StFYC: Aldo Alessio Perpetual Trophy Regatta

Aldo Alessio Perpetual Trophy Regatta – Friday, 07/30/2010:

2010-07-30  10:52 PDT   0.00 knots  Slack, Flood Begins
2010-07-30  13:54 PDT   2.94 knots  Max Flood
2010-07-30  17:06 PDT  -0.00 knots  Slack, Ebb Begins

The first race of the Aldo Alessio is an ocean race. The RC set up the starting area just west of Treasure Island and set a course for the SF lightship Buoy then to Blossom Rock and to the finish. Winds at the start was steady at 8-12 knots. Given the start time of 11:00, our start will be at slack with maximum flood occurring at 1354 at 2.9 knots at the Gate. Given it’s late ebb/early flood, we can anticipate the current to flow from the north bay into south bay as the early flood will meet resistance from the river current and divert the initial flood to the south bay. So we opted to start at the committee boat end with intentions to tack to port and head over towards Angel Island. Our main competitor, Tupelo Honey, started towards the left side of the line presumably thinking that they will try to use the current shadow of Alcatraz to buffer them from the current, but it was definitely not the right move and ultimately, they tacked over to port but they missed the opportunity and is now playing catch up. By the time we approached northeastern point of Alcatraz, we were climbing up on them without having to point the boat very high. The current on our leebow helped push us higher and kept our speed up. We made a few more tacks mostly to stay windward and westward of our competitors and to consolidate our gains as we tack out the gate.

We followed the “big boys” to Yellow bluff and taken the lifts often occur there – although it was a bit shifty. We took a final tuck into horseshoe Cove then poked our bow out of the north tower of GGB. I wasn’t quite sure where the most favorable current would be but I wasn’t sure that tucking into the Marin headlands would necessarily be the best call, but someone called for a tack and we tacked inshore for a while and found adverse current, so we tacked back out and I decided to head toward the middle of the GGB span and play the right side of the channel. This way we can stay between Tupelo and Point Bonita – given Tupelo is in the same current, at least our position is protected.  When we reached Point Diablo on the Marin side, we sailed into Bonita Cove and found favorable current and we stayed within the cove and gained significant distance from Tupelo.

We tacked out of Bonita Cove close to the light house on starboard tack towards the middle part of the SF entrance.  By this time, the building flood is becoming obvious as there was a definite current line arcing across the entire mouth of the entrance, spanning from Point Bonita to Mile Rock.  We crossed the current line but found that we were not making much headway due to a combination of light air and confusing chop.  In the mean time, Tupelo and Hawkeye are making steady progress in closing in on us and heading to Point Bonita.  I called for a tack to cover but for unknown reasons, our speed continue to drop and our speed fell to 5.5 knots and will not come up.  By the time we crossed Point Bonita to the beam, Tupelo and Hawkeye were both ahead of us.  We gave up nearly 2 miles of distance in that move to the center of the entrance.  Note for the future ocean race:  in early flood, it is still a good idea to hug close to Point Bonita and head north to avoid the flood.  Furthermore, the counter current indicated on current chart is more evident on the eastern cove between Point Diablo and Lime Point (the North Tower of GGB). Despite the fact that we lost ground, I realized that we need to position ourselves north of our competition as when the wind fills, it will fill from the north and we want to be on the inside of the lift as well as getting the pressure sooner.  Indeed, after half an hour of the light stuff, the wind pressure build and we were off to the races again, we did get the wind a little sooner than Tupelo and Hawkeye, and we were on the inside of the lift.  This puts us in good covering position as we did not have to worry about pointing high but merely staying above our competition.

By the time we reached the lightship, we regained our lead by a hundred yards or more.  We set the chute and headed back towards the bay.  During the rounding we sighted a large deep draft vessel taking on pilot, so rather than crossing the channel right away, I instructed the crew to trim the spinnaker to an optimal reach angle without chocking the leach then letting the helmsman to drive to the luff of the chute.  I also request the twinger to be fully released so we are not choking the chute and avoid over trimming the sail, but the trimmer kept bringing it down on the context that it helps the luff to be stable and kept adjusting the luff. The problem with this is that the helmsman never get to settle down to feel the boat’s balance and finding that optimal speed groove while pointing as high as possible on the chute.

