Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Troll's Older Brother

We have a large highway bridge at the north end of our sailing area and a troll lives under it.  I know this because at times when you sail near it, especially with an incoming tide, there are various wind shadows, eddies and general mischief that cause one to become completely disoriented, becalmed and befuddled.

I now know where the troll's big brother lives.

Yesterday, we had a longer race with a straight run south, west into a little channel and then under a little bridge, around a buoy and back home. That was the plan.  But there was also a quite strong incoming tide and the troll's big brother was lurking under that bridge.

We had a great run, cruising down the channel with the tide, turning into the channel, still with the tide and rushing under the bridge with the tide.  As we ran under the bridge, we noticed that the first 2 boats had already rounded the mark and were struggling - really struggling - back towards the bridge against the tide.

The water under the little bridge is only 90 meters across, with two sets of supports, dividing the water into 3 parts, with the middle portion slightly larger than the 2 end portions. The tide was really pouring through the funnel created by the bridge, with the wind directly in line with it. So, the all 10 boats started beating up the narrow channel (with lots of "Starboard !" and other hails) against the tide, making slow progress until arriving at the narrowest point just under the bridge where progress became virtually impossible.  Finally, our Kiwi sailor made it under by going to the far right, tacking constantly and squeaked through.  He was followed by another Laser and a double hander a few minutes later who made it through the middle.  And that was it.  The troll let them through for some reason and then he closed the gate.  The tide was getting stronger.

The rest of us spent what seemed like hours trying every way possible to get under.  Not only was the tide too strong, but if we went too far left,  there was a monster wind shift caused by the bridge and everyone capsized at least once.  Most of once capsized several times.  One of the Kestrels bent its mast during a capsize in shallow water.

Eventually, one by one, we all surrended to the troll and accepted a tow by our safety boat under the bridge to an area we could navigate.  I kept trying until the very last, hoping I could make it, but eventually admitted I was not going to make it and was becoming seriously tired from the trying.  So, I took the last tow and eventually arrived home, just before dark.

In the bar afterward, we had quite a discussion.  The PRO noted that the Kiwi who made it through first succeeded due to his very quick, precise tacks.  He lost very little on each tack, whereas the rest of us would tack and, during the tack, be swept back more than we had gained to the point of tacking.  The PRO was aware of the potential problem since he had kayaked under the bridge during a strong tide and knew how vicious it could be.  He thought if the wind was too light he would not have us go under the bridge.   But we all figured that with a wind of 14 or so knots it should be doable.  Wrong.

Friday, August 7, 2015


I sailed a catamaran (a Hobie 16) yesterday.  It was the first time I have sailed a catamaran (Photo from Internet - not here).

My friend, Mark, who owns a beach sailing club here, invited me to give it a try, assuring me they are lots of fun.  And we picked a good day, with the wind gusting above 15 knots.  The sailing area is relatively sheltered with islands so the waves were not big, but they were still a factor in tacking.

One of his employees, Keith, took me out to show me the ropes and explain how tacking, especially in the wind and waves we had, is potentially tricky.  So, off we went.  It is true, that the cats accelerate quickly - but, to be honest, a screaming reach on a Laser is just as exhilirating since you are even closer to the water.  We tacked a few times, only having to do the backward turn once.  Then we gybed once and it was my turn.

A few clear mistakes - inspired by thinking I was in a Laser.  First, I kept trying to bring the tiller extension around in front of me, instead of leaving it behind.  Not a good idea.  Second, I kept wanting to cross over too early in the tack - Keith told me not to cross over until it was clear we were going to make the tack (with the jib backed).  And when I did cross over, the trampoline felt clumsy (OK, I was clumsy) and it took me a while to get settled, with my feet under the toe straps.  But I did a few tacks and they worked - meaning at least we didn't stall out.  I am not saying they were elegant.

I was starting to feel tired - not being used to the boat I was not comfortable in maneuvers and that took a lot of energy.  So, since Mark was out practicing in a Topaz (he is going to the first Topaz UK nationals in the UK next week), I ended up going back to the beach (beaching a cat is a neat way to get ashore - no trolley, no centerboard, no hassle - just head to the beach and slow down a bit and there you are).  I rigged up a Topaz and went out for a spin with Mark.  Ours were rigged only with a mainsail, but they can also have a jib and even an asymmetrical spinnaker.  They are robust little plastic boats - good for beach club rentals, but not racing machines.  We enjoyed the sail and came back for a welcome beverage.

As for future cat sailing - I would like to try more and get to where I am a bit more comfortable.  But, I don't rank that as a top priority for now.
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