Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back to New Jersey

Where the East River is concerned the focus is the state of the tide and that would favor all afternoon. Silent Maid could leave Oyster Bay in a somewhat relaxed fashion and catch the tide through New York arriving at Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City before sunset.  The crew had time for breakfast at the mooring before suiting up in foul weather gear and getting out on deck to tuck a pair of reefs in before hoisting. We would sail off the mooring and tack out of the harbor before heading downwind on the strength of a Northeaster. We did motor sail a little as we went by the storied Seawanhaka Yacht Club, I was beginning to think our breakfast may have been a little too leisurely.  I've never been much of a breakfast person and have had to  cut eggs out of the diet. But the rest of the crew shouldn't  be denied their omelets because of their Skipper's limitations.

Things were a little wild out on the Sound with sizable rollers to surf, wind speeds in the upper twenties and boat speeds above seven, punching eight. There was rain, heavy at times. The crew was happy except Wendy who found the motion a little intense. I just had to steer for a little while before tucking in the third reef, what a ride! But I did have to remember how many times we had fixed the steering which was under considerable strain now as the helmsman had to adjust for the quartering seas. The boat would ride up the backs of the waves, hit a peak speed as she crested them in a slather of foam then buried her bow at the bottom of the downhill slide. With all of the weight of the sail on one side it took a great deal of push on the wheel to keep her going downwind. Who cares about a little rain when on a carnival attraction like this?

Once past Execution Rocks, cute name, and nearing the Throgs Neck bridge the wind and sea lost their force and the current became the dominant feature. Before the Whitestone Bridge we had shaken out two reefs, and not long after another. An occasional gust would remind us of what lay just outside the city but soon we were just motoring. We slowed down at one point to pull Maid Service alongside to bail her.  We wanted our transit of the East to read like a tourist brochure, not a big adventurous sea story involving swamped dinghies big currents and commercial traffic. Manhattan is always a sight, but in a northeaster when there is mist and cloud swirling among the tall buildings, the sights might be the best. We got accolades from a few pedestrians and a horn from a tow truck adding to Silent Maid's list of unusual compliments.

We tried sailing a couple times but it was not to be, the winds were too squirrely and as we approached the zone of a zillion ferries down around the Battery we abandoned those efforts altogether.  Crossing the Hudson we rounded up before Ellis Island to take the sail then motored into Jersey City. One last shower drenched us as we approached the dock. There was still an hour of light left so those omelets had been worth it and the crew had certainly worked for them over the course of the day.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Oyster Bay

So far things have been pretty relaxed in Oyster Bay. We came in around sunset on Friday with a ten knot breeze, had enough light to tour the mooring fields, then picked up a mooring belonging to the Oak Cliff Sailing Center whose guest we are, and who maintain a fleet of classic boats in addition to more modern racing boats. Part of the reason things are relaxed is the crew size is small. There is the cruising crew of Wendy, Pete, John and I in addition to Paul and Ellen DeOrsay who joined us for yesterday's race. Another reason is there is no skippers meeting for the races here. The boats race on the same course week in and week out, the variations in wind and tide provide the variety and email provides the course information to those not familiar with it. All of that means the afternoon is spent racing and the morning spent doing whatever needs doing.

This morning that meant washing down the boat, inspecting the fleet from Maid Service and coming up with an entry for this much neglected blog. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning. The boat is clean, breakfast was good and we are ready to race.

Yesterday we sailed with a light crew, six, in a northwest breeze that varied between 10 and 20 knots. Our main competition was a Concordia sloop who we could not beat with a reef tucked in. Because of the fixed course the start and first leg were downwind where the boats stayed even, the second leg was close hauled on port tack and here the Concordia pulled away as we were in a lull for the whole leg prompting the decision to shake out the reef. From here we sailed the same course in reverse, Maid closed some distance on the reach, then was able to out point the Concordia going upwind. This was not entirely a choice, with the light crew and too much canvas in the puffs the only recourse was to pinch in the puffs. Between this and a more favorable slant on the left side of the course, the Concordia had gone right, enabled us to pass. On the second time around the course we were able to hold her off, not opening a big lead but not allowing her to close either. On the last windward leg we out pointed her again, a source of some surprise, though she gained some by footing.

