Sunday, October 28, 2007

Crew Development night for Folkboats

It's hard to imagine having trouble finding crew for a Wednesday evening race, but it's becoming a problem. With the increase in the number of boats participating, the crew talent pool has dwindled and often people are picking up randoms on the dock just to make the start. That's all well and good if you like risking your life and large financial assets on the talents of strangers. I for one would rather golf (and I hate golf) than try to race with someone who doesn't know the routines of racing a boat... with the intention of winning.
So, with the help of the San Francisco Bay Folkboat Association officers and those boat owners who are experienced, but need crew, we are in the process of developing what we call crew night. It is a chance for those who want to learn how to race folkboats to get out and learn the routines.
To give those people interested in trying this out, I will break down the Wednesday Evening race routine.

Get off work early... sounds good already, huh? Meet at the dock around 5 pm and help get the sails ready, have a beer. Read the tide book, study the wind strength and talk about possible strategies based on discovered conditions. Talk about the jib lead position and make sure you know your position... you won't be skipper, so you will either be trimming the main sail or the jib. We have affectionately named the latter the "Jibsman", but really what that means is jib trimmer and foredeck. Make sure the whisker pole is out and on the deck and on the side you will need it for the first anticipated windward rounding and finish your beer. After you cast off, coil and stow the halyards in the place the skipper wants them. Every skipper is slightly different, but when you want the sails down in a hurry, no one should ever be at a loss as to where the halyards are and damn it, they should never get tangled. Know where the anchor is and be ready at a moments notice to get it... we don't have engines and a complete stop is better than going up on the rocks or getting sucked under a pier. As you exit the harbor keep your head in the game and focus on the task of always making the boat go as fast as possible... it's an attention to detail that wins races. Assess the shape of the sail and make adjustments as needed. Make sure the VHF is on and on the right channel and monitor it for information from the race committee. Practice tacking and make sure you know how to make 2 quick tacks in case things get tight on the race course. Wave to your new friends on the other boats and look for the course flag. Identify what number it is and read the course off to the skipper all the while watch the wind for gust patterns and also where the current is going. Listen for the warning guns and get your backward counting stop watch that has a recurring 5 minute countdown ready. This will not be supplied to you, so invest. Also make sure you have your own comfortable foul weather gear, gloves and PFD (Personal Floatation Device). I always have 4 on board in case someone forgets, but if you are an adult, you should act like one and get your own gear. Watch the two fleets ahead of your start to see how their fleet's top performers do. When our start gets down into the starting sequence, call out every 15 seconds how much time until the start all the while trimming the sails and monitoring the wind, current and possible collision courses with other boats... complicated, huh? Make a final assessment of the race course flag and when their is 1 minute to go, call out the time remaining until the start every 10 seconds and every second with 10 seconds to go. Bang! Listen to see if your boat was over the start line early and report to the skipper ASAP if you are clear or need to go back and re-start. The first 5 minutes of the race are critical that the sails are properly trimmed and your crew weight is in it's properly balanced place to stabilize the boat. Assess your boat's speed and point relative to the others in the fleet and make short comments to the skipper if your boat is going faster than others or pointing higher on the wind. Have the jib sheet wrapped and ready for a tack and stay out of the line of sight of the skipper who needs to see the sails and the water to drive properly. Check over your shoulder to see if their is room to tack and warn the skipper of a potential problem if you were to immediately tack. This next moment on the race course is my number 1 nightmare if done incorrectly... Ducking or taking the stern of a starboard tack boat. The jib needs to stay in to drive the bow down, but the main sail needs to be let out so the boat can turn. If it isn't done correctly, the insurance companies take over and the premiums go up. Make sure you know how to do this maneuver, it is too hard for one person to do it by themselves in 30 knots of breeze. After the initial drama of the start things start to settle and the boats spread out. When you approach the windward rounding, hopefully you will have already learned how to set the pole or support the guy on the foredeck setting the pole. There is a certain routine to the upwind mode vs. the downwind mode, but everything depends on wind strength and current. But usually, ease the jib halyard tension and outhaul tension, release the cunningham and make sure the vang is in the proper position. If you are in an old wooden boat, pump the bilge. If you are in a GRP (fiberglass) boat, check the bilge... maybe. Depending on your position and competative nature, get a beer for everyone. Gybing is fun... and can be real exciting when you combine the wake from a ferry boat... sometimes the bow goes completely under water like a submarine... hang on, because if you go overboard you'll be cold and wet and it will usually ruin your chances of winning the race. Leeward or downwind roundings are fun, but there are all these rules to deal with and understand. These are all for future discussion at the bar later. For now, just do what you are told and do it quickly... without breaking anything. After taking the pole down and going around the mark, don't stick your foot out and tap the mark like this rookie did one time on my boat. As fun as it is to do this, it is a penalty for hitting the mark. If this happens your boat has to make a 360 degree turn as soon as conditions permit and definitely before finishing. After one or two laps around the course, it's time to return to the harbor. Get the halyards ready and give everyone a beer. Some skippers believe their are actually 3 races on any give race day; the race to the race course, the actually race and the race to the bar. If you get to the dock and have most everything ready to go before you get there, you can usually make it to the bar first and get another beer before the crowds and long waits develop. So, on my boat we take down the jib, roll and stow it before we enter the harbor. All that's left is the main and the crew's gear... some put a cover on their boats, but that takes too much time and plus, the boat needs to dry out first. When the main comes down just before landing at the dock, catch the boat on the dock and secure the dock lines. Properly stow the jib halyard the way the skipper likes it and start rolling the main. The skipper is taking care of the main sheet, tiller and finishing his beer. After the main is rolled, take it all the way off the boom and tie it with two sail ties. carry it down below and bring out the boom crutch, crew gear and anything else that isn't going to live on the boat. Have another beer while you hose off all the salt water while the other crew pumps out any water that may be remaining. The skipper will be checking your work and correcting any mistakes you've made and of course being tremendously critical at the same time... it is a precision sport you know. Ride 'em hard, put 'em away wet. Grab your stuff and make your way over to the club for drinks, dinner and awards ceremony. Watch the sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge, talk about the race at the bar& dinner and forget all about your work week stress... only 2 days to go til the weekend and this little wet bounce around the bay was a perfect way to break up the week. Yeah, it's a little routine we've been doing for 50 years as a fleet and with any luck another 50 more. Sound like fun? Then sign up through the web site and come out on a Tuesday evening to learn the routines. If people want to go out, we'll get some guys with boats and get you out so you can learn not under race conditions... trust me, that's no fun for anyone on the boat. But on a Tuesday, there's more time to get things straight, practice maneuvers and talk without the stress of racing. What do you think? All this starts in March. If you can't wait until then we have a Mid-Winter series that is just starting and way more low-key than a Wednesday or weekend summer season race. Write back if you are interested.


Anonymous Scott said...

I wish I lived in San Francisco... First day sailing the newly outfitted TRIO... Saturday. Rig is ready, boom is being painted. Sails are being picked up on Friday. Probability of it blowing 20 to 25... 1 in 4. Couldn't sleep last night, went to the boat at 5 am and fell asleep in my sleeping bag... Why do they call it Lapstrake? the lap of the water against the hull? or is it that you feel like you are curled up in some beatiful things lap? is it how the planks overlap? is it because sometimes you spill beer in your lap? is it because you are proud that you are not sailing with people who have small annoing dogs in their lap? is it the fact that most things in the cabin are done in on and around your lap? I think it's all of the above.

8:02 PM  

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