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.

a tow in the mist…

In anticipation of our Autumn Equinox cruise to the Farrallon Island, Denise, Max, Gregory (AKA Walter), Keith and I departed on Saturday afternoon at 1430, stopped at the fuel dock, filled up our tank and headed out to South Beach Harbor for an early Sunday morning departure to the Farrallons. As soon as we got out of the harbor, the wind is blowing close to 20 knots and we decided to take it easy and just roll out the 125 jib as our only sail while close reaching towards the City-we were trucking along at 7 knots with just the jib. On our way out to the channel, we passed by all the finishing racers from the Barth Race and waved to all of them as we passed. The wind was gusty at around 20 knots and soon everyone onboard duck for cover as wave upon waves of bay water splashed onboard like an E-Ticket ride at Raging Waters… The usual wind pattern manifasted on our course as wind peaked and lessened around San Bruno Mountain and picked up speed and shifted directions near Hunter’s Point. The surprisingly strong winds prevented us to entertain Denise’s boys with the typical children’s program that Mist is famous for – riding on the bosun’s chair over the water while the boat is sailing. Instead, they entertain themselves checking out the fleet of large container ships and tankers in formation with the ebbing current. We took advantage of the favorable current, stayed in the deepwater area and weaved our way through the anchored ships until we reached South Beach Harbor in less than 1.5 hours. We docked the boat at the guest dock as per our arrangement with the harbor master, checked-in with the security guard and finished putting the boat to bed so that Mist can have a restful night for the big day tomorrow. We walked down the Embarcadero to the Caltrain station and took the next train at 1800 back to San Mateo, Denise graciously set up a picnic on the train which we devoured on the way home. Bright and early Sunday morning, we met the rest of the crew at the boat and prepared for cast-off. Onboard for this trip: John, Emily, Brian, Ray, Keith and I. We waited until 0800 for Calvin to show up, but not having seen nor heard from him all morning, we concluded that he must have changed his mind about the cruise, casted off our lines and we are on our way to the Farrallons. The current was at the tail end of the ebb and we had an hour to reach the Gate before the current turned against us. Low fog hung over the Bridge as if a fluffy down blanket had been pulled over the suspension towers of the Golden Gate bridge to soften its silhouette. Soon, <b><i>Mist</i></b> is also blanked by this covering blending us to the whiteness surroundings. We snuggled to the north shoreline out the Gate so that we have a reference and found slack water at Point Bonita. With the low overcast, there’s little to see, so we hail for <b>Chai DM</b> on both channel #16 and #71, but got no response. We settle down to motor sailing to the Farrallon Island with the main up. Only much later in the cruise, we found out that Vince had indeed heard us on the VHF, tried to contact us on the radio, but we could not hear his hail. Around a hour or so out the Gate, we finally heard from <b>Chai DM</b> and Vince reported having problem with his fresh water pump on his engine and is currently sailing towards the gate in a light breeze. His heading was 120 degrees, speed at 1.9 knots. We plotted his position and course on the chart and determined that at this speed, he will be near Bolinas Point by the time we rounded the Farrallons. We can intercept him on the way back to give him a tow if the wind had not strengthen in the afternoon as it usually does. Having agreed to this plan, we continued on our intended course for the Farrallons. The fog/low clouds hung over us stubbornly, occasionally lifting a little but always lingering throughout the whole day. As we motored steadily towards the Island, we saw many porpoises in small pods feeding and sounding all around us. Occasionally, we see another boat – mostly powerboats – fishing and trolling around the Farrallon Banks. We counted our blessing that we didn’t see any great white sharks milling around us as the Farrallon Island is a known breeding ground for the great whites. <a href=” track1.png” title=”Combined tracks for Mist & Chai DM” target=”_top”><img src=” track1.png” width=”500″ height=”328″ alt=”Combined tracks for Mist & Chai DM” class=”centered” /></a> <br /> <i>The track show Mist’s tracks (in green and overlapped with purple) around the Farrallon Islands and Chai DM’s tracks (in purple) sailing from Drakes Bay…</i> Even before our GPSs’ (we had 4 onboard) told us we are nearing the island, we started to smell a strong odor from Island. We can tell the wind, what little of it, comes from the SouthWest as we approached the island from the NorthEast. We can smell the odiferous bird droppings a long time down wind of the island. The island is close enough now that we needed to be watchful of low-protruding rock formations and surfs. <a href=”” title=”Track around the South East Farrallon Island” target=”_top”><img src=”” width=”500″ height=”397″ alt=”Track around the South East Farrallon Island” class=”centered” /></a> We slowed down a bit to check out the surreal landscape of rock formations shrouded in fog and rising from the ocean with occasional rays of sun to spot light it. Several rock formations around the island had an arch opening that seemed large enough to paddle through with a Kayak, but far to dangerous for us to get too close as swell awashs it with white foam. We rounded the island