It was an exciting time with all the changes in wind speed but afterward we decided to sail around Cold Spring Harbor with a reef tucked in, back to the relaxed mode that suited crew, boat and locale. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Squall

 We had allowed three days for the run from Melville, RI to Greenwich, CT. but we would wind up doing it in two. After a reach down the Narraganset, a beat to Point Judith and a slog across Block Island Sound we entered the Race. We would spend the first night in Mystic, finding the harbor on Fisher's Island too exposed to a southerly breeze.

 Consulting the weather liars  that night we expected a low to move in the next night and kick up a gale lasting into the next day. By the way there was also a slight chance of thunderstorms. Not wanting to deal with a gale we got up with the sun and started motoring down the Sound. We would cram a two day leisurely cruise into one long day.  By lunch time the breeze was up and we spent the afternoon close reaching toward Greenwich clocking between 5 and 7 knots with two reefs in. Late in the afternoon the overcast sky was decidedly darker over the Connecticut shore but not in a spectacular way.  Time to consult the Sirius weather oracle that comes with our GPS. Sometime during our wonderful sail the slight chance of a thunderstorm had become a sharp certainty. We continued towards Greenwich wondering if the squall would get there first. It would. The map couldn't cram more lightening bolts into the patch of green yellow and red representing the squall. The wind numbers were a little scary too.

We set about securing the boat. The sail was furled and the lines all secured as we motored into a darker and darker cloud. The crew had been in foul weather gear for some time. There were flashes of lightening in the distance. There would be no running from this one. Considering how many miles Maid had sailed over the summer she was overdue for a thunder squall and here it was. The weather liars did tell the truth about the wind speeds in this one and as it swept in I decided a port on the Long Island shore would be better; allowing us to motor into he building wind and sea towards the lee of the island. Huntington Harbor became the new destination. The fisherman anchor was readied for use if we should need it. Lightening flashed and thunder crashed right with it. The rain really stung now. The techy, expensive, and presumably accurate wind instruments topped out at 50 knots of breeze. It was good to have the sail down and the motor chugging in all of that. At maximum RPM s we were making two knots into the breeze.

After a while the wind dropped to a sedate 35 knots. Patches of blue sky appeared over Greenwich. Soon we would resume our course to the original destination. The gale never happened.

Photos by Wendy Byar.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Two More Races

I have been in Philadelphia almost a week now. The idea had been to haul Silent Maid, get her cleaned out, leave a work list with the folks in Portsmouth, and go home for a few days. That was last Monday, I was to return on Thursday to get set for the Museum of Yachting Regatta this weekend. Hurricane Earl put the cabash on all that. The Weather Liars had the storm set to track right over Cape Cod right up until it didn't. Given the forecast the smart thing was to leave the boat on the hard until the danger was past. The truth of the matter is I really needed to spend time at work and at home so what may or may not have been smart from a weather standpoint worked  well for living.  The to do lists in both places are stupendous. That could be the subject of another blog, or two.  Unfortunately the race Rock Regatta was cancelled as well so Silent Maid won't be in motion again for another week when she sets sail for Greenwich, CT.

Any person's perspective of a sail boat race varies according to the boat he is on and the job he is doing on that boat. In the last two races with Kathleen I had two very different jobs, being in charge of keeping the boat fast in the first and skipper in the second. The first job means keeping the sail properly tuned at all times with the sheet trimmer making the call on halyard and outhaul tensions and if the need arises putting a reef in. The job also calls for making sure the crew weight is properly distributed at all times. This is a dynamic activity because the weight needs to be shifted with the wind conditions and point of sail and because people have a tendency to wander. No one wants to sit where they are supposed to, that is human nature. So my perspective on the first race is about those things more than about how the start went or the bigger tactical picture, which is not to say I don't have observations and opinions on these matters, they just may not be well informed.

