Last Evening Regatta Ahead – Planning

Visualisation is important in sport and many aspects of life in fact. It allows you to think of what the key challenges, effects, obstacles and opportunities lie ahead for you. The best visualisations also take a virtual run through the predicted sequence of events or the route of the course.

In fact visualisation probably works mostly because you take yourself through a sequence so that you confirm your knowledge and ability underway, and concentrating on ‘worry n’ fix’ ing those things which are unexpected.

Sailing combines a lot of this  – you have preparation, you have the course, youhave the weather, you have the tide and you have changes in that weather and tide which often happen mid way.  We kind of have it broken down there. We can visualise the day or race in different ways, each being a predicted sequence with preparation, execution and confirmation/alignment to plan.

You may have like me, a list of things about the boat you should do. A check list on laminated paper or in your waterproof mobile phone is ok, but you can think through it as a sequence of coming on board and going round the boat top to tail. So for example for me that means checking the backstay and maybe measuring from halyard top to stern, bailing the boat out, checking the mast is in column, scrubbing under the bow where I did not get to when the rain came on yesterday, and then working out the jib cunningham, Finally I broke class rules last time by not hoisting the main (and boom as you need to actually) to the black taped mark a few inches down from the crane. I DNF’d as the wind died to nothing anyway.  Then I do my usual rigging, which I can and just adjust the sail setting to experienced there and then and any expected conditions.

I then have an idea of the weather sequence. That is important because very often forecasters get the sequence of weather changes correct, but the timing and duration wrong. Tommorrow the wind is expected to go north, thus the RHS is favoured, and it is a shorter way to the anticipated club buoy. Also there should be a slight divergence RHS on the beat. Tide though. It is riddled here! It is due to be ebbing but it may draw in fact the opposite direction in the sound we sail in. SO that needs to be checked and a possible back eddy near the windward mark needs to be counted in or out.  So this all in turn means an early turn up at the boat.

The start then is easy to visualise if the weather is right. RHS on STB , and if there is a lot of tide, go in left on Port asap, or even start a little late. I need to work out my burn time and distance to shoot from behind the line, there are likely to be transits.  So I need to revisualise the start by actually doing the burn time, Also I need to confirm the tide is running southwards.

The beat is RHS and possibly near the coast as possible if there is a rhs divergence, or using the low lieing islands as tide shadow if there is wind shadow in close. There may be a header on port and a lift out on starboard near in to the coast, but the wind may die off.

There may be a 15′ wind shift around half way through the race, which will suit RHS of the course both upwind and down. It is the shortest side on the fast set buoys. There is no point in these boats diverging from the fleet unless it is a more even geographical course, there is never going to be a lift or wind band big enough to pay. Ok it is take a number from the machine, but that is better than being way down the swanny on corner flyer manic land.

I will be separated from the leading bunch at the roundings, they are very tight and have well tuned boats and perfect tide strategy, so not much to frett about there. More just getting off the start on time. Using other boats to help me time and get near enough at 30 seconds out.

OCS then is worth the go, and perhaps I need a full 4 minute shake down or even ” start ‘with crusing class out of their way a bit just to build a bit of confidence in my ability to be near enough and on time.  Also not staying on the unfavoured tack going into bad tide, even if I seem pinned in by stb boats, get over on the other side and duck them. Wind holes are likely to be at headlands and shifts at the creeks.

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   Light Winds Fiasco Again! 

I do enjoy sailing classic boats. I do enjoy the challenges of light airs. I do not enjoy the combination !

It’s almost a decade since my last light airs fiasco, which lasted several days during a nationals for aforementioned day sailer classics. The only things I took away from that was point your boat at perpertrators on the start line until they then get out of the way, instead of expecdting r 14 to come into play, push it to the wire and shout. Then also get off the start line on time, at speed  and dont make manoevres until you have really good speed and really clean air.  Most of all, take the mussel farm off the keel !

Okay so the latter two applied tonight. I hadnt scrubbed the boat and it has lain in the water all summer, the owner using it occiasionally. So a very frustrating night ensued with the typical autumnal slow motion racing these boats play out on the Fjord. Painful. Furstrating. Cringe worthy. Boat speed was not up to much, and technique between speed and pointing did not employ the quarter wave instrument I blogged on last, but more heel and feel, which was, not a very good indicator. 

Postiives. Well I really did put the boat in a confident position for the start, only to be about a minute late because I had two watches with me, one on roughly five and one of four. The four went, but I had switched my attention to the former, and it was out by a wide margin. So a very good position in terms of wind max versus tide min was just thrown away. Plus side I managed to calculate burn time in quite a compressed period between class 1 start and our OD start. Also had time to checkthe tide, and it was coming ‘in’ . More on that later.

Other positives, which may be hard to find. Well the tacks and gybes weren’t bad, not at all prof’ , but not stupid. After a bit of speed on out of two tacks I noted they were both 90′, which is as good as it gets. Other positives, my crew is a spritely 75 year old who puts most all men 20 years his junior to shame in alertness and joie de vivre. He did well and he helmed and  gybed in the spinnaker work 

What went wrong ??  BTW we canned the race as did half the fleet as the wind went from vespers to baby’s breaths after 7.15 pm with the sun going down quickly.

Firstly that start, I mean a nice line to come out and probably would have been making speed and rolling people, but it took us at least another 45 seconds to crosss after the gun and then we were a little burried. Ah but the idiots on the other side of the line, they had missed the bias AND had to fight the tide. Well they all but one went ahead having had a nice fast start in breeze and picking up the convergence on the LHS islands. The fought some tide through the main gap. But I had read the coastal shape wrong. There was far more tide coming in from the south western ‘funnel’ than the  ‘hav gapet’. In fact there was 1.5 knots on the buoy I would say. The windward mark was both in fickle winds and that much tide, and we were sailing perhaps 3 – 4 knts boat speed, meant that I read the whole game plan wrong and have to go back to the drawing board. 

It isnt that hard to sail within visual distance of the start commitee when you know it is about to happen. We were too far away to see the flags in the shadow . Toots though yep, shoulld have been more alert. But one other sure fire way of knowing you are wrong on the sequence is that boats are higher than you. I had a sinking feeling only when I saw the class flag was down and heard the peep, which was a little late. Shit,. that is why all the boaties where near the lineee-oh. So if you see this, and I have a few times, then get up there and start aggressively, or tack immediately to port to cut your losses and attempt to get over the line on the IDM / near to boat as possible in your own track over the boats which started there. Track is a functiion of time remember. Boats make leeway as well as starting at an angle to the line, so you can get a lane on stb by getting up to the boat end, and it will be in private wind as long as there are no early double tackers off the line

The boat has horrid tell tales., light ribbons which flicker. Ok they maybe dont stick like ‘wool’ but in this wind you want something which either flies or drops, not flickers. Also I didnt have the head of the main up to the black band, so was breaking class rules anyway. So here we go then, weedy hull and possibly mussel bound keel foot, main not high, jib cars wrong, tell tales not nice….we have easy things to fix or which will work in more wind. 

