Friday, August 19, 2005

Atkins for Race Boats

Cabin cushions, anchor, port-a-potty. antenna on mast, smaller windex, lighter sheets, crew baggage, large metal gas can, excess sail inventory, miscellaneous unused lines (except emergency lines), battery charger. All these things need to go! The competition is definitely faster and one reason is they are lighter. I need to assess each item on the boat...large or small and determine if it is absolutely necessary. I estimate I can get rid of a couple hundred pounds easily.

The crew has informed me that the cooler and beer must stay! Can't lose the icebox...but will limit it to one bag of ice per race!

How Far We've Come

This clip was taken on the July 13th race by one of the crew. It was the second upwind leg on the course. Winds were gusty about 15 kts gusting to 20 kts. This was our first official race. You can see the fleet in the background. We were well behind the pack at this point but still managed to grab a 6th place. Not bad for first attempt. If you look at the race notes and compare with the current format race notes you will see that the mark placement differs. It wasn't until I plotted the actual course and mark bearings that I realized I had them wrong. The overall structure of the race is correct. I will eventually re-create this race with the current template for accuracy.

Weather Or Not

Just finished posting my weather links that I use for pre-race strategy. So far seems to be the most accurate. The National Data Bouy Center is a great resource for data. You can dial up the specific bouy and get wind trends, gust trends and direction trends for each bouy. Forecasting the weather on race days usually starts 2 days before the race.

I usually start with a quick 5 day forecast and see what is going on. Then I do a quick check to see what the cloud cover is doing by checking Environment Canada satellite feed. I watch the local forecast on the Weather network and try to get a glimpse of the jet stream and see what the trend is. From there it is on to the National Data Bouy Center where I start collecting data and analyzing it up until I leave the office for the boat.

My Strategy along the way is to use the course map that I created (available on the post "The Course") and try to decide what the course will be for the race. I usually create a few different scenarios and plan a strategy based on both. I take into account the gusts, where I think the committee boat will set the line and the local geographical conditions that will affect the course based on the wind direction.

The best data to have is wind shift data. If you can predict the wind shift to one side of the course and recognize it with compass reading it could give you a huge opportunity on the course.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

My Way or the Highway

In Summer series race number 7, just as we were waiting for our final crew member to arrive, our competition (the other J24 at the club) arrived at the dock and asked if we wanted to swap a crew member for the race. Excellent opportunity for some of the crew (all of which are new to racing) to watch and learn I thought. I was fortunate to learn a number of things from this exercise. The lesson that stood out the most is; every crew and skipper has a different way to execute each task on the boat during a race.

Last week we were fortunate enough to have a different foredeck crew who was skipper and tactitian in his own right and had been racing for years. He had a different way to handle spinnaker, gybe and tacks. Each technique had its merits and was different from what I was practicing. I will be implementing some of the techniques on Gray Jay from each of the visiting crew. I think the proper tact to take when confronted with a technique that is different form your current practice is to carefully review each and every technique being presented, weigh it against your current methods and evaluate whether it is the right choice for you and your crew. but above all stay open welcome to critisism and alternative solutions. Don't be afraid to venture outside your safety zone and experiment with new ways of approaching a task. There is always something to learn from watching someone else, whether it is how to do, or not to do a specific task it is still valuable information.

Summer Series Race 7 Results

Very good race tonight. Winds were not what they were forecast. Forcasted NE to Easterlies. Winds ended up 180° due South. Our start position was good. The start line angle was a challenge. We started on the starboard tack, windward of the fleet at the committee boat (timing was right on) and ended up at the pin without making much headway up the course. The starts seem to be a strong point of our boat. Much credit can be given to the J World instructors and drills that I did when in the Keys. One complete day was spent on starts alone. 8 minute intervals for 4-5 hours. The line was far from square to the true wind. Fixed position marks are tougher courses for the J24. True windward leeward courses seem to be where the J24 really can shine.

We had our competition's foredeck and tactician onboard with us tonight (a gracious gesture from our rival who wants to see us step it up and help de-throne the 1-2 and 3 spot boats who seem to dominate at the moment). My primary focus was on sail trim and flying by the telltales, keeping my head in the boat and letting the tactician dictate strategy. As the crew develops and is more confident of their actions I will be able to concentrate on helm and boatspeed more. Today's upgrade was streamers for the leach of the main. We placed streamers just above the battens to help see what the air flow was doing off the main.

Our first upwind leg was strong. We made good distance early off the start. Keeping to the rule "Clean air is King" we tacked over earlier than I would have which paid off big. We ducked one or two sterns but managed to get into open water. Our rival J24 was behind but gained ground. (we graciously gave them one of our crew and guest which meant they were racing with 5 crew...thougth it was a fair trade!)

We encountered bad air further up and tacked again to starboard toward the middle of the course to find clean air. Our rival had tacked to port and threatened to leebow us a the same time one of the other division boats was tacked to port and heading our way. The other division boat (a C&C 30) got the better of us and forced us duck. We tacked as soon as clear but suffered for it.

