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.

further notes on farrallon island cruise…

Well, the weather seems to be shifting. We may experience a W wind versus a more typical NW winds… Here’s what the NWS predicts for Sunday. May be a good day to go out the Gate on Saturday for Vince.


Vince may head out to Drakes Bay and try to rendezvous with us at Farrallons. So I plotted a course for his route and calculated an intersection point at Farrallon Island. It should take him about 4 hours to get from Drakes Bay to Farrallons. We will be departing the South Beach Harbor at 8:15AM (hopefully). Take an hour to reach the Gate Entrance, so at 0930 it will take approximately 4.5-5 hours at average 6-5.5 knots. This means we will approach Farrallons by 2 PM and returning to the gate by 6-7 PM if we keep the speed up…

do you know the way to san jose?

I found out that I may be helping a friend to bring back a new-used J-32 from San Diego to Coyote Point Harbor. So I volunteered to do some trip planning and coordination. I wanted to consider a few alternate routes which would make sense for this delivery. So I launched my trusty Garmin MapSource program and played around with some of the route options. Basic premises:  

J-32 with 28 hp diesel Yanmar Diesel engine, approximately 27 gallons of fuel; 100 gallons tank for water J-32 (specs). Given the waterline length of the boat is 29 feet, the theoretical hull speed is 1.34 times the square root of LWL, therefore, the theoretical hull speed should be 7.216 knots. So we will be conservative to assume an average cruising speed of about 80% of theoretical hull speed since we are likely to encounter head wind and waves. This make the target cruise speed of 5.8 knots – besides who knows how well any of us will steer following the routes exactly – even the autopilot isn’t beyond suspect. For a 24 hour period, we can expect about 140 NM distance covered. We will take delivery of the boat in San Diego and need to provision and outfit her for the north bound delivery. Because this is a delivery rather than a cruise, the objective is to get it to our final destination as soon as possible. Our assumption for this trip: if our sailing speed is less than planned average 5.8 knots or the VMG to the next mark falls short of the target speed, we will start the engine and motor sail to the next way-point at or above targeted speed.

First question is whether to plan a route for the inside or the outside of the Channel Islands. Heading inside of Catalina Islands means more ship & boat traffic, fixed obstacles such as oil rigs and Point Conception up close and personal. Heading outside of the Channel Island makes navigation and watch keeping far less demanding, perhaps a little better wind but adds distance and longer transit time if there’s problems. Given we will have very little time to familiarize and prepare the boat for delivery and the boat systems dependability is untested, my inclination is to favor the inshore route to take advantage of the many harbors we can duck into should problems arise rather than taking unnecessary risk by going off-shore. Nonetheless, I’m open to alternate route proposals if there’s compelling reasons we should and we mitigate any risks. Right off, I can envision 4 possible routes:

  1. Non-stop to avoid the many traffic and oil rigs and head outside of the San Clemente Islands, out side of San Nicolas Island and rounding outside of the Santa Rosa, San Miguel Islands (first set of islands south of Pt. Conception). The charts noted that magnetic variations of 5° have been reported by San Clemente Island so need to monitor the autopilot’s course diligently.
  2. Non-stop straight inshore route which will keep us close to shore and sights along the way. First night out, we will pass by Avolon within 12 hours from departure at SD entrance buoy. This is the shortest route of all options.
  3. Combination In/Out route; a combination of inside the San Clemente Islands and Outside of Catalina Island. Going outside of Santa Barbara Island and San Nicholas. This is a course for the un-decisive – it has no redeeming value.
  4. Route with stopover at Santa Barbara. This is my current favorite – reasons below.
  5. An irrelevant route for this trip, but an interesting one to ponder – Best route based on prevailing wind direction and velocity. Monitor this link for wind conditions in SoCal.

If we follow any of the planned non-stop routes to SF, it should take 3.2 days to complete this delivery. However, I’m reminded of the saying: “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is.” So if we opted to sail straight through from SD to SF, planning for 4 days journey seems to be a reasonable estimate of total trip time. If we decide to stop-over in Santa Barbara, then a 5th day will be added to our total trip time. So far so good. From the resulting GPS plots, it appears that the entire trip from SD to SF is approximately 435 NM – 450 NM with most of the variation in distance on the routes in So-Cal. The distance delta between all the routes is less than 15 NMs, so the real issue is what is the advantage and disadvantage of each route and what would suite the goal of this trip.

The outside route’s advantage is primarily ease of navigation and watch since there are lot less obstacles once you are outside of the Channel Islands, the disadvantage is the added distance travelled and recourse in the event of break downs or other emergencies. The inside route’s advantage is that there is a lot more sights to see and we would sail right pass Avalon on Catalina Island. With the inside route, we will also have the option to stop in one of the many ports along the way if we chose to do so. For me, part of the fun in this delivery is a chance to see the sights along the coast, not so much bragging rights on how far offshore we sailed. However, sailing the entire trip without stopping is a bit ambitious and tough to envision for the first trip on the new (used) boat. So my vote is to use the inside route with Santa Barbara as a stop-over and a rest point before rounding the Cape Horn of California.

Santa Barbara is approximately 39.1 NM (7 hours) from Point Conception so if we want to round Pt Conception before the wind picks up in the afternoon, we can depart any time after mid-night to latest departure of 0500 in the morning from SB and make it around Pt. Conception before noon. The stop-over at SB will allows us to assess the weather conditions before rounding Conception and to provision the boat for any depleted supplies or make necessary repairs to any mechanical or system problems that developed on the first part of the trip. By the time we reach to SB, we would have sailed 24+ hours and it will be good for us to rest up and freshen up a little before rounding Point Conception. Refueling in SB rather than carrying 4-5 jerry cans onboard will eliminate yet another detail to tend to before the trip – as I think we will have our hands full provisioning for food and also making preparations to the boat for coastal cruising. Our time to prepare the boat will likely be very limited (one day before departure).

We will need tools, navigation and safety gears and all the myriad of small stuff to check off before casting the lines. So, I for one, will be happy to scratch extra diesel cans off our list of to-do’s. Even though this is a delivery trip, we don’t want to make it unnecessarily harder on ourselves, Besides, I think a stopover is a prudent safety feature to reassess our progress and operational plans at a midway point and an opportunity to refuel and recharge ourselves and the boat before the next (brutal) leg.