broken wings…

At 1830 on April 18th, 2007, we broke the mast while heading out to the starting area on the CPYC Wednesday Beer can race. We had hanked on the 100% jib, reefed the main and by all accounts should be in good shape when we heard a crack from the mast but nothing appear to be broken.

Here’s the e-mail on the following day to the racing crew:

Last evening, the wind was blowing from the West in the mid 20’s with occasional gusts in the 30’s, seas were ebbing and made the sea state quite choppy. The mast broke just after we reefed the main outside the harbor and we were bringing the main in to close haul position when a sudden gust developed and we heard a loud crack coming from the mast. Initially we did not see any obvious signs of problem and continued sailing for a short while, but soon we notice the mast bend uncharacteristically and the bending is excessive given the tension of baby stay and sail trim. After some internal debate whether to continue sailing (as the condition is not extraordinarily above what Mist had been before), discretion bettered valor and we decided to head back to the harbor to reassess. Once we headed down wind, we saw a gapping crack at the base of the mast opening wide when the wind pressure increased. When we docked the boat, we cut open the mast boot and discovered a crack all around the base with the exception of 3 inches near the spinnaker track. The spinnaker track grove was the only thing holding the mast in place and prevent the mast from toppling over. We immediately put on the running back, and kept the mast from flexing. We were very fortunate that the mast did not fall and cause further damage to boat or people. The boat is put away at the dock and resting peacefully until we develop a get well plan.


wednesday night post mortem…

This past Wednesday’s beer can race was a lot of fun, we had a full tactical battle against Radiance, a Jeaneau 42 – PHRF rating 84. Despite Radiance‘s effort to pass us to weather on 3 legs, we were able to successfully defend against a faster boat. Part of the reason we were able to hold off a faster boat is because our crew work is getting better and some of the regular crews are able to anticipate what is going to happen next on the boat and execute each maneuver with less lag time and better execution.

In the spirit of getting even better, here are some pointers for the crew for even better teamwork for our next encounter…

1. When we are being passed to weather by another boat, it is very important for the both the main sheet and jib sheet trimmer to ANTICIPATE what the skipper wish to do next…

For instance, when the helmsman luffs the boat up close to the windward boat, the mainsheet trimmer could help keep the boat’s speed up and pointing by simply grinding in the mainsheet a few turns to provide a tad more weather helm to turn the boat rather than for the helmsman to turn the rudder. Turning the rudder is slow because the rudder creates drag when it’s not straight. Likewise, the jib sheet trimmer needs to make sure that the jib is trimmed as close to the shroud as reasonable and easing a little (1-6 inches from the spreader) when the boat heads down by following the flow of the middle telltale.

This means the main sheet trimmer has a far greater responsibility to constantly pay attention to the helmsman’s wheel and command. When the helmsman try to luff it is usually momentary and in short periods. The key to luffing is to drive the windward skipper off-sync with the wind and waves, therefore, fall behind with lesser speed.

IN PARTICULAR, the main sheet trimmer when faced with executing such luffing duel needs to especially pay attention to the following:

A.) Watch the helmsman when he turn the boat down by observing the wheel position constantly or…
B.) develop a “FEEL” for the direction & heel of the boat and try to ANTICIPATE THE DOWN TURN AHEAD of the skipper. You can do this by first keeping the luff of the main sail fairly soft at all times (i.e. always have a quivering luff at the front edge of the mainsail to easing it off to a good size bubble if you think the boat is about ready to heading down…

If you grind-in the main in response to the boat’s initial luff maneuver, you know it’s a matter of grinding it in tight and hold for a second or two and then watch for & feel the boat turn down. Ideally, you should let the main out immediately to allow the helmsman to turn down wind and gain boat speed. Letting out more than you took in is just fine as the old saying goes: “when in doubt, let it out.” – meaning letting out sails more is less detrimental than too tight. Failing to ease out the main sheet quickly or responsively to the helmsman needs could easily mean a collision in close quarter luffing duels if sudden gust round the boat up windward. By easing the main quickly, you allow the helmsman to turn downwind with less rudder motion, accellerate the speed and your eased sail will accelerate the boat much faster than if the helmsman had to turn the rudder harder while fighting your main sail induced heel.