At one point we got into a 15 degree lift, which put us suddenly in contention to atleast smell the fleet but soon they were bearing down on us with kites up.  We were worse than stragglers. There was no way back, just saioling the shortest way paid with the main tide a little left in fact, on the way home, I had presumed right, but the gap for the sea, havgapet, was no longer giving much tide.  We came towards the harbour entrance half way to the leeward mark. Now had there been signs of wind filling in, I would have gybed the boat over at a good angle and come chundering down on the fleet. Nah.  Man Friday had his grown up second brood home, so we canned it at 7.20 odd, and just as well, it went harry flatters with only the real points chasers coming over the line. 
My main issue was that in fact I 

Now I could throw in the towel with this repeat performance. A lesser man would blame his boat and pull out his cheque book and offer the winner a good price for his boat for next season, grand down, spit on palm. But in fact the folk who won tonight were new beginners seven years ago, to the class. They were often last. But they kept on going, kept on correcting faults, kept on getting a little better. No huge budget if in fact any that is different to the top 20% of the fleet.  So I too will keep going and learn from my mistakes

Firstly the keel wont clean itself and must be in a state. Secondly get those jib cars right and get the right halyard-cunningham set up. Hoist the main right, you didnt see the band in the shadow this time. Measure the rake, and check that the mast is in column. When is the wet area least, is it in fact not bow down? Rather stern in a little rasing the fuller sections and shortening the water line, with a sharper entry that pays? Doubt it but worth asking about., 

There was my usual middle or third up the beat feeling in these boats that we were falling behind, had the boat going a little slow in the wrong place. But  boat speed is a lot to do with the keel so I can say that I just need to learn the wind and tide more and a clean keel, with an on time start, on speed and I can hold my lane at least and look at what the boats around me are doing  I chose on a wrong presumption and ended up the ONLY boat mid course. It suddenly started to pay in a lift when I was a little in tide shadow of Bjoernoya, but that lift was just the sign of the wind dieing on us, a last gasp from the heavens.

Ah yes, you have been there too. The latter half of the beat suddenly gets good, only to then have lots of boats sail away ahead of you! As soon as you feel you are really at speed and matchin other leach lines oe doing better, pang you are done for again. Well there is no secret here, it is just race logistics. In this case at the start we were burried behind many other boats. THe wind distubrance in 4 knots of breeze cannot be underestimated. You are being robbed of up to half or more of your wind within five boat lengths of other boats to windward or ahead. Then you pop out, mid field and you are suddenly a contender again., Only the fleet has gathered themselves on the layline to then create a wall against the wind as you sail nearer, and you fall back again. Or in this case, the fleet split looking to get out the big tide, and we got wind but firstly adverse tide not long after we did get going, and then the fleet coming in from either side to round. Sinking feeling again. Frustration,. Idiotic me. But sailing in your own wind is the key in this type of fleet in this type of wind, and knowing there was a massive tide channel near the mark was also key. 

Very frustrating but you know there are those key things to think about. The keel, the start. Not knowing what your mistakes are, that is my friend a bad position to be in. 

We used a lot of time to get over the start and then sat in shadow and boats tacked over in front of us disturbing the wind more. Then we ended up in the middle, the wrong place by in large. A 15 degree lift was good, but not nearly enough. OD is punishing when you have slow, rough foils and a bad start. 
Despite the boats being completely undercanvassed as a design, these are one design with a lot of local knowledge. There are good emprical ways of getting local knowledge and we were too late out as well to get up to the presumed weather mark area. There was twice the tide if not more on the weather mark than the pin end. I cant  judge which side paid, it looked like in fact mid line and tack back over paid, and rhs paid more than my presumed LHS, where boats sailed into a divergent, wind lift zone and used a back eddy, we only partly used. 

Where did I lose out would I say then and be a back end idiot? First and foremost, not preparing the boat and checking some details as discussed. Secondly not asking advice or sailing with a dab-hand in the class as crew. Thirdly not getting of the start line on time, in my own wind. Fourthly, not having the correct interpretation of tide, there was more left than right in fact! 
Apart from a good start sequence with the least nerves I have EVER had as a helm for some odd reason, probably sailing with Nick Willets a former Whitbread 60 man a few weeks ago, then I have a major positive to take out. I am prepared to learn, and learn in new ways, learn to learn! 

Waters Under the Hull – Reflecting on Times Gone By and Notable Sailing Happenings in My Life

I quite often of a darkening eve or midwinter’s Sunday, fire up a marine charts web page and do some virtual cruising. Where I have been, where I would like to go, where others posted pictures from, places of my family folklore. Often this is with a slight yearning, a nostalgia or a frustration that I can’t just pop over to the Auld Country and God’s Own Waters.

However last night I did some peeking at places with the outset of looking for what we had hit the keel on, or could have nearly hit, and how much trust we placed in our or the owner’s navigation to get us safely to our destinations. I suddenly felt incredibly priviledged to have been on these passages and races, and that they fade a little into more distant memory no longer makes my heart yearn, instead I bathe in the experiences and the wisdom they have given me for sailing and life in general.

There was the time we were dismasted on ‘Animula’ when an entire carbon rig and kevlar main booked into Davy Jones’ Locker after we cut it free. Now there was one theory that the boat had lain on an outside berth and having full width spreaders, another boat had knocked a spreader – which is one explanation. However I suddenly remembered what had happened before on the Scottish Series back in about 2001/3 some time. We had been going down I am pretty sure it was Little Cumbrae, sneaking the tide as the wind was light. There are cliffs along the coastline on the isle, but I suddenly remembered that we shouldnt really be in that far because it wasnt as clean as it looked on the charts. I got poo/pooed by some very experienced sailors, and backed down, but within half a minute, BUMP, the keel hit a rock and we rode over it or slid  off it. Familiarity does indeed breed contempt and the boat probably drew 2.5 m, half a meter more than the fellas were used to.

           We had an amazing nights’ sail after this though, rounding a bouy south of Ayr or as far as Girvan, to then Return to Irvine bay harbour mark IIRC, before heading over to the mouth of ‘Fyne. It was a minor bump and we sailed with abandon a moon rising in the north east, glimmering through the laminate foresail and bathing us in its harvest cream light. To make the sail more remarkable, the wind had turned 180’, and having run at least a day or two from the SW, left a following sea while we were on the beat. Duncan the owner handed me the helm and i had an hour or so surfing the odd wave and nursing the boat to a steady course north. It was one of the most awe inspiring of all passages

     Early the next morning though the stick suddenly fell over, one second it was there behind us sitting on the rail, the next it was in the drink fishing for sand eels! I could propose that the bump had sent a nasty shock up the mast, because it was stepped on the hog, the top of the keel area, and it had been converted from deck stepped, IIRC. Small things leading to a catastrophe, perhaps a little knock to the spreader, this bump and then finally the carbon decided to splinter!

What to learn from that? Well the helm and owner have the ultimate responsibility and if you are in doubt, there is no room for democracy and letting a loutish rogues council shout down they whom dare question the wiseness of going so shallow in this case. It should be a direct communication to the dictator on board! Maybe a whisper! Also don’t always believe the chart, and read contour lines with a degree of scepticism unless you know someone has sailed there before. Are circumstances different? Is the draught-deeper or high pressure been dominant? Do we have a transit for safe water, or an idea of boat lengths out to steer?

I have had some hairy times. That rather hard to see light for Irvine harbour is only visible the times I have seen it when you are right close to it, must be a perch for gauno filled cormorants. Against the industry lights of Irvine it is pretty much impossible to see from the western water. That reminded me then of sailind  the overnight another time when we had Hamilton channel marker at Lamlash as the first mark of the course for the Scottish Series overnight, when men were men! 

My pal Dave was navigating, and we had the kite up on a reach, pretty shy at times, but we held the rhum line all the way past the tip of Bute to Lamlash bay. Or so he thought we did. In fact the tide was setting us down a little perhaps, or he had not properly corrected for deviation, or there was an ICE – individual compass error- of 4 degrees or so. In any case having eaten a warm meal we were hiked out and had the shock of seeing a dirty great bank of seawead, glistening in the moonlight at around midnight, sweep past us within a boat length,. This was Hamilton ledge, what the port channel marker is keeping shipping well clear of!  I took to my bunk as the wind fell and we couldnt find that damnable light at Irvine.

 We ended up sailing half way to Girvan before they came back, and as I awoke or was called upon to rise, there we were in broad daylight rounding the damn thing. We took off North towards Ardrossan, and there was one of those Jeaneau things from the late 80s with the wrap round cabin windows, marooned on one of the shelves on the rocks there. I think it may have been ‘Looney Tunes’ but could be wrong, same type of boat. Being so behind the fleet from the mistake, we decided some redress from helping other mariners was called for. We helped them heel the boat by taking their main halyard , I think we maybe suceeded, don’t quite recall, or there perhaps was also a motor boat or inshore RNLI turned up. Anyway we got 20 minutes on a three hour later night to be frank it was just a spot of fun and helping fellow losers out!