On trimming on a spinnaker reach: I believe there is almost always an optimal sail trim when the boat practically sails itself  – it’s not about how the sails look, but how the sails interact with each other and the balance to boat as a whole.  It requires a sensitive touch on the helm and consistent feedback to the crew to dial it in.  In the case of tight beam reach with a chute, it’s about getting the boat to sail hight while balanced.  Generally, the pole should be over-trimmed by 5-10 degrees (approx 2-5 ft from the headstay), keep the twinger loose so the lead is effectively as far back as possible (similar to moving the jib block back so there is plenty of twist and the air is spilled off the top of the sail), then leave it to the helmsman to drive to the sail trim.  Generally it’s about the helmsman finding that groove first and then let the boat sail itself with minor guidance from the helm.  We want to spill the air off the top of the spinnaker on a reach because it generates heel very quickly so we want to minimize that.  We want the helmsman to sail the boat as high as possible on a spinnaker reach, so we set it up like sailing a jib – the helmsman sail by the trim of the jib.   In hindsight, I think this is a common misperception of sailors who do not spend much time at the helm and are not able to feel the balance of the entire boat – they trim simply on the basis of sail shape, not boat balance.  In the end, it’s about the “feel of the helm”, not how the sail looks – sometimes, it doesn’t matter how the sail looks, but how the boat feels (think mainsail in strong wind, think jib luff in light wind).

We continued sailing on a beam reach north of the channel until the deep draft vessel passed us.  Our desired approach is to arrive at the southern part of the entrance near Mile Rock since the wind will shift westerly as the topography of the entrance to SF bay will funnel the wind into the bay itself.  This way, we can have a nice broad reach angle while working the currents in the deeper channel.  We executed to that pretty much as text book and increased our lead to Tupelo and Hawkeye to the next mark to Blossom Rock then hug the shoreline to the finish line.  Unfortunately, we did not gain enough grounds from the light bucket to the finish and we finished 7th out of 10 boats entered.  In our post race review, the crew voiced concerns about disagreements in the pit that I have to take charge more on suggestions and feedback from the cockpit.

31 Sa 0213 2.2F 0509 0805 3.0E 1121 1430 2.6F 1738 2036 3.2E
1 Su 0020 0303 2.0F 0605 0851 2.4E 1151 1510 2.3F 1813 2124 3.2E

Tupelo Honey played the cone of Alcatraz with a twist. After reaching the southern end of Alcatraz, most boats typically sail across to the SF shore, given that is the shortest distance between the two points. Once in a while, a few boats would tack to the west of Alcatraz point to get a little more relief just before crossing the flood. In this race, Tupelo continued on port to sail west of Alcatraz to ply the water in front of Alcatraz until they reached the northwest end of the island. I suppose the theory being that the flood current encounters Alcatraz will both split the current and presents a back pressure where there’s less current – think of this as the bow wave effect.

NOOD Regatta

The first race of the IRC season series took place in conjunction with Sailing World’s NOOD regatta.  WE had missed the beginning of the IRC racing season because of Timothy’s travels and our decision not to do any IRC Ocean races. So it was the first time all of us will be sailing together as a team even though most of us have sailed with each other at some point or the other, but in different roles and circumstances.  The crew consists of Chris at the bow, with Bret at the mast, Pete in pit, David Smith at mainsheet, Edda, Miha, and Joe are in the cockpit with Ted as the pit boss, Timothy as helmsman and yours truly as tactician.  After checking in and verified there’s no new amendments to the SI, we left the docks and went around the breakwater for some crew practice.  As typical when you put a new group together , it’s a little tentitive as crew work goes, it’s clear everyone knew how to do their job but the timing had to be worked out. We set the chute and practiced gybes a few times to get the crew motion choreography down.

