Monthly Archives: September 2017

Armchair Virtual Cruising West Coast Scotland

Aye the nachts are faur drawin’ in like.

You can of course choose to pick you weather and have short days or dare I say, sail a little at night and really test your mettle, but the season for most is drawing to a close. 

If I were to pop in a boat in the Glesga Fair in 2018 then where would I go cruising? 

Torridon, Sheildaig of all Places …A Possible Destination en Virtual Route??

There is a long standing lust from racing days to actually spend time dropping hooks and sinking pints, or swinging on the chain with an anchor dram in hand in the wilderness along the coast lines and to the isles I have often hurtled past with eyes mostly fixed on spinnaker luff or genoa tell=tales. 

So on this little bucket list there are the places of family folklore I think I have blogged on before- the Treshnish, Tinker’s hole, Polldhorain. Then there is intertwined with this the Malt’s Cruise of course and the Ceilidh as a tie-date.

Which Hook Nooks Have I Raced Past ? (erm, literally…)

 But this all reeks of AWBs (average white bands, sorry boats!) queing to get into the anchorages and wobbling off the various new pontoons as if they just got off the bus at Anderston Terminal. In the Glesga Fair this all really doesnt appeal, and is far better accomplished in May and June, with an exemption say for a trip to Islay to do the distilleries there with the perty at the end, having raided Tallisker  along the way earlier.

Far better in the ‘Faur’ to get the heck out of these lower latitudes and sail north. 

In my mind’s eye there is a kind of blind spot for Harris, Benbecula, Barra. It is Terra Non Cognitosurrounded by Aqua Nova. There are the frightful Minches and the Mightly Atlantic beyond. Oh The Crinan Canal for me……those great ocean breakers would gie me the shakers. More than a blind spot, like a fog of fear out there. And completely unnecessarily. I once helmed an Impala out to Coll from Arisaig after being storm bound there for two days. The sea was NW and fairly monsterous at times, ‘specially on account of it being a beam reach. Nearing Coll they got steeper and a green mountain appeared I decided to take on the bow. That my friends was the Atlantic hitting shallower water and possibly adverse tide! So fright be taken! Been there and got the t-shirt.

The Fantastic Fantasy Cruise

So My cruise ? Clyde mooring or marina on the Friday afternoon before the fair saturday, provisioned well for four days with ‘hard-tack’ for five more. Ailsa Craig and Sanda to Port on an ebb tide I hope, and sailing through the night to breakfast and sleep at Gigha. A tootle around the island and a decision make it anouther night watch or two out past Dubh Artaig and Skerryvore weather permitting. 

This is some challenging sailing. Firstly the Sound of Jura on the right tide, then the course and caution with the weater and sea state out past all the ‘Bad Boghas’ – the rocks and skerries off Iona and Tiree. There after? Well perhaps Barra weather being clement, and a fine anchor spot in Castle Bay. Bound the be ahead of the Bavarians who are mostly trying to get into Caladh or Ardrishaig Sea Lock by now. No, this is not a floating caravan tour super market to super market. 

With good conditions and a flood tide in the Sea of the Hebrides and the Minches, then why not relax with less sail on a broad reach and eat and make merry on board. OFten when racing we do that of course, and when not racing it was usually delivering with hard tack and UHT milk before and after you came on watch. A cruise this as you see, for two experienced skippers and two good deck hands at least!

Now up to the filet of the tour. The Shiant Isles. I had no idea that the Minch between Skye and Harris was so nasty yet contains a major traffic lane for shipping taking a short cut, including the odd super tanker and oil rig! It is quite narrow compared to the Minch proper of course, but rocky too. And with the ‘charmed , blessed, enchanted’ islands of the Shiant archipeligo. A kind of poor man’s St. Kilda, and I admit to my ignorance, I had no idea such a pearl existed until a few days ago. A text would have sufficed and in fact I am somewhat bothered that images are already in my head from t’internet of this wonderful little world. 

