Junior sailing and “Big Boats”

High school sailors put to sea aboard Selkie during the 2011 Jr. Safety at Sea seminar

The McCurdy & Rhodes 38' Selkie gives some local RI high school sailors their first exposure to sailing on a Big Boat.

For the casual observer watching a yacht race is not a particularly exciting pastime. Typically there are several boats with pretty colored sails moving slowly across, hopefully, sparkling blue seas water with a scenic backdrop in the background, at least around Narragansett Bay.

Zoom in to the activities on the boat though and one will discover a steady buzz of activity both intellectual and physical that rivals the teamwork, planning, skills co-ordination and knowledge base of any team sport or activity. Sailing generally, and successful sail boat racing in a yacht, as distinct from a dinghy requires particularly a pretty good working knowledge of about a dozen disciplines. The best teams and individuals on a successful program have skills in several sciences including weather, oceanography, mathematics, aero-dynamics, and hydrodynamics, mechanical engineering-Further there are skills in project management, leadership, instruction, human relations and safety procedures as well as knowing “how to sail”. What has typically been missing from most “big boat” racing programs for the past 30 years or so are junior sailors, I.E. young sailors of high school age.

RI salors at the Newport Junior Safety at sea seminar August 2011

A crew of Junior sailors sailing the J 111 Fleetwing

Next time you watch a sail boat race or are out sailing in your weekend yacht club race or Wednesday night beer can race, try this exercise. Do a head count of how many young sailors (read High school) you see, on your boat and on the competition. Chances are it might look like this: a couple of youngsters sitting in the back more or less watching with perhaps the owner’s son on the bow….Who is doing the mast, sewer, trimming, mainsheet, navigating? Steering even…..Probably not a 15 year old. For those of us who pay attention to these things there is a dearth of young sailors present on yachts.  Nick Hayes’ book and the stories he tells in it not withstanding this situation is common across the country. It is undergoing a widespread and increasingly rapid change though.

From my perch in Newport R, I have been involved with no less than 5 activities of greater or lesser formality that focus on introducing high school sailors to the art, science, adventure, seamanship and related skills necessary to be competent around a big boat.

The baseline assumption is that the guys of my age, late 50’s that grew up hanging around big boats and sailing on same with their dads and so absorbed “Seamanship” at an early age, are a declining cohort of sailors. This condition: A family activity with learning by osmosis– exists for far fewer kids these days. In my own case I had several mentors in my youth and by age 18 I appeared sufficiently competent to the skipper of a Half Tonner ( a now obsolete rating rule class, about 30 feet LOA) to be invited to sail with him in the infamous Sydney to Hobart race. An adventure I can still recall with great memories including being scared to death for about 20 minutes the first time I saw 60 knots of wind and 25 foot cresting seas in Bass Straight.

Jr. SAS participants aboard the J 40 Nepenthe

Jr SAS participants receiving instruction aboard the J-40 Nepenthe

I took on the role of High School Sailing Coach when our son entered High School in 2010. One thing that puzzled me is that, in the North East at any rate, High School sailing lasts about 10 weeks from Mid march to Memorial Day, and then stops. This struck me as a supreme misuse of resources and energy. In the summer following my first year I made it a point to keep in touch with my team members and their parents, sending emails to them regarding appropriate sailing schools and programs to buff up their skills, interesting regattas and other events to keep sailing in the forefront for longer than 10 weeks. In the summer of 2010 I was also involved in either the creation, organizing and promotion (sometimes all three)  of the following three events.

Storm Trysail Club & Foundation Junior Safety at sea Seminars: 

15 years ago Rich DuMoulin, a prominent & successful Long Is Sound sailor developed the idea of a one day seminar to train juniors in the basic skills necessary for safe handling and crewing on a “Big Boat”. Since then this seminar has become the default program for such training and is required for any youth sailors competing on any of the Big Boat events dedicated to teen sailors on Long Island Sound. Junior Safety at Sea Seminars are now held in Annapolis, Raritan, NJ, and Newport, RI. For 2012 there are two more: Shelter Island Yacht Club and a combined effort between Fishers Is. Yacht Club & New England Sailing and Science–N.E.S.S.– foundation in Stonington, CT.