The IRC fleet for the NOOD consists of the following seven boats:

1. Timothy Ballard
Inspired Environments 28423 IRC San Rafael, CA USA CYC
2. Brad Copper
TNT 43690 IRC Pt. Richmond, Ca. USA RYC
3. Frank Morrow
Hawkeye 50444 IRC San Francisco, CA USA US Naval Academy Sailing Squadron
4. Philippe Paturel
CIAO ! 975 IRC Halifax, NS CAN RNSYS
5. Michael (Tony) Pohl
Twisted 40046 IRC San Francisco, Ca USA ST Francis
6. Gerard Sheridan
Tupelo Honey 28908 IRC San Francisco, CA USA South Beach YC
7. Daniel Woolery
SOOZAL 60408 IRC Alamo, CA USA Richmond Yacht Club

Predicted current for the two days were:

26 June 2010 – 27 June 2010
San Francisco Bay Entrance (Golden Gate), California Current
37.8167° N, 122.4833° W
2010-06-26  05:49 PDT   Sunrise

  • 2010-06-26  11:45 PDT   4.00 knots  Max Flood
  • 2010-06-26  15:00 PDT  -0.00 knots  Slack, Ebb Begins
  • 2010-06-26  17:15 PDT  -2.07 knots  Max Ebb
  • 2010-06-27  12:21 PDT   3.88 knots  Max Flood
  • 2010-06-27  15:38 PDT  -0.01 knots  Slack, Ebb Begins
  • 2010-06-27  17:50 PDT  -2.14 knots  Max Ebb

While the number of competitors is small, nevertheless they represent formidable competition.  For instance, Soozal had competed in Key West in January of 2010 with first place finishes as well as competing in other venues.   Then again, it never hurts to have Robbie Haines as your tactician.  She also has a contingent of pro-sailors onboard like Project Manager Scott Easom and Matt Siddens trimming headsails, North Sails’ Pete McCormick on the main.  If you think about it,  Soozal is really a pro or at least a semi-pro sailed boat sailed by the owner.  The other formidable competition: TNT, a custom Tripp 43 is another well sailed boat that won the IRC division B at the 2009 Big Boat Series.  CIAO ! is a new boat, Archambault 40, campaigned by a local sailmaker Sylvain Barrielle (5 time America’s Cup crew and sails developer) to promote the boat and to create interest on the class, so we can assume they have a vested interest to get the best crew around to keep their marketing VP satisfied.  The boats that represents weekend-warrior status like us are Tupelo Honey and Hawkeye.  We generally sail a little better against Hawkeye on a consistent basis, but Tupelo Honey is a handful as Gerrard is a good windward driver and has regularly use the upwind leg to pass us despite his slower rating.  Until we can regularly beat him on the upwind leg, it’s going to keep Tupelo behind us by approximately 55 seconds each hour we sailed.

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BBS 2009 – Day 3, Race 6

Day 3, Race 6

Race six is a critical race.  If Tupelo wins this, it would be mathmatically impossible to knock them off first place as going into the sixth race, Tupelo had 5 points, we had 10 points, and the third place boat had 17 points. Our division started at 14:20 just a little after slack water (13:42 PDT) with possibility of early flood starting to fill into the South Bay. Usually the flood starts by a small counter current close to shore building up wider and stronger from the shoreline out.   Had this been clear in my mind, my tactical choice would have been to sail towards Alcatraz, but given it’s just at slack current,  I called to start on starboard and continued on starboard given it’s slack water.  Tupelo had also started on starboard, but was below us, buried in the middle of the fleet therefore they tacked to port soon after the start as did Bodacious.  What I had not realize at the time, is the left side is the more advantageous side because of the currents.  We continued to sail on starboard and soon noted that Tupelo had tacked over to starboard again to keep us in check.  Bodacious remained on port tack and is the only boat heading towards Alcatraz.  We reached the City Front, and begin trading tacks with Tupelo.  Tupelo was a formidable opponent in a tacking duel.  Her helmsman can tack cleanly and crisply without losing speed.  So with each tack, we were under Tupelo’s shadow as we worked our way up wind towards the weather mark.  In the mean time, Bodacious and Petard was beating to weather near Alcatraz and eating our lunch with the fleet at the City Front as we will soon find out…

Screen shot 2009-09-13 at 6.58.28 AM

Tupelo was trading tacks with us and hugging the shoreline as if there was a positive current near shore.  The real situation is probably either neutral current or with a small adverse current developing close to shore.  Because our knotmeter and GPS is not calibrated precisely as to be able to tell this definitively, we and the entire fleet with the exception of Bodacious and Petard were short tacking as if it had already flood across the entire bay.  This was brought to light when near Fort Mason Buoy, we traded tacks with Bodacious and Petard which usually is way behind because they are rated slower than us.  This means that if the race is finished now, they would correct out against us as well as Tupelo.  This sets up an interest challenge for the fleet leader, Tupelo.  While we are the closest threat to their standings, they have a string of first place finish that they do not want to blemish.  So instead of covering us exclusively as before, they are now trying to cover both boats.  And since we both realized that the current was not what we had expected we knew we had to reassess the current situation. There’s an axiom that your strength going up the ladder is also your weakness on your way down.  This came into play as we sailed up to the weather mark near the Golden Gate Bridge.

