Thursday 13 September 2012

Race debriefing

It was a great day out training – I have learnt a lot - now I am ready for the real thing :).  Oh, this was the real thing already?!? But I had not had a chance to practice in conditions even remotely similar! Well, ok, the others probably had not had much practice in such conditions, either…

Let me set the scene for you. Throughout my preparations, I had flat water and 4 Beaufort maximum.  Now, the forecast for the actual regatta was saying 6-7 Beaufort. As I woke up on Saturday morning, I had butterflies in my stomach. But at 9h00 there was rain and hardly any wind. So we all started under full sails – I had even pre-rigged the big spi. By the time we reached Versoix, it was a solid force 5 and getting stronger. As we reached le Grand Lac, we had gusts of 30 knots. By then, most of us reefed – or abandoned.

In total, out of 92 boats on the starting line, 52 abandoned. Here are the results in the Surprise class:

As you can see, Mic Mac finished 12th out of 24 boats that started. Interestingly, I could see 8 more Surprises registered for the race – I wonder if they decided not to come because of the forecast.
Finishing as the 12th Surprise is way above my original expectations, but now of course I wish I had come higher among those who actually finished. A couple of places better was within my reach: already one place I lost because hoisting the spi too early on the way back – and being overtaken as I was struggling with it. I will not go through the whole race now (you can – if you want - by replaying Mic Mac’s GPS track in Google Earth), but here are my personal highlight moments:
  1. Working on the foredeck to change the head sail;
  2. Seeing 14 knots of speed on the GPS while surfing under spinnaker on the way back.
On the other hand, the worst moment was an uncontrolled gybe as a result of getting the spi wrapped around the forestay at night – this one is really not to be repeated.
Overall, feeling in control of the boat in 30 knots of wind and alone was a great experience. With all that I have learnt, I think I am now finally ready for this Translemanique race - some time in the future, maybe? Even though it will not be easy to repeat this year’s result…

Thanks for reading!

Friday 7 September 2012

Video from the regatta

I still mean to sum up the race in some way, but these last days have been very busy: bringing the boat back to Versoix, getting all the water out, cleaning up, fixing the (minor) damage... And spending time with the family at last!

Meanwhile, I have looked through the footage that I managed to record during the race and here are some bits and pieces put together. Can you recognize the music?

Sorry I don't have the best pieces on video - my cameraman was quite busy when the best action was happening :)

Friday 31 August 2012

My solitary regatta starts at 09h30 tomorrow – you can follow online!

Today Tim and myself took Mic Mac to Societe Natique de Geneve. I confirmed my registration (as if paying 100 CHF out of my pocket was not confirmation enough), signed off on a standard disclaimer for the organisers and got a magical yellow box that will let them put my race track on-line live. So you can watch my progress tomorrow! Here is an photo to encourage you :)

In the harbour, I had a chance to pass by some competitors, who were either adjusting the rig tension or washing their already immaculate hulls. I was glad I had managed to wash Mic Mac’s on Monday. 

I have also seen this example of how obsessed sailors are with boat performance: this little contraption is meant to (I guess) avoid water turbulence around the little hole (which is there for the rain water to flow out of the cockpit). I wonder how many metres you can actually gain because of something like that – but it illustrates the attitude. 

Comparing it with the photo of Mic Mac’s keel which I posted on Monday, one could feel a little intimidated, but somehow I don’t. I know some sailors here are practically pros, but it is not going to take away from my pleasure. I am happy with the improvements I could introduce on Mic Mac (the new compass, suspension lines for the spi bag) and above all I am happy with everything that I have learned through these last 36 days. It has been a great adventure!

Somehow the skipper’s apero was not very popular; I guess everybody prefers to get a good night’s sleep – a luxury we may not be able to afford tomorrow. The forecast predicts cold, wet and stormy weather, so maybe it will not be that long? Anyway, may plan is to enjoy every minute of it!
Thanks for reading – and for all the support I have got from you!

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Mic Mac's new compass

I have not sailed today - I did some work on the boat instead.I actually installed a new compass, because the old one was no longer readable. Here is what it looked like before:

 And after:

From the photos you can actually tell that I washed the cabin wall in the process :-) I forgot my electrical tools, so I have to come back tomorrow to make the compass light work - and check deviation.

Is compass important for racing? It is! And not even for finding the way (which in a long race may not be obvious), but for finding out when to tack.