At the top third of the windward leg we tacked to port to avoid the spinnakers that were around the mark and now heading downwind. Would have been a mistake to continue on starboard and risk getting shadowed from the appproaching fleet. We headed for the layline on port, and reached the layline in a fairly reasonable position. We made the layline and tacked to starboard. The wind was consistent across the course for the firs upwind and downwind leg.

The mark rounding was smooth with no snags on the spinnaker. Our tactitian/foredeck-on-loan set the pole well in advance and the relatively light winds made for a short pre-feed. A simple but effective tip that I picked up was getting the guy on the pole while we were still in dock. This makes total sense and a definite rule of thumb on the boat from now on. Pre-feed was done about 4 boatlengths out. The spinnaker was hoisted as we rounded the mark wide and smooth (heading out into clear air after the mark) so as soon as we were on the other side of the mark the spinnaker was flying.

We "flew hot" headed into the wind at a high angle on the downwind on the advice of the tactitian. We seemed to maintain boatspeed. On the whole we were still losing ground against the other J24 which by now was at least 10 boatlengths ahead.

Gray Jay is not pointing high enough on upwind. This was remarked on and proven on the second upwind leg. Our downwind mark rounding was smooth as well. we had traffic around the bouy but navigated around the mark and took the inside windward position which helped us stay in clean air.

On the second upwind leg it was apparent that we were not pointing as high as we should have been. We were following a Tanzer 22 (whom I have sailed against for years when crewing on a Tanzer 26), and he was out pointing us quite a bit. On the second upwind leg we managed to stay in good position compared to the rest of the fleet and our division. At our second upwind mark rounding we again hit our layline successfully. We gave one of our division boats bouy room at the mark and stayed high to get the outside position after rounding the mark.

Our spinnaker hoist again was smooth and mark rounding without error. We found our heading on the downwind but struggled and had to go out quite a bit to get wind. The breeze was now dying and with the finish line in sight and about 15 boat lenghts away the fleet was stopped dead in its tracks. There absolutely no wind. The knotmeter slowly clicked down till it reached 0. A small current help push us a little towards the line and we frantically gybed back and forth to find even the smallest bit of wind to help. After a half our or so of nothing a small hint of a breeze was forming. The decision was made to douse the spinnaker and raise the jib. The breeze gradually filled in from our side of the course and we managed to do a couple quick tacks and cross the line at the pin end.

We managed a 5th in this race (our rival J24 finished 2nd...well done considering the extra crew we gave them and stealing their tactician!). Overall the best finish we have had yet. I need to start experimenting and researching our pointing problem and try to by process of elimination determine the cause. It could be the mast position, or extra weight, or the forestay length. I will be doing some measurements next week and start the hunting.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Pre-race Conditions

It's Wednesday and time for another race. I have just re-arranged crew assignments and eliminated one crew position. We are now sailing with a crew of 4. My hope is that with the re-assingments and weight reduction we can eek out a bit more speed. The forecast:

This Afternoon
Northwest winds 5 to 15 knots diminishing to 10 knots or less. Waves around 2 feet.

Northeast winds 10 knots or less becoming east and increasing to 5 to 15 knots. Waves 2 feet or less building to 2 to 3 feet.

There was a race similar to this a few weeks ago. Think the race committee set a triangle course. It was a good race. I will be posting previous races notes in pdf format for viewing while I get everything set up for the blog.

The course

This is the current course layout. To the North East are the bluffs. Probably up to 300 feet high. Wind shadow and swirling winds under certain conditions can make rounding the marks difficult at times. Good lesson learned is that local knowledge is very useful. I have started to see wind patterns and course strategies emerging from the little data I have managed to collect. The race committe does not set proper windward leeward courses. There is no reaching mark in these series.

The links to all the races completed in the series to date and my corresponding race notes and diagrams in pdf format are posted in the sidebar under Summer Series Races.

You will see the progression in the notes and diagrams as the system developed.

Welcome to the Skips Blog

I've been fascinated with water for as long as I can recall. A fascination that ultimately lead to a passion for sailing. Not sure what brought me to sailing. I know the root of my competitiveness is the result of 3 brothers and sports as a kid. I have been involved in racing keelboats for a number of years now. Not an expert...but striving to be one. Started crewing on a Tanzer 26 when the bug hit me. I managed to get a hold of a sunfish and began to teach myself to sail, all the while trying to absorb as much as possible from each and every Wednesday night club race.

It was the J-world advanced racing course (in the Florida Keys...fantastic!) that really made me realize I wanted to race boats seriously. And like everything I do seriously...I dive in and don't look back until I accomplish what I want.

This blog chronicles my research, races, experiments and thoughts while preparing for and racing the J24, "Gray Jay" in Lake Ontario. The boat is new to me this year. I am learning about her as I go. Trying to develop the "groove" and tweak every tenth of a knot out of her. My race in class racing and finish in the top 5. My timeline...3 years max. (I know a little optimistic but if you don't have a goal worth attaining you might as well go home!)

I wil be publishing all my race notes and diagrams. And if I have the time, some neat flash animations to give you (and me) a better understanding of each race. I have only raced 6 races in the Summer series with this boat so all is still new. Crew is being trained and developed. My crew this year consists of people who have interest in sailing but have never raced. It is a bit challenging at some points, but as I teach them I am learning. So I will get you up to date on the previous races in the next few days.