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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

March 20, 2018-Random Leg Wednesdays

Our sailing on Wednesdays has been ‘anything goes and everything unexpected happens.’ We tell the story in four parts.

Part 1, Random Wind

I went to visit Mike on Tuesday and he asked me if I could set the race mark for Wednesday’s Beer Can Race. Not my favorite job but I said ‘OK, just get it down to my boat by 2:00PM.’

So that is how we became the Race Committee for the Beer Can Race.

Reaching in light wind, weight to leeward

When we got out of the marina we found the wind blowing straight offshore, direction 330 degrees. Setting the mark in its normal place, 2 miles up the shoreline, would result in another one of the boring reach, reach, races we get here too often in February, and with plenty of the wind holes that frustrate everyone.

I decided to change things up. I headed Wings off downwind straight away from the beach towards the deep water offshore.

I got on the radio.

‘Atttention all Beer Can Racers. This is Fred on Wings, your committee boat for today. We are going downwind to set a start line about a mile away from the marina. Please follow Wings to the new starting area.’

I thought it would be a great race: Upwind start, sail directly into the building NW breeze, round a channel marker near the marina, and turn downwind towards the start mark. Twice around would be four miles, just right for a beer can race.

Only the wind did not cooperate.

Once we got down there and set the start mark the wind totally switched around and blew from 130 degrees, making my upwind start into a downwind start.

Well time was passing and everyone had already trekked down to my fancy new starting area so we just said, ‘Screw it, we’ll have a downwind start.’

Only the wind changed again, twice more.

First it went to 180 degrees, then died entirely, and then filled in from 330 again. All in about 15 minutes.

This happened as we were all trying to sail the course. Finally, on the second downwind leg to the turning mark near the marina it came back out of the NW. On Wings we had the assym kite up, working downwind in a dying breeze. I saw the dark, wind-blown, water coming offshore again, right into our faces.

‘Drop the kite, right now, get a jib up…’ Then BAM! We had wind on the nose.

‘Paul, repack that kite, we’ll need it in a couple of minutes as soon as we round.’

We got around the mark, Paul frantically repacked the kite and got it on deck.

Now we were going downwind towards the finish, about half a mile away, and in second place. I saw that Double Take, the first place boat, didn’t have the breeze yet and there was hope for us. We finished the hook-up and re hoisted the kite.

BAM! Again, just as the sail filled, before anyone was actually settled into their positions, the wind hit us like a ton of bricks, twenty or more knots from behind, and we took off like a bat out of hell, swerving and rolling and trying to keep the boat upright and under that sail.

It was wild, briefly, and we surged across the finish line, unfortunately only in second place. Then the wind stopped again, and we had to wait 30 minutes or more for the other boats to finish. As Race Committee we were supposed to be on station to record all the finishers, so we stayed around.

It was almost dark when we finally picked up the mark and went back to the marina. I lost track of how many wind shifts we had that day, but they came randomly from almost every direction, and quite rapidly.

It was a random leg Wednesday, for sure.

Part 2: Blow Out

wingssail image-judy sawyer
Repairing the damage

The day before the Beer Can race Mike Danielson at PV Sailing again asked me if Wings could be the committee boat and to do race committee duties for the race. At least he didn’t expect me to set the mark since it was not holding air and we’d use a ‘virtual mark’ which was just a set of GPS coordinates that everyone had to go around.

Ok, we can do that, but on this Beer Can Wednesday that just added to the complications for us. We were already short four people, our Canadian contingent, who for a variety of reasons were going to miss the race. Now we had to run the race as well as sail our own boat. Well, OK, let’s go do it.

With our substitute crew on board we headed out to the race course only to find more complication: twenty knots of wind. Now, twenty knots isn’t too much wind, and we just went through a twenty knot puff last week, but it does put a premium on boat handling. Excellent boat handling without our top sailors would be unlikely. The day would be ripe for a foul-up. It gave me a case of nervous stomach. That seems to be the norm these days. I don’t know why.