We did get a good start  in the middle of the line with Kathleen to windward. We were too slow sheeting in  but otherwise fine. It seems Bristol Harbor has its own wind pattern with a pretty good breeze blowing while the Narraganset River itself is pretty flat. This would impact racing both days. We had a fading Northwester but at the start Silent Maid's crew was confident we would get the wind she likes. The boats emerged from the harbor side by side and as soon as she could Kathleen drifted off to weather. Silent Maid did not cover, favoring a more direct route to the mark.  The breeze faded then filled from the right favoring Kathleen. who reached the downwind down tide mark first then had to anchor to avoid being swept down river. Silent Maid also anchored and the two boats waited for a breath strong enough to overpower the current.
When it came Kathleen favored the shore and a weaker ebb tide while Silent Maid hoped to find shelter from the current below the island that divides the entrance to Bristol. Kathleen was right and won on a shortened course.

The next day found me in the skippers spot with a great determination to cover my opponent whenever possible.  This time I know the thinking that went into our start and the windward leg up the harbor. We liked the committee boat end of the line and the right side of the course through a mooring field.  We being myself and yesterday's skipper, Tom Emlen, who would call tactics. We started in the second tier and tacked onto port in clear air. The rest of the fleet liked the committee boat and the left side of the course,  a cause of some trepidation as the fleet isn't often wrong, but we were committed to the mooring field. At the top mark we were coming in on starboard below the layline, fortunately the boat above us had to tack as well and we had just enough room to put in a short jog on port then round on starboard. All the boats that had gone left were on port tack and there promised to be a fine mess behind us at the mark. We had picked the favored side of the course after all. Kathleen was in the middle of that, wound up touching the mark, and doing a penalty turn.

Once again there was plenty of wind in the harbor and none outside it so it was with some dismay that we watched Kathleen make up all that lost ground as we drifted over to cover her. This race was from Bristol to Newport, largely downwind, and the two boats spent a good deal of time together. When the wind was above 5 knots or so Silent Maid surged ahead and when it fell below that Kathleen took the lead. Finally Silent Maid recognized a wind shift a bit before Kathleen and moved ahead. The wind had gone further east a little forward of the beam and the crew shifted from windward to leeward as the sheet was slowly gathered. Kathleen was clearly behind now and appeared to favor the shore of ....Island while Silent Maid endeavored to stay between her and the Newport bridge, the next "mark" on our course.  We consulted Eldridge to see which side of the island the tide favored and it was ours. We were surprised when it became apparent that Kathleen was heading for the eastern side of the island rather than edging towards its western shore. By the time we realized her plan it was too late to cover, she was up current after all. We double checked the current charts and resolved to see what happened on the other side. I think she was gambling that a breeze would come in from the east and she would be positioned to catch it first. By this time we all knew our best source of local knowledge was Kathleen's skipper so as we watched for signs of our competitor with some concern as we neared the end of the Island.

Light air sailing is a test of focus and nerves. The weather was hot and sitting in one spot is boring. Almost every crew member can think of something better to do in some other part of the boat. There is always a camera or a drink to be fetched.  Weight placement is critical on a light displacement boat. It is easy to start looking at the other boats more than subtleties of seemingly non existent wind. This is especially true when the fleet is as good looking as this one. Silent Maid with her big sail and light displacement had passed a good many much larger boats but these were only decorations on the race course, we only cared about finishing ahead of one other boat. All that should matter is how to most efficiently drift from wind patch to wind patch but the human mind isn't designed to operate that slowly and so misses things that make all the difference. That nondescript island helped us. It had a scrubby growth and a few abandoned structures, probably from Newport's days as a major naval base. but the fact that our competitor was hidden behind hit helped us stay focused on the task. When would she emerge from behind those trees. Would she have made up ground or lost it?

We emerged a bit further ahead and Kathleen still favored the far eastern side of the course. The sea breeze did come in as we approached the Newport harbor entrance , we could see a light mist over the water and smell the ocean as it filled in more from the south. Kathleen had won the series through superior sailing but we had kept it respectable. and won a light air day.

Sadly the series with Kathleen had come to an end. Sadly because the sportsmanship and competitiveness had been high and the fact that two sizable cats had been racing caught considerable notice. I can only hope this bodes well for serious cat boat racing in New England waters, they certainly have the history for it and there seems to be interest. It would be a great thing to see another big cat built to race there regularly, carrying on in the spirit of Hanley and the Crosbys. It wasn't just about work back in the day after all. We have the pictures to prove it.

Photos by Wendy Byar except the one she is in. I have no idea who took that one.