"Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk." - Sir Francis Chichester when asked why he carried so much alcohol on his solo sail around the world.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

That's gonna leave a scar!

Russell Coutts is one of the best of the best, but even Coutts has an occasional error in judgement. In the video below Coutts hits the committee boat at the start of a race. What's it have to do with Bootlegger...nothing.

Advice from a master of self-reliant sailing: jump overboard

One of the earliest influences on my love of singlehanded sailing was Robin Knox Johnson. When I was a kid I read his book, A World of My Own, about the singlehanded around the world Sunday Times Golden Globe Race that he won on his boat, Suhaili, in 1969. Below is a Sailing Magazine article about RKJ and his attitude towards self-reliance.

Advice from a master of self-reliant sailing: jump overboard

I’d like to go sailing with Robin Knox-Johnston sometime. I understand he can be a bit crotchety, but I think we’d get along. I admire his commitment to the ethos of the self-reliant sailor. Besides, anyone who recommends that sailors jump overboard instead of calling for help in some circumstances would have to be an interesting shipmate.

RKJ, as he’s frequently called to get around the clumsiness of a hyphenated surname, got my attention when he wrote: “Why are so many sailors frightened of the water? It’s as if beneath the surface of the sea lurk unimaginable dangers and monsters waiting to trap those who enter.”

The comments rose out of his irritation over boaters whose first instinct when something goes wrong at sea is to cry for help. He was grousing specifically about sailors who call for rescue after wrapping a line in their propellers. “Whatever happened,” he asked rhetorically, “to jumping overside with a knife or a hacksaw to cut the prop free?”

I can picture RKJ leaping into the sea with a knife between his teeth. At 73, he looks tough enough to do it. In the photo over his column in Yachting World, the British sailing magazine with the same oversize pages as SAILING, his darkly-tanned, deeply-lined visage looks like a topographic map of Cape Horn.

I agree with him about the diminishing self-sufficiency of sailors. I can also relate to his recommended remedy for a fouled propeller.
Once after a spectacular yard-sale broach (sheets and sails and pieces of spinnaker arrayed everywhere as in a rummage sale) while crossing the finish line in a breezy race, I started the engine, put it in gear prematurely and promptly strangled the propeller in many turns of a spinnaker guy. I figured that if I was dumb enough to do that (the memory comes back every time we do a man-overboard drill), I deserved the honor of freeing the prop.

I took a knife “overside” with me (in my hand, not my teeth), but found that it was little help. There were so many layers of rope that I’d still be sawing if I had relied on the blade. I was eventually able to unwind the mess, but I have to say it was not quite as easy as RKJ makes it sound. “Holding your breath underwater is not as difficult as it seems,” he offered helpfully. I don’t usually find that difficult at all, but doing it long enough, and frequently enough, to free a prop choked in snakelike coils of high-tech line is another story.

But back to the old mariner’s point. Making a mayday or pan-pan call because you can’t use the engine on your sailboat (assuming you’re not in imminent danger of fetching up on the rocks) is surely a trivial use of emergency services. After all, if you weren’t interested in a swim, you could just sail the boat home and persuade or hire someone to deal with the problem at the dock.

RKJ says the Royal National Lifeboat Institution answers 250 calls a year from yachts in British waters that have something tangled in their props. He’s right to make a point of it because Britain’s admirable lifeboat service, manned by well-trained volunteers and classified as a charity supported by donations, is too precious to waste on sailing inconveniences.

It’s a little different in U.S. waters. Make an emergency call about a fouled prop here and you’re likely to get a visit from a commercial towboat and have to produce a credit card before being spared a jump overboard.

I guess that’s an incentive to self-reliance, though sailors shouldn’t need it. Being able to take care of yourself at sea is the essence of sailing.

