Archive for February, 2009

Become a weather watcher

Friday, February 27th, 2009

If you spend time sailing, particularly racing, you should also spend some time studying the weather. Obviously getting a forecast regularly is one way but what I really mean is actually observing the conditions change as warm and cold fronts pass through. The more time you spend developing your own database of weather conditions and their effect on your ‘race track’, the better you will be able to compete in your boat.

However, not all observations carry equal weight. One fellow sailor told me several years ago that he watched the flags on the top of the Harbour Bridge to gauge the conditions he’d face out on the water. The height above sea level (134 metres) would make those flags a very unreliable source of information for a skipper.

If you learn to pick up gusts and wind shifts before the main fleet recognises them, you will do well. In addition, your observations should make you better prepared for the arrival of weather changes, which may whip up the waves and bring with them rain squalls and strong gusts. If you are sensible and reef early, you will be in control and on course while the rest of the fleet struggles to shorten sail.

Weathercraft provides much more information for both the coastal and offshore sailor.

Don’t get me started!

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Yesterday RANSA’s annual regatta was held on Sydney Harbour. Conditions were light. It was a spinnaker start which can, of course, be a real nightmare. It was a handicap start, i.e. each yacht starting on the fall of the minute sign for their handicap, which meant that not too many of the 86 yacht fleet were crossing the line at any one time.

The wise skippers had been out early and done timed runs to the start line, well before their allotted time and without inconveniencing the starting yachts.

Some yachts chose to carry their spinnakers across the line, others waited until the line was crossed before setting the kite.

Yacht with too many rubber bands on its spinnaker
Of these one, which shall remain nameless, took rather longer than the others to set its kite. The reason, at least 14 rubber bands were used to stop an early break out of the kite. On a day of light winds no bands could have been the call, or at very least only a few – of rotten elastic to break easily.

The yacht in the foreground is considerably shorter, not flying a spinnaker, is generations older than our subject and it is going faster!

Yacht with spinnaker almost set - note banding still holding head of the kite
At last! No, I’m wrong. There’s still at least one rubber band on the head of the spinnaker. The spinnaker is finally drawing but our subject is still sailing well above her proper course to the first mark. Meanwhile the classic oldster is on course and sailing well!

Sailing without a keel

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Normally I would say that sailing without a keel is impossible but recent events have proved me wrong. Marc Guillemont (Safran) finished the Vendee Globe on 16 February, having sailed the last 1,000 miles without a keel. He used Safran’s water ballast to counterbalance her mast and kept the yacht well reefed down.

Marc had been given 82 hours of redress for the assistance he rendered to Yann Elies (Generali) earlier in the race. When the redress was applied, he beat Sam Davies (Roxy) who had finished on 14 February by just 79 minutes! On his blog, Captain JP claimed the margin was just 0.06% of the total time taken.

So there was a close finish, after all. And yachts can sail without keels!

Eyesight and yachting

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Tomorrow I’m having the cataract removed from my right eye. I’m really looking forward to the outcome of the operation as my vision has become increasingly impaired in recent months. As I’ve worn ‘long range’ glasses for most of my life and journalism has been my profession, I’ve elected to have a lens inserted which should perfect my eyesight for reading.

That said, I’ve no way of knowing how much my sight has been affected over the years by UV radiation. Although there’s some debate about how much direct sunlight people should put themselves in, there’s no doubt that UV radiation is one of the causes of cataracts as well as skin cancers.

In last week’s newsletter, Protect your eyes from UV radiation, we wrote more about this. Read it now in our Newsletter Archive.

Race finishes – close and otherwise

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia), in winning the Vendee Globe by more than five days from Armel Le Cléac´h (Brit Air), who is due to finish today, reminded me of a very different yacht race finish.

In the 1982 Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race, Condor of Bermuda beat Apollo by just seven seconds, to win the battle for line honours. If you’re not familiar with it, the Sydney-Hobart is a 630 nm race.

The Race Directors of the Vendee Globe calculated the total distance this year, using great circle and taking in the marks of the course, as 24,840 nm. But when Desjoyeaux finished he had sailed 28,303 nm at an average speed of 14 knots. The average came down to 12.30 knots when calculated for the Race Directors’ distance.

For Brit Air to have finished as close to Foncia as Apollo did to Condor, the margin would have been only 4.5 to 5.25 minutes. That would have been truly exciting yacht racing!

Canting Keels don’t always cant!

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

One of the many interesting stories to come out of Leg Four of the Volvo Race, Singapore to Qingdao, is that of the decision taken by Bouwe Bekking and the crew aboard Telefonica Blue. They took on the dangers of the Strait of Luzon while the remaining competitors chose to wait for the storm to pass.

The decision was based on Bekking’s observation: “Every time we approached the coast, more breeze came and we could see a complete white wash approaching the top of the Philippines. We made the call to stay out and go for it.”

Bekking also reported: “We sailed most of the time with three reefs and the storm jib. The (canting) keel was locked in the middle and we kept all the sails downstairs, just to make sure we could sail as slowly as possible, but with enough steerage to avoid big waves.”

So, when conditions got really bad, they sailed their high-tech yacht just like a traditional one – fully reefed and with their canting keel locked in the middle.

I wonder if they turned their motor off?

Read more of my views in my article on canting keels.