From there in a NW or SW I would actually scoot over to another group of Charming Islands, the Summer Isles at Achiltibuie and enjoy a dinner at the famous hotel bar there, if not on the lawn kissed by sunshine.  In a Westerly, and lots of it, more tempting to head to the east coast of Harris and Lewis and explore there. 

From though the Summer Isles, a replenishment at Ullapool. Ole’s Pool has always been a land crab favourite of my, and featured along with the Five Sisters of Kintail in my fairwell to Caledonia. From the Viking’s bay, round then to Torridon, because that is where the photo above was taken. My dad, a whole lifetime ago, exploring and ‘staying ahead of the racing rabble’ 

There after Plockton was also a family kind of place on the map and then over to Talisker Destillery while we are here. The sound of sleet and then Arnisdale and maybe, maybe Hourn heid another spot on the 1970s tournerihng my dad did. 

The ‘small isles’ themselves and Loch Nevis are the matter of a different cruise than tonights, one which involves hill walking boots. So I am afradi now it all gets tawdry and failing the need to take in Arisaig – a difficult entrance that keeps many away from its eateries, PO, shop and walks to the sands of Morar., then it is on to Tob’ to share stories in the Mish’. 

I feel now civilisation would beckon, and small Isles with Iona is as said a nother tour altogether. No Mulling around this time, Terra Habilis, Oban beckons and a chance to change crew, milk the coo, shower and eat and be merry at a finer establishment, or budget dwindling, chippy and the North Pier. Poldohrain then for old times sake and an easy next day to then choose the tide well to Crinan. Canal for a day of ‘chust sublimeness’ before back to Caladh to gloat over the local small timers. An icecream at Roth’y and a bag of chips for the final afternoons tootle over to normality, humdrumness, land lubbing. 
Over Ambitious?

Well all this may seem a little over ambitious, but you have to put this in perspective of what my own father could achieve in the the two weeks of the Glasgow Fair, and what good lifers curcumnavigating get up to. Cruising in Scotland runs the risk on one hand, of getting too pussified with pontoons and close to shore sponsored moorings in every village. However it can be argued that this will take the hoi palloi away from the auld favourite wee hooks, expecially as inclement summer monsoon conditions seem to be the norm for late may through to mid august! 

Gigha to Shiants non stop will seem down right deranged to some readers who are used to the joys of island hopping and getting places before dark and before the tide changes. But in years of old, going back to the Vikings, sailors had to get where they were going before the storms of the equinox were upon them. 

No this trip needs planning, and it is not for the sea sick prone wife you may have, or kids under 9 years old. It is a challenge and full exposure to nature’s elements. Tides need to be taken into account with wind, motoring for battery charges and progress to tidal gates thought of, bolt holes and escape plans if the barometerr drops like a stone, a knowledge of shipping and fishing movements, a watch for whales and dropped cargo too. 


Lobster Racing 

Well it apinnahe annual end of season Lobster regatta held here, nice and early this year, I seem to remember doing it almost in the middle of October one year in force six and more.

A Typical Windy Last Regatta of the Season in Risor (c) 2010 and 2017 Author

Before the Race…………..

Decision to race springs to mind. The spreaders looked a little out of line and the mast was squint to one side when I sighted up it, so that has to be addressed. Then I need to put a full stop at over 25 knt gusts due to the mast being a big wood twig,  and my crew potentially being one inexperienced sailor. 

Then there is boat prep and checks. Firstly scrubbing along the keel foot and around the aft waterline. The boat was hummng at max speed in light airs, so something is not right on the keel. The boat wants to wander to windward with a centred tiller, suggesting that also may be an issue. 

