Thank you to the race committee for setting up courses is these difficult conditions. For the first two races the wind was light to non-existent with a strong down-river current. The first race especially was challenging with the wind becoming too weak to get back up river for the second leg. I got close to the committee boat then pushed back down river by the current. The only wind it seemed came from the jets making north landings on the run way. After twenty minutes of this the wind filled in enough to get around the leeward second mark and finish.
After the first race there was lots of talk of heading back in. I was definitely in favor of heading in but the race committee wisely waited five or so minutes to see what would happen. With some light wind from the south race two started. After a moderately botched the start near the boat end I tacked to port for clear air. I got lucky with a wind shift to make a long starboard tack all the way to the windward mark near the front of the fleet. The wind stayed light but consistent enough to to finish the race without any drifting.
The wind picked up greatly for the third and fourth races and I managed to come in first on the fourth race. That’s my first win in the frostbiting fleet so I was pretty pumped. I really enjoy sailing every Sunday with so many sailors and I especially like the debrief and hangout after racing. Thank you again to everyone who came out this weekend!
Wind: NE @ ~6-10 knots
Weather: Sunny, high 40s/low 50s
Tide: heavy ebb
First of all, I would like to thank race committee for running 5 races in difficult conditions in which to set a course. They set us up farther east than normal (the windward mark was practically arms length from green channel marker on the east side of the river) to be able to get as much room as possible given the NE wind direction. Despite RC’s best efforts to set a square course, the wind did not cooperate and oscillated between the northeast and east, multiple time during each race. It took a three races for me to get used to all of the conditional factors on the course: the heavy ebbing tide, the oscillating wind direction, and the varying strength of the wind.
The Start: I came out pretty aggressive and found myself over early in the first two starts, which favored the boat. The third start favored the pin, which a few of us predicted. But my timing was off and a few boats got up to speed before I did. I won the fourth and almost the fifth starts by being patient, positioned middle-boat, but mostly by focusing on clear air and getting off the line with speed.
Upwind: Ease, hike, trim (that’s the motto, YOLO). My sincerest apologies for that terrible joke. As a smaller guy, at 150 lbs, even at the wind speeds we were seeing, I had to start thinking about “medium air” conditions. Through a couple of the whopping 8-10 kts (maybe exaggerating here) puffs I would ease my mainsail about 0.5-1 foot, hike my ass off to flatten the boat, and then trim the main back in. If the puff seemed to be sustained, I would take the slack out of the outhaul, cunningham, and vang. In some of the puffs, I actually had to depower my sail. In the first two races, I went right initially to get clear air from the fleet who were mostly middle/left (I was behind). I found that this did not work, possibly because of the deep channel and the strong current. In races 3, 4, and 5, I tried to one-tack the port lay line, which worked very well in races 4 and 5, when I reached the windward mark in 1 and 2, respectively, with a healthy lead over the rest of the fleet.
Downwind: Most of the fleet followed the boat in front, which usually led to a line forming, trying to get the starboard/inside track at the leeward mark. In every race there was a pile up at the leeward mark because of the heavy current forcing boats south. I found that even in these conditions with a moderate amount of wind, the straight line/clear air was fastest. In fact, most of the time I aimed north of the mark because of the ebbing current. Not only was I compensating for the current, but staying to the sailor’s right, cleared my air and allowed me to pass a number of boats.
Leeward Rounding: This was an important juncture in the races. As I mentioned above, the current forced pile ups. But it also left opportunities for boats rounding behind other boats to round inside. Normally, the boat in front of you has rights, as long as there was no overlap as you entered the 3 boat length circle. However, with current like we had, most boats were forced past the mark and could not round up to protect against the boat behind them without heading into irons (I fell pray to this in race 5, rounding the final mark in 1st). Two tips here: 1) for boats rounding behind, be patient, slow your boat down, if you see the boat in front of you starting his/her turn close to the mark (tight-then-wide), wait for the transom to swing around and start to round inside of your opponent. With the current, he/she will not be able to protect his water-at-the-mark. 2) for boats rounding in front of other boats, when you enter the 3 boat length circle, call for room at the mark from the boats around you (unless they had inside overlap of course).