That then lead me to think….of seeing Ken Grant with his older 35 footer, high and dry on the north bank at Easdale. Here there must have been another ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ because he and his crew knew that sound well! But they had managed I think to get the wrong side of the bank, you take them opposites northward at high water if I remember right,  but both to port in less water. Well they slid onto it somehow after a round Shuna party, on a falling tide and werent coming off until evening. There were no replies to our hails as we sailed back to Ballachulish ourselves. 

A very special day's racing, past the Tresnish islands which were legend in my family, yet my first tour in these waters west of Mull

Round Mull Race 2001, Wise Crack the impala follows us In Fly (c) 2001 Author

All that got me thinking of what we could have hit all those times, and how good you have to be if you want to dare to sail some sounds or through rocky areas. Last week’s sail in the wee classic boat actually was not without familiarity-breeds-contempt, because the drying shelf is not the only hazard there! There are submersed rocks in the short cut I took beyond it, but I think we are about 1.4m on the run, so with above datum level, we saw nothing and hit nothing.  Ooh, I should plan next time!  On the sandy east coast of England, boats quite often plan to bump over the bottom as they tack on a beat!  It has happened to me a few times, but I am glad to say, beacuase I err on the side of caution, never with me on the helm. But they do say there are two types of sailors in Oban – those who have been on the Skratt, and those who are going to go on it. 

What wonderful, beautiful experiences I have had, and to anyone thinking this is some kind of excursion for the rich, I have not owned a keel boat, I have had a racing dinghy, but I have crewed for other folk. I did grow up with a cautious father who was an expert and cautious yachtsman, but learned more from being thrown down with the charts when a skipper became sea sick than I did from him, his untimely departure coming when I was but a boy!

Those sails which stand out most have been passage races in fact. It is rather easy to forget round the cans regattas and even confuse as to which event or race the notable incidents or even race wins happened. But passage sailing either as a race or crusing and of course delivering to and from races, are what seem to stick in my mind and probably many other folk’s too.
From my first overnight to Swine’s hole with dad, our passage to Crinan on Kieta, my delivery with David Eglington to the Faerder Seilas’ events in 2007 and 2008, it is these which I remember most as contingent, robust kind of memories.  I think this is because there is a spirit of adventure in all of these, the very sense that land looks different from the sea and more over, changes with the weather and seasons. There is a tranquility and a quality of the light, and just been plain horizontally level all the time which seems to help burn these memories in. Like migrating birds, we pass the landmarks too, some well kent, others we have awaited with anticipation from our chart work and pass with some relief upon their successful recognitiona nd negotiation. 
Also I am reminded that there are a few key, vital years when you have the money for a boat, you have the family interested, you can maybe get young able bodies seamen to race with and you have the stregnth and agility to get the most out of your sailing. After that it is all just memories and more gentle sailing perhaps lamenting the family having moved away, or crew having become parents themselves.So savour those years, plan for them as a boat can be more affordable than you think, or get crewing with someone having done say, your competent crew award at an RYA centre. The water will  always be there, but your time here is but short. And full of sailing I hope. 

Spinnakers – An Introduction for Cruisers and New Racing Sailors

Away from the race course in sailing, you don’t often see spinnakers being flown in anger. You maybe see the odd bow pinned assymetric cruising shoot  hoisted, with it’s rolled condom of a ‘snuffer’ aloft, but in general a trip doon-the-watter when there is no regatta activity reveals a petty few spinnaker scenes . Such a loss to sailing ! I mean they not only make you go faster but they most often look rather pretty !

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On the Windward-Leeward or round the Nav’ Cans, you can often see an interesting range of spinnaker skills and abilities, and sometimes they do catch out the best of them! Spinnaker work for racing or for cruising demands practice and a crew who have the knowledge to get the best out of the spinnaker, but more importantly get out of trouble if somethings goes wrong or the wind suddenly gets sqaully.

Let me presume that you have perhaps done some spinnaker work or are buying a new boat.

Why Bother With Those Fancy Coloured Sails?

Aren’t they just hassle?

The thing about spinnakers is that they really boost the speed over the water, and they add a lot of interest to what could be a rather mundane tour down wind in 6 knots of breeze on a day just ambling around otherwise, when perhaps you start thinking about the ‘donkey’. For the helmsman they can be easier to steer to than a poled-out genoa, and for a sharp eyed crew, they can be flown in a relaxed manner, one eye on the gusts behind. However they can present a lot of challenges and at either end of the scale, drifting vespers or gale building, they can be more than just a handful, and ruin your day if you aren’t sharp.

I can think of many days crusing earlier in life when we just idled along on a run or broad reach with a lazy genoa not wanting to help matters much, when in fact with a little training and an attentive helm, you can enjoy extra speed and interest in your passages with the wind ab’aft.

Getting Started?

There are two very good starting points for a boat owner looking to get into spinnaker work, and the first is to indeed, pole out your jib or genoa with a whisker pole as they are called, or a redundant spinnaker pole if it is the right length. This gives you a good idea of goose-winging on a broad reach and as you bear away to a run, how the boat handles. Also you can practice gybes, by either end to ending or dip poling. This is a very place to begin training up a crew, because the pole has to go over and then the boom goes over, and then the helm has to do the same correction to avoid a broach, especially when running afore the wind in a rolling sea.

The second approach is to down-size! Our first option here is to get a tour out in a racing dinghy or day sailing boat, then get trained up by a willing and communicative helm’, and maybe race a little as reserve crew – that will sharpen you up and as a helm yourself, you should appreciate the limitations of the crew’s actual speed of work, and be able to look for signs that things are going wrong or slower than you may like.

The other side of downsizing is using a smaller spinnaker – for example in a big wind, the Beneteau 36.7 class here elected to allow the use of a small, inside forestay spinnaker, hoisted ont he reserve jib halyard. The spnnaker is about the size of a Sonata’s for reference. It looks a bit odd, and often gets a cleavage round the forestay, but it works in force 6 better than a jib and much safer than the full spinnaker. If you haven’t two jib halyards then you could experiment in light airs by taking the jib down first and hoisting the small spinnaker on the one halyard.

To Assy’ Or Not To Assy’?

Assymetric spinnakers and their close relatives, the bolt roped Gennaker*, have been a boon to modern sailing. Without their develiopment in classes like the Int 14 and 18 foot skiffs, we quite probably would have seen a  decline in racing if you ask me. They add a lot of excitement in light displacement boats, while also simplifying spinnaker work in any boat quite a lot simpler.

M32 with Gennaker at speed! (c) 2017 Author


(Gennakers are actually a light sail like a spinnaker, but with a ‘bolt rope’ ie line in their luff such that they are held near the centre line and most often can be used higher on the wind than an Assymetric Spinnaker. It can be debated that all ‘Code Zero’ topsails are Gennakers. Some people call Assy’s Gennakers, but don’t bother correcting them unless they carry both types of sail )

It is a little ironic and lost on more than a few, that this latter day ‘high tech’ phenomenom actually is so very similar to the days pre spinnaker, when large sails were hoisted from wooden bowsprits, often with a pole to help them protrude out on the leeward side, or allow goosewinging. Even the ‘balloon’ sails of the 12mRs and J-class boats were still an aerofoil section, and that changed when spinnakers came in, with their symmetrical, deep bell shape.

