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Lessons Learned

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Lessons Learned

A great Viper report from the informative, sportboat-centric Richmond Yacht Club Sarcoma CupThread.

Ok, I screwed up. Tried to keep the rig too powered for what became a powered up day, but I digress. First a shameless plug; The Sarcoma Cup is rapidly becoming a great event. This is the second year and they pulled out all the stops. Great food, great volunteers, awesome entertainment, raffles, prizes…you name it. All top notch. We’ll be back next year!

We went into this regatta knowing we were going to have to sail very hard to live up to the imposed 96 PHRF rating bestowed upon us last winter by the NorCal PHRF committee.  The drive across the Bay Bridge Saturday gave us a chance to view the racecourse from on high…by 6 am it was blowing 25+ at Blunt point, the South Eastern tip of Angel Island and a notoriously windy place on planet Earth.

We set the rig very firm, but minimal blocking to allow the jib some form. This helps us punch through the big chop, keeping the boat on her feet, at least in winds under 25, which is what we tuned for.

It seems like I keep ending up with 90-something phrf ratings on the sportboats I generally sail and that always puts you squarely in with the Olson 30’s. For those who are unfamiliar with the Bay Area Olson fleet, it’s well sailed, well equipped and filled with good peeps. They sail solidly to their 99 rating. Race one found us first to cross the finish line but we lost on time to one Olson on that darn 3 seconds per mile that we owe a 30 foot boat. Race two, we finished 3rd and kept third. After race two the breeze had built considerably, puffs into the 30’s. My crew’s old back injury was reminding us that the bars were open and we wanted to save something for the pursuit race on Sunday. So using the justification that we weren’t tuned for 30 something sailing we decided to head back to the barn. A screaming, fire hose reach back to Richmond….margaritas and massages….sweet.

Sunday morning the wind had abated some, only blowing 21 at Blunt by 6 am. Still high by the averages. I setup the rig for a powered up headstay knowing that we had a long slog to Alcatraz. This was a reverse pursuit and at 96, we started damn near the back of the fleet. Only thing behind us was a couple of Melges 24’s and Beneteau 36.7’s and of course Peter Stoneberg’s Formula 40, “Shadow.”

We had a good beat, working up the cone into tighter and tighter tacks until we played the final edge of the cone along the South side of the ferry dock with 4 short tacks along a 2+ knot eddy, dodging the 3.3 knot flood 50 feet to our left. It got pretty busy along the face with all the big boats pointing low and going slow. We were persistently dodging a 40 foot Beneteau. We hiked the boat hard and were easily making Little Alcatraz One thing the Viper will do if you sail it flat…it’ll point like an Etchells. Well, the other boats weren’t making it. It was breezy, choppy, a couple of good ferry wakes thrown in for good merit. 4 boats crash tacked realizing they were just scraping by at Little Alcatraz. We flopped over to avoid the crash tacking boats, simultaneously got hit by a puff, a particularly large ferry wake and the devil himself….and it was a knockdown.

We immediately eased the sails and any other time our trusted snake springs back to her feet without any help from the crew. I hadn’t allowed for the combination of a raging flood tide pushing one way and a brutal breeze pushing the other way. The boat was pivoting on the tide and the wind was blowing that big butt over. Too little, too late . G was on the keel but we were over. We all three jumped on top, pulled on the keel and she started to easily roll to the correct attitude. We could still get back in this race. But then we heard that dreaded sound…snap.

The mast tip had caught on a rock and broken off. She flipped up easily by then, released from her underwater captor. Once free of the rock, she came upright like a coiled spring, so quickly that G and M could not grab the gunwale crew safety lines. I managed to grab the rear foot strap bungee but the boat was in perfect trim and off she went sailing with a ghost skipper…probably 8-10 knot speed reach. I held on for maybe 30 seconds but got dragged under water and let go preferring air.