With this amount of current it is difficult but execute a wide-then-tight rounding, shutting the door on your opponents behind you, and forcing them to round to leeward and in your dirty air.
Ultimately, this was a technical Sunday of racing because of the flukey wind directions and wind strengths. You had to really pay attention to your sail to ensure the tell-tails were flying and keep your boat flat.
This past Sunday we had really nice weather conditions, warm steady (light) breeze coming from the south and nice crystal clear blue Potomac water with occasional small ice chunks just to remind us that we’re still frostbiting.
Thanks to RC Nick Allen and Cliff Bartlett for getting in a lot of races within the allotted time period. Also, it seemed the shorter course with three laps was popular, as it gave us some exciting mark roundings. Thanks also to Fleet Captain Eric Peterson for helping us to build one of the biggest fleets I have ever seen. 24+ boats on typical day is really impressive.
So again I’d like to make this write up a bit more for the beginner. Nine years ago when I started with Lasers in PRSA frostbite, I was not only last in most races, but also so far behind that I had to remind the RC not to hold up the next race waiting on me. So if you are new to this fleet and a little behind, just hang in there and have fun sailing, and time in the boat will improve your scores.
Here are some basic pointers:
Sail settings: On Sunday I had my vang on about 1/3, cunningham off except maybe upwind, then I had it slightly on. Outhaul was set so the draft of the sail was about 3” from boom. Note, if you seem to be doing well, don’t change your sail settings. If you feel slow, just go ahead and experiment and make changes to your sail settings.
Starts: On Sunday I was coming in on port and looking for holes in the line, and then tacking over to starboard at the last instant. Sometimes this works, sometimes not. It’s a little risky. Again, for beginners, start on a safe starboard tack, and try to get yourself up on the line and get used to being in the first row of boats. So long as you are on starboard tack and heading up if someone to your leeward hails you to come up, there is not much that can go wrong (except that you are over early). This is just something you need to get comfortable with. Good starts will then come in time.
Roll Tacks: I am probably not roll taking correctly, but I do know that when you come out of a roll tack, you should feel the boat sort of accelerate at the end. If you do not, then there is a problem, because that is going to affect your performance very much. Talk to me off line if you have questions. Erich Hesse who used to sail with us, commented once on my tacking and showed me what I was doing wrong, and sometimes being shown one-on-one will really help you. So don’t be afraid to ask someone to look at your tacking and give you their feedback. I am out a lot on Wed nights in the summer and also I’m usually out early before the starts on the frostbite Sundays.
Preparing to round the windward mark: If you can, take a moment to try to ‘clear the sheet’ (as Len taught me), that is get any tangles out of the mainsheet now so that when you go around the windward mark you don’t get stuck untangling your line.
Rounding the windward mark: When you round the windward mark, try not to let your mainsheet out all the way right away. Instead, let it out slowly so that the sail stays powered up as you begin the downwind leg. If you let it out all the way, right away, then you may be losing a little speed as your sail temporarily luffs.
Downwind Leg: When the air is light and steady like it was on Sunday, try to heel your boat to windward a bit and sit forward near the centerboard. As you are heeling the boat to windward, hold on to the top of the centerboard, and use your shoulder muscles to maintain the proper heel angle. This means you will feel your arm and shoulder getting a good workout, because as the boat heels too much or too little, your corrections are going to be made by your arm pulling on the centerboard, and your adjustments are going to be very slight and very smooth. All this will add up to you feeling your arm and shoulder getting a Nautilus style workout like at the gym, even when the air is light. When the air is heavy, you probably won’t be doing this, but rather hanging on for dear life like I do and trying to prevent a death roll.
The wind for our Sunday, January 17 frostbite racing was just enough to overcome the current – which wasn’t running all that much. Frank and Bill ran two WL races and then mercifully released us to walk our boats back to the dock. I was a shame the wind didn’t cooperate since we had 23 boats drifting around.