The aerofoil shape is the key to the performance of these sails, but also limits them to sailing on a broad reach and not a run, per se. However in faster boats, like say the Melges 24 I sail on or most any racing dinghy with assy’, you start to generate so much apparent wind that you can sail DDW (dead down wind) while actually aerodynamically you are sailing a broad reach, the wind having come forward with your movement. More on that later and how to trim spinnakers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Decisions decisions then? Well in fact if your boat does not have a bowsprit or a long spinnaker pole then you will not get a great benefit from an “A-Sail”. The types of cruising chute as they are called which pin down the bow on the anchor roller, are limited to sailing quite high wind angles because they are in the shadow of the mainsail. Generally speaking this is a beam reach and forward to a tight reach that they work, where-as a protruding bow sprit boat will allow for broad reaching.

At the other extreme of assymetrics we have ultra light displacement , ie planing boats, which really benefit from having a long, often 1.5 to 2.5 m bowsprit. Here you can get planing on a reaching course and as the speed builds, bear away while sailing in fact a reach due to the apparent wind going forward. This can be done with a great deal of ease. I remember test sailing the ’39er’ on a windy day in mid summer and the sheet loads once we got plkaning were light, while the speed was phenomenal. Gybing is also a piece of cake, really just a bit more effort ( if any ) than gybing a large genoa – there is not pole work, and most often no need for anyone to go up on the foredeck.

Symmetrical spinnakers then have their drawbacks when it comes to higher speed and ease of sailing. Another example for comparison I can think of, is that our club bought a fleet of RS Fevas and I managed to rig most of them with spinnaker on the first day our youth sailed them. I said I didn’t think we would get our spinnakers up, but all those who had them rigged, got them up, and I don’t even think I showed them how it was done. Ok

Feva at Finnøya

RS Fevas at Finnøya , a super training boat for youth © 2010 Author

some were tacking round with them and making a mess, but there was no harm done. It was inuitive really, just a slight progression from using the jib. I don’t think the same gang in 420s would have mastered a single spinnaker hoist on their first day out! There is just so much more work for the crew and attention to detail for the helm. As the boat gets bigger you probably want to use lazy sheets and guys which add a great deal of security, but also more compelxity.

What are then if any, the drawbacks of assymetrics on a bowsprit? Well firstly they tend to have a larger sail area by design for the boat in order to give a real VMG benefit. That is to say, because the boat will spend more of its time reaching or broad reaching, it has to be more powerful than a normal spinnaker in order to make leeward progress faster. This is because you have to ‘tack down wind’ which means just gybing a lot more often to get down, using the lifts to gybe over on, instead of sailing pretty much DDW with a symmetrical. So that sail area can affect handicap adversely if you are thinking of ripping apart fibre glass and sticking in a ‘prodder’. Also it is a lot of sail area to manage during hoists and retreivals (take downs, douses) More on that in a future blog on advanced techniques.

 It is rather also a case of horses-for-courses. A symmetrical spinnaker has some drawbacks as we know, but if you sail mostly up and down Loch Fyne or the River

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US 15 “Vim” 12mR (c) 2016 author

Crouch, then you could be well served by a sail which lends itself to stable, dead down wind running and thus good VMG. Despite the move to very many new racing boats being assymetric with bowsprit, one boat the RS Elite, if I am not wrong, was developed specifically with river sailing in mind where you do not want to be ‘tacking down wind’.

Take also the example above of a cruising assymetric chute as the opposite – if you sail mainly along a coast like the east of England’s with prevailing westerlies in low pressure weather, offshore, and prevailing on land sea breezes in warm weather, then a bow-pinned chute could be ideal and add say an extra 2.5 knts to your usual cruising speed on a beam reach up or down the coast.

As one compromise which can take you deeper in sailing an Assymentric, some time into keel boats donning prodders and A-sails, sail makers redesigned the sails to have the capability to roll far over the centre line to windward in their upper third, while retaining very good aerofoil shape when sheeted harder. This is then used for broad reaching and in medium winds, many sails allow you to release a meter or more of tack line which helps the sail ‘rotate’ around the front of the boat and catch more wind from behind. This can be a bit limited in what wind it works in- for example in the j109 (and possibly j105 and j97 too) it only ‘pays’ in down wind VMG to slip out the tack line and “dig deep” in a narrow band of wind, of around 7 to 11 knots true. Below this wind speed, there is not enough pressure for it to rotate and fly properly, and above this windspeed it tends to get a lot less stable for some complex reasons I won’t go into. In anycase North Sails and Quantum have optimised their sails for good VMG performance in 12 knots and more windm and in lighter winds than 7 kntos, ordinary spinnakers struggle to fly too and must be sailed higher.  You can in any case tolerate a little instability or slight collapses to squeeze through a narrow sound, or work through the lee side of a competitor. So there you have a get-out-of-jail-free card for assymetrics.

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(c) 2010 Author 

Prepare Yourself Mentally : Fly Kite and KEEP CALM


I remember sailing a cumbraes event in a light displacement craft, and the helm calling ‘ Lets get this spinnaker up, I want to go like Rocket Fuel!! ” with a very demanding tone, small horns protruding from forehead. We had a partly inexperienced crew and it was a lumpy force 4-5. But on a broader reach outside the Cumbraes we hoisted it, only to be met a few minutes later by a squall which was measured at 47 knts! We broached and lost both guy and sheet off their blocks (which is why btw you shouldn’t tie stop-knots in spinnaker sheets ) , almost loosing the one total novice on board to the drink!

That was an example of bad planning, disregard for the conditions and total over ambition. You need the opposite : planning and of course training on spinnaker work as a pre-requisute. How will you hoist? Who will do what? What wind stregnth do we say ‘no thanks’ to? Where will I steer to in the hoist and the drop, and when do we best do these? Before or after gybes? On the dead run?

Sailing Schools will teach you to do bear-away hoists and only raise the spinnaker when you are broad reaching, and that is very good advice I would stick to for new beginners, The same is also true, but oft’ forgotten of take downs. Once the leeward mark, or headland to sail up round is within countable boat lengths it is really time to just get it down, and than should entail falling off onto a nice broad reach or run. The only real differences then between a normal and an A-sail then is that you are going to let the pole forward more than usual on a normal kite, and you are going to sail the boat deeper than usual with an A-sail. This is for a standard leeward side gather.

Windward side drops are quite easy, but a lot can go wrong. However I much prefer them because in racing you have two big plusses I will blog about in the next post. If you have your forepeak set up for sail storage and spinnaker retrieval then a windward side drop on either type of spinnaker is a good idea, as long as you can gather most of the spinnaker foot and mid-riff round the forestay before the boat starts to harden up.

Spinnakering Summary

Well you have maybe had a taste of some of the details, the nitty gritty, of spinnaker work. It is a tabu on some cruising boats almost. Banished from the wardrobe, the poor wee sack with its colourful, jolly prisoner kept in a loft until the boat is sold.

It just need’nt be that way at all! There is so much to gain from sailing with a spinnaker in the extra interest it adds to sailing alone, plus of course you may be making a good many more knots than without, or avoiding using the engine to get doon the Kyles.

Image Courtesay of friend

Yours truly trimming kite on the Melges 24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Instrument on a Sail Boat

We have had a spell of dreadful weather, which is very unlike our usual serene Septembers here  on the South Coast of Norway. Yesterday though was more like a typical such day with light airs, blue skies and a sharp sunshine so typical here either end of the summer.

So we jumped at the chance of  a practice sail and seeing pretty much literally, where the wind would take us, in the 12 sq meter classic design. 

Upon reflection the sail made me think of three things – hull and keel speed, spinnaker work and learning to re-learn. Let us ponder upon the former.

On the Subject of Sailing Badly in Light Airs in Classic Boats

The 12 sq meter design is indeed a mini twelve mR designed as a training boat for youth of the wealthy on Oslo Fjord. It soon however became a favourite day boat of adults looking for an easily crewed regatta machine. King Olav had an early  ‘Fram’ 12 kvm indeed as a young man. On some of my previous outings in these elegant classics, much prettier it has to be said that most all of the UK’s one design day sailers, I have sailed very badly. Or been made to feel like my sailing skills were somehow thrown out of the window.

