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.

The courses for the NOODs are mostly windward-leeward courses with the starting line below the leeward gate and the finish line upwind of the windward mark.  The course we race the most is course D: Start -> 1 -> 1-offset -> Blossom Rock -> 1 -> 1-offset -> 3 leeward gate -> Finish.  Given the Flood conditions of the race, it’s a lot of beating to weather in close quarters.

During max flood conditions, we chose the pin end for our start as the current relief is the closest.  The race committee had skew the starting line to favor the committee boat by a large margin to prevent the fleet all starting at the pin end. But because of the strength of the flood, I didn’t think sailing in adverse current for an extra two minutes was worth the trade-off in getting to tide relief.

But in the fifth race, because of the flood, Soozal, TNT, CIAO et al were pinching at the line by the committee boat end, which presented a irresistible opportunity for us to set up for a barge start (given the later stage for the flood at this point, the penalty of current at committee boat end is not quite so high). The key for success in this barging scenario is to have speed coming in to the stern of the committee boat then shoot up (head to wind if necessary) and insert our boat right between the first boat and the RC. Without speed, you have no option to out-maneouver your opponents below you; But with good boat speed, you can do what you like while your opponent is still trying to build speed because they are early to the line. Thus the line between a brilliant tactician and an idiot tactician is about 2-5 seconds of this speed delta.  What helped in this particular start is that Soozal et al. arrived at the line early and had to luff their sail to prevent crossing the line prematurely. This slowed them down right at the critical moment and set us up for a successful classic barge – this is a case of better late than early.   I set up IE to reach in from right side of the committee boat with good momentum about 10 seconds before the start   and dipped at the last moment behind the RC and had a pretty sweet start with about 1-2 seconds late to the gun.  We hung in there with the faster boats for a little while until we had to tack by the shore, then with each tack we lost a little to the faster boats until we are fighting it out with Tupelo Honey mano-a-mano up the shore. Given this is the fifth race we sailed together as crew, our upwind speed and sail trim was not always optimal but much better than Saturday. We were surprised to learn at the end of the day, we finished second in the last race.  The rest of the blog entry is about tactical / trimming lesson learned that should come in handy next time we race the city front.

  1. WHEN TO POINT HIGH: Most notable is the observation that Tupelo seems to always find a lift very close to the shoreline – particularly by the seawall near Gas Hose Cove.  Yet when we sailed near the seawall, we don’t always get the lift.   Then I realized this was not necessarily just a lift from the wind but also sailing technique/tactical move:  Tupelo was sailing high, i.e. pointing mode for a sustained period in an area that has favorable current and flat water.  Generally, pinching or feathering is deployed tactically when you are close to other boats and wanting to get separation/height for clean air, it’s not for sailing for a sustained period because it is too easy to lose boat speed and then you are in a death spiral of slow speed causing less point ability which cause further speed decline…etc. to ad infinitum.  Pinching is also not recommended in a chop as the boat needs power to punch through the rough water.  It takes a really good helmsman who’s in-tune with the boat to be able to decipher all this input and communicate this to the main trimmer and secondary to the jib trimmer. Yet Tupelo was able to sail very hight next to the seawall for a sustained amount of time – how did they do that?
    Well, after thinking about this for a bit, I think I found the answer: they go into high point mode near the seawall.  In that particular scenario, pinching/feathering can be sustained for a couple of reasons:  first, you are in flat water, so you don’t need power to punch through chop; second, the longer you stay in the favorable current, the more you gain and it’s known there is a counter current to the flood near the seawall by the marina green; thirdly, if the helmsman works with the main sail trim to pinch naturally, i.e.  using the boat’s helm balance to induce the point mode rather than just the helm, you can point high for a sustained amount of time and not lose much speed because of the favorable current – that is to say, even if the boat slows down a 0.1 knots because of the point mode, your favorable current can push you forward .25 knot and the fact that your competitor is sailing in either neutral or counter current that the net net is positive.  I can’t say for sure that Tupelo was deliberately using that, but certainly, it will help us to remember this tactic and deploy it when conditions are right.  This calls for a bit of practice to get the helmsman, main sail trimmer to work in concert and to get a feel for the helm balance on the boat – it will certainly be something we should practice and get better at for the BBS.
  2. PRACTICE MEXICAN DROP OR WINDWARD DROP:  The second tactical move that we will need to practice is the windward drop and/or the Mexican drop.  There was a couple of times on the leeward rounding where Tupelo managed to gain an inside advantage on us on leeward rounding (including one that I purposefully allowed to happen in order to keep us from a forced leeward rounding error because of crew work).  Generally, when all else is equal, my preference is coming into the leeward mark wide and pick up some speed, then round close to the mark with good speed and momentum to point higher and get separation from the competition.  But the problem is this works only when you are reaching into the mark unhindered, but when you have a competitor who is closely covering you on the down wind leg, you need to be far more aggressive and proactive about luffing.  The whole purpose is to set up the competition to execute a poor leeward rounding than you.  This is easiest to execute if you have leeward rights (particularly if you are on starbord) and are able to force the competition to approach the mark very close to DDW.  To set this up, it means is that we needed to be more aggressive in approaching the mark and luff the competition as often as necessary to get both boats on a near DDW approach to the leeward mark before three boat-length to the mark.  (BTW, even though the NOOD leeward mark is a gate, given the current and the desired destination after rounding is to the shoreline for current relief, the only leeward mark that is of interest is the south side gate mark, which is why this analysis is on leeward mark rounding tactics).  To execute this tactic, we needed to be really good at windward drops and/or Mexican drops to set up for a good rounding. ..  See the illustration below (click on it to see the animation):