slowly, saw a number of fishing boats and several tour boats anchored on the west side. We observed a number of buildings scattered on the island and marveled at how difficult it must have been to build such structures on this inhospitable and barren island. Later in the journey, we heard from Vince that there was a reported boat sinking near the Farrallons and 4 persons were rescued out of the water, but we saw no evidence of that activity while we were rounding. After circumnavigated the island, we contact Vince aboard <b>Chai DM</b> to see what his current position and plotted a reciprical course to intercept him as we decided that there just isn’t going to be much wind for Vince to be able to make it safely back to Coyote Point in a reasonable amount of time. A tow from us will ensure that his is back safely to the bay. So we now have a “mission” and the three navigators onboard started to apply our “theories” of best practices to perform a search and rescue manuever in the fog. Since we had gotten two reports of his positions at this point, we can now plot his actual course and speed. While he reported his current course was 120 degrees at 1.7 knots, we plotted his course and found that he had been set towards the east of his previous projected course line. Whether this was due to current or leeway, it wasn’t clear as in slow speed, leeway is always much higher than expected as well as any current influence of the California Current which flows North to South at about 1 knot. We compensated for the drift/current set and plotted yet another interception point. It’s a good thing we have two rocket scientist on board to do the math as I was getting a little tired doing the math and preferred to visualize the vectors on the GPS and chart instead. <a href=”” title=”Vince’s course from Drakes Bay” target=”_top”><img src=”” width=”500″ height=”282″ alt=”Vince’s course from Drakes Bay” class=”centered” /></a><br /><i>Chai DM’s track from Drakes Bay on Sunday morning</i> Throughout the returning leg, we kept in contact with Vince at regular intervals and plotted his positions to keep track of his course and drift. By this time, his speed had picked up to 3.5-4 knots from increased wind and we adjusted our course to intercept. As a result, we travelled in a gradual arch heading further south as we find his position and intercept point to be further south than our previously projected course (see chart). This means that we had travelled an extra 1-2 NM to intercept him – not a problem in this case as this is not an emergency, but certainly not the most efficient method for SAR if lives were dependent on our arrival. At this point, Keith suggested another approach that may provide a bit more certainty based on WWII submarine tactics (is he really THAT old?). His approach would be to plot <b>Chai DM</b>’s fastest possible speed to safe harbor, set our course to that point, when we reached the interception point, head on a reciprocate course where we are converging at the combined speed of our 6.5 knots and <b>Chai DM</b>’s speed in current wind strength at 3-4 knots. At which point, we could converge at a combined rate of 10.5 knots in addition to not having to sail that 1-2 NM of extra distance. This means that we could intercept Chai DM several minutes earlier and given better odds of saving lives. This tactic should be modified by a couple of data points: >1. Given the hull speed of Chai DM of 5-6 knots, it would have meant he would theoretically be at the SF entrance or further in the channel – we should modify our interception point to just the entrance to the Gate and headed up on a reciprical heading; >2. we should request Vince to keep us updated if his average speed changed so that we can modify our interception point further up or down as needed rather than for us to find out at our initiative. This is so we can adjust the moment the average speed is changed rather than introduce latency and error margins when we initiated the contact. This was all good information and knowledge for the next time when we needed to intercept a boat in fog or had to perform SAR in an real emergency. This ocean cruise provided an added bonus of both practice SAR experience and object lessons for us to be better navigators and sailors for the future. <a href=”” title=”Converging towards fog” target=”_top”><img src=”” width=”500″ height=”304″ alt=”Converging towards fog” class=”centered” /></a><br /><i>We had to turn north to meet up with Vince</i> As we got closer, we radioed each other more frequently on his coordinates and when we are within a few hundred yards distance of his coordinates, we started to use the fog horn to see if we can determine whether <b>Chai DM</b> is north, east, south or west of our position in the fog. Finally, we saw two sailboats emerging ahead through the fog in our proximity and we asked Vince to blow his horn so we knew whether to turn left or go right to the sailboat on either side of us. Vince did so and we headed north to find him ghosting down us with jib and main. He dropped sails and we did as well to keep distraction and compications to the minimum while we laid out our spare anchor line for a tow. We paid out over 120 feet of line, coiled it so we can throw it to him. It was a little tricky to be close enough to throw a line to another boat in rolling swell and not make contact, but we approach <b>Chai DM</b> on leeward to avoid his boat rounding up to us, threw him our tow line and reversed engine so we would slow down a bit while waiting for him to rig the towline. <a href=”” title=”The final approach to Vince” target=”_top”><img src=”” width=”500″ height=”335″ alt=”The final approach to Vince” class=”centered” /></a> <i>We headed south much further at the last moment, but in hindsight, we were close to converging with Vince, but just to make sure we didn’t miss him, we headed far enough south to be sure.