Jobs and Thoughts On Boat Set Up

Straghten Mast

Tie Spinne Bag down

Bail her twice this week

Move the antique bronze jib cars back

Check out Jib position and cunningham

Check out the backstay operation

Have a hauling line ready for the kite with a timber hitch in mind
Forecast and Strategic Thinking

I suspect the 2010 Hummer Regatta was Also a Big Easterly! (c) Author 2010

So far the forecast is for a middle to bigish wind from the east, which often trains along the coast a little to be a ENE, but since it is blowing harder then it maybe an onshore due east right enough. 

This means a potential for a lift on port near the islands, but more importantly there will be a massive favoured tack out to the NE where the marks lie.On return it is likely to be the same , a long gybe which is the shortest way. 

Despite the biggish wind, tide will still be crucial because boat speed is just 5 knots up wind, and tide can be 2knts. Despite a paltry 40 cm or so tidal range last two weeks, the fjords funneled it up to a whopping 2 knts or even more in the key funnels. I would suppose after a look at wind agin tide that ebb and flow funnel differently

An easterly then favours a long porcession with a flood tide or slack, on a single tack, while against tide it makes for a middle route perhaps over the shallower ridge there. The gust pattern will also make for a RHS bias as they will reach there first. 

A tight reach back will mean no spinnaker work until beyond the sound if they set a sensible inside the island belt leeward mark. There is no point trying to hold and falling off onto a much longer course. 

Getting off the start on time and out of trouble will be the biggest deal for me, and than means a combination of burn time and getting a lane with 1 minute to go. Eye on the clock and burn time out, lane in, go! The jostle for position is 45 seconds out, a line behind the line and then it is power on at some point there after. Despite more wind these boats take time to work up to speed and max pointing.

The Race on The Day

Always say you are learning and  believe it!

I was eminently happy to hand the helm of C110 over to the Owner, only to have him do exactly the same mistake I usually make, getting too far ‘south’ of the start line and working back up to the fleet rather than being in the fleet. 

It was blowing 18 to 28 somewhere around top of 5 to 6 in the gusts. We gained on the fleet very well starting at a good point on the line, it being a super biased permanent set line. Soon we were nipping at their heels, there was an odd wind-tide effect at the ‘narrows’ north east of the town, which would repeat itself later. Hmmm, somethign to learn. Funny winds. A divergence LHS going down? 
We continued to gain on the fleet up beyond the narrows when the going got bouncy. It is ‘innaskjaers’ inside the mini hebridean belt that is to say, but there was lumpy chop and some wind against tide in places. Enough to render the boat wetter than a laser!

We made a tighter rounding which took in yet more boat lenghts and got us uip in the fleet, with only the best boat really streching its legs on everyone by this time. The coast along the north looked a poorer bet than the main channel from Grunholmen so we went out to see if it was better and it was. More even wind and a series of lifts  with the gusts and more wind in the lulls. Now we were mixing it with three or four boats possible scalps. There is an angle beyond which convergence/divergence does not work the same. Nearer right angles, and an on shore wind lifts off the water ahead of the land. 

Then they all but one got away and we were left chasing on the longer run now down to Finnoya. Spinnie not set we took time to get it going but to no loss what so ever, but it did add to our speed and we crept closer.One learning here, the kite is small enough to ‘right side’ it round the forestay. STB roundings you see, silly me rigging it for the Port Handers they had promised shore. 

Ahead of two boat perhaps, good rounding and off to Little Denmark- no not 67  nbautical miles over the sea, but part of our mini hebrides. We lost our placing on the rounding and hesitating with spinnaker and where to go. The wind was funny towards the narrows, why? I dont know, ask Kevin Turvey. Probably divergence, we may have slowed up because of the tide I wasnt paying attention to in the forecasts. 

Tide was actually not much of a feauture I believe, high tide being about 1345 or so, end of the flood helping us up the sound. However even in a blow, the great bucket carrying you is still worth considering.
So securing last place bar one Maxi 77. But this time we were no slower than most all the fleet and apart from the start good positioning. Okay the compass was not in use. 
Good to get a sail in, glad he huckled me to come


Well starts are a lot of the gamne and this was an aweful 45 second late job. But we had speed and free wind so gained on the fleet.

