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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September 25, 2011-Sunday Racing

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Racing in African Waters

I called for the genoa, the “red bag”, and as it came on deck I went forward to help Andy hook it up.

When I called back to Judy, in the cockpit, to relead the sheets she demurred, “That’s the wrong sail.” She said.

I looked up from my work on the bow and saw she was right. In the few moments since I’d gone forward the wind had built. It had been 10 knots, now it looked like 15.

“What’s it blowing?” I shouted.

Judy glanced at the instruments and said, “16 knots, it’ll be more outside!”

We’ve had these conversations before and Judy is usually right, more often than I am, about which sail to set.

“OK, get the blue bag up here.” I shouted to the forward hands, and in a second the #4 jib came up. Andy rigged it and I went aft to line up for the start.

We reached back and forth a couple of times to get a sense of the line and set our clocks to the radio call: “Five minutes…NOW!” I decided on a port start at the left end, not the bold move that it usually would have been because for this race, being a reaching start, port was the only way to go.

We tacked, with speed, to leeward of Galactica, and went for the pin end.

“Three, two, one, START”. We were first to cross and we headed out of Richards Bay towards the anchored ships offshore, which we were sailing around today, leading the fleet and pulling out fast.

So, a good start, a good head of steam, and we had the right sail, for which I am eternally thankful. We just shouldered down and charged out to sea ducking the spray and looking for the first mark, a ship named “Sanko” five miles out, should be bearing 126 degrees.

We could see the ship’s masts and we homed in on it. Nomad, the 56 foot catamaran, overtook us on the way, her crew cockily demonstrating to us how their beer bottles could sit calmly on their cockpit coamings while we were heeled at 25 degrees and there was nothing calm about our ride and no beer drinking either. But we got the last laugh on Nomad. They were a bit shorthanded being only two aboard, and no navigator; they headed off to the wrong next mark. On Wings we had the next mark already entered on our plotter and Judy gave me the course: 250 degrees. We turned to that heading and saw another ship anchored three miles away. That must be it. Nomad, by this time, was nearly hull down, heading off on a course of 150, towards oblivion we figured, or Durban.

But with only three miles to go we had too little time to get the kite up, and anyway in 24 knots of wind we were already doing 9 knots and didn’t need it, plus, with the additional boost from the Alguhas current that flows southward around here at 1.5 knots, Banzai, the next mark, was coming up fast.

We jibed, rounded, put in a reef, and headed towards home, with Nomad nowhere in sight and the rest of the fleet following us a long ways back.

The last leg, like the first, was a close reach. We would have preferred a beat, but you take what you can get, and we sailed fast back towards Richards Bay and finished first by about two miles over Silhouette, the next boat, at 2 hours and 18 minutes for the whole course. We celebrated with cold beers, just like the old days.

At the awards party we found that going fast on the first outing doesn’t pay; they gave us a brutal rating and we corrected out to third. Silhouette won, 39 seconds ahead of Galactica and 14 minutes ahead of us on corrected time. But it was OK. We had fun, sailed well, didn’t break anything, and we made those other guys happy for beating us. Plus, we got a lot of favorable comments on how well Wings looked and sailed. All in all, a great day.

Wednesday we depart Richards Bay for the next port and the next adventure.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Richards Bay, SA

Click here to see the other photos

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

May 29, 1988-Dawn: Tatoosh

Back in 1988 we were just starting to learn how fast this boat really is in a breeze and how to sail it.

That year, at the start of the Swiftsure Race, we had 30kts in the starting area and gales of wind in the forecast. The waters around Brotchie Ledge were choppy and everywhere mains were flapping, boats were changing down and most were reefing. We set the #4 and hoisted a full main, as flat as we could get it, and with the crew fully hiked out and hunched down in their yellow foulies against the cold breeze we were sailing well. The boat seemed to like the conditions.