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BBS 2009 – Day 3, race 5

Day 3, Race 5

Sailing Weather Forecast • Rolex Big Boat Series • San Francisco Bay, CA • Issued 0700 LT 12 September 2009
WARNINGS AND ADVISORIES: A SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY is in effect from 1200 today through 2300 tonight. The National Weather Service expects winds of 15-25 kts with gusts of 25-30 kts in the bay, primarily north of the Bay Bridge and especially close to Angel Island. Please continue to monitor NOAA All Hazards Radio on your VHF for the latest warnings and advisories.


  • 2009-09-12  10:51 PDT  -1.39 knots  Max Ebb
  • 2009-09-12  13:42 PDT   0.00 knots  Slack, Flood Begins
  • 2009-09-12  16:53 PDT   1.78 knots  Max Flood

Going into today’s race, we are now two third of the way into the regatta, and we are in solid second place.  In our morning debriefing, we talked about taking greater risks in today’s races in order to dislodge Tupelo Honey from their first place position.  We are in a good place to be aggressive as we have enough points ahead of the third place boats to be able to afford some risks.  We know that Tupelo Honey will be camping on us quite closely as we are the only threat to them at this point and we need to do everything we can to throw them off kilter if we were to have a chance to win a race.  Therefore, for the next three races, we need to sail with a contrarian point of view – if Tupelo goes to the right, we will find reasons to go left, if Tupelo rounds the left gate mark, we will round the right.

We started on the North Course Area at 11:55, we were about 10 seconds late to the line on the Committee Boat end as we wanted to head to the right side of the course. (GPS tracking)  We were just behind Kuai and tried to work up their hips to get clean air, but decided to head to the right early and tack over to the other tack as Hawkeye crossed over on port ahead of the fleet.  Tupelo Honey was on the other end of the line pinned behind several boats and had to wait until the boats above them tacked before they can tack over to port.  After a few more minutes, everyone is on a port tack heading towards Angel Island.  Boats that are in deeper channel has better current pushing them out to the weather mark, however, the boats on the left is positioned to be on the inside of a lift should that develops – which is right?  One thing is for sure following our strategy:  we are on the opposite side of the fleet with respect to Tupelo Honey.  We worked our way up from the leebow position to eventually climb forward and inline with Hawkeye.  When Hawkeye tack towards the weather mark, we waited a few seconds then tacked over as well, using Hawkeye as a blocker for us so we don’t have to watch out for port tackers and worry about them tacking under us or tacking ahead to leeward.   Tupelo managed to cross ahead of us by two to three boat-length  and rounded the weather mark ahead.   We followed suit rounding the weather mark behind Tupelo and set our chute for the downwind run.

Screen shot 2009-09-13 at 6.55.15 AM

We camped close to Tupelo all the way down wind, gybing when they do, but always staying inside to make Tupelo sail a longer course and when they gybe, we are always ready to give them dirty air.  When we approach the leeward gate, we made a last pass at getting their air and then gybe to round the port mark to get away from their cover.We camped close to Tupelo all the way down wind, gybing when they do, but always staying inside to make Tupelo sail a longer course and when they gybe, we are always ready to give them dirty air.  When we approach the leeward gate, we made a last guesture at getting their air by luffing up to starboard for the last time on this leg then gybe to round the port mark to get away from their cover.  By reaching to the port gate, we had a nice speed going to the mark, we actually rounded the mark before Tupelo, even if the left gate mark was slightly down wind from the right gate mark.  The rest of the fleet split on the rounding as some followed Tupelo and the other followed us.  We sailed on port tack until we reached the deeper part of the channel and tacked to consolidate any gains.  When we crossed track with Tupelo, she was ahead by a couple of boat lengths. We sailed past Tupelo’s wake for a minute or so then tacked to port to keep them in sight.  In hind sight after reviewing our tracks on Tractrac archive, I realize that I should have continued to the left for much longer time to stay consistent with our strategy of contrarian tactics, because if we had continued to sail to the left, we could be on the inside of a possible lift and had far more leverage for the gain.  By tacking close to Tupelo, we negate such possibilities and the consolidating tack just satisfies our emotional need to keep the competition in sight and reduce risks.