As the first person to sail singlehanded non-stop around the world, RKJ is an expert on the subject of self-reliant sailing. He accomplished the feat in 1968 on his 32-foot Suhaili, a heavy Atkins design that, as he told SAILING readers in a reminiscence published in our 45th anniversary issue last year, started life as large teak log delivered to the Bombay docks. She was no speedster—it took more than 10 months of self-reliance to complete the circumnavigation. (By comparison, the around-the-world sailing record set this year is 45 days.)

“Those 312 days alone at sea with Suhaili,” he wrote in SAILING, “created a bond that has continued to this day....and every time I step on board her I get that feeling of impending freedom that comes when we can get out to sea and away from land influences and interference.”

RKJ was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his accomplishment and has remained quite visible in sailing circles and elsewhere ever since. He was even featured in a BBC reality TV show called “Top Dogs,” the premise of which was a competition between geezer adventurers who had found fame courting danger in different fields. The sea dog competed against two sexagenarians, a polar explorer (ice dog) and a war correspondent (dog of war).

In an article about the show, the Daily Telegraph wrote, “Apart from high cholesterol, plastic lenses in his eyes and occasional difficulty finding the right word, Knox-Johnston is extremely fit, despite 10 cigarettes a day and a fondness for the amber nectar.”

What if RKJ and I did go sailing and a line got tangled in the prop? I guess we’d have to arm wrestle for the privilege of being self-reliant. Winner goes overside. He looks pretty burly; he might win. That’s fine with me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oh well...

Matthew driving
Kathryn driving
We spent 4 Aug – 11 Aug on the boat in Chicago. Our original plans were to sail Racine, WI and St. Joseph, MI or where ever the wind took us, but the weather had other plans. The beginning of the week had light winds and the end of the week had plenty of wind with gale warnings and waves that came right over the break wall. The weather was so bad for Thursday and Friday that we received permission from the harbor to relocate Bootlegger to a less vulnerable mooring, and the Verve Cup cancelled all racing on Friday. Below is a posting from the Verve Cup race committee. 

CHICAGO, IL (August 11, 2012). Today on the water the circles were each able to get in three races after Friday’s racing was postponed due to weather in the Chicago area, including wind gusts approaching 40 knots (46 MPH) and waves nearing 14 feet. Verve Cup Regatta Chair Martin Sandoval said that after no racing on Friday, competitors were eager to get out on the water today. “You can never make up the missed races, but we got three races in each circle today and it should be good sailing tomorrow with more moderate weather.” Chris Bedford of Sailing Weather Services said racers can expect “a bit of a mixed bag” when Sunday’s racing begins. “During morning racing there will be a lingering offshore breeze around 10 knots,” Bedford said. “That wind is expected to die during the morning with variable conditions mid-morning through early afternoon. There will be a midday southeast lake breeze of 5 to 10 knots and the waves should be down, so it should be pretty nice out there tomorrow.”

Due to the foul weather we were limited to day sailing and a quick trip to Hammond, Indiana and back, but never did get in our originally planned trip to Racine, WI and St. Joseph, MI.

Computer time in the Chicago Yacht Club
More computer time in the CYC
Kathryn doing handstands on a beach north of Chicago

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What happened in the Mac

I’ve been real slow at get this out, but here it goes. The 104th Chicago to Mackinac Race is over and here’s how it played out for us: the things we did right and the things that cost us. First of all, I’ve never been in a Mac Race like this one: it was fast, we put the chute up at the start and took it down at the finish, and any little mistake was capitalized on by the competition and very hard to make up. First place in our division, Chicago-Mackinac Trophy, finished in 37:28:47, while we finished 84th place in 40:53:40, that’s close especially for a race that’s 333 miles. Within our section, Section 07, first place finished in 39:05:10, we finished 15th in section 1:48:30 later.

The start went… well….not as planned. My plan was to start in clear air away from the majority of the fleet, in this case the committee boat end, but the wind died right at the start and we ended up trapped at the pin end behind most of our section. Why would I do this? Our sail handling wasn’t as strong as needed and I was concerned that putting us in the heat of things during a downwind start with a chute and having to do some fast last minute gybes could put us in a position to do a lot of damage. Starting a 333 race in last place a minute or less behind the rest of the fleet didn’t cost us very much. Once we got our .5oz flying we rapidly put time on our competitors. David Stevenson did a great job keeping us out of trouble.