Rocket Ship Upwind

Our start was a flyer, alone at the committee boat end, but we had seen some oscillations earlier and the wind had gone left just before the start. We took advantage of that and started at the left end.

The gun on the Canadian Navy ship went off just as we passed under it with a full head of steam while on the long line the rest of the fleet were far to windward near Brotchie Ledge. It looked to us like they were overstanding the first mark, Race Rocks.

After starting so well, in the lead, even though we were seeing over 6 knots, I soon saw that we were slow compared to the other boats! The other boats were pointing higher and going faster. It didn’t seem like this should be the case. I looked at our trim. I saw that the jib was stalled, too far in! In the heat of the moment I had not been watching the tell tails. I called for some trimming help and Jack jumped down to the low side. He eased the #4 out a few inches and I footed off. The difference was astonishing; immediately we picked up speed and began to point as well as the competition. Then we hit 6.8kts with the speed still building; this was above our target speed. When it got to 7kts I pointed up and burned off a tenth of a knot and Hunts began taking bearings on the other boats. We were pointing on them and footing out! It was like we turned on the after-burners; what a rocket ship we had!

With the height we were now sailing I could see we would easily fetch Race Rocks and it looked like we would lead the fleet through which we did, except for Palm Tree Express, a Santa Cruz 50 who reached down from the windward end and overtook us before the rocks.

Holding starboard tack the whole fleet headed across to the US side of the Straits and, as the wind died off, they caught up with us. But we were still sailing with the leaders. At 9:00 PM we were at Neah Bay, in a nice breeze, but then we were alone again; we’d lost the faster boats in the beat towards Neah Bay. Night fell and we sailed on in darkness, working the shifts aggressively. We rounded the light ship at 01:07 on the 29th with no idea where the rest of our class was. We had seen no other boats for hours. It was light winds and we set the half ounce kite and jibed a few times, looking for a good angle. It seemed that heading back to Neah Bay was the best we could do so we headed that way.

Tatoosh(wingssail images file photo)

Dawn found us off Tatoosh Island in very light conditions with a glassy low swell and the sun over a low fog bank just beginning to warm us. There were a few boats barely in sight ahead of us in the fog but we could not identify them and we had no idea how well or poorly we were doing. As the sun burned the fog off and we began to get a few zephers we started to see who we were sailing with: Aquila and Warrior, the Chance 50, were nearby. There were other boats abeam; boats in our class. This was good, we hadn’t been left during the night; in fact we might have made up some time.

We changed to a ¾ oz kite and stayed on the American side, running down the rugged shoreline, keeping pace with the boats outside. At Clallam Bay the wind had begun to fill so we changed kites again and set a new course for Race Rocks, back across the Straits. The wind continued to build for us, 20kts then 30kts, and more. Reaching hard under the big 1.5oz with the whole crew on rail on the weather quarter, we crossed in front of most of the boats, sailed inside the rocks ahead of them, and surfed in to Victoria on a screaming reach, finishing 4th, very happy with that since only three top boats, all bigger than us, nipped us at the finish.

Coming Home

We’d been sailing Wings for two years, had had a bit of success now and then, but now we had proof that the boat was fast, very fast. We were elated.

Over the next months and years we came to know how great a boat we had: in windy conditions Wings seemed untouchable.

In the 23 years since then it hasn’t changed.

Click here to see more shots from 1988 Swiftsure.

Click here to see our logbook from that race.

Click here to read all of our logs (

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Richards Bay, South Africa

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

September 18, 2011-Wild Weather on an Untamed Coast

Zululand Yacht Club, where we now lie in Richards Bay, is a small corner of shelter on a wild coast of few shelters on a wild continent and it is spare harbor at best; our berth is just tucked inside a pair of thin jetties within eyesight of the opening and only a little ways around the bend from the angry expanse of the sea that runs clear to Australia to the east and south to Antarctica.