The meat and potatoes of the day begins with a morning of instruction on just what to look for and, more importantly how to think about being on a bigger boat. Take for instance a simple mechanical task like how to operate a winch. This instruction is basic and is a seemingly simple task for the experienced sailor but if you have not done it before….? (and reflect for a moment if you will, just how did you learn to handle a line on a winch?)  The correct, and safe, method of putting a the line around the winch and then how to remove it; a discussion of the load’s generated on the lines that the winch controls, how to deal with the removable handle and so on. Skill and dexterity in this task is akin to mastering the serve in tennis-The most basic of basic skills, with out which one will never be able to play ball, but a lot more hazardous to one’s fingers if in adequately performed. The whole day is similarly dedicated to a personal and up close inspection of the mechanics of several different types and sizes of boats, including the location of safety gear, firefighting equipment and procedures, thru hull valves, pertinent navigation equipment, the equipment layout on deck, MOB protocols and drills,

MOB drill on Nepenthe

MOB drill on Nepenthe

E.P.I.R.B’s   the correct way to operate a VHF radio, reefing, heaving too, life jacket and safety line use and techniques and related seamanship skills.  The greater portion of the day is execution of the morning’s instruction aboard the boats that are supplied by willing owners in the region and are under the command of volunteer instructors all of whom are highly skilled in the arts and sciences of operating a big boat.

2011 Junior SAS, Newport TI

CCA commodore Sheila McCurdy presents a module to STC Jr. SAS seminar, Newport 2011

During the course of the day there typically is a demonstration of the inflation of a life raft, techniques for entering and righting it in the event it is upside down and proper procedures for living on one, should the need arise. Another session covers the different types, and uses of, various smoke flares. During the 2011 seminar the local Newport, RI, USCG station, Castle Hill, made a 45 footer available and discussed the Coast Guard role in S.A.R. and related activities with the participants.

Safety at sea participants hear about the USCG role in safety at sea

USCG station Castle Hill crew at the 2011 STF Junior Safety at sea seminar in Newport

The final event of the day is a speaker, typically someone with pretty salty boots, discussing their experiences in the field. For the 2011 seminar we were fortunate to have Jamestown resident and experienced multi-hull sailor Philip Steggall.

Jr. Sas participants hear from noted offshore sailor Phil Steggal

Jr. SAS participants hear from noted offshore sailor Phil Steggall

Steggall brought with him a cross section of the personal safety equipment he has accumulated in a 40 year offshore sailing career and discussed the mindset that the best offshore yacht sailor’s use-In short, sailing a big boat is a bit like a chess game in that the crew must always be thinking several moves ahead.

Life raft drill in the 2011 Junior Safety at sea seminar

SAS participants get up close and personal with a life raft.

Ida Lewis Distance Race:

In 2010 the Ida Lewis Yacht Club introduced in the Youth Club Challenge Class into their annual Distance Race. The idea was to offer a class that encouraged the mustering of a high school crew so as to generate a body of young sailors with overnight yacht sailing/racing/seamanship experience. The basic parameters for entry were: PHRF ratings & more than 50% of the crew to be between 14-19 years of age. The balance of the crew to be made up of adults with the basic theme (although not incorporated in any formal race documentation) that the kids do the work and the adults mentor. The boa’s sailed the 150 mile course zigging and zagging around Block Island Sound with the longest leg being perhaps 30 miles, so basically an overnight passage, with lots of navigation and sail handling.

Jr. SAS sailors aboard the J 40 Nepenthe

Junior Safety at sea participants receive instruction aboard the J 40 Nepenthe

In the 2011 edition of the event, one 70 footer, “Gracie”, took 12 juniors for the race and they basically ran the boat with the adults supervising. The boat’s Professional Captain Skip Wood was very impressed with the speed with which the juniors absorbed the multitude of information and skills needed to operate a yacht of this size. In an email following the race Capt. Wood remarked:  “The kids deserve plenty of credit and did as well as any adult crew given the fact they were new to the boat and had an average weight of 140 pounds!”