As with any light air race, having clear air and getting off the line in the first row were critical. Once out on the course it was important to account for the current when determining the laylines. Since the wind zephyrs were coming from assorted directions it was best to stay near the middle of the course. I overcame a significantly poor start in the 1st race just by drifting up the middle.
The rule of thumb I follow is to flatten the sail in very light winds, similar to heavy winds. I had my outhaul on pretty tight, a little vang on, and the boat heeled to leeward to help get some shape in the sail. When going to weather the boom was just outboard of the transom and my body weight forward. Staying very attentive to the sail and adjusting course to meet the zephyrs and apparent wind changes was a full time job.
The inconsistent wind caused the second race to be a reach back and forth. With the current running at right angle to the course you had to decide how much above (up wind, up current) the mark you wanted to sail to get the best VMG and/or not have to tack and sail up current to make it around the mark. It is difficult to decide just how far above the mark to sail in this situation, but recognizing you have a problem is the first step.
A few weeks ago Jacob’s write-up was a sincere note of encouragement to the sailors who are just launching their frostbite programs. I would like to echo his message and thank everyone for contributing to the pleasant atmosphere we enjoy. Our fleet is now as vibrant as it has ever been in the decade I’ve been sailing at PRSA.
Sunday, 1/10/16 was 55 degrees and sunny – an excellent day for racing on (and in) the Potomac. The wind was SSW 15+ knots with gusts in the very high 20s. The tide was ebbing pretty hard most of the day. Adam and Jamie, along with their lovely supervisors, ran four first-rate W2 races for 15 boats.
The random gusts that pumped down the course all day provided much entertainment. It was fun trying to harness them downwind and equally fun watching and participating in the mass capsize events. After one capsize I sat on the hull for a while and delighted in the spectacle of a fleet running downwind in way more wind than it needed. There were a lot of strong wind veins that played downwind – if you looked for and got under them. I found staying on starboard tack downwind and sailing by-the-lee to be the most stable. There were instances when I was fighting the wind with the sheet and the rudder to keep the bow from being blown down wind. In the lulls I worked to the east and tried to ride waves. I had expected decent size waves given the opposing tide and wind but was disappointed. Locking into the cockpit with the legs was beneficial when the breeze was on.
There were relatively few boats OCS given that the current was pushing the boats upwind at the start. I worked hard, with moderate success, to leave enough room for acceleration. On 3 of the starts it was under 5 seconds before I pulled the trigger in order to allow for the breeze and current.
The upwind tactical challenge for me was finding a good port lift to take to the airport side of the course. The wind shifts were short lived and I had trouble getting underneath any lift. My sense was that they were just moving too fast. Occasionally I was able to sail upwind in a vein to avoid the relative lulls. I avoided cleating the mainsheet, playing the well vanged main and working the rudder to keep the boat flat and moving in the unstable wind conditions. James and Eric were very careful to cover their closest competitor to stay in similar wind.
My boat handling killed me all day long. The self-inflicted errors that resulted in 2 capsizes included; not clearing the sheet of tangles before rounding the top mark, and over-tightening the vang before the leeward rounding then sticking the boom in the water. Basic heavy air tacking technique also cost me points. I was struggling to come out of the tacks lower than in moderate breeze and build speed before sheeting the main.
By 3:30 the wind had clocked around to WNW with some nice 35+ gusts, we were glad to be on our asphalt beach; telling lies and watching the airplanes fight the cross winds to get back on the ground.
Our Laser frostbite season has started. We race on Sundays on the Potomac River from November 20 to March 19. And we will wrap up our season with the Capital City Regatta on March 25.
Skippers meeting is at 12PM with the first start at 12:30PM. No racing after 3:30PM.
Come out and join us!
If you grow up sailing on a small creek, as I did, you are no stranger to shifty winds, land bends, dead spots and downdrafts. While the Potomac is a far cry wider and wilder than Beaver Dam Creek in Point Pleasant, N.J., it was no less fickle wind-wise on New Year’s Day for the Potomac River Sailing Association Hangover Regatta, which saw a very tight fleet of 30 boats, scrambling through an oscillating breeze that seemed to switch on and off at will.