In that breeze it was definitely number three weather and I called for the old Kevlar J3. Paired with the Aramid main, our mid-sized main, it would be the right call except for one problem, that old Kevlar sail didn’t have much life left in it, as we’d soon find out.

We got on the radio, organized all the other boats, and got the race off. Then we set out behind everyone else for the imaginary top mark. The boat actually felt good with the breeze up, and even with the new crew our tacks were excellent. We felt fast and we were soon passing the fleet.

I decided I would take it easy on the downwind leg. I had planned on some more practice with the symmetrical spinnaker but with new crew I knew using the asymmetrical spinnaker would be less risky.

So I called, ‘Set up the asymmetrical spinnaker.’

At the top mark we bore away, jibed onto port and hoisted the A1 asymmetrical, but not before we noticed some small tears in the Kevlar J3 jib as it came down. I made a mental note to check it out when we got back to the dock.

Now we were going downwind and flying, but the downwind leg was not without drama of its own. On our port jibe we were heading towards the shore off Point Blanco. The wind was shifting left and that pushed us ever further towards shore and the off lying rocks. I turned more downwind, away from the rocks, but it wasn’t enough. Now it was clear we needed to jibe but as much downwind as we were sailing now it was difficult to do the jibe. Time ran out, we had to go now!

‘Ready to jibe!’

We cast off the spin sheet and I turned the boat to the right. The kite collapsed into the fore triangle. The foredeck hands tried to get the sail around the front of the boat. It was slow to come and wanted to fold inside. Paul and Carol on the foredeck were struggling and I heard Paul urging the sail to come around,

‘Come on baby, come on’, he said.

I pushed the boat up a bit, back to the left, closer to the rocks, to get a little more air flow and with our speed and with the current we swept towards the jagged pinnacles. I asked Richard, ‘Are we OK here?’ He didn’t answer.

The sail popped around and filled on the new jibe and Richard threw the main over. I turned the boat away from the rocks.

Richard turned towards me, ‘You know, Fred, I don’t even swim that close to those rocks.’

‘Now you tell me.’

But we finished, and finished first. We dropped the kite and waited for the other boats to come down to the finish line, giving each boat a “horn” on the radio as they went through. Everyone agreed it was a fun day, but I knew it was also a lucky day.

Back at the dock however we took a close look at the Kevlar J3 Jib. It was a total blow out. It was ripped in dozens of places. The cloth was just weak everywhere and could not take the stress. I was surprised it held together for the whole beat.

The next night, after everyone left the clubhouse, Judy and I, with the help of two good friends, took the sail in and laid it out on the floor. Time for some major repairs. It took 5 hours and almost all of my spare Kevlar sail cloth but we patched it back together the best we could. Well, we won’t have much use for spare Kevlar once this sail is gone, and that won’t be very long from now, so I didn’t mind using the cloth. But it was hopeless. I figure we will be lucky if we can put that J3 jib up even one more time without a complete destruction.

It was a blow-out.

Part 3: Buy, Sell, Or Trade

Heard on the VHF radio net:

‘This is Fred on Wings. Wings is looking for two Barient winches, size 27 or 28. Our new main is too big and it takes two people to grind it in with our existing size 23 winches. Either we have to get a bigger mainsail trimmer or bigger winches. Since I am rather fond of Richard I’d like to keep him so we need new winches. It’s an all Barient boat so we’ll stay with Barient. Yeah, we know those winches are obsolete but so is everything else on our boat, including us.’

‘Contact Wings’

Part Four: Twenty Five Knot Winds for a Beer Can Race

We had a busy day Wednesday: Workout in the morning, a stop at the Mexorc race center, and racing in La Cruz in the afternoon, plus a few more items on the itinerary meaning we really pushed ourselves all day. In the gym, with Judy and I side by side on rowing machines, both of us going all out, I hit my best time ever and that’s going back 15 years but afterwards my body was jittery from the effort and I could feel it the rest of the day. Then we visited the Mexorc site. Mexorc is the big scene this week and we stopped by to check the results and take photos, but we didn’t hang around long. Time was short to get back to La Cruz and get the boat ready for the Wednesday Beer Can racing.