  3. MAIN SHEET TRIM ON LEEWARD ROUNDING:  Related to item 2 on leeward rounding, we need to find a more effective way to bring in the main sheet in during these leeward roundings.  The Beneteau 40.7 uses the racing configuration main sheet:  i.e. a 2:1 purchase system led to the front of the boom then split to each side to a winch with a clutch just before it. Trying to bring the main in from a run setting to close hauled is quite an exercise given the 2:1 purchase. This has proven challenging in any wind above 12 knots as the force of the main is far too powerful to bring it in hand over hand technique, yet trying to bring the sail in via winches is too slow.  One consideration is for the helmsman to help by executing the turn fast and essentially luff the main briefly, but that is not always easy to execute as timing is everything.  If the luff takes place before the main trimmer is ready to haul in, the opportunity is lost.  Besides, there may be other tactical considerations at that critical moment to impose that sort of tactic consistently.  So luffing is an opportunistic move that the helmsman should be aware of but not a standard operating procedure.  The alternative is to focus on how to bring the mainsheet in as fast as possible with power.  We have been trying to do that with me tailing and a grinder on the leeward winch while David is on the weather winch.  This has proven to be helpful, but we have essential two crewmen on the leeward side.
    Lastly, I am hypothesizing that we continue to have a crew on the leeward winch, but to have the main trimmer to tail for the leeward winch. At the same time, we grind in the main via the primary winch (using the mainsheet winch as turning block and the mainsheet clutch is engaged.  That way, the crew can help grind in the main on the high side.  We shall see…
  4. UPWIND SAIL AND TACKING: We need to do some additional testing and practice on upwind sailing both from main & jib trim and practice tacks to give us more “feel” for the boat when it’s in the grove. We did some tuning just prior to Sunday’s races going upwind and I think it had a beneficial effect to race 4 & 5.  The major change in that trial is to travel the main sail down more while tighten the mainsheet (to reduce twist on the leach on the main and possibly adding more forestay tension and lessen helm pressure.  This proved difficult as the traveller blocks needed to be rebuilt.  Nonetheless we did the best race on the very last race finishing 2nd – only behind Soozal by 29 seconds corrected time.  Whether this practice takes place in  races prior to the BBS or we schedule a practice just before the race remains to be seen, but the key here is to practice, practice, practice, until we are sensitive to the nuance of the boat and sailing the boat becomes reflex rather than analytical.

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