All in all, conditions were, in my opinion at least, near ideal for a frostbite regatta (though many including me, were wishing the unseasonably warm weather of the week before had stuck around for a day longer) with a nice 8-knot breeze ushering the fleet out of the marina and past the runway of Reagan International Airport and quickly building into fresher, sustained gusts.
As many of you may know, I usually sail on the Elizabeth River in Norfolk with the Hampton Roads Sailing posse. Four of us, Charlie Brewer, Britt Drake, Grant Simmons and myself schlepped it up I-95 for the regatta and by the time I arrived at 10 a.m. Charlie and Britt had built a nice little firepit with some of the river driftwood down by the boat hoists and were keeping their hands warm by the crackling fire. The out-of-towners drew a bit of amusement, but at least it took the chill off.
And it was brisk: The weather station at Reagan International Airport recorded a mean temperature for the day of 37 degrees with a maximum in the partly sunny afternoon of 47 degrees. Winds were generally SSW at about 8 mph with a maximum recorded wind speed of 21 mph and a few gusts up to 24. (There were a fair number of upturned hulls during the day for those caught out by the blasts. I got caught trying to sail deep by the lee when one of those gusts caught me. My scramble up the deck was too late, but I didn’t get wet, so I am not counting it as an actual capsize even though I brought some souvenir Potomac River bottom mud home on the head of my sail.) Charlie said he got dipped twice, once going upwind when a gust came at him behind the sail. “normally you can just hang on and it will switch back and lift you up,” Charlie said. But not that time, apparently. I spent a lot of time looking ahead (upwind) and behind (downwind) to try to read the gusts from the angles and heal of other boats. It served me pretty well as I was able to prepare for a few major onslaughts of wind before they got to me.
Race Committee Chair Nabeel Alsalam set a perfect windward-leeward course with a leeward gate and a short-leg upwind finish. Races were run twice around the course and, given the conditions, lasted about 30 minutes each. A total of five races were run and the scoring included a throw-out. Starts were run in three minute sequences with a whistle countdown, so if you are like me and sail without a watch, you were not at any significant disadvantage. (We run with three minute starts down in Norfolk, too, and it seems to be a lot better for dinghy racing, even with bigger fleets. How hard is it to choose a spot on the line and set up in a Laser, after all. And less time to get cold. If the line length is about 30 seconds, two minutes is plenty of time to run a check and commit to a strategy, I think.)
Despite the very shifty gusts, the line was very square all day, with a slight committee boat bias. This was balanced out by a slightly favored left side of the course which seemed to pay off with a bit more pressure and for those boats that went deep enough into the corner, a huge lift to the windward mark along the western shore of the river.
And that seemed to be the challenge of the day: how to tap into the shifts and very localized pressure zones. Upwind, the pressure seemed to emerge from the right, but the better lifts seemed to favor the left. A key was not to get caught in the middle too early on the course.
In the first race, both Charlie and I joined the massive fight for a spot near the committee boat and got caught up in the air sponge of sails losing whatever advantage might have been gained by the line bias and losing options to tack out in the throng of boats. After seeing the left-side boats cash in, we both found ourselves switching plans, moving down to the center of the line below the scrum and able to blast out with a clean lane. This seemed to pay off in several races as the lift back to the mark seemed to be greater the deeper out you got.
Regatta winner Charlie Brewer had another idea which twice paid dividends for him (and burned him once, too.) He ducked the entire fleet on one start to go out far to the right to try to get to the pressure lines first. He was out nearly by his lonesome and it wasn’t looking good for awhile, until he came zooming into the top mark clear ahead of the fleet with only (I believe) Eric Peterson nearby. I have seen Charlie do this before in Norfolk and his thinking is, (correct me if I am wrong, Charlie) if you are in clear air and sailing fast rather than mixing it up in the crowd you are likely to do well. The shifty conditions certainly helped that strategy. If you were attentive to the breeze you could climb the ladder pretty fast. If not, there were a lot of snakes around.