Everybody knows that you tack on a header, right? Let's say you are sailing close-hauled on a starboard tack and the wind changes direction so that it now blows 10 degrees more from the left. If you want to continue on starboard tack, you would have to bear away 10 degrees - you would be headed 10 degrees - you would effectively lose these 10 degrees. But if you tack, you will be lifted 10 degrees - you will effectively gain 10 degrees. A header on one tack is effectively a lift on the other tack. It is absolutely essential to know if you are being headed or lifted.

How can you know? First, you concentrate. Second, you watch the telltales, and adjust the course to maximize boat speed. Third, you notice changes in direction. This is where the compass comes in.

By looking at the compass, you can tell not only that you are changing direction, but by how many degrees. Is the wind shift instantaneous or swinging? As Mark Russel explains in his "RYA Tactics", the nature of the shifts affects the strategy - if the shifts are swinging, you should only tack after you are headed below the mean direction. I haven't repeated his math, but here is the illustration. Orange wins by adopting this strategy, while Mauve tacks immediately on each header. Pink gets it all wrong by tacking on lifts.

If you are interested in tactics, this is a great book - what you see here is just one page from the first chapter! And it may very well prove useful this Saturday - current forecast from Meteo Blue predicts a strong Bise.

I don't mind a strong wind; I just hope they won't cancel the race if they think it is too strong...

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Tiller lock

Before starting the preparations I had no idea how easy the tillerlock is. This is the whole system:

And this is what it looks like when rigged:

As you can see, the metal part is screwed to the tiller and the rope, spread between two cleats, goes into it. When the switch is in the starboard position, it locks on the rope. The elastic loop gives some flexibility, which can be adjusted by shortening the rope (which is easy thanks to the black plastic piece). That's all!

Just as Andrea told me, locking the tiller is enough to keep the boat stable on close-hauled course. On a run, you have just a few seconds before the boat starts luffing up - you have to act fast to avoid broaching.

I think it is possible to have an automatic autopilot installed and indeed some competitors will probably have it. That would make gybing easy. Both Andrea and Thierry decided that this simple tiller lock is enough and I am following the tradition. It certainly makes the whole exercise more interesting.

Monday 27 August 2012

Time when nothing works

Do you have times that nothing works? This weekend was like that to me. Sort of.

It started on Friday night, when the wind died 100 metres before the Belle Etoile finishing line and two Surprises rolled us (Caroline, Morgane, Tim and myself on Mamma Mia) when a puff of wind came from the opposite direction. We should have tried harder to keep between them and the line! It made us loose our hard-gained 3rd place; we finished 5th.

On Saturday morning the Dinghy&Yngling Match Race started and it was a disaster for me. Nothing worked. To cap it all, when on Sunday night I took Mic Mac to the crane, I was told that my reservation had been cancelled because of the Fete des Pecheur, scheduled for the whole week. Will I have to race with a dirty bottom? Here is a hint:

But the glass is indeed half-full:
  • the skill-level of Match Race participants has been really high this year,
  • many of our decisions in the Belle Etoile proved right, including some close calls on the starting line, where the best boat was OCS and many others were confused,
  • 5 days before the start of Tralslemanique the boat is in good shape - and I should be ready, too - by now I know it quite well,
  • I had a chance to practice with Paweł in a gusty 4B Joran on Sunday night,
  • we (Paweł and I) did manage to clean Mic Mac's hull on Monday - it is its keel on the photo.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Geneva lake winds

I had a break in trainings - I am back in Geneva, but the wind is gone! And you need wind to sail, right? Well, Lac Lemain is famous for its capricious winds, so in fact you need a good knowledge of wind patterns - after knowing how to sail fast, this is probably the biggest success factor. So I thought this is a good opportunity to look into the Geneva lake winds.

Les sauveteurs du Leman (SISL) gives a good overview of the regional winds. Let's look into those that you have probably heard: La Bise, Le Sechard et le Joran.

La bise is the most famous one, especially after it sinks some boats in winter and produces images like this (after Didier Ulrich's blog):

It is a regular, cold N-NE wind caused by a system of high pressure over the British islands and lower pressure over the Mediterranean. It builds up after the passage of a cold front and predicts good weather. The legend has it that it blows for 3, 6 or 9 days, but it does not seem to be true, as a Bise of 1-2 days are more common (Wikipedia) . Here are its typical directions across the lake (after SISL):

A good Bise is a 6-7 Beaufort strong; it is the only wind appreciated by the local wind- and kyte-surfers. But "une petite Bise" can be as week as 2 Beaufort.