Coming back to the class after some spats and a very poor nationals in 2010 (the boat had mussels on the keel and when I first inspected her sails, GAFFER tape fixes on the spinnaker! ) I took these former failures as a challenge to learn the boat and prepare a decent example, and crew, for racing.

The burning light in the revitalisation of the class as a one-design with  our local centre of gravity, has been the boat builder and all round craftsman in wood, Petter Halvorsen. He like others before gave me a recent ‘heads up’ that the 12 kvm (kvadrat meter = sq. m) was so different that I  should throw out all I have learned in the Melges and a long line of boats, and rather learn the arts of keeping her moving.  

However there are certain principles of science at stake here, rather than leaving it all down to art. The boat may be very different in design from the modern regatta machines,  or the RORC tonne rule derived OD boats I sailed mostly before, but Scotty will tell you, a 12 kvm cannae defy the laws of physics, Jim.

Wave Goodbye to your Logs, and Say Hello to your Waves 

Now in likness to racing dinghies, the 12 kvm lacks any electronic instruments. You have of course a compass, a burgee or windex and the tell-tales to guide you in their analogue glory. However you also have another little known analogue instrument, your quarter wave.

Most of us learn about quarter waves when the advantages of planing vessels are being purported. Such a high performance sail or motor boat will ride up its’ own bow-wave and escape its quarter waver, leaving it as a vee long behind the transom. However the quarter wave departure is just as relevant to an 85 year old classic as it is to a modern carbon fibre dinghy.

To illustrate this I will actually use an odd source – the Tasar. Frank Bethwaite and Ian Bruce designed a production boat many years ahead of its time back in the 1970s, with a fancy wing mast and of note a very light hull which can plane not only ‘off’ wind, but given enough wind, on the beat too. The Tasar is the grandma’ of all the niner boats, whose design has then reduced that hull drag when climbing the bow wave in succession to the culmination in fact in the little known 39er/59er model which was so badly managed in commercialisation unfortunetly. The same little issue in light airs continues with these easily driven hulls – when to plane on the beat and when to just point as high as possible?

Delivered with each Tasar came an extremely illuminating folder ‘ Guide to Sailing the Tasar’ . In an addenum incluided in my edition, Frank discusses the issue of when planing pays up wind and when to point the boat.  (Which can be found on line at tasar.org last I looked)

In brisk conditions over force three or so, depending on your all up weight, the Tasar will delight by picking up her heels on the beat and planing. This means she absolutely  flies well above the restrictions of her 12 foot water-line “hull speed” , and also makes less leeway because the foils create large amounts of lift. So despite the bow pointing lower, VMG is very much better. However in lighter winds the boat can be popped up on the plane somewhere near a beat, but in fact VMG will be poorer because the boat will need to be lower than actually optimal VMG. 

Various wind-speeds are quoted as being fairly great for planing up wind as the optimal VMG, 12/14knots seems to ring a bell for medium to large adults, as low as 9 for light crews. Below that though you have actually an analogue instrument which can tell you if you are pointing high enough or can come up on the wind. The quarter wave. In near planing but not optimal up wind planing conditions, it is best to get the boat moving rapidly on a tight reach and then work it up towards the beat. As you steer to the lulls and gusts in the wind, you have in fact a very accurate one point speedometer (sorry Log I should say ) – your quarter wave. 

Now the Tasar is a very easily driven boat so it will start to climb its bow wave well before full planing happens, and as you may know from motor boats, semi planing is vastly inefficient. You push more and more drag as you climb and although motor boats designed to be semi’planers sit very comfortably in the sea, they use a lot of power and fuel to maintain top speed.Most often in a planing motor boat you can simply back off the power when you get planing and ease up the speed with little use of gas pedal. The same is true in the Tasar in lighter winds. If you try to plane upwind, you either end up sailing too low for effective VMG, or not utilising the power in the wind well enough in taking a middle road, low of pointing. 

If you know then that say 12 knts wind is the critical point for you, and it is blowing 9, then Frank’s advice is to point the boat higher and sheet in for optimal VMG, and he went out and pretty much proved the point with some empirical data collecting, as features in ‘ High Performance Sailing’ his great body of work in one book. You can tell you need to point the boat because your quarter wave starts to exit the boat from aft of the hull, often at the rudder. The critical speed is too high as you start to semi plane, and you can then steer up and sheet in until the qaurter wave attaches to the hull again. 

What Have Planing Boats Got to Do With an 85 Year Old, Long Keel Classic 

Now that was well and good for the Tasar in the last section and planing, but how does this relate to heavy displacement craft. ?  Well it was from my experience of sailing the Tasar in very light winds when just ghosting along.

I took the theory of the qaurter wave being attached further. In very light winds in a dinghy you positioin your own and the crew’s weight forward, with the crew even ending up on the focstle, bow down. Here what I did in the tasar was to try and get the hull out of the water to the point where the qaurter wave exited, which in light airs was nearer midships.So you can either match the ‘wetted area’ to where the wave is coming off in order to optimise drag, because after that point the hull is in turbulent drag, or you can foot-off to gain speed and get the wave  back to the quarter or even transom. Here you have then a new vital instrument, a green light which suddenly flicks on infront of your eyes, only if you bother to look and use it!

The two waves of a boat, or wakes, are vortexes of turbulent water. The qaurter wave represents where the movement of the water detaches from its’ flow along the hull into a wave, a rolling body of water.  Now we know that wind in light airs will cause a nasty bubble on a deeply set sail, it will not be able to transit the full legnth and rather will give up its energy and actually create drag along the windward side in particular, and fail to give optimal power from exiting the leech. We know this too of keels, that they need enough speed to ‘fly’ otherwise the flow will remain turbulent and not nicely attached ‘laminar flow’ . It is the same fluid dynamics working on the hull too. 

Now to our classic, long keeled boat. These are typified  by long overhangs and a water line length often only 2/3rds of the LOA. The keel is relatively close to the this LWL in fact in terms of its mid chord, and again relatively speaking when comparing them to a tonne design spade keel, or modern bulb footed short chord keel like in a Melges or Whitbread 60. So we can use optimal hull speed as a near index for keel speed, and aim to reach that speed in order to ensure our keel is flying on the beat and reach, and thus we arent going too much sideways ie making adverse leeway.

Now we come back to my dreadful earlier performance in 12.5s. Often I had experienced being rolled over on a beat by boats which seemed to have their own private wind band, if not them being out right scoundrels with a hidden electric motor on board!  Most ingracious and unbecomming of a man with 25 yachting years and more !

Now those overtaking boats maybe did have a better bit of wind, or more likely were on the right side of a shift when it came, thus getting the wind earlier. But I was a sitting duck because I hadn’t achieved keel speed or anywhere near it, so any motion in the boat would result mostly in drag and leeway. Like our planing breaking a barrier, we also have to push the boat to sail near hull speed in order to get lift from the keel and counter act leeway optimally.

So this is where Petter comes in , saying you have to keep the boat moving all the time, and that is the art of it in fact, with the science explained. Yes you can bow down a little in a classic boat to reduce the water line and wetted area, but it is more important to get the boat moving and keep it moving with the qaurter wave as long back as is needed to fly the keel. This is then on the leeward side for the most you want to look in a classic, as you heel a little to lee and have a longer water line there to attach that flow to. 

Now in the spirit of the late, great Frank Bethwaite, I would like to get out with a drone and follow some well sailed and purposely badly sailed 12 kvm, and other boats if I can. From drone footage we can see the nice Vee shaped wake and where it exits the hull exactly, plus the relative height to the wavelets , and the windex in shot I hope, plus also all importantly, the leeway being made, especially relative between well and poorly sailed boats (speed too low that is) 

Not a pencil laid on graph/paper in algebraic anger, nor  a ahem, slide rule raised to war. You could well of course work out keel speed from a design draught of your boat or hull speed for that matter. But there we have it, a little like that clever little top tell tale which informs you about so much physics going on up there in such a simple way, we have a little secret watery tell-tale over our shoulder. 

