Today was a really nice day to be out sailing. Temps were in the upper 30s and lower 40s, sunny, with winds in the 8-12 range getting lighter in the afternoon. You will note I checked the weather and alerts before heading to the marina. This is a critical safety step that cannot be skipped.
In the first race I was slightly late to the line and I got a B+ start with clear air but not at the line on time. The wind was patchy so I kept an eye on where the next wind gust was in the river. I rounded the last leeward mark in about 5th but got lucky with a sustained puff on the right side of the course letting me pass a few boats.
I screwed up the start in the second race and was behind both the first and second row of boats. I worked to get clear air on the right which helped for a time but I had to eat a header that kept me behind the main fleet. I tacked on what I thought was the lay line, forgetting about the current which pushed be below the mark. I lost a few more boats when I added more tacks to get around. Ideally I would stay mid-course to work shifts. Also it’s good to avoid getting to the lay line when in the middle or back of the fleet. Boats in front of you will also tack on the lay line blocking your wind. To avoid this I should have tacked inside the lay line, but I often forget this lesson.
In the third race I got a good start and had clear air near the front of the fleet. The wind was light and patchy so this race was mostly aim for wind and keep momentum. I did okay on this race but I messed up the final leeward rounding. Farley and Michael tacked immediately after the mark where as I held on to port tack for 4-5 boat lengths. The wind had clocked far enough right that no tacking was needed to get to the finish line. Holding on to port cost me exactly 4-5 boat lengths that I wasn’t able to make up.
For the fourth race the wind was mostly gone so the RC (wisely) switched to a once around course. I somehow got an A+ start, which was critical. The light wind clocked to almost west 15 seconds after the start and the race was a parade. I managed to hold my position and finished well. The weather was beautiful and thanks to the RC for running 4 very good races.
We had 3 races in light to medium wind that went normally. There were 8 lasers racing and 2 people on the 16 foot skiff. During the fourth race we had dying and shifting wind. The wind had been steady from the south but as the wind lightened it started clocking west. The wind then picked up to 15 mph for about 60 seconds then the main blast of the storm came through. I was on a reach at the time and immediately capsized. I was able to do a dry capsize and stand on top of my boat, out of the water. I was 3-5 boat lengths from Farley who advised not to right my boat to try and keep sailing. Looking around I could see the wind and waves were way too strong to sail so I stayed capsized and balanced on the hull. I could see Jolie capsized and in the water about 10 to 15 boat lengths to my west and Claus a little further to my south west. James Jacob was back up (or didn’t capsize) and was survival sailing. Other lasers were further south and but I couldn’t say clearly who was where.
At this point my plan was to say out of the water and on my boat until the wind died down. Farley and I were drifting rapidly and the drifting wrapped Farley’s sail in front of the mast (past 90 degrees) putting him in a more awkward position. I pulled in my main sheet some to keep this from happening to myself. I also adjusted my sailing controls to better suit the heavy wind. Max outhaul, max Cunningham, medium to loose vang. In my understanding the loose vang helps to bear away rapidly. At some point I let the mast get too high out of the water and the wind lifted it and capsized the boat on its other side. I wasn’t fast enough with my transition and went in the water. I had a dry suit and life jacket per normal so I wasn’t wet but being in the water was cold. I moved from the cockpit side of the capsized boat to the underside and climbed the dagger board to again be back on top of the capsized boat. Taking more care to keep the mast wet and the boat from flipping again I spend another 2-5 minutes standing on the boat. I had mentally started a clock that there are people who’ve been in the water the whole time and need to get out. Farley was still on top of his boat, good. Keith was upright and moving, good. Others were still in the water and I at some point in the high wind I saw the yellow laser do a cartwheel.
Another gust lifted the mast and sail out of the water however this time I managed to keep the boat upright and sail. The wind was now in the 25 mph range where I can survival sail but not very effectively. I happened to be facing toward the committee boat so I sailed closer. The boat was upright and Len indicated the motor wasn’t working and they had no power. I later found out they had both swamped and capsized during the storm. I’m fairly confident that I met them post capsize but I’m not sure. Now my plan was to get to shore, get the 19’ skiff and come back out to aid the other boaters. I headed for shore and my path brought me near Claus who was in the water with his laser. He was ready to go to shore so after some maneuvering I was close enough for him to grab on and tow him back to shore. It was slow going but we got near the shore and he let go; I assume walked the rest of the way. I made a few tacks in the channel and I was again relatively close to Farley who was also sailing in to the dock. The wind had at this point dropped to 20 mph where I can begin to sail more effectively. I could see Jolie still in the water and given I was not too tired I decided I could pick her up as well. A short sail over and more maneuvering and she was in my boat and we were now heading in. We sailed to the dock with the escort of a police boat.