Le Sechard is the other term that I heard sailors use with a knowing grin. I found it confusing, as the directions are not that different from Bise (at least on the Petit Lac):

I've read somewhere that it is a foehn wind. This confuses me even more - shouldn't a foehn wind blow from the mountains rather than along the mountains? Looking at this archive comment from Alinghi, I think I am not the only one to be confused.

I notice the following five differences. Le Sechard is not as strong as la Bise (probably 1-3 Beaufort), it is warm, it turns into ENS as you go into the Grand Lac, it is not nearly as regular and it dies before the sun set.

The differences with Le Joran are quite clear. This one is a gusty NW wind blowing from the Jura (hence its name).

It often comes with a changing weather and can turn into a storm, which explains its bad reputation. I think we had the Joran during the 3H de Versoix regatta - remember the gusts and marks not aligned with the wind, so that all the legs were beam-reach?

Let me finish this post with a quiz. Looking at this wind map for Thursday and the following barometric map of Europe (copied from WindFinder) and knowing that very similar winds are predicted for the whole of Thursday (including well into the night), which of the three winds described above can we expect for this Thursday training?

If this subject interests you, please also send me your favourite weather links - maybe we can build something useful for the YCC.

For completeness, I found this wind map interesting. Thanks for reading! Michał

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Gybing the big spi

I had a coffee with Andrea this afternoon and he did not find tacking particularly challanging - he said we worried much more aboug gybing. Sure, with waves in strong wind I am concerned, too! At the same time Andrea himself admitted that in the actual regatta he did all of his spi run without gybing even once! You can hardly expect avoiding some competitive tacking, so I will keep working on these tacks!

Later today I went out for training with Wojtek and Greg and the conditions were just perfect: stable SW force 4 with no waves. I played the shifts and finally the beat to windward looks like tacks and not a christmass tree.

Some of the mistakes you see in the track were as simple as not preparing the sheets before tacking; this shows the importance of staying focused. More practice is needed, but I am more optimistic - probably also because wth this wind it was fun to go as far as the Societe Nautique de Geneve and the view on the Jet d'Eau was just gorgoeus.

On the way back I practiced with the big spi for the first time. Andrea is right: the boat is not at all stable, it is easy to broach and I didn't even have any waves!  The final gybe was successful, but more practice is needed.

Anyway, that's it for this week - tomorrow I am going to get the family back home from the Polish lake district - a good opportunity for some aerobic exercise.

Sunday 5 August 2012

Alone in YCC "3h de Versoix"

Today there was no crew for Mic Mac in the YCC regatta, so I went out alone. Haude took this photo (thanks, Haude!):

The wind was doing strange things and the race course was not in the wind axis, so no real tacking practice. But the experence was great! Some heated situations and very good sportsmanship - I have not yet seen so many penalty turns in a YCC regatta! Lessons learnt:
  1. I can hoist the spi quite fast
  2. But beam-reach with the genoa the boat is just as fast (and it is much less hassle)
  3. Speed, stupid!
Thierry was way faster. He was not alone, but this is no excuse. Next training: tomorrow.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Learning the rules: Finkh

The following question popped up over beer with Alex after today's training: how do you learn the racing rules?

Well, you start by downloading the rules pdf. Then you read it over and over again - do not expect to understand after the first or even second reading! If you don't have the time to read all of it, focus on the definitions (they are at the very end) and parts 1 and 2 - these parts cover the basic rules and the right-of-way rules.

To consolidate your newly acquired knowledge, dto a quiz: Actually, do them all! If you can answer all these questions off the top of your head, you won't risk being intimidated by sailors shouting "de l'eau" when they are not entitled to room. By the way, claiming right-of-way when you know you don't have it is bad sportsmanship - punished by disqualification that cannot be excluded from the boat's score!

If you get hooked, check the case book, which contains interpretations that are "legally" binding (including case 47, which explains the consequences of shouting "starboard" when you know that you are on port).

Finally, remember while knowing the rules is useful, it is far more important to be fast! If you sail fast without knowing the rules, you can still win, but if you know the rules but sail slow, no way!