When disucssing tacking on shifts, a realisation came to me. These boats are just not  tactical boats. They demand so much to just keep them going, that close tacking and match racing is crazy. They need so much to just get going and keep going, That is the game.

Is that my game? Well it is a bit like HC racing in fact. You need to sail in your own wind. Is it my game? Well not really, but I have enjoyed my sails a lot, and it is all learning, tidal strategy being good, looking at wind strategy and so on. 

I also see this in a lot of classic racing I have  been out in or spectated at. The boats take a long time to get to speed and need working up and down from the wind and the gusts. You need to get off the start and sail in your own wind, and know each boats quirks and your own weight , style and so on. We sailed high and it paid, where as if I had been helming I would have sailed lower for the waves and actively sheeted. We sat rather nicely with a slight pinch and speed was ok, pointing was really good. However gain was not that fantastic. 

So my bkeyblearning is to drop the ‘tactical strategy’ of boat on boat match racing, and get used to a free lane on the start and maintaining free air, min or max tidal current and keepoing speed above keel fly speed. the tactic is then placing the boat in free air or putting the boat between the fleet or follower and the mark or finish line.

 I enjoyed it but I have a realisation about this classic style and keepoing the keel -fly speed going. 


longer jiub sheets by 50 cm each side

Loctite on grub screws for rudder stock

Spinnaker pole bungee replaced with an eye or ring for down haul

( longer down haul spinnakerr pole)

Thicker spinnaker sheets.
Scrub base of keel

Rudder stock gland fix

Rudder blade exa ination for wharped trailin edge.

Race Debrief from Another Slow Motion Regatta

Typical mellow September Weather, and rather dull sailing

Every is a learning experience and most of all I need to learn to learn again! We had a terrible start and as usual my boat speed is not great in light airs in these lovely looking little classics.  I really did grit my teeth a bit after misjuding the start and need to work up to it, wathcing the fleet take off infront. 

However there were a couple of very large positives, which surpassed most of the fleet’s.  Tidal strategy.

Tidal Strategy

According to the tide table it should have been a neap ebb so not much to speak about. But as with last week, there was a lot of tide in the channels, all be that 180 opposite to the flood last week. In contrast to getting last week’s wrong, thinking the main stream was dead ahead when it was from the western approach on the right, I got this weeks dead right.

There is a lot of water which can ebb through a 150 m gap so when we got up to a lobster pot in the Tjernoy sound, it was plain to see. 2 knts if not more. A river. Now this is exactly as predicted because this side has the deepest channel, a vee shape funneling the tide. On the chart you can see that the string of islets are a ridge and so you can keep in the shadow of the tide so to speak by tacking up a cone towards then, on the LHS. 

So after our appalling start we were suddenly back in contention, and overtook our first boat and stretched our lead on the boat trailing us. Tacking up to the islets we could see the boats in the RHS channel struggeling to stem the tide in the lulls, and making only slow progress in the ‘gusts’. Remember we are talking three or four knots boat speed ! So we were in touch with the fleet again, biting at their heels.

The only fly in the ointment here was they set a crazy long course for the evening, but that was just a challenge I suppose. There was enough wind to sail it in daylight, but it died as we came in and were almost becalmed a while after the race, luckily getting a tow in by a chap who has his motorboat next to the fleet’s dock.

My flaw then was not to have looked at the tide and wind north of the channel I discussed above, and towards the next ‘mountain top’ called Suga, where the windward mark lay. The land each side of the channel also funnels the wind and trains it a little, and I didnt predict this, there was a clearer shift pattern which I did not decipher in the short final beat, and lost out to the two closest boats. I seemed to be a little dead in the water and the boat wanted to wander up to the wind without any pressure on the helm, so maybe it does indeed have a wonky Vietnamese built rudder blade. 

