March 15, 2016-Practice Makes Perfect
wingssail images-fredrick roswold
The crew is good, we’d already won a few races this year but we’ve had some turnover and if we wanted to be hot in the Banderas Bay Regatta we needed some practice time.
The Beer Can Races on Weds nights make good practices and to get more time on the water we went out on a Saturday as well.
They didn’t all go well.
One night the wind blew like stink and we put up the #3 jib, only to have it blow exactly in half. The #4 was in the storage locker and it was too windy for the #2, so that was it. We sailed around with the mainsail alone and drank beer. We decided that on race day we’d better carry the #4.
Another night, after we’d gotten the #3 jib repaired (and it looked like shit) we did a little better, at least we got as far as the weather mark. The wind was strong, in the mid-twenties. I wanted some heavy weather spinnaker work so I called for the ¾ kite and the crew had it ready when we rounded. The kite up fast despite the waves, flying spray and tilting deck. OK, this is good, I thought.
But the sheet did not come on. The big sail luffed and flapped like some big white angry bird.
“Get the sheet in.” I yelled. But it didn’t come. Then we realized the sheet wasn’t even on the sail, it was lying on the foredeck.
The longer that sail flagged the more worried I got about it. “Pull it in with the afterguy.” For a second nobody knew what that meant. Then John found the winch and the afterguy started to come back, but it was snagged by a loose sail tie on the bag and we couldn’t pull it in without ripping the bag in half.
“Kelly, get that sail tie off.” He gave me a confused look, “What?” I pointed and by now everyone on the boat was focused on getting that sail under control and three other people yelled at him and he yanked the tie off the afterguy and John ground it in. The sail came filled. It filled with a bang.
The worst was yet to come. The minute that sail filled we rolled suddenly to windward and I saw the spinnaker pole head for the surface of the water, the boat was going into a hard round down. Even without the spinnaker filled we’d already been doing 8 knots. If that pole hit the water going that speed we’d have some serious damage.
I pulled hard on the tiller and gave the boat a big swerve to the right which stopped the roll before the pole hit. But just then Carol fell backwards over the traveler and into the aft cockpit. I saw her hand on the mainsheet but it was loose and gave her no support. Actually I guess the main had jibed and maybe that tossed her. Apparently the windward runner stopped the jibing mainsail because I hadn’t even noticed the jibe.
Instead I was thinking about Carol, “What she doing?” But she was as startled as I was. The trouble was that we were still turning right and the boat would soon roll the other way. I needed to push the tiller back to the left and steady the boat but Carol was right in the way; I couldn’t push the tiller anywhere. Somebody grabbed her arm and yanked her out of there and I corrected the course. The main flew back to leeward.
“Man, I am glad this rudder works” I thought.
The wind wasn’t through with us yet. Once I got the boat straight it slammed right back into another windward roll and the pole headed back towards the ocean. Another yank on the helm straightened us out again and this time nobody fell in the way of the tiller so I was able to regain control quickly. But now several people had fallen down. The main cockpit was filled with fallen bodies! About four people tumbled around on the cockpit floor trying to regain their footing.
“OK, folks, I don’t want to play this game anymore, get the kite down.”
We struck the spinnaker and sailed to the finish with no headsail. If it was a real race I’d have probably tried to keep going, but this was all new to this crew, and I thought that they’d had enough. I had. Besides, when things happen so fast, things you aren’t expecting and aren’t ready for, you get behind the curve. If I pushed these folks further at this rate somebody could get hurt, or something broken.
But the value of that session, those two sessions really, was that we had now been exposed to heavy air sailing. They had a taste of it. Let them absorb it a bit before we do it again. Next time we get into 24 knots they’ll know what it’s going to feel like. They will be ready. Not totally practiced in it, but ready.
The next practice, on Saturday, went perfectly. I pushed the team hard for two hours. We did sail changes, spinnaker sets and jibes and takedowns, asymmetrical and symmetrical, rounding’s upwind and down, everything, and it went well; very well. Everyone was bushed but happy. Their faces were flushed. We couldn’t stop talking about how much fun it was.
I thought “Who needs racing if we can get practice sailing like that?”
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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, la Cruz Huancaxtle.