Clyde Bucket List?

To some cruiser sailors these days it seems the Clyde has become little more than an A class road north and west, ith a convenient parking place near transport. The rush is to get westward, round the Mull or through the Canal with Adrishaig or Gigha often being the first stop. The wonders of the inner and outer Hebrides of course abound and astound.Weather aside it is a glorious and spectacular area to sail in. Also there is the push from the clyde as ‘AWB’s’ (average white boats) fill many of the old favourite haunts of my Father’s CCC days of the 60s and 70s. 

Some places were of legendary status in my family. My father and David Eglington, a fellow naval architect, once took a flush decked classic sailor under 30 ft on an odyssey around Mull. They anchored or tied to the rings at Tinker’s Hole, with an eerie scream of a seal startling them awake , both baning their heads on the underside of the deck as they lay like sardines in ribbed packaging. Also less exotic places were held in enough esteem for a weekend destination and a good hook drop, with nerry a thought to pontoons or visitors moorings.

So these past little sink holes and muddy lagoons are on the bucket list as well as other more interesting and less popular drops which have interest ashore, or are just a place to let the madding crowd rush past.

Caladh Harbour
I am the first to appreciate that Caladh is a victim of its’ own success and recent reports suggest that is has become festooned with moorings, such the phobia of anchors the average yachtie has today. It had a few back in about 2001_3 when we took ‘ Sonja’ a still winters afternoon at dusk round to Kames. .

 I live in a land far, far away, so haven’t popped the nose in there for many years. I think as a very young lad i did get an overnighting there on ‘Trojan Maid’ because when I was there as an adult poking the bow in, those kind of strong visual association memories came very strongly back to me.

 Anyway of an out of season week day you can probably be there yourself, on yer todd. Otherwise you can try in the mud near the wee pier at Loch Ridden a stones throw from Caladh if the hoi palloi insult your AWB with their prescence. Alternatively you can up to Kames and drown your sorrow of the populusness of Caladh, a once quiet jem stolen from heaven, has become Hades Bavarius.

Caladh ‘harbour’ is firmly on the bucket list though, out of pure nostalgia. You can fill a good place to bursting point, but you can’t put it down.

Swine’s Hole

Swines hole provides a nice drop, probably only for a couple of boats on the hook though, given you are likely to swing like a Dervish on the gusts funneling down either loch. Flat water is pretty much guaranteed though, with little night time or evening water traffic to speak of. My aim here would be eitherr to rescale the mountain immediately south of it, which is the most prominent hill you see from Rhu Narrows, a great Whales’ back I finally conquered with a longish day in artic conditions one winter with my pal Raul. The views are stunning as it sits like a pivot pin for eatsern Argyll  with the panorams in all directions of the compass being worth the two hour slog. Alternatively as we did that day, there is a route march up the tarmac ( as usual we ended our walk in the dark being tardy folk, but we had planned for this) to Civilisation through Carrick Castle (any commercial offer theren now? ) and to Lochgoilhead itself.

Unless you have never scaled the Cobbler or in the case that you need to fetch or despatch crew to westward bus or train, further north to Arrochar is not really worth it, with some fluky vertical winds produced in the classic glacial ‘fjord’ which would be equally at home in Hardangar. Pack walking boots and bobble hat and travel there by road or rail. However as a first taste o’ the Heelans, Arrochar is a very scenic spot and I once saw a former Clipper race boat drop its’ hook and the boys wi the gaul tonpump up the dingy,  came in for beers at the Village Inn. Not on my bucket list, unless they have opened a micro brewery there since last I shadowed upon the hostilleries there a decade ago.


Tour of Bute’s Hookers

Bute offers several interesting places along its serpentine coastline. On the SE tip there is Glencallum Bay, whose prominent and nasty rock on the N side is used during Yacht Master courses to test the mettal of would be skippers by circumnavigating it. Transits, bearings and soundings come to mind if the GPS is out of bounds. The South of the bay offers though good holding and a nice often secluded spot to see just as I describe, the rest of the world scurry past at a safe distance.

Ettrick bay is generally considered to dry out too far to be of use, but there was a decent cafe there and I wonder if it is worth the poke on a half risen tide? Or are those underwater restrictions marked on the chart military nasties from WWII likely to go caboom or steal your ground gear  ? It is one of those many places I once almost got to, and would have come by sea as an older lad with the Sea Scouts. Their expedition in wayfarers round Bute is somewhat legend to us and alarming to Des’ at the saqilign school up the kyles. Character building stuff I didnt build myself on. Its not very sheltered from anywhere, just a nostalgic thought if there is a cafe open or other things of interest to row ashore for. St. Ninian’s bay is its’ neighbour, quite popular amongst seekers of solace I read. 

Wreck Bay is quite popular being a place to barbeque ashore for the Scottish Sailing and Cruising club and sailing school a like. I dare say you swing a little in a sonata or lightly laden racey cruiser.

Bute is maybe best done with folding bikes or combined with banging around the other main land drops like Kames and Caladh. It would be a very good practice ground for skipper practicals, meaning you always have time (and daylight out of ‘season’) to try things a few time, test your holding and unhook before having another go. A long weekend with clockwise and anticlockwise completions would appeal to me no end to be honest, picking places or fortuitous bouys for a true beat, practicing witb my crew  on spinnaker technique mid channel and navigating the Kyle and Burnt islands’ two passages with swinging lead and transits in tide both agin and with you. Familiarity they say breeds contpempt. so treating these so well kent passages with attention to utter detail and concentration of special exercises will keep a skipper and crew within respect for the fine ditch round the finest of Royal Isles.

Asgog and Ostel (Kilbride) Bays

As a racing sailor you just rush by here hoping for favourable tide and a header to tack on once you are truly into Fyne. The view of Arran over Ostel Bay’s sands is truly amazing. The sandy bay offers kids hours of fun and in warmer summers, some paddling and maybe flounder spearing too. As an anchorage it is dooable in rare situations due to it being shallow quite far out and exposed from SE to WSW. However the next bay, Asgog, offers better shelter apart from S and SSW , and a shorter row ashore. It has an isle with that wee light you see as you haste ye tae Tarbert, and the same isle affords the bay  extra shelter from the westerlies. There is a landrover track heads towards Ostel, with I would presume navigable boglands and a burn at worst for a couple of hundred meters to the sands themsevles. Calm weather and an outboard tour may avoid any wear on the yellow wellies. Bucket list for sure, with a good camera and kids in tow.

Upper Loch Fyne

Once passed Ardrishaig it has always struck me that the cruising boats moored north of this point are ‘odds and sods’, from those galley style seventies flights of ketch rigged fancy, to things like jaguar 21s and Drascombe luggers. And why not, me a boat snob yet bouyant craft embarressed by mortgage and kids, I should shut up! These are fine pottering craft for locals and Lochgair offers a nice spot with access to bus and probably still free parking when you do go away for a week. It has always had a popular ‘motorists’ hotel at the busy roadside, beware when with kids or dogs. It is very sheltered from sea there. One of my earliest memories is a late night arrival in a thunder storm and sleeping in an arm chair as a nipper. That was by road, never stuck a bow in the place so it kind of is on the wee pale list if not in with bigger bucket..

North of this we have the rather charming Minard with its islands and the odd rock to look out for. A wee shop and possibly a cafe, a sandwich stop or an alternative overnight in a nasty westerly. Further up that western side  we have Furnace wi’ shop /PO, alas no longer a public house which once had very good food the last time I visited the Mckellars there ( Alistair sadly departed this mortal coil not long ago) . Not much to speak of as an anchorage, just a beach line to anchor and a place to row to at the ends of the terraced houses. Oh, plus numerous sea trout at the river mouth you can spin for accidentally on purpose when they are running, on the salt side of the Admiralty chart of course! Best try dropping in the silt there.