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BBS 2009 – Day 2, Race 4

Day 2, Race 4

Race 4 start was at 15:00 North Course Starting area.  At this time we are in a flood current with max flood at 15:44 PM.  The weather mark is a temporary buoy near Harding Rock, so there’s not much relief anywhere.  The only relief I can think of is to sail into the current relief behind Alcatraz.   We started on the committee boat side about mid line with Kuai just to leeward.  Tupelo was somewhat late to the line close to the pin end.  We tried to climb up on Kuai but it was slowing us down, we decided to tack to port to get clear air.  After sailing for a few minutes, our jib fairlead broke and we decided to tack back to starboard so we can repair the starboard fairlead without handicapping our speed and pointing.  In doing so, we were able to starboard tack Kuai and forced them to do an emergency tack back to starboard.  Once we had jury-rigged the starboard lead, it was a matter of finding the best time to tack back.  The opportunity presented itself when Petard was approaching on port tack.  We tacked in front of Petard, Kuai tacked with us which puts them in a covering position to Petard.  So now all the boats in the fleet is on port tack heading west towards Angel Island.  Bodacious and Hawkeye was the contrarian boats of the fleet, having started on the committee boat side and committed early towards Angel Island and is now leading the fleet as far as the GPS data is concerned.  However, these post race data does not take in account of the potential lifts and your position relative to the fleet.  I am hoping for being on the inside of the lifts we can expect as the wind bends around angel Island.  Concurrently, as soon as Bodacious and Hawkeye tacked to starboard,  their VMG fell off as their course sailed is parallel to the mark not towards it. As we converge, we moved up to the fleet and Bodacious and Hawkeye fell to the back of the fleet.  Petard in the meantime suffered some sort of breakdown and had to head down significantly for a few minutes before sailing on track.  So leading the charge to Harding are Topelo Honey, Inspired Environments, and Kuai.  Tupelo tacked early, we decided not to tack quite yet because it was too early to the layline at the same time I would like to get some separation between Tupelo and IE.  We tacked to starboard when I thought we are just shy of the mark, but I hoped there might be some favorable wind shifts that could lift us to the mark to save two tacks.  As it were, we did not get the lifts, but nor were we handicapped by that tack.

Screen shot 2009-09-11 at 9.12.15 PM

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BBS 2009 – Day2, Race 3

Day 2, Race 3:

Current at the IRC D start is suppose to be a waning ebb going into slack water around  12:21 PDT with max flood at  15:44 PDT @  1.88 knots.  Weather forecast: The forecast speeds in the wind table are again near the model consensus for conditions in the vicinity of Alcatraz. The model consensus is generally for maximum winds in the racing area between 15-20 kts from 1400-1700. There remain some divergent models with max wind speeds in the low 20s and others only in the mid teens but these have not performed well the past few days.

Today we start first at the City Front Starting area. (Tracks from GPS)  Given the starting line is rather short, I called for a traditional Committee Boat end start to keep it simple.  We had a good start, right on the line with good speed on a starboard tack.  Given it’s a waning ebb, our intent was to stay in the deeper waters of the South Bay taking advantage of any flow from the South Bay flowing towards the North Bay and then try to go north-west side of Alcatraz to catch the remaining part of the ebb current from the North Bay.  The main thing is to avoid close to SF shoreline in case there’s early flood eddies developing.  Most of the fleet followed suit with this type of plan with the exception of Bodacious who tried to go north first near Alcatraz.  Tupelo had started at the pin end with clear air and in looking at their tracks, it seems they had good consistent speed as well – in the crossing from Treasure Island to SF shore, Tupelo had gained over 100 meters over us and we had gained over 100 meters over the third place boat(s).  As a result, Tupelo Honey captured the lead early on the first beat and we are in second place.  As we approach the City Front, we watched Tupelo sailing closer to shore while we were further upwind and behind.  To encourage Tupelo to sail further into shore, we stayed on starboard until they tacked over and we did the same. We then sailed on port towards Alcatraz with Tupelo, but Tupelo tacked back to SF shore about half way across the channel, we decided to continue towards the north side of Alcatraz as there may still be some residual ebb current from the North Bay while it’s unlikely  there’s much ebb current at the City Front.