Anyway, we had lost the spinnie halyard up the mast in our practice run to the presumed weather mark in the channel, so we poled out the jib on the run. and the reverse of the tidal strategy played in. For some reason the fleet chose to go RHS down wind, stage left that is, while I knew that the shortest route to the next mark was also in the fastest tide in the lhs channel. I suppose the fleet wanted a little sharper gybe angle to fill their kites, but it was the wrong side of the squint diamond and in less tide. So we caught up about 300 m on the fleet, us being a back marker due to a terrible start (again) and had two boats in our sights, one the founder of the fleet !

We did a nice rounding, overtaking the nearest boat ahead who was dead in the water due to the sloppy swell and a bad decision I guess to manoevre with a tack. Anyway we had a lovely rounding as I say, and tacked in over the shelf were there was less tide, and were pointing really nicely back in through the in sailing channel at Stangholmen. However boat speed seemed slow, and the guy behind tacked over and above us and suddenly was ahead ! It was tide once again, only a knot or so here, but he got a lot less going towards the island’s shore while we looked to be sailing nicely, but were behind.

Pain and Gain

Courses here are round the fixed cans, with the start line only somewhere near perpendicular for two of them when the wind is coming that way. So there is often a huge bias on the line, and last night you could barely sail starboard to cross it, the pin end being massively favoured. The course as mentioned was then a rough W/L and the shortest way was RHS of the race course. 

However as mentioned RHS also had the most tide, so on the beat up it, you had to use shadow and the small back eddies to get ahead. The shortest route is not then the quickest. But at some point you have to come out the tide-shadow and take your pain. They whom takes least pain gets most gain. Eventually everyone is ‘in the same boat’ stemming the tide for the windward mark or coming back up through the southern approach at Stangholmen. 

Sailing longer and making more tacks is a little counter intuitive to me, but aformentioned competition for the night, a grey hulled boat, used it to get a sudden 80 m advantage on us as I ventured too far out of the tide shadow at Tjernoy. Again he pulled the same trick coming back in through Stanghomen’s narrows, first creeping up the lighthouse side where it is shallow, and then darting over to the other island’s shore (Riholmen I think) while our lovely angle and long single tack beat ahead suddenly looked bad. 

TIde in this wind is king, and although it was out of its highest phase of flow by sunset, we stuck our nose too far in it on the last beat. Like my mate who used to sprint at the start of a hill climb and then hold me off, most irritatingly, the grey boat had done just that, taken himself up out of the tide just long enough to get ahead, and then experiencing the same pain with us only huffing at his transom. 

007, Petter Bond, sorry, Halvorsen and our main marker for the night, C126 . RHS you can see Tjernoya, where the fiendish tide runs on the RHS with little respite on the left

Starting with Starts

I have only made a handful of good starts as a helmsman, and they have been of  course decisive. No matter how badly I sail 12kvm, I won the first keel boat race I ever helmed from start to finish, and did so by a country and a nautical mile together! 

Most of my starts are appalling. Some starts have been messed up by other folk, usually could have made a protest and will do in future. So I need to start here, because the start is the sprint and without getting off in clean air, you may as well go home unless there is a wind shift predicted. 

So I am going to get out before the season’s last race and just practice on the four minute gun. also judging the bias on the line versus the tide. 

The things I get wrong are being out on the time, and too far back at 2 minutes to go, then getting stuck into a bad lane with dirty wind. Previously I also had just slow speed and was rolled over, sometimes being too close for the run in.

Burn time and a virtual start line transit 10 of fewer second behind the line are then the tools of the trade I wouild like to use.

Notes on Boat Prep for Next Time

1) Jib set up. Eye on sail in the fitting, cunningham also . Perhaps a new pin forward?

2) Get halyad down. It is about 4m up. take a hook thing and bind it on a stang

3) Bottom of keel and leading / trailing edges with a belt cleaner

4) Mast in section?? 

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.

   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 !


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


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.


(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