Our Laser frostbite season has started! We race on Sundays on the Potomac River from November 18 to March 24, and we wrap up our season with the Capital City Regatta on March 30-31. Skippers meeting is at 12PM with the first start at 12:30PM. No races are started after 3:30PM. Come out and join us!
Sunday March 19, 2017. Good weather for the last day of frostbiting. It was sunny but cool with winds in the 10-15 mph range from the northwest. We got in 5 races, all olympic course, and I did well in all but the last one.
My general start tactic on a heavier wind day is what I think of as a drift start. I hang out past the committee boat on the right side of the course. With about 30 second to go I power up and head for somewhere on the line. When a bunch of boats bunch up at the committee boat there is enough wind to get to leeward of them and make it to the line on time. If the boat end folks are early they will head down the line and leave a nice window. This worked well today on most races and I was competitive to the windward mark.
On the course I used my normal heavy wind tactics namely, tight vang, medium outhaul and Cunningham, then lots of hiking. I ease my outhaul 100% at the windward mark to give more power downwind and I ease the vang to about 50%. The eased vang I find (and have heard) helps to bear away. The triangle legs of the olympic were great and I think I reached a plane on most downwind legs. This is super fun and I was able to make up some ground if I caught a puff.
I did have issues keeping my mainsheet running clean. I had a few issues on the course because of this. Twice I had the sheet wrapped around a foot causing me to tack rather than duck a starboard boat. I also had a serious knot at one of the windward roundings that I had to undo before I could bear away. Mainsheet discipline will be something for me to work on for windier days. Still a fun last day, I’m looking forward to Cap City next week!
Sunday turned out to be one of the first actual frostbite days this season. The breeze was predicted to be from the west at 10-16 with a high of 42. It was pretty close to that. The breeze was super shifty and puffy. Rarely do you see it on the river come from every direction. During the races the breeze was mostly swinging between the north and south. Big thanks to race committee for running the races, especially to James Jacob for bringing is own boat down and giving us a mark boat to try and fix the course each race.
The wind prediction the night before called for 0 wind gusting to 1 mph. The morning of this looked to be a very accurate prediction. We talked a bit about should we go out or shouldn’t we, who needs more races to qualify (I do), and other light wind things. We were leaning towards heading home when Will as RC says “we’ll just race in the cove!”
The first race in the cove was a bit more off the docks than in the cover proper but the course was not terrible. I got exactly the start I wanted, at the pin end trying to port tack the fleet. It was 0% successful. Not only did I not beat anyone off the line but everyone passed in front of me without my needing to duck. The once around was a bit slow and very little tacking was required but it worked. I finished like I started but all sailing is fun. Toward the end the wind looked better so we picked up and headed into the river.
In the river the wind was a flunky as you would expect for a light-wind-from-the-west kind of day. I have one rule I follow for light wind starts which is don’t get too far from the line. This worked reasonably well and I managed to stay closer to the front of the fleet. Light wind is not my favorite and I tend not to do so well. I’m attributing getting 3rd place on luck, which I will of course gladly take.
My favorite part about this cold and still day, aside from the racing, was sitting between the races. If you maneuver your boat so you are in the sun you can let the sun heat you up and get much warmer, almost toasty. It was slightly silly and pleasant. Definitely a nice day to be out on the river.
Last Sunday was a replay of the previous weekend. The parking lot banter was that I would just repost previous week’s write-up. Lots o’ sun, shifty winds, blah, blah, blah. Déjà vu all over again. But you couldn’t just sit on deck with an umbrella drink if you wanted to keep the boat moving and stay out of the water. Looking upwind to find the next line of wind and getting to it and/or being ready for it was a big part of the game.
I found myself continuously adjusting the shape and trim of the sail, both up and downwind, primarily using the vang, cunningham and sheet. I find it easier to trim the MK2 main because it simply looks more like a modern cloth sail when trimmed well. Working with the vang and the cunningham to create a nice foil shape was a constant challenge in the 1-15 knot wind we were dealing with Sunday. Downwind I relied on my masthead wind indicator to pick up the 45 degree shifts. Upwind I used the indicator in the lulls and the luff of the sail to adjust to the changing apparent wind.
Since the tide was really low we had to sail to weather with our boards up a few inches. There may have been some downwind capsizes caused by the board grounding and tripping over the centerboard. But at least it’s easy to right a boat that’s capsized in 3 feet of water.
It’s hard to believe that our Capital City regatta is only four weekends away on 3/25-26.
2/19/2017. Last Sunday’s weather was about as good as PRSA frostbiting gets, plenty of sun, warm temperatures and a tricky 02-14 knot breeze that worked its way from the NW to SW and back. We were lucky to have Jim Graham and company on RC keeping things square.
The ebb tide kept most of the fleet below the starting line and this put timing the acceleration and space needed to get rolling at a premium. The wind’s tendency to go a bit left during the start sequence made the pin an interesting location. Adam staked out a good position at the pin in one race and very cleanly port tacked the fleet. You have to love a gambler. On a (very) different start Nabeel, Farley and I decided to raft-up at the pin and then go back around to restart. Not cool.
There was a lot of action at the rounding marks and proper boat handling is important to good roundings. This is something that can be practiced. Little things like looking up course, getting the control lines set, and carving a clean tight line pay big dividends. I need to try this practice thing. Thanks to all for a great day on the river!
Based on last Saturday’s temperature I was not terribly excited about racing on Sunday, but there weather warmed up into the high 40s and it was a pleasant day on the water. Wind seemed to be predominantly coming from the SSW, but shifts were certainly evident. Since the wind was SSW I found that the right side of the course typically had more breeze and you could also play the shifts first. I often find that my best finishes come from sailing my own race (not having my course dictated by surrounding boats and not sailing slower in a pack with less wind).
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.