Screen shot 2009-09-11 at 9.10.43 PM

This is beginning to look like a match race series rather than fleet racing as Tupelo Honey and Inspired Environments kept trading places with each other on the race course as I scoped them out via the hockey puck as we sometimes gain in bearings then lose it.  But the use of the hockey puck compass bearings is a great way of ascertaining whether my tactics works or not.  As I had hoped, by sailing out north of Alcatraz, we caught some ebb current and was able to reduce Topelo Honey’s lead from 110 meters to leading the fleet on occasions.  By the time we tack back towards City Front we were just ahead by half a boat length, Tupelo tack over to leeward to cover us tack for tack.  Approaching Chrissy Fields, we sailed close to shore to see if we can find some favorable windshifts but with Tupelo in close cover all the way to the weather mark, it would have been a huge header that would benefit us.  By the time we rounded the weather mark, we were right on their stern as we gybe out towards central bay for more pressure.  Tupelo gybed out to the north to get more pressure, we followed suit to cover, but trying to stay inside so we can sail a shorter distance while still give them some dirty air as they gybe back to the Fort Mason Mark.  In the mean time, Kuai and Bodacious and the rest of the fleet sailed a rhumb line towards Fort Mason, in looking at the tracks, they did not gain much by sailing a shorter course in lighter air.  By theory, they should have experience some early flood at this point, but either they didn’t sail close to shore enough or the wind pressure is too light compared to mid channel.  The positions of the fleet did not change much during this down wind leg and at this point, we are in second place and we have only to try to dislodge Tupelo in their first place as we are always within 1-5 boat-length away, while the third place boat is about 400 meters from us.   So as we approach the weather mark for the second time at around 1:15PM which is about three hours prior to Max Flood, I decided it’s time to split from Tupelo and see if we can find the early flood current inside close to shore.  So we did not gybe and let Tupelo head out to the central bay, while we aimed for Anita Rock to see if the early flood can help us.  As in all tactical decisions, there is no one answer:  On the inside course, we had lighter winds but perhaps a little early flood to help us along, sailing on the outside course, Tupelo had more pressure, but sailed a longer course and perhaps encountering some residual currents.  As the track archives showed, Tupelo sailed all the way to Alcatraz before they gybed to starboard, while we sailed a rhumb line to St. Francis Yacht Club then gybed to port for a nice broad reach for the finish near Treasure Island.  As Tupelo and IE converged near Blossom Rock, Tupelo was about 100 yards ahead and they gybed in front of us to keep between us and the finish line.  We were able to close in on Tupelo, but were not able to beat them across the finish line:  Tupelo finished 14 seconds ahead of us and corrected out to 1:41 ahead on handicap.  So another second place under the belt as we approach the mid point of the racing.