One young lady who left her call to Gracie too late ended up as the lone junior on a 4 man crew aboard the Class 40 Toothface and was still glowing 3 days later when I interviewed her.

Sail for Hope:

The third regatta was the Sail for Pride regatta, a regular fixture on the NBYA calendar since the first event was held in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. For this 20 mile race around Jamestown Island I gathered, in 2010, 12 of my high school sailing team members and loaded them aboard the 80 footer “Falcon 2000”. With a dozen high school sailors and half a dozen adults in the leadership roles in each part of the boat, again the kids were instructed in the tasks for each position and the adults supervised.

By the end of this race most of the kids had performed in at least a couple of positions and anyone who wanted to, had the opportunity to steer.

This series of 3 Big Boat training opportunities was repeated in Newport in 2011 with the addition of an extra opportunity. Several of the Falcon Crew from 2011 expressed interest in doing more big boat sailing so I emailed a collection of the sailors I knew locally and offered to provide a youth sailor for the crew if they would accept the responsibility of mentoring them. Several on the locals stepped up to the plate and I was able to place 3-4 of the high school kids on local boats.

Separately American Yacht Club allows the addition of one crew up to 14 years old in a boat’s roster in their fall regatta with NO (handicap) penalty for head count or weight. I know of one J-105 already taking a junior in this very competitive class.

Into the future

Behind the scenes the management at the Storm Trysail Club, and its Foundation, have been developing a program to make it easy for other yacht clubs to host Junior Safety at Sea seminars in their local regions. This was promulgated in Chicago during the USSA Yacht Club Symposium May 2011. The upshot of this exposure is that the STC Jr SAS is now supported by United States Sailing Association, the governing body of sail boat racing and related activities in the US. Further, planning is underway to develop a 4 year curriculum for Jr. SAS participants so they can start as freshman with the safety at sea seminar and progress thru a 200, 300 and 400 level course. The goal is to have a Hig School senior sufficiently skilled so that he or she could be competent to be the skipper (Person in Charge) of a 35 footer for an overnight race.

Mentoring of junior sailors need not only happen in a racing environment. In fact it is possible that a superior experience may come from more low key activities. Deliveries  are a great way for the novice to get to do a bit of everything, there are less crew and there is often more time for instruction and mentoring than in the heat of a race which of course we all want to win so instruction is secondary.

One of the repeat issues sailors discuss amongst themselves around the bar after a race is the difficulty of finding reliable competent crew with which to man ones club racer. If such sailors were to cast their eyes about and offer to take some of the juniors out, the son of a crew member, kids from the local High School sailing team, local community sailing program, then they would have a hand in solving the problem they are discussing. They are likely to give the kids a huge experience that, in my case had a life changing impact on them. The kids might even have the skills to get on a boat for the Bermuda Race and be scared to death for 20 minutes as the boat enters the Gulfstream in 60 knots of wind.

It's never too soon

It's never too soon


Short–handed sailing: The Solent Stay

In an earlier post I proposed a second stay, called a Solent Stay as a way to be able to deploy the correct sail for the conditions, without struggling with lowering the regular roller furling headsail. In this post I elaborate on the details of the stay and its component parts. It is worthwhile noting that some of the French boats, Beneteau and Jeanneau in particular offer much of the required hardware for a Solent set up on the spar and deck with the basic spar package.

The components of a Solent stay are:

  • The stay
  • Attachment of stay to the mast
  • Attachment of the stay to the deck
  • A mechanism for tensioning the stay
  • A halyard sheave
  • Halyard exit in the mast, leading to a winch
  • A halyard
  • Possibly a turning block and related pad eye
  • Possibly another rope clutch. This depends on how your boat has the rest of the lines laid out.
  • Sheeting positions for the sails.

I will look at each item in detail below.

The Stay
Until recently standing rigging on boats was either wire or rod. The development of synthetic standing rigging (coming largely from the Open solo classes) has become normalized to the point where I have consulted on half a dozen installations of synthetic stays for boats.
The preferred material for a Solent stay is Spectra fiber, ideally the latest version, (and there are several and it is always being upgraded). The latest is a product called Dynex Dux which is a heat set Dyneema, (European name for Spectra) for this Solent stay application Dynex Dux is excellent because of its mechanical properties, being:
•    High strength
•    Light weight
•    High resistance to UV
•    High resistance to Chafe
•    Ability to coil up and so stow in a small space
•    Ease of splicing
•    Relatively low cost &high value for a complete stay

It is a bit stiff and one rigger I know refers to it as Fiber Wire, but that is about the only down side I have seen.