Toward the end of the day, the river current began to sweep out along the eastern shore and played an interesting role at the bottom mark. Logic seemed to dictate that if you sailed to the left (going downwind) the outgoing tide would sweep you into the gates. But that led to a more direct downwind angle which actually turned out to be slower. (In my experience on the course) Those sailing deeper to the right, sailed hotter angles at the bottom and often got a little lift of speed near the gates that squirted them forward. It worked for me, anyway, once I cottoned on. The big key downwind, I found, was just to look aft for the pressure lines on the water and try to position in front of them well ahead of their arrival. Then, work the waves and gusts building speed ahead of the waves and soaking down once the pressure is full on.
Thanks again to Potomac River Sailing Association for hosting this event and inviting your friends from the south up to take part. It was a great time and the after-race brew and chew was a lot of fun. Hope to see you next year.
Regatta Photos (courtesy of Jim Lane)
It was a great Sunday with very pleasant weather; mid-forties, sunny and a light breeze. Ideal for the lighter weights among us. The turnout (24) was excellent, especially considering that, only two days ago, we had the Hangover Regatta with thirty boats on the water. And it was great to see some ‘old’ warriors on the water once again (Chris, Nabeel).
This write-up isn’t really about wind shifts, favored ends, technique, and all that. Rather, I would like to give some encouragement to the many newbies in our fleet. Hurrah for them! Perhaps your finishes are a bit disappointing to you right now, but just wait. As an example, I joined the Frostbiters ten years ago. I had sailed and raced a bit in a Sunfish. But I was not a natural and had no college sailing experience, having started sailing in my late twenties. Once I joined the PRSA Laser fleet, my main goal was not to finish last, survive my dunkings in the dirty water, and not hit other boats. Even with those modest goals, I wasn’t very successful with many bottom-of-the-fleet finishes over the years. I made notes of my mistakes (many), hoping to improve. It took a long time, but this past Sunday I was lucky; got good starts in races 2 and 4 and held on to get decent finishes. And I didn’t foul or hit anybody! So, my advice to the fleet newbies is to hang in there and practice as much as possible. Don’t forget the spring and fall seasons and even in the summer you may have a good outing or two. You will get to the top of the fleet sooner than you think!
With respect to the actual racing, Todd Blekicki and Lindsey Bach (thanks for great committee work) set a longer than usual windward/leeward course. With the wind from the South, we went a long way towards the I-495 bridge and then downwind towards the airport. Finally a short upwind leg with a finish on the other side of the RC boat (classy!). ‘Once around’ took about 25 min for the first three races. The fourth race was trying because the wind had dropped to almost nothing; the magnetic tape on my (home-made) wind vane barely moved. But once we finally got close to the leeward mark, the wind changed to NW and my tape showed some action again. I rounded the mark, but was told that I had finished; surprise! Good decision though, because it was almost 3 PM and the course would have to be reset for a fifth race.
PS: Congratulations to Jamie Moran for winning the day.
Today turned out to be a nice day. Temperatures were close to 70 and the wind was 10 to 20 our of the south. We had 9 boats make it out to the course and we ran 6 races all olympic courses that were running about 15 minutes each.
I think that there were a couple of important things sailing today with the top one being don’t capsize (though I think everyone did this at least once). With the wind, the best way to sail fast was keeping the boat flat. For the last 2 races, the wind built and the wind clocked left slightly. When the wind shifted, the second leg of the triangle was definitely faster to sail by the lee. You could tell this by watching Eric’s speed. I chose not to do this however because of the shiftiness of the gusts and heaviness of the wind. My opinion is that it was safer to not sail by the lee today on that leg. Eric had one chicken gybe at the mark after doing this because of the puff that he was currently in. The other important thing today was checking for stuff on your blades. With all the rain there were a ton of leaves in the river and the blades were constantly building up.
Look forward to seeing everyone out next weekend or on the 1st.