BBS 2009 – Day 1, Race 2

Race #2

We sailed back to Starting Area CF, the meteorological situation were:  winds 12-15 knots, currents: 2009-09-10  14:46 PDT   2.14 knots  Max Flood; 2009-09-10  17:26 PDT  -0.00 knots  Slack, Ebb Begins.  The second race for Division D started at 15:00 promptly so we were at max ebb current.  We were 15 seconds late to the line in the middle of the pack, Kuai, who started on the pin end had good speed off the line, catapulted out of the starting line and port tacked everyone at the starting line.  Kuai shows momentary brilliance in specific maneuvers but cannot sustain their drive to place well in the fleet.  They have a relatively new crew and it shows.  Back to the race, Tupelo Honey took over the lead for the fleet and tacked over to port once she felt she is in optimal tack line to Alcatraz, we follow suit soon there after.  The entire fleet except Petard headed for the cone of Alcatraz for tidal relief.  Once the fleet reached Alcatraz, each of them tack closer to the cone in order to stay out of the Alcatraz wind shadow but still remain in the tidal current shadow.  For some reason, Hawkeye and Bodacious bang the corner hard and sailed past Alcatraz into the north side of island where they must have encountered adverse flood current coming into the north channel – they lost considerable grounds after they tack back.  Our pointing and speed was not to par against Tupelo Honey, but at the same token, we were in much better position than the rest of the fleet that sail further to the north.  [ : : Tactical note: when deploying the Cone of Alcatraz, there’s no need to sail past the mid point of the Island as you get headed as well as becoming exposed to flood current coming into the north channel, which is purportedly stronger.]  As we approached Alcatraz, we experienced dramatic wind shifts and called to tack out to steadier pressure then made another hitch to windward of Alcatraz for a little more tidal relief before tacking to cross the channel to San Francisco shore.  Kuai for unexplained reason tacked twice on the southern cone edge and lost considerable grounds against Bodacious and Hawkeye and is now trailing the fleet.  Their tactics seemed a bit random.

Screen shot 2009-09-10 at 9.01.11 PM

One thing to note regarding the crossing for the cone of Alcatraz is our tracks.  It appears from the crossing track, that the adverse current is primarily just by Alcatraz and the mid channel.  If you note our track getting a 15° lift to the west, it is not so much due to wind shift as much as lesser flood current once past the mid point of the channel.  This perhaps can be explained by the fact that by this time, the South Bay is pretty much reached high tide and has a standing wave characteristics, but the North Bay is still not reached high tide due to greater area and multiple tributaries that can absorb the current.  Suffice to say, this is a bit of detailed tactical knowledge that must be remembered and applied in the future.  When we approached the SF shore, Petard who crossed the channel right after the start and did not use the Cone of Alcatraz for the crossing is right up there with us – in other words, they did not lose much ground and can be said to even gained as they were rated slower than us but were near par with us much better than Kuai, Bodacious and Hawkeye.  This is another interesting finding for future reference during max flood situation while racing in City Front.

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BBS 2009 – day 1, race 1


For the first race of the BBS, the race committee designated a course on the NC starting area for a double sausage with a final windward finish.  The weather mark was set just west of Angel Island with an offset mark and the leeward gate located just windward of the starting line.  Current was on a waning ebb going towards slack at 11:25 which means there’s more residual ebb current to the north and possible flood current close to SF shore.  The wind is around 12-15 knots but patchy in spots and it appears to be slightly lighter on the extreme right and left of the course, so the game plan is to start on starboard on the right side, then tack over to port before pressure drops and see if we can catch the remainder of the ebb in the north side.  I made the tactical call to start on the committee boat end on starboard to be conservative and not take chances so early in the series.  We had a tentative  start – about 30 seconds late to the starting line but the entire fleet was late to the starting line by 5-10 seconds.  Probably, everyone is a bit conservative at the first start of the race so the best start of the fleet was Hawkeye with only 3 seconds to the line, while Tupelo Honey was about 20 seconds to the line – all of us are having the first race jitters. (GPS Race Track)

Once we crossed the starting line, we were on pinned on the hip of Bodacious to leeward and Kuai to our windward quarter – not a particular brilliant start for the first race of the Rolex Big Boat Series regatta.   We manage to work our way upwind of Bodacious and clear of her air, then we work to climb out under the lee of Kuai’s turbulence.  After a few minutes of attentive pointing, we were able to climb up and position just ahead of Kuai and we tacked to port towards Angel Island.  We picked up a few lifts soon after tacking and improved our position over the fleet. Since most of the fleet is still sailing to the left, I called for a tack to cover and not to take a flyer quite so soon in the game.  Bodacious however decided to continue to the north and heading towards the lee of Angel Island’s Point Blunt.  When we approached Tupelo Honey on port, we were slightly ahead, therefore Tupelo Honey had to tack back to starboard to our lee and begin to climb up from leeward and give us turbulent air.  We tried to match pointing and speed but slowly, they were able to climb up closer and closer.  We tacked to gain clear air, but Tupelo Honey tacked as well to cover us.  While it’s too early for a match racing tactics at this stage of the regatta, it’s clear they wanted to keep us under their tab as potential threat.