Also the high resistance to chafe means, to me, that one can use conventional bronze hanks rather than the more expensive soft hanks. I do not think there is a need for “soft hanks” in this arrangement for most sailors. The value: Cost versus utility, is low in my opinion.

Bronze hanks over a Dynux Dux composite stay on a Baltic 38

Spectra stay with Bronze hanks

Spectra cordage stays permits use of regular bronze hanks


Attachment of stay to the mast and halyard options.
Generally speaking the upper end of the Solent stay will attach to the spar within 12 inches of the bottom of the Genoa halyard sheave box. Much of this detail depends on the particulars of the mast in question. Issues to contemplate are:
Age of the mast: This is not so much for mechanical issues but more due to obsolete hardware and design details on the spar.
The simplest and easiest way to attach a stay to a spar is with a Gibb T fitting.
Depending on the spar details you may need to install a sheave box under the stay attachment
I have done a couple of boats where the halyard runs above the stay connection to the spar, via a dead dye and into the sheave box for the Genoa, using the spare Genoa halyard sheave. This works when there are two sheaves in the box. Charleston Spars has some boxes where the second sheave is below the Genoa sheave and this works too.
If your spar does not have this kind of arrangement, you will have to cut into the spar and install a sheave box.
Because the stay attaches to the top of the spar, running backstays are not required. This detail highlights a particular advantage of this stay layout over a traditional “cutter” stay.

The above image, taken from the deck, shows the head of the solent Jib and stay. Just under where the stay attaches to the spar,can be seen a Harken halyard deflector, leading the halyard around the stay and into a second Genoa sheave box.

Attachment of the stay to the deck and tensioning of the stay.

Historically second stays inside the fore-triangle have been tensioned with either a Highfield lever or more recently some kind of screw adjustment device. While this is an OK solution, this hardware is heavy and expensive, compared to a tackle as a way to tension the Solent (or any other inside stay for that matter).

A superior technique for tensioning a Solent stay is to install a multi part, I usually use 4:1, tackle with the tail leading aft where it can be readily led to a winch. This method has several advantages over a mechanical adjuster.

Detail of the 4:1 adjustment tackle n a Baltic 38

Solent stay adjustment tackle

The above image shows the detail on the Baltic 38 used for tensioning the Solent.

Metal thimble used as part of the purchase in J-105 solent installation

Solent stay details on J-105

This image shows part of the same idea on a J-105 that I sail on in many double-handed races.

Solent stay tensioning set up on a competitor in the 2011 OSTAR

Solent stay tensioning system

The above picture is a version of tensioning. This taken from a 40 foot competitor in the O.S.T.A.R 2011

Solent stay tension tackle

Solent stay tensioning arrangement on a 40 foot Pogo Class 40

This image is of a Solent stay tensioning arrangement on a single handed Class 40.
The sail can be hanked onto the stay while the stay is restrained aft against the mast, thus the Solent sail can be close to all rigged and ready to go, before it is needed. The tackle helps pull the sail forward, so if there are two people on watch, the aft crew member can tail the fall of the tackle and the crew on the bow can help it stay clear of obstacles like mooring cleats, hatches, vents etc on the deck. The biggest advantage to my mind though is that the stay can be re-tensioned after a few hours of sailing. Typically when sailing in hard air, the inside stays (well all stays do actually) tends to stretch out a bit and so the sail lays off to leeward, affecting the boats performance. With the tackle led to a winch, the stay can be re-tensioned any time. Further, say the Solent is lowered yet still deployed forward, in anticipation of re- use shortly, but one finds a great need to tack in a hurry, (remember the stay sets right up against the back of the furler so there is no room to tack the Genoa thru that space, unless you roll up the Genoa), it is a simple and fast drill to open the clutch and pull the solent aft Versus trying to cast off a Screw thread turn buckle type adjuster or carry a sail and Highfield lever back aft, out of  the way.
I prefer to have the load if the deck part of the tension mechanism spread across the deck as seen here:

Tackle for tensioning Solent stay

Tensioning tackle for Solent Stay on Baltic 38

This installation uses a double pad eye on center line, the aft part of which is used for the tack on the sail and a single, to port. The dead end is on the forward part of the double pad eye. The dead end has a snap shackle so as to minimize the amount of line one needs to pull around.