On a high tide when the swells are up Zululand breathes in nervous rhythm with those seas and the boats pull and tug on their mooring lines with the unseen rise and fall. We look knowingly from our decks towards the jetty and see the white crests sweeping along the rocks.

In this part of the world the weather comes with swift violence either swirling up the coast from the Southern Ocean or blowing down the coast from the Mozambique Channel. Either way it often arrives with a suddenness that can catch you unawares. We sat one day on the yacht club veranda and absently watched a small cat’s paw come across the inlet towards us and when it arrived the wind switched instantly from a warm 15 knot northerly to an icy 20 knot southerly. Today, in the still heat of the day, we had the all the hatches wide open as we worked below deck and 10 minutes later we were slamming them shut as our papers blew around the cabin in a cold tornado caused by the daily switch. This month we are getting these changes in a 24 hour pattern and the arrival of the system is usually followed by 6 hours or more of gales when the trees ashore wave like fields of tall grass and the birds who dare to fly are blown scattered across the sky; the gales then falling off to zero and we enjoy 12 hours of light winds or lulls before the next system arrives. And arrive it will.

When we lie in our bunks at night and feel the boat buffeted by the howling winds, which, unlike the waves, seem to arrive at our berth un-impeded, we think of the seas shouldering roughly against the jetty and we can only shrink at the thought of being at sea on such nights, and there are many of them on this coast.

Yet there are also days of soft winds and mild weather; days when the sky is blue and the sun warm and the ocean outside sparkles an invitation and white sails flash back and forth in the channel. On these days we might take a short sail and maybe even join a friendly yacht club race.

But we watch nervously for the next system.

One day we will have to face the weather on this coast when we venture out for more than just a day sail and make our way to the southern capes and around to Cape Town. When we do we will be counting on the southern summer to moderate the wild weather we are experiencing now.

Otherwise we may just stay here in the shelter of Zululand Yacht Club.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Richards Bay, South Africa

Monday, September 05, 2011

September 6, 2011-This Morning the Fog Rolled In

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Wings in the Zululand Fog

This morning I woke to find that for the first time since we’ve been in Africa a heavy fog had rolled into Zululand.

The air was still and damp and thick with the fog and the boats in the marina and the trees ashore were just grey silhouettes.

It reminded me of Seattle or the California or Oregon coasts and it felt like home.

I loved it.

I filled a cup with hot Zanzibar and grabbed the Nikon and went out for a walk in the fog.

The boatyard was silent, the guard asleep, and even the birds had their heads tucked under their wings. My feet crunched in the pine needles but otherwise there wasn’t a sound.

I didn’t find a lot to shoot but I enjoyed my little walkabout. I got back to Wings and Judy was still snug in her bed. I made another pot of coffee.

At 11:00 AM the sun burned off the fog and then the day was still and warm.

By mid afternoon a sea breeze came up and the flags were flying.

We haven’t had weather here like this before.

Africa continues to surprise us.

Click here to see my other shots.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Richards Bay, South Africa

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

September 1, 2011-Weaver Birds and Boat Projects

It’s been cool in South Africa and for weeks we’ve been looking forward to spring time.

Now the signs of spring are unmistakable: the days are growing longer, Wings’ heater is no longer required, and, most of all, the Weaver Birds are active.

The locals told us that when the Weaver Birds are active it is a sure sign of spring and boy, the Weaver Birds are sure active. In one nearby tree alone there must be a hundred nests being built by these energetic little yellow creatures and I guess they like to whistle while they work; the peeping is deafening.

The Weaver Birds build nests which hang down like baskets.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Weaver Birds at work

Click here for more photos.

With the arrival of warmer weather work has resumed on boat projects all around the boatyard and marina. That includes our own projects and we’re redoing the big hatch on Wings’ bow.

wingssail images-chas gerretsen
Nice weather to fix the hatch

Click here to see the step by step.

We know there can be more cool days ahead but the change of the season is inevitable and soon we will begin our trip south.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Richards Bay, South Africa

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