2. The other noticeable improvement on this past Wednesday’s beer can is when we were rounding Channel#8 mark with Radiance just ahead of us. They rounded very sharp in order to protect their windward side while we took a gradual & wider turn in order to keep our speed up. Both main and jib needed to be trimmed in as quickly as possible and IN SYNC with each other. It does no good to have the jib out and main tight or vise-a-versa – that would be a sure fire way to stall the sail and slow down the boat. That’s why when the main came in too fast on Wednesday night, I called to ease main so the angle of attack between the jib and main is parallel. In doing so, we were able to keep our speed and squirt ahead of Radiance to leeward and gradually headed up to squeeze her between the Choate and us. We forced her to a coffin corner where she had no option but to either head up above the Choate or blow the jib to slow down and fall off behind our stern to go leeward of us. Radiance chose the latter and we were thus able to place ourselves between them and the finish mark.


Some of the crew were curious of Radiance’s crew accusing us of pushing the limits of the racing rules. So I thought I’d review some of the pertinent rules in this post and explain why we had the rights to do our moves against Radiance

The key instances that we were in attack mode is when Radiance is trying to pass us to windward. The applicable rules in a reaching over-taking situation are:

1. Boat astern must keep clear of boat ahead. No problem here, Radiance needed to keep clear of us and they did.

2. Overtaking boat to leeward. The overtaken boat (MIST) cannot sail below her proper course. Radiance did not choose this option… Had she done so, she would have to sail straight towards the harbor and cannot luff us as she established her overlap from astern and within 2 boat-lengths from abeam. At the same token, we cannot sail BELOW our proper course and put us in front of Radiance’s bow. The down side for Radiance on this move is that she would put herself in our shadow – which is why she did not choose this move.

3. Overtaking boat to windward has to keep clear of leeward/overtaken boat, and the leeward boat has full luffing rights. Radiance is a faster boat and was over-taking us to windward. They HAVE to keep clear of us and we had all the luffing rights we need to take them to the moon. Our only obligation is NOT to luff so fast that Radiance cannot keep clear to avoid us. I was luffing them when their bow reached abeam of our cockpit. It’s a particularly effective luffing position because we are in the lee of his jib, so he cannot see us very well behind the jib, so there’s an added fear factor of the unknown for their skipper.

I was very deliberate about when and how I luffed – I luffed just before a puff and did it high enough that their helmsman could see our bow from the windward side of their boat. When I do get the puff, I head the boat down to pick up speed, but Radiance’s skipper would be just reacting to my luff and keeping his bow up and therefore luffing the jib and missing the lift. For those of you that hadn’t skippered a boat in close quarters, you can imagine the nervousness of the other skipper steering on the windward side to have a boat’s bow appearing from the lee of her jib and can’t see where exactly and how close the boat is to her lee. By virtual of the fact that he can see our bow on windward side means that he is on collision angles with us – not a very assuring situation for the windward skipper (especially when he is 40 feet behind on the helm and can’t judge small distances as clearly as the leeward skipper). Conversely, if Radiance’s skipper is steering from the leeward side, the luff to windward would mean the bow of Mist is obscured by the jib and would create exactly the same worry for Radiance’s skipper. The net of it is that Radiance’s skipper would over-react on their steering and sacrifice their boat speed to avoid us. This was exactly what happened last Wednesday evening and why we were able to keep an intrinsically faster boat from passing us on both reaches.

The only time Radiance did passed us was when she sailed 3-4 boat-length BELOW us on the 2nd leg “C” to “Z”. We couldn’t do any about it as we were not close enough to influence any thing. However, we manage to catch up to them on the “Z” to “8” leg even with Luther looming around us threatenly. Radiance rounded just before us, but it was evident that they did not learn their lessons well from their other legs and tried to roll us from windward again! But being the leeward boat we maintain our course without any “big” luffing duels like the other legs (keeping in mind that the only obligation we had is to sail our proper course), but I steered just 3-5 degrees higher anglle than Radiance and just slowly squeezing them up closer & closer to the Choate until their bow was pointed to the Choate’s cockpit. This maybe the only point of contention if we were in a formal race. Although I could defend that track if the tide maybe flooding at the time of incident?

Nonetheless, it was a really fun race against Radiance and the crew work really made it a pleasure to sail. Thanks! Debbie, Denise and Calvin, good job on the crewing!