Once ashore I pulled my boat out of the water and got more information from the people on shore. All 8 sailors were back at WSM and 2 people on the committee boat had been towed by the coast guard to another boat ramp somewhere on the other side of the river. We talked with the police and paramedics answering their questions and assuring we had the correct head count. Amongst the remaining laser sailors we formed a new plan. We would pack our boats while the officials wrapped up what they needed to do. Keith would take Len’s truck and the 16’s trailer to go get Len and his wife from where they had been towed ashore. Some sailors would take the 19 to get the 4 boats that had been left in the river. It ended up being Farley, Claus, and myself that went back out though we had more volunteers. Other PRSA members had begun arriving and recall Melissa had brought glorious hot cocoa.
We could see 2 of the lasers from the dock and they were not moving so we decided to search for the 2 unseen lasers first. Heading down river we found the first 2 most of the way to the 495 bridge. The first was in the shallows south of Marbury Point and the second was tied to a pier in old town. With the 2 “lost” boats found and recovered we came back to retrieved the final 2. We got to the yellow boat which was in waist deep water. The fourth boat was in neck deep water and we were unable to recover it on the first attempt given the 3 boats in tow limited maneuverability. Bringing the 3 boats back to the dock where we’re greeted by a number of PRSA members who unloaded the 19 of the lasers in record time. With the light dying we headed out for the last laser. With the new maneuverability of the 19 we recovered the last laser and brought it ashore. To recover some the boats I had cut some control lines to get them apart, for which I am sorry. I tried to cut near the end of the lines but I not sure I did this very well.
No one was hurt and property damage was minimal which is good but the day was a closer call than we need. Some of the factors working for us were deliberate like 100% dry suits and life jackets on the sailors. Some factors working for us were lucky, like the bystanders on shore calling for help and a quick response from multiple rescue agencies. Some factors were unlucky like the powerboat swamping and capsizing. How Len managed to get it upright and floating again while preserving his cell phone to call for help is beyond me. Some weather stations had predicted severe wind but I had not checked the weather this day. Going forward I plan to check for these alerts and take them seriously. I’m happy with my gear and how it performed, though I do need a safety whistle on my winter life jacket. I was blown away by the response from PRSA members and the response from the police, coast guard, and fire department.
Welcome back, one and all, to another season of frostbiting on the Potomac! Congrats to Len for winning the day with another consistent performance today. As has become our custom, the third place finisher writes up a summary of the day’s racing. Here goes:
Winds and Course: The winds today were tricky, coming out of the northwest-ish forecast at about 10 kts, with gusts expected in the high teens. We were racing out in the river, just north of the power plant and starting off to the east side. We ran a total of six Windward / Leewards, two laps a piece, starting and finishing in the middle. In total, we had 18 racers out there today—great start of the season. The breeze was moving around quite a bit as we got closer and closer to the windward mark, which made things interesting throughout the day.
Boat Setup: Nothing special to speak of today regarding how I set up the boat. I didn’t use much vang at all, and for the most part my downhaul was either on too much or too little given the up-and-down velocity.
Starts: The pin was heavily favored all day, and getting off the line in clear air was essential to a good performance. I was surprised at how little congestion there was at the pin-end for most of the starts—often times, the breeze would lighten up and people would only get about half-way to two thirds of the way down the line by the time the gun went off. I focused on staying outside the pin until about 45 seconds, and setting up in the last 25% of the line to get a clean, favorable start. This worked most of the time, aside from one race where my tiller wrapped itself in my mainsheet, and the last race when I was about two seconds early and had to go back.
Upwind: The beats were pretty challenging today, given the often-changing velocity and direction, as well as the low-flying aircraft overhead. I found that for the first four or five races, it paid off to stay a little left of center, and ride the port tack lift up most of the way. Once I was 2/3 s of the way to the mark and things started getting shifty, I found that tacking on pretty much every shift was the way to go. Occasionally, I stayed on the port-tack lift a little longer, and that ended up resulting in losses rather than gains. On the rare occasion that I went out way to the left, I lost velocity to the point that it cost places; also, when I had to go back to re-start in the last race, I ended up really struggling on both beats since I had to navigate dirty air and other boats throughout.
Downwind: Can’t offer much here, as my downwind performance has really fallen off lately. A couple of tips: make sure you keep up your speed coming around that windward mark, rather than worrying too much about having the perfect course straight away (that one was from Len); another lesson learned occurred when messing with Farley coming into the leeward mark in race 2, and I neglected to look over my transom to check the puffs coming, resulting in a brief swim. I’m apparently a slow learner, as it happened to me twice today, both times in the same spot.
Bonus tip: when getting dressed to head out, I noticed both Len and Kevin had on wetsuit hiking pants. Given the water temp was sub-50, I thought to myself “these guys are INSANE; I’m definitely going ‘dry suit’ today”. Only a few minutes later did I notice they had put dry suits on over the hiking pants. Given the way I feel below the waist right now, their approach makes a lot more sense.
Big thanks to Keith and his wife for getting six races off today under challenging conditions. It was great being out on the water again; I look forward to seeing many of you again next time I make it out.
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.