Over the other side we have of course Otter Ferry, a charming spot which seems sheltered enough when I have been there and has boasted visitor moorings with maintenance before at least, disclaimer disclaimer. There is a restuarant there and just, well , tranquility. I dont think it gets busy with boats. Trip line recommended on kedge, no dounbt old moorings and ‘stuff’ there or some clay with the density of a black hole I have heard it said. I have lubbed there merely by land to my great shame, it not being that far from Tarberrt after all. On the list it goes, booking a table ahead I hear is advisable. 

Since my kids need entertaining then Inverary is pencilled on the chart. I wonder if the hulks of Penguin and some other puffer are still there? The Pier did offer a high water drop off point and there is anchoring all be it on a large tidal range there.

On the other side I have a pal with a cottage near Cairnbahn and St Catherines and you know that coast has got some wee drops all the way down which few bothered with in my day. There is a brewery and beef farm at the head of the loch and Loch Fyne Oyster bar on the western side of course. Inverary makes the list if kids are with me for a day ashore and two nights on the swing.

Eastern Kintyre and Arran

This coast is little known to me, not having sailed the short handed race which I think was the only one with a passage up Kilbrannan sound there. Having scurried down to Machrihanish often enough, I know the west well as a land lubber and would be-surfer. Along the shores of Kilbrannan I would like a peak at Loch Ranza and then Carradale and some other places and refer to the chart and play it by ear. Goat Fell and Holy Isle appeal to me for walking expitidions. 

Campbelltown is much under-rated and if the chat-rooms and FB folk are anything to go by, more popular with Ulster sailors than Clyde yotties. Replenish yourselves from Tesco, Malt o’ the Month, chippy or two and so on while using the ease of the pontoon. Or perhaps there are nice wee hooks either side of Davaar island and a tour to the cave at high water with the rubber ducky to get it all to yourself, or save some great unwashed who dindnae ken the tide wud come in.

I love the whole area and have had many, many weekend breaks there and going way back some family caravaning int he early 1970s. Phew long time ago !

From there it is Sanda for me, and a bloody minded anchoring to kedge the tide overnight, just to irritate the new owner who packed up the once popular pub. Forward then to Gigha, which is well and truly out of the Clyde but kind of an obvious border checkpoint before you venture northwards to the Lorne and ‘Vrekkan. Good to suppor the island community there!

Round the Rugged Rocks The Ruddy Rascal Reached…..

Now how about a real challenge for a crew big enough for two watches in clement weather with enough wind to hit the top of those polar tabels for VMG, but not too much, and a rolling sea rather than a chop. A nice even SW’erly which has blown up from the N. Channel some days and built that typical swell you get South of Dalmarnock.

Leaving Largs for example then we leave Cumbrus Minorii to port and wave to the gongoozlers at Millport before rounding afore mentioned Dalmarnock of a late summer eve with the long beat on a single tack Towards the Ayrshire coast, with perhaps Lady Isle off Troon as the next mark of the course to STB, and a test of nightime navigation around  it, before onwards to that once so adored of race marks, Ailsa Craig.

The source of nearly all the world’s curling stanes, Ailsa Criag is a sentinnal and a most odd geological feauture. A lone bap shaped mountain in the firth’s widening expanse. In the hey days of the RORC Tonne raters I was told, the Ailsa Craig race(s) were the big deal, with a whole weekend devoted to negotiating her to port and bouncing around with wind against waves and tide very often <br>

. Infact I have heard from a good source who raced tonners and then sigma 33s that this damnable race which is really offshore for all intents and purposes, is what put paid to a good deal of  passage racing and whole weekend racing. In the 70s and 80s though, rounding the big old pap was a test of  manhood and grim determination. Demands for more regatta oriented weekends with the chance to practice starts and thereby get a few more shots at the cherry became more and more the norm as the CCC and other club’s questionnaires’ revealed the truth about sailors – get round the cans and into the bar asap. I feel kind of priveledged to have sailed the last Scottish Series overnight to Tarbert in a nasty bit of overnight weather and pitch blackness down the Ayr coast and up the Fyne. Tamed, sanitised, pussified., how accurate were the  interpretations of these questionnaires ? were the questions leading in any slight force of hand way? Or was it a slim majority? Or did they just ask the  right people or pester them to deliver their finished papers or internet forms while those irksome offshore crowd were laissez faired oot of the results? 

There is no doubt that Clyde racers did want to have more weekends based on four to six races with decent courses rather than round the bay’s navigation bouys or a calendar dominated with distance races  ‘offshore’.. But things change again. The average water length is up and many racers are 35 – 45 feet in the kind of echelon who would want to attempt round-the-rocks witth overnights. Aslso it could be run as a timed cruise over four weeks of entry for example. 

So Ailsa Craig to Starboard then before probably the greatest challenge – the tidal gate of Sanda rounding with it to Port. It is not far to Sanda in fact and you can see that Ailsa Craig is pretty near to the Mull of Kintyre area and only a jaunt over. I imagine that you could use six to ten hours to round Ailsa from Dalmarnock and be doing so therefore in the early morning. Given no choice as to timing you would then have to do what they do in the Fastnet and stem the tide by going along the shore and any back eddies or even kedging. The HSE crowd witll have us including Sheep Island to STB, but I reckon you can sneek the tide if it is neaps and roll over the bank there which pretty much dries on low springs I see from the chart. Talking of sneeks, it would be nice to have Pladda (Arran’s dangling fruit, not Lismore’s in this case) to STB and go through the sound as I think maybe even the Waverley has done on high water, but that is just too ballsy , it is nasty and undefensible.

Holy Isle then is the next mark of the course with hopefully an afternoon or evenings spinnaker work (ban on spinnakers from 11pm to 4 am btw) with a bear away back from Sanda and a long run or broad reach up.We then retrace our steps given we enter our second night of sailing and head round Dalmarnock to STB this time and inbetween the Cumbraes. Here also you have the chance to call a shortened course on yourself and just sail up past Hunterston given the wind has died down and progress was pedestrian 

There you have it, a May to July test of mettle and the true spirit of sailing being an end in itself, not a camper van like means to get to an end point with a pub that smells of vinegar and bleach and serves flat beer and soggy chips. I imagine a few clyde sailors I know would perish from a combination of malnutrition, mental exhaustion and pub-cold-turkey, while a good few others would relish the chance to stock up with UHT milk and exstra weavel ships biscuits, forget anchors and motoring worries and just sail their goddam boats non stop, all weekend from Friday pm to Sunday evening. 

Fantasy Crusing Down Memory Tide Line….

So many images spring to mind from old memories now as I jott this little bucket list of clyde cruising. In fact I feel like I am suitably refreshed, yet a little exhausted from merely writing this, and the mental exertion of tavelling in my mind, back to my once homeland and the folklore of my family and their yellow wellied, javelin jacketed cruising crew back in the happy 1970s. 

I think my father who passed away in 1980 all too early, would be proud of my racing experiences and achievements. Perhaps he voyaged with me, or gave the odd helping hand on the tller

Racing is all consuming and often you get little time to soak in the scenery, lest there be a long one tack beat up a sound or Loch Fyne. With goals of being in the boozer first and so on a bit behind me, I feel it is time to explore nooks and crannies. Time to make friends with kelp, dead mans’ fingers and stinky black clay, with the odd battle ship mooring  for more embracing company. A bucket list for the chain and hook it is then.

 I hope to do this all one sunny, force three day, but for now I content myself with the water under the keel I have enjoyed in the Kyles and the lochs, and the peaceful evenings on Trojan Maid whiled hooked onto Gods own country’s seabed. 

Cruising Boats Underwhelm and Annoy Me

Cruising is a past-time I have nothing against, and given more time away from racing and family respo0nsibilities I would gladly cruise the sounds and fjords here or the finer stretches of the Clyde, Lorne and even the outer Hebrides. Howevver cruising boats often irritate me in themselves. 