Damn I wish I could trim the Viper as well as the hidden gerbils on that boat were trimming it. The boat took off like a bat outta hell headed straight across the slot towards Pier 39. I later realized that I had tied a stop knot in the mainsheet so that I wouldn’t be tempted to over ease during gybes and dowses. More about that in the post mortem.

Peter Lyons (our hero) came up to us and I screamed, ‘go get the boat’ knowing full well that the tide and wind were sweeping us towards Alcatraz. More on this bad decision in the post mortem.

M, G and I swam to the Island…no easy task as the water was pretty chilly and we were disoriented. We managed to hit the rocks on the face and G pulled his normal spiderman imitation scaling straight up a 6 foot wall with only a couple of finger holds and a strong determination to get out of the water.. I looked at that, said no way and swam for the rock ledge that leads you out and up. In the meantime a good soul came up to the island on his protector, plucked G off the rock, and they swung down to pickup M and I. All aboard we dashed across the bay to catch up with the boat that was being wrangled, single handedly by Peter. G jumped aboard, then I. M transferred off to the SFPD police boat (Thanks John) and we worked at getting the sails down. The rig damage was done with the tip being broken at the headstay toggle…a big ferry wake went under us an the rig came down in a flop, the headstay jumping out of the half kept toggle. Coast Guard, Marin Sheriff and SFPD boats along side, we towed to Pier 45 and figured out how to get back to Richmond, no cash, keys or clothes…funny in a weird way.

Lessons learned – The Post Mortem

1. Had we flipped the boat at Harding Rock versus Little Alcatraz and I wouldn’t be writing this. We’d have more time to flip her upright, into the wind without panicking about that damn Island…hindsight being 20/20. The boat popped right up, but we just didn’t get her swung bow to the wind, like you should.

2. I screwed up the rig set. I try to keep the headstay pretty full plus minimal chocking so the boat has enough horsepower on the bow to power through the steep chop. A great idea at 18-22, not so great at 25+, too much headstay sag, too much power and too little control. Next time I sail in 25+ I’m blocking and locking the rig. G and I are working at a high-wind tuning guide for the Viper and while he is fast on the uptake…I’m pretty slow. We’re carrying more rake and we’re all the way aft on the mast base. We will work at documenting the high wind stuff with the other big breeze Viperers. They know who they are. Everyone will be ready for the NAs in Biscayne Bay this winter.

3. Next time a boat comes along side, I’m jumping aboard. I shouldn’t have sent Peter off for the Viper. We could have gotten aboard and then caught up to the boat. I just freaked when it scooted off on a plane, heading for god-knows-where.

4. No more waist belt life jacket for Bay races. Both G and I wear them and they are a COMPLETE pain in the ass to put on when you land in the water. You have to pull the thing over your head, a contortion not easily done in the water and it takes away from managing more important issues at hand. Fine for buoy racing on big boats, not so good on high performance sportboats.

5. I’m going to take a hard look at how the crew safety lines are rigged and try to envision a way to utilize them as Hawaiian righting lines, ala catamaran sailing.

6. The continuous jib sheets need to be super long so that uncleated jib sheets cannot sail the boat . The mainsheet had a stop knot to prevent the main being eased beyond the 45 degree angle. The combination of perfect main trim and jib sheets short enough to keeping the bow from rounding up was an ugly combination. This “Oh Darn it” situation only became a dangerous situation because we became separated from out boat. The Viper is easy to right. The safety lines and the open transom make it easy to get back on board. We could have been sailing again . But a boat planing away from you at 10 knots, leaving one swimming off a lee shore in a strong tide and 25 knots of wind is NG.

I’m super stoked to get a new rig and get back to it. I’ve learned a ton from this experience and I’m having a ball sailing this boat in the Bay. Fast IS fun. I’m committed to living up to the 96. I looking forward to the day when we’re defending our handicap at some PHRF rating hearing. Woohoo. !!

-Schoonerman