</i> In no time, we were heading back towards the Gate with <b>Chai DM</b> in tow. Surprisingly, our cruising speed did not slow down very much by towing him and we made steady hull speed of 6.5 knots towards the Gate. By the time we reach the Goldend Gate entrance, the tidal current is now ebbing with conviction and vigor and the wind had picked up to a healthy but atypical velocity in the bay. As well, we heard many reports of ships in and out of the Golden Gate Bridge on Vessel Traffic channel that we kept a sharp lookout for other boats in the fog as well as big ship traffic. We tried to stay as close to the shore as possible to stay away from the ships. The passenger cruise liner that we passed at Pier 31 in the morning was heading out the Gate occasionally blowing his horn in the fog. While we could not see her, it sounded much louder than I would feel relaxed about. After tediously slow making headway of 2-4 knots against the flood, we finally made it through the channel and got a brief current relief at the base of North Tower. We took care to listen to Vessel Traffic report and after a while of no reported shipping traffic, we decided it behoove us to cross the shipping channel and head for the South side of the bay to get current relief. <a href=”” title=”Dis-engage from the tow in front of StFYC.” target=”_top”><img src=”” width=”500″ height=”281″ alt=”Dis-engage from the tow in front of StFYC.” class=”centered” /></a><br /><i>tracks showing the disengagement of the tow on the south part of the crossing. The top green line is from the morning outbound track</i> After safely arriving to the South side of the channel, there was decent breeze blowing. We slowed down to release <b>Chai DM</b> from our tow and coiled our tow lines. <b>Chai DM</b> unfurled her jib and started to sail. We agree to keep in touch after we drop off our crew at South Beach and evaluate if further tow was needed. The wind was 10 knots plus and steady. Vince was able to sail smartly under jib alone . We headed close to the StFYC shoreline to get favorable counter current and motor sailed with our jib to South Beach Harbor at around 7:30 PM, nearly 12 hours since our departure at the same point this morning. After a brief stop over at the harbor to drop off the crew, Keith and I headed out the harbor and made radio contact with Vince. He had already reached the Ferry Building and will be soon under the Bay Bridge. But the wind had lighten a bit compared to the central bay, that it was prudent for us to standby him in case the wind continue to lighten in the ebb current. <a href=”” title=”Track showing our rendezvous point north of the Bay Bridge ” target=”_top”><img src=”” width=”482″ height=”500″ alt=”Track showing our rendezvous point north of the Bay Bridge ” class=”centered” /></a> By the time we wer abeam of South Beach Harbor, the wind had lighten enough and the sun is setting fast. With all of us anxious to get back to the harbor as soon as possible, we decided another tow from Mist would be the least complicated and worry-free way back to Coyote Point for both of us. We circled while Vince dropped sails and prepared a towline on <b>Chai DM</b>. When he was ready, we converged to grab the towline and resumed a direct course to Coyote Point Harbor, using the flashing amber light atop of the Yacht Club as visual guide on such a clear evening. We set Otto (the auto pilot) to our course and settled down for a hour and a half uneventful ride back to home port. <a href=”” title=”Even in the harbor, our adventure continues…” target=”_top”><img src=”” width=”469″ height=”500″ alt=”Even in the harbor, our adventure continues…” class=”centered” /></a><br /><i>Even in the harbor, our sailing adventure continues as we rescue a wayward fender which decided to take a dip!</i> As we approached the harbor, we disussed the best method to bring <b>Chai DM</b> to her slip. We ended up pulling <b>Chai DM</b> along side and tied up for a side-tie ride to <b>Chai DM</b>’s berth. While doing so, one of Vince’s fender fell overboard, so we had a quick man overboard drill with the two boats tied together to retrieve the wayward fender. Afer we successfully retrieve the fender, we approached our final channel only to find another obstacle: a small 26 foot power boat had completely come adrift at the gas docks partially blocking the fairway while we are now in a doublywide beam due to our side-tie towing configuration. We carefully avoided the adrift boat in the narrowed passage and continued down to the end of the channel, releasing <b>Chai DM</b> at just the opportune time to give her enough speed to coast rest of the way down to her slip and dock. We did a pirouette with the boat and slipped quietly into our berth and put the boat away quickly. For a brief moment, I thought about making an effort to secure the adrift power boat on the gas dock opposite of our docks, but I decided Darwin theory has been working just fine for thousands of years – who am I to change it tonight… We drove home feeling refreshed and exhausted at the same time. Had it not been the towing adventure, this would have been yet another non-descript foggy ocean cruise in my log. But with the challenge of two boats finding each other in the fog and the tow in against the ebb current at the Golden Gate entrance made it an interesting trip and great learning experience. We have Vince to thank for adding spice to our trip…