I honestly have to say that I was a tad nervous when we got out to the race course that afternoon. For the third week in a row it was windy. The wind was over 22 knots true as soon as we got out of the marina and at times it was blowing a steady 25. My plan had been to get some spinnaker practice in on the downwind leg that day but in that breeze I was doubtful that we could do it without a disaster. Even getting the sails up was going to be tense; our new main is huge.

On top of this we were acting as Race Committee again; another distraction.

But we hoisted the main without a problem and John got on the radio and announced the course and start times for the five boats which came out, and we got ready for our own start. With at least 22 knots of wind I knew the J4 was the right jib, called for it, and it too went up smoothly. So far so good.

wingssail image-Fredrick roswold
John Ryan center and from left, Paul, Dennis, and Carol
John Ryan, our navigator, ran the clock and the radio for all these races while I steered the boat and got us across the line without hitting anybody.

I should not have worried, everything went well. The boat handled perfectly with the full main and the J4 and other than a couple of niggles we had no real problems. The niggles involved the new main and included the fact that with just the main up, before we got the jib on, I could barely steer. The big roach of the main controlled the boat. I found that we had to ease the sail out a quite bit and keep our speed up. Once we got too close to the wind and got slow we couldn’t bear away and get going again without the motor. That was good to know if a bit disconcerting. We also discovered that sheeting the big main all the way in was going to take two people. Richard just couldn’t turn the winch handle by himself. With me sitting right next to him it was easy for me to put my hand on the handle with his and together we could do it. I’m going to look for a pair of bigger winches. And yeah, and we have to tack fast with this sail to avoid a lot of flogging of the leach against the backstay where it overlaps. There is a price to pay with this big new sail.

We had a perfect start and settled in for the beat. The conservative approach was to take longer boards and fewer than usual tacks as we beat up the shoreline towards Punta Mita and that is what we did. The boat was fast and pointing really well. We quickly overhauled the boats ahead. I saw the breeze lessening a little I announced to the crew, ‘If the wind goes below 20 we’ll set the kite, and it looks like it is doing that, so let’s get it ready.’ The S3 bag tumbled on deck and the foredeck crew ducked spray as they hooked up the sail. This was real sailing.

We tacked to starboard for the final approach and the wind was only 19.7 knots, so the spinnaker was a “go”.

‘Get the pole up’.

We rounded the mark.


The big sail went up fast and filled. The boat surged but handled perfectly on the broad reach with speeds showing of 8-9 knots. We were flying. Halfway to the finish line in La Cruz I called for a jibe and talked the cockpit crew through the maneuver. The jibe went very well. The crew is getting practiced at this stuff. We were all pretty pleased.

The wind speed came back up as we approached La Cruz but the boat remained in control. I turned downwind to see how that would feel and called for the pole to come back. Going dead downwind in the resurgent breeze we hit 9.7 knots with the boat starting to roll, but not outlandishly. Controlling it with steering was not difficult. Over nine knots on this boat is exciting and the crew was thrilled with the speeds we were seeing. I was having fun.

We dropped the kite at the finish and sailed into the anchored fleet, then came around under main and waited for the other boats to finish. We sailed into the marina.

It was just a beer can race but it was a good sail.

We headed out for some socializing without putting the boat away so that night, four hours later, after a party and dinner out, we got home to a trashed boat, bushed, there were sails all over the cabin and a spinnaker to pack. We got through all that and crawled into bed, not saying much but both of us going over the day in our heads.

Finally Judy said, ‘It was a long day’


‘Actually it’s been a long month.’


‘The boat can sail.’


Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, La Cruz

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