The trype of boat I am talking about are those with a mast-head rig, preferably telegraph pole in felxibility, a monster high freeboard rather like a block of concrete flats laid on its side, and a cockpit about a tenth of the LOA, often mostly cocooned in blue spray hoods, sun awnings and wind cheaters. 

The whole premise of this type of craft, built in all forms of construction not just GRP, is that it is comfortable down below and manageable to sail. An aqautic caravan for the middle age-ed. A home from home which just happens to floats and occaisionally move around in a wind assisted manner. Safe. High up out of the water. 

Well all that may seem right about them to the layman or the casual sailor is absolutely wrong about them to the racing sailor. The masthead rig is most often accompanied by a short boom brandishing a puny mainsail while a rather deep, you could say beefy, genoa of at least 320% actually drives the boat. Which then becomes a bloody handful in a blow. Ah but rolling reefing-furling saved the day for man friday or wifey to go up and attempt a sail change long after it became obvious that they would not make it back to port in a seamanlike manner, and possibly not all, by carrying full sail. Only roller reefing headsails have an issue in that they push the centre of effort higher and more forward when you dont really want those two effects what so ever. Their mainsails can be awkward to trim and get any shape into, or out of, and they tend to flag around at a nasty high frequency when reefing in a squall or hoisting on anchor. In effect you have relinquished much of the control of a sail boat to a mediocre naval aritecht and a rolling drum on the bow. 

The drum on the bow adorns many racing boats of course, usually the simpler furling only type, but crusing boats have developed a plethora of functional armery, much the opposite of beautification. There are snuffers like a used condom above spinnakers, there are kebab grills hanging off the pushpit, there are windmills ready to chop your fingers off and there are all those nylon boat covers and often a tent with windows encapsulating the whole cockpit. Ugly adornments. Often yes to the benefit of the round-the-worlder or the transatlantic adventurer, but to the coastal weekend cruiser? Pah, it is like the monsters cave, festooned with old meal time lef overs. They break up what was left of elegant lines a yacht should have and clutter the eye. 

Getting underway or completing a tack requires more winching than a Fife colliery to get that nasty big Genoa to stand. Usually some overdressed figure in over sized red oiles, hood up, sweeps away at the winch with the self tailer engaged for at least 15 minutes,  not realising they could have done 90% with a couple of turns and some decent arm movements if the helm had bothered to feather up or take a slower tack. Once three quarters of the way in, said able seaman brushes their hair from their eyes and cocks their hood back over to look up at the leech and foot of the sail only to their dismay that they must work like a boxing kangeroo to get the last four feet in. 

Then you have embarking and disembarking. Said wonderful cabin has remarkable headroom. Often 12 feet of it if you were to believe some owners. This goes hand in hand with hull in the water but these days with plastic boats from Tom’s yard, it means bloody high freeboard. A grown man disappears into the long shadow cast by these of an evening, and then struggles to reach up to catch hold of the gunwhale and must stand on tip-toes to tie up the rubber dinghy. A ladder is most often provided, usually on the stern, where it makes for a bloody awkward place to clamber on board in older boats , as the stern is a meter off the water and often tossing three times the height of the waves on its pendulous extremity. Modern cruisers have broad bottomed designs with open transoms and a double hull style down to within a simpled footstep of the waterline. Sensible ideas stolen from racing boats.

Cockpits on cruising boats are often open topped chambers of torture by the making of all over body brusing. They have more right angles than a cubist painting of a french town, it seems they have tiered levels of hard corners to bump shins, elbows, hips, heads and shoulders on. a 40 footer may allow room for a standard crew to move around fair enough, but for our more modest and mostly typical sailor, condityions are so cramped as to render manoerving a wrestling match between helm and their two winch persons. Oops another six bruises-a-man in that tack! 

Ah but cruisers would all go to sea and brave a pooping with their tiny cockpits and high transoms. Once filled however, you then have a salt water immersion tub for several hours until it either drains or the extra wegith up high helps roll the boat over into a capsize. Who are these boaters kidding? You are most likely, statistically, not to go out on ocean crossings in a 33 footer. You are unlikely to be caught out during a passage by a 77 Fastnet storm. You will have scuttled into a harbour and be enjoying either your cabin or more likely, the local licensed hostillery.

Which brings me to this. Do you really want to stay in said capacious, airey, cathedral like interior of a cruising boat in bad weather? Will you be enduring 14 or more hours of darkness in your excursions? Will you ever have a dinner party for 25 round the cabin table? Would you not rather have a lovely, long open cockpit? A place all your crew can sit in personal space, on rounded comnbings of an evening, and with lower freeboard, the boom tent makes for an impromtu al fresco mesanine deck, scoutish and half in half outdoors as is so trendy amongst Scandinavian architects these days. Sleep under the stars why not, on acres of level white cockpit floor. When you do require to take your slumbers away from the weather, you experience a roof over your head, a soft bunk under you and a sleeping bag around you in any case. Plush teak and mahogany interiors are butter on lard when you have a cabin and crawl in after a long day’s passage. When the weather does get all summer british, then will you really be reading books and stayingin said roomy cruiser cabin? Or will you be wandering along the pontoon to show off your yachty credentials in Falmouth or Oban high street? Sitting in a pub seeking converse with the land lubbing unwashed? Dining on langustines in a finer restaurant, or sulking in doorways devouring fish and chips? 

THis is the reality of cruising. You want to be outdoors, all of you, enjoying the scenery and learning about sailing, without playing twister when you gybe or back to back elbow boxing when you tack. When the weather closes in, you are no longer at anchor in some hidden away cove, you have planned ahead to provision and stretch legs from a Marina or council pontoon. For summer sailing inshore and in the minches, your finely attired cabin is highly superflous and only invites youngsters to use up their gigabyte allowances in what is home-from-home after all, heads burried in mobile or tablet.

The cry of ‘twithy and unweildy racer requiring a crew of several dozen men for her forty feet’ rings in my ears. Silly light boats, far too flimsy to take on that force three  chop we had out of Hamble the other day. Quite nasty it got when a sqaull of ooh, 22knts came through. Dear friend, you do not need to beman a racing boat with rail meat amounting to several tons on the windward gunwhale when cruising. You sail three or four up with a working #3 or even storm jib up, and a reef in the main, with the backstay hard on and the sheet down the traveller until it lulls down a bit. You crack off the wind and watch the log go up and the nautical miles fly by. In a word, you have control. You can sit in the cockpit and depower the wole boat by a simple twitch on the traveller line. 

There is something wonderful about crusing a performance boat. For its day the sigma 33 was a fast production 33 footer. Still a popular one design, I sailed several Cork Week national champs on one. One year we had a nasty top of no 1 weather and some grey days, with then a nice no 2 or 3 day coming in, and much sweating over winches on the run as we galloped towards the leeward mark amongst the top third of the fleet. In fact we toiled all week and the fastest recorded speed was 8.1 knts off wind. The weather became more clement for our delivery home, a brief window before our blustery encounter with Lucifer light but that is another story. In the bay of Youghall we picked up a school of dolphins, babies in tow, playing with the rudder as we sailed under spinnaker, and dancing on the bow much to our amusement and theirs. The wind was picking up a bit from its rather sedate start, and when I glanced on the log I was taken aback and had to check it against the GPS track. 9.7 knts. All week we had strived and panted and belted the boat and here we where, relaxed as larry is happy caning along on a flood tide up the Irish coast!

Uffa Fox was a great proponent of racing boat cruising and all his designs I know of which had accomodation, were pretty much elongated ff15s with a forecastle desing to a low cockpit. There are plenty good racer cruisers which will add that level of control and skill to the yachtsperson developing their skills for crusing and covering leagues under the hull to make for more ambitious holiday itineries. But the wide expanse of a racing cockpit on a fine evening or even night passage is really my cup of tea. A boat which balances well and is easily driven when light crewed, and points to high doh when a little weighted up with animated ballast.