Depending on the construction detail of your boat, it may or may not be necessary to reinforce the deck in the way of the pad eyes. Again each boat will be unique in this detail.

Halyard, sheets and related & operating rigging issues
One of course needs a halyard on which to hoist this sail. This typically means either:
If you have had to cut a sheave box, then you will almost certainly have to cut an exit slit in the mast also.  Make sure you look around the spar before you start making holes. You do not what to place the holes to close to each other.
If you have a second Genoa halyard sheave there is a good chance you will have a matching slot for the halyard, it may even be moused.
Depending on how the boat’s winches are laid out, you will need to install a turning block at the base of the mast and possibly another clutch.
Other thoughts on this arrangement
Depending on what you are planning for the boat, it is perfectly acceptable for me to have the halyard winch for this sail on the mast. The idea that all lines need to be in the cockpit does not make sense to me in reality. For instance it is preferable I think to have the halyard for the Spinnaker to be at the mast. That way as you pull the sock down over the sail, you are able to keep control of it as you lower the halyard. It is worth noting that many of the latest crop of single handed offshore race boats has reverted to having some of the halyards, like the kite and the halyard for the roller reaching sails operable at the mast. Also having halyards at the mast minimizes the need for more hardware in the deck to lead the halyards aft.

You should also be aware of how a sails sheeting position is determined and make sure you have the requisite hardware n place and that the sails are built in accordance with where the hardware is. It is possible for a competent sailmaker to make perfectly viable remarks about sheeting positions with a view to better performance of the sail in questions, so be open to adding proper hardware to allow the sail to set properly.

I will be writing on the entire topic of sail sheeting geometry shortly

Next: what types of sails you can deploy on your new stay.

And here is a link to the story on Solent Stays I wrote for SAIL magazine in the Jan 2013 edition

Short-Handed sailing: Techniques for using different headsails, easily

Short-handed sailing: techniques for using different headsails, easily.

One of the great conundrums for short-handed sailors is what to do when the wind speed and your apparent wind angle are not right for the roller furling headsail you have on the furler.  The average boat’s general-use 130% size roller furling reefing headsail typically has a wind range, where it is properly effective, of about 10 knots true to about 18 knots true sailing close hauled. Some roller headsails are capable of being used partially rolled around the furler, but this has a limited application, especially if one is planning on being in the ocean for a while.

So the question for anyone who wants to get the most out of their boat in a wide range of conditions is, just like it has always been, a range of headsails for different wind speeds and directions.

With the expanding interest in Short-Handed racing, generally races where there are only two crew members aboard, the ability to have the “right “sail for the conditions becomes a bit more important. This kind of racing is growing particularly because it is how most boats on the water are set up today. It is a short trip from a cruising boat to a boat that can race short-handed since they share much of the same equipment. One of the most high value (cash coast to install versus the utility it provides) additions any cruising boat can make is the Solent Stay.

This a second head stay that runs roughly parallel with the forestay, attaches at the masthead sufficiently below the jib stay attachment point to avoid anything fouling the Genoa halyard swivel and it attached at the foredeck, as close as possible to the back of the roller furler drum. On a Solent stay one can deploy sails for use in lighter air and a smaller jib in conditions when the RF headsail is too big. It should be emphasized that the Solent IS NOT an inner forestay, such as is seen on cutter rigged boat. The Solent is its own stay running to the top of the spar.

Solent stay with sail on Baltic 38

I will address the particulars of the Solent stay in the following post.

America’s Cup: thru the eyes of a 7 year old.