After the start the wind allowed us to stay close to the rhumbline until Saturday, July 21 @ 19:56 when we gybed to port tack. The idea was to put us between the new wind and the competition. The eventual winners of our section: Smokum Too (1st), Fast Tango (2nd), and Velero VII (3rd) all stayed on the original tack sailing at 37-44 degrees to our 344. Once we hit the rhumbline we sailed up the line until Little Sable Point.

At Little Sable Point our competition, to the east of us, sailed in 11 knots to our 9.7, but we sailed about 1kt faster due to the angle. Between Little Sable Point and Big Sable Point we passed Velero VII. Velero VII and Fast Tango went east to shore while Bootlegger and Smokum Too went west of the rhumbline.

Sunday, 22 July at 12:27 we gybed to 300 degrees to get out of hole. We were trapped in a convergence zone between a sea breeze to the east and the new wind to the west. Smokum Too was to our north and west. The gybe to the west cost us. The boats inside of us kept moving in the right direction and Smokum Too set themselves up to sail a hotter angle into the Manitou’s.

Sunday, 22 July at 18:31 everyone, but Bootlegger gybes towards Point Betsie. We stayed on the rhumbline. Smokum Too moves into first place.

It became evident that the first boats into the Manitou’s would get the most benefit from the wind and would put miles on everyone else. The rich would get richer. We lost some time getting into the Manitou’s after our competition and Velero VII regains their lead over us.

Monday, 23 July at 00:00 we gybed just outside of the Manitou’s and separate from the fleet. Our competition is sailing at 39-43 degrees to our 24 or less (sometimes around 300). Our speed is equal to Fast Tango and Velero VII, but .20kts slower than Smokum Too. At 04:28 on Monday we gybed away from Beaver Island. The competition stayed pretty much on the rhumbline.

Some beautiful sunsets

Once we reached Gray’s Reef it became evident that going to the west was very costly. Between the exit of the Manitou’s and Gray’s Reef we lost 8.8 miles to Smokum Too, 6.4 miles to Velero VII, and 6 miles to Fast Tango.

Monday, 23 July at 09:30 we blew out the tack of the .6oz Poly chute; it took us 26 minutes (09:56) to get the new chute up. We didn’t go bare headed; we did get a headsail up, but moved almost 2kts slower until the new chute was raised. We finished the race at 10:49:54 on Monday, 23 July.

Some pictures of the 335 finishers docked at the island. Bootlegger is in the middle of the bottom picture (blue main cover with white 32823 on it)

So what worked:

·         We had a plan and for the most part it worked.

·         Our weather prediction was closer to reality than the committee’s

·         With the exception of Joe and myself, everyone got some sleep

·         Everyone offered good input to what was going on around us, good team work.

·         For the most part when someone drove they removed themselves when they started to become ineffective

·         We had fun. This one is huge.

·         Top speed, as recorded on the GPS, was 11.8kts

What cost us (without repeating the above):

·         Joe and I didn’t get enough sleep and became ineffective on Sunday night. The night that we should have put the most time on everyone else.

·         Not practicing enough before the race. This one is huge and hurt us more than everything else.

·         Sail handling. We had a nasty habit of trimming the chute too tight.

·         Sailing to the curl. Works well when shorthanded, but with a crew we should have driven to a course and the crew adjust to the wind. You can’t drive to the curl and the course unless the wind doesn’t vary at all.

·         Inexperience with the boat

Much like the race the trip home was fairly uneventful. We did have a short blow of around 27-28kt true from the south, the direction we were heading, above the Manitou’s, but that settled down and allowed us to make good time. We made one stop in Frankfort for fuel and a pump-out and then motor sailed back to Chicago. We arrived in Chicago around 18:30 on Friday. Top speed on the GPS was 12.2kts.