Screen shot 2009-09-10 at 8.57.58 PM

In the mean time, Bodacious is sailing by herself to the north of the fleet and picked up a few nice lifts to be the lead with a substantial distance of 150 yards at this point of the race.  Clearly the wind lifts near Point Blunt and even slightly after slack tide at the bridge, there’s still some residual ebb current still to be had.  But given Bodacious is on the outside of the lift, the rest of the fleet quickly caught up to his lead when we reached the lifted wind and we picked up a few nice shifts and our Skipper settled into a groove and we find ourselves in the lead heading towards the first windward mark with Tupelo Honey hot on our tail.  Bodacious, once leading by substantial margin rounded fourth.  (Tactician note:  inside position in an expected lift is sometimes more important than getting the lift earlier – particularly when there’s quite a bit of distance apart for leverage.)

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Stone Cup, St. Francis Yacht Club, May 16, 2009

The forecast called for a heat wave and that usually means light winds unless “Sacramento sucks” – a local sailor’s insider joke that perfectly describes the wind behavior for the Bay as hot air in the Sacramento Valley rises and create the vacuum that draws the cool ocean air through the Golden Gate into the Bay.  The crew is supposed to picked up at 08:45 at St. Francis Yacht Club and then out for some practice before the race.  As I drove up the club parking lot a bit early, I walked to the water’s edge and watched the Single Handed Farallon’s racers gathering by Golden Gate Yacht Club and drifting as there were little wind to be found anywhere in the Bay.  As more and more crews gathered, we headed down to the guest dock to wait for the arrival of Inspired Environment-our ride for the weekend.  When she did, we all boarded her and headed out to the Bay for a little orientation and practice.  I had worked with most of the crew before at BBS 2008, but there are a few new faces in new positions that we had to assess and assimilate as our ultimate goals are three fold:  1. to build an effective crew for the US IRC championship series to be held concurrently with the 2009 BBS; 2. to win the 2009 SF IRC season championship while honing our boat handling; 3.  to gain experience on the courses in central bay on wind and current patterns. Read more…

2008 St Francis Yacht Club BBS

On August 23, I was invited to crew on a Beneteau 40.7 called Inspired Environments as tactician for the 2008 Big Boat Series (BBS). The StFYC Big Boat Series attracts some of the top sailors from all over the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world to compete in a four day regatta in the central part of San Francisco Bay.  I decided that I would accept the invite for the opportunity to sail against some of the top sailors in the central San Francisco Bay – in part as a measure of where I stand with my own sailing skills and knowledge.  Having raced mostly in the South Bay, I am interested to compare as to how I would fare racing in the Central Bay circuit where it is far more competitive (though not always in a good way).

Starting line at day 2 of BBS

Starting line at day 2 of BBS

Being a pure tactician on a race boat at the BBS was a novel and interesting learning experience for me. While I know the racing rules and sailboat tactics as well as any body from the past nine years of racing on my boat in the South Bay and crewing on other people’s boats, I tend to be more of an intuitive sailor when I’m on the helm. It took me some time to get use to verbalizing my thoughts and keeping it succinct and to the point as well as the timing of my advice in a rapidly evolving situation such as positioning at the starting line, rounding marks, port/starboard situation or responding to close quarter maneuverings. Because of concentration required for the helmsman when on the helm, it is counter productive if there’s too much talking from the tactician.  I had to learn how to articulate impending maneuvers to the skipper in a succinct and timely manner. Although the events at the starting line are opportunistic and require mostly gut instincts and timing – in the end, it’s really more effective to let the helmsman to concentrate on driving and develop his own approach to the line rather than the tactician contributing to decision latency.  Nonetheless, it was a good learning experience for me and I enjoyed the challenges of sizing up a dynamic situation and plot for possible solutions – balancing risk and reward scenarios of the interactions of tidal currents, wind velocities and positioning of competitors. Prior to the race, I had pre-plotted all the marks into my GPS based on the description on the Sailing Instructions, but temporary inflatable buoys were particularly troublesome problem as the RC’s rarely sets them exactly where the SI’s had indicated.  I made a few mis-calls based on the prescribed versus actual position of the temporary marks.  I have to rely on visual confirmation to their location rather than completely base it on GPS on a couple of instances, which made it less precise calling for VMG or layline. Read more…