The America’s Cup is turning, or more likely has turned, a sharp corner in its history. All the new things I am reading about the cats, the skullduggery behind the negotiations, the vast amounts of money (still) hovering around the event and, in the past week or so, seing the complete Circus assemble at Fort Adams in Newport have stirred up the mud at the back of my memory.

September in Sydney, Australia, is the late winter, early spring. It is still cool in the morning, and rain is common, making for a raw feeling in the air. Such chilly days are very good days to sleep in. On just such a dank and rainy September day in 1962, this particular 7 year old kid was trying to do just that, against the admonitions of his mother to get up and get ready for school. I had an ulterior motive for lying abed, though besides aversion to the weather and school. I was listening to the radio coverage of the America’s Cup races on Rhode Island Sound.

I had been around boats for literally as long as I could remember. My dad always had boats, small sailing boats: the 1962 boat was a converted 16 foot skiff, the lesser known cousins of the infamous 18 footers. Dad had brought it from someone, somewhere, the particulars unknown to me and he then proceeded to de-tune it. “Walagai IV” was re-rigged with a smaller (than the original huge) rig & he cut the bowsprit down to half size. For cruising comfort he added a foredeck, washboard and side decks and away we went. In this lovely old cold molded skiff he and I cruised and camped all over the Pittwater & Broken Bay estuaries about 30 miles north of Sydney. The boat had no cabin- it was an open skiff after all- but it did have a centerboard, a slightly rusty and not particularly smooth galvanized dagger board with a round bottom/tip to it and a large wooden handle on the top. I could not move it either in the trunk or after my dad had pulled it up and out of the trunk.

While it was cumbersome the presence of a dagger board did give us the singular advantage of drawing only about 4 inches with the dagger board completely withdrawn. Such shoal draft allowed us great scope in our cruising, particularly our options regarding overnight moorings. We could sail all over the relatively protected water of Pittwater all day then drop a stern anchor and put the bow up on any of the hundreds of beaches in the area. We could then take a line ashore and set up a regular tent on the beach or grass land above the sand OR we could moor the boat in 12 inches of water with a stern anchor out and a bow anchor or mooring line out to a suitable tree or rock and then rig a purpose built boom tent over the cockpit. The side deck and fore deck, with its splashboard and the boom tent were so designed & built that rain would not enter under the tent.

Under this warm and cozy arrangement I spent most of the weekends of my infancy and holidays of my early child hood snuggled in a homemade sleeping bag laying on a Lie Lo, an inflatable air mattress atop the boat’s floor boards. I have a picture taken by my father, (he was an artist and always had camera, sketch pad, water colors and pencils with him) annotated on the reverse in his fine hand as “Christmas Cruise, 1957”, of me asleep in the boat. I was two and a half at the time. My canvas army-surplus kit bag full of my spare clothes was my pillow. My earliest memories, in the late 1950’s are of the smell of Kerosene used in the hurricane lamp and the primus pressure stove: of Smalls Dark Club chocolate, an absolutely wonderful dark chocolate—for a 7 year old—complete with a picture of a gentleman sitting in a leather club chair as the graphic on the wrapping. Of varnish, the smell of Spaghetti and meat balls and something he referred to as Pliers Toast. Since the galley was, well modest, (a single burner pressure Primus kero stove mounted in a specially modified 5 gallon kerosene tin, adapted to the purpose) in order to have toast, one of his favorite cruising foods required some ingenuity. He would take a slice of bread, grip it on one corner with the pliers, and drape it over the exposed flame of the stove—for about 10 seconds. Turn it over and repeat. The result was the most wonderfully warm, slightly burnt on the outside, bread. Butter, kept in a prototype Tupperware plastic container sold for the purpose was stored in the bilges in the cool water during the day and Jam, in a glass jar, label removed and stored likewise made a great way to clean up the sauce from the Spag-Bol as he referred to the main course as. The Dark chocolate was “after’s”, Australian, or at least Father Cooper’s term for what we now call desert.

Thus from an early age I was a water rat. And of course with my dad getting all the usual local and foreign sailing magazines, I “knew all about the America’s Cup” even as a 7 year old. On reflection, 50 years on this means I knew that only the best sailors sailed on the 12 meters trying to win the Cup. Even, perhaps especially then, it had the reputation of being the Holy Grail and historically un-obtainable. No one could beat the Yanks.

