and moving the sails in synchrony is incredibly effective. The
great Frank Bethwaite claimed to be able to get a dinghy moving at 5 kts in a calm wind with this technique.
Another thing in the winter is that when there are winds, they come from different directions than those of the summer. They come from the South during and ahead of a storm, and occasionally from the East before
We sail in a pretty small area, the South Sailing Basis, with summer winds from a relatively constant direction. And so our brains relate naturally to the geography and not to the wind. This develops habits that don't translate easily to sailing elsewhere.
Sailing in the Southerly and Easterly winds in the winter, even if they're lighter, help you get over this geographical fixation. I've had lots of students who had trouble with this, running the gammut from
able to do it but somewhat disoriented to completely confused. And it's natural. The way to break it is to sail in the winter with different wind directions.
So come out and do it. You'll be a better sailor for it.
We had some really good 15-20knot Southerly winds this weekend, which makes for exciting docking. We get spoiled being in the wind shadow most of the time, so even if it's blowing 25 out of the West, the dock is still calm. I wanted to give one tip for docking in these conditions.
When the wind is behind you as you come in, you can't slow sail your way to the dock. What people often do is come in on a run between the docks, then turn and do a quick 180 to head up into the wind and come alongside the dock, smoothly hopping off the starboard side as the boat comes to a stop, feeling and looking very professional. That's the plan anyway. What tends to happen though is as soon as you start to head up from the run the boat rounds up, broaches, and capsizes between the docks with the wind quickly pushing it towards the sea wall.
A safer maneuver is to head downwind towards the second and third docks. If you're going to have to gybe to turn towards the CSC dock, do it as early as possible before you're close to the sea/rock wall. Then turn and head towards the CSC dock on a beam reach, staying fairly close to the second dock on your way in. Then dip down between the docks a bit and head into the wind as you get closer to our dock. If planned properly you can then slow sail (how's your high-wind slow sailing in swells?), or if the dock is clear (which it often is since with this wind often comes rain), shoot up into the wind as you get to the dock and do the aforementioned hopping off the side. The goal is to avoid the run/broad reach zone of death (https://www.cal-sailing.org/blogfrontpage/recent-blog-posts/entry/downwind-sailing-and-the-evils-of-rounding-up).
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 when you get there and do it. This is especially useful if you'll need crew weight out, so everyone can see what will happen and what they need to do in a place where you have a lot more margin.