I can remember knowing the names of the boats, the designers, where Newport, Rhode Island was and what Rhode Island Sound meant, even as a kid sailing my Sabot, not long after this episode. I muse on the notion that I was stung with the idea that sailing in the America’s Cup was the highest goal one might aspire too. Something beyond perfection and only the really best guys need apply. I still have a scrap book from later on, perhaps when I was 12, with all manner of sail boats in it, pictures cut out of the sailing and general press, for sailing was news worthy in those days in Sydney.

The particulars of the day’s race that kept me abed are not important except for The Voice. The commentary crackling over the short wave AM radio was by the local notable yachting journalist Lou D’Alpuget. He was perhaps the 1960’s version of Bob Fisher as a yachting journalist and sailor who, according to a quick Internet search just now,only recently died at age 91, apparently still writing.

My earliest memories, and they are strong memories, as a kid include lying in bed listening, with completely rapt attention that became extremely focused as the excitement in the voice welled up thru the crackling of the radio signal. I can remember the rapidly ascending pitch of Lou’s voice, as he relayed the race, seemingly puff by puff, actually wave by wave as it turned out, across the airwaves.

Perhaps Peter Montgomery apprenticed under Lou, or heard the same broadcast for Peter has a similar out rushing of that magical component everyone involved in the America’s Cup must have:
Unbridled passion.

This particular race was held in pretty hard air for 12 meters, low to mid twenties of wind speed, and the Aussies, fairly close behind, 12 seconds according to one source- perhaps
only a boat length at the top mark the last time pulled off what is a pretty typical classic Aussie “’ave a go mate” move and set “The Big Kite”. Film footage of this part of the race clearly shows that the white Aussie kite is way bigger than the defenders choice. A classic 18 foot skiff sailor move. The Aussies simply sailed past the defender, (in a move strangely prescient of the 6th leg episode 21 years later) and into the history books by being the first challenger since before the war on to win the race and that by less than a minute. The climax of The Voice was the moment when the Challenger surfed past the Defender and on to win that race. My memory is of almost completely frantic excitement, of Lou’s voice screaming down the air waves.

So long ago, yet the key ingredient still comes thru and I can remember the rising pitch of the voice and think Passion. Funny how a mere sail boat race can evoke such strong emotions in otherwise rational humans. I muse that it is the sink or swim gene in the Human Race that makes us attracted to the event. As human animals, if we cannot make ourselves better than the next guy, or give it a damn good shot, we might all be still back in the trees.

While all the other aspects of that morning 50 odd years ago have sunk under the weight of time, the one thing that stays with me, and pops out at the oddest times, is the passion in The Voice.

Occasionally when out around town (I now live adjacent to Newport, RI) I find old pictures of the America’s Cup matches at Salas’s or the old Christies in Newport. As I look at old pictures of Gretel, or even watch Weatherly, still going strong as a charter boat in Newport, take another load of mid-westerners out for a Faux Race and a lap around the bay, I can sometimes hear in my minds ear the excitement and the passion in Lou’s voice. It occurs to me that it is this passion that is the common denominator in any one who has anything to do with the America’s Cup. After all when one considers the motivations of the guys who commissioned the schooner America and the results she wrought, giving birth to the immortal phrase that defines the America’s Cup as no other enterprise is:

“your majesty, there is no second”

who amongst us does not on any given day dream that we are the Champion of the World, and that all before us have been vanquished.

High school sailors experience first passage: A J105 from Fishers Island to Newport

Those of us of a certain age, who somehow managed to grow up around boats, dinghies at first then larger boats, find ourselves today with a large body of information and experience, not just “facts” but ways of thinking, about our sailing and are occasionally dumb struck by what folks do on their boats and wonder “don’t they know better”?

It turns out that maybe they don’t. It seems that over the past 30-40 years or so the profile of the average yacht buyer/owner has changed from someone who grew up with access to bigger boats and apprentice-like sailing adventures under the wing of someone who did know what was going on, to owners who are late comers to the activity of sailing and in many cases their first boat is a “yacht”.

In my time in the marine business, basically my whole life, much of it with Hood Sailmakers I was regularly aboard boats where even simple things like handling a winch seemed to be an unknown. This had caused me to ponder the question, why don’t they know and of course one does not get to know something unless you either figure it out (by trial and error) or one is instructed by someone who does know. Well just how do you find someone with requisite skill and experience?

This was a question a disparate group of members of the Storm Trysail Club asked themselves a while back. The answer turned into the Storm Trysail Foundation Junior Safety at Sea seminars.

These are one day hands-on instruction based on similar seminars for adults but with a modified curriculum and aimed at high school sailors. From a modest start about 13 years ago in Larchmont NY, (where the STC and its Foundation maintains an office at Larchmont YC), the STF Jr. SAS has expanded to 6 or possibly 7 venues throughout the north east US. The goal of the seminars is to instruct the kids in the arts and sciences of sailing as practiced on “big boats”. A Big boat for the purposes of discussion is a boat 30-45 feet with an inboard engine, lifelines, interior and so on capable of putting to sea.

One of my various hats is the Coach of the Prout School Sailing team. I thus have good contact with 23 high school kids with varying states of sailing skill and interest from zero to pretty good. In the NE the high school sailing season is so short, I have made it a habit to present a calendar of alternative sailing adventures the kids can do over the summer.

Thus I found myself with 4 members of my sailing team last Friday morning preparing to help me deliver a J 105 I sail on from Noank, CT to Newport RI.

Prout students aboard Jaded

Prout sailing team members prepare for their first ocean passage

Jaded had just been splashed a day or two prior so there was still lots to do, including in one case bending on the headsail. This led to a discussion on head foils, roller furling, J locks, pre-feeders, keeping the sail in the foil, (when it is not flat calm at the dock) and how to play the roles of pit, mast man & bow man emphasizing the importance of watching what your team mates are doing and non-verbal communications.

Prout sailors receive in instruction on Genoa sheet rigging

Prout sailors receive in instruction on rigging headsail sheets on Jaded, a J-105

With no wind for the first couple of hours, we  motored out of the Fishers Island sound. Thus the first lesson at sea was on piloting and visual navigation, the implications of different colored and shaped navigation aids, the importance of the “what is wrong with this picture” thinking, how to use a depth sounder in piloting and compass course steering.

Prout sailors watch Coach Cooper working on the Bow of Jaded, a  J 105

Prout sailing team members receive instruction on the bow of Jaded, a J-105

After transiting Watch Hill passage the question from one of the kids: “are we going to sail” led to a short review of meteorology and its implications for sailors: High pressure, low pressure, gradient and thermal wind isobars, and definitions of wind. By the time that was over and lunch was had, the south westerly had built enough to make sailing a proposition, time wise.

Thus we introduced the basics of sail handling on a bigger boat, setting the mainsail, securing the halyard shackle (tighten with pliers or spike and/or seize if going on a longer passage) how to put a line on a winch, grind the winch remove the handle and take a line off or ease the line under load and the use of rope clutches. With the main up the next stop was setting the masthead 120 sqm kite. This lesson was on asymmetrical spinnakers, ATN socks, getting the kite into same, spinnaker rigging, and retractable bowsprits.

With the kite up we moved onto to the idea of “wally-ing” (the technique of coming up in light air and sailing deeper in puffs when sailing downwind) and related strategy & tactics for sailing down wind. After a discussion on the techniques of  gybing A-sails, the students proceeded to peel off several (perfectly fine) gybes approaching the entrance to Narragansett Bay.

The bonus feature was sailing thru the gaggle of America’s Cup cats out practicing in the narrows between Ft. Adams and Jamestown. After one last gybe it was kite down (sock first) main down, flaked and secured, engine on, fenders and dock lines out and coming alongside the dock down tide.

A couple of the parents were already there to collect their kids and were treated to the nickel tour by their (very proud I thought) sailors. And we were only 20 minutes off the time I suggested they arrive at Conannicut Marine.

I was told by one parent, when she sent me the attached pictures, that her son had thoroughly enjoyed himself, so that is a start.

The next adventure for another 5 kids is this Saturday, sailing a J92s around Narragansett Bay.