Vendee Globe: Hugo Boss inches away.

So far so good for the tenacious Brit on his fourth attempt to get his Knighthood, I mean, win the Vendee Globe. Personally I reckon the big job now is to be steady and cool and not get too psyched by being in front. I am sure he’d rather be there than in some of the other positions he has been in during his three previous races. Right about now 4 years ago I think he was fixing one of the rudder connecting rods after the Watt and Sea came adrift and busted said rod. Ever the Sponsors Man, he recorded it on board the boat with Hugo Boss logos everywhere. And of course this time, he is posting positions on the Alex Thompson website, so more eyeballs again. THIS is great sailing as marketing tool thinking

The other two leaders are putting the yards (meters?) on the top of the next group. Currently in second is Seb Josse on his third Vendee Globe. Just the short version of his CV includes a fourth in the first leg of the 1999 Mini-Transat, a second in the 2001 Solitaire du Figaro-A four or five leg stage race soloin 33 foot one design boats, around the Bay of Biscay and the western approaches to the English Channel. ‘The Figaro’ is THE training ground for the serious French solo sailor, and lately Brits too. Josse was a part of the crew and so, co-holder, of the Trophy Jules Verne aboard the Maxi Cat Orange, nee PlayStation. Third in the TJV with Isabelle Autissier in ‘03, fifth in the Vendee globe in ‘05, fourth in the ’06 VOR on ABN Amro 11 including a 24-hour speed record. You get the picture. He is sailing for the financial house of Edmund de Rothschild, long a prominent name in sailing with a collection of Gitana’s.

In third lies Armel Le Cleac’h, presently 92 miles astern of The Boss. Le Cleac’h is another professional sailor with a long history of big time racing. Figaro, World Champion in IMOCA (these Open 60’s) fourth in the Route du Rhumb, France’s answer to the OSTAR. A second place, twice, in the 2009 and 2013 Vendee Globe gave him the scent no doubt.

Interestingly when researching the basic stats of the boats, the beam of Hugo boss is not given. But Thompson has the most upwind sail of the three leaders at 340 sqm. Compared to Le Cleac’h at 300 and Josse at 290. He is also a tenth of a metric tonne lighter, 7.5 vs. 7.6. And, in what must be an enormous mental boost for Thompson and a bit of a ‘WTF’ moment for the rest, is the fact Hugo Boss was abandoned in the 2015 Transat Jacques Vabre, in November after being launched 01 September. After being recovered, a nice bit of work in itself I reckon, Thompson’s team spent six months rebuilding her again. And a slight bit of sailing trivia for you Thompson’s co-skipper in the abandoned TJV was the same Spaniard, Guillermo Altadill, (the most successful sailor no one has ever heard of) who was aboard High Noon, the youth boat that blitzed the 2016 Newport to Bermuda race.

Second and third are 89 and 92 miles astern of the Boss, and after that the distances really exercise the bungy cord. From fourth through tenth, they are respectively: 123, 195, 207, 285, 442, 575 and 619. And we are not talking about the rookies here either. Just in this group are a total of 17 (including this one) Vendee Globe races from a total of 43 previous races within the fleet.

From todays interviews with the sailors, Sébastien Josse remarks on the increasing discomfort aboard the boats in this race. ‘With each Vendée Globe it’s worse and worse. In my first one, I had a comfortable bed, but now it’s really uncomfortable and it’s hard to sleep’. Having boat speed is a great way to win a sail boat race but it does have its down side in a three-month race. Josse again:

When the boat is above 18-19 knots, it’s hard to move around. It’s noisy and it’s impossible to sleep with all the banging. It’s less comfortable than a multihull.

Then there are the forces these boats are subjecting themselves to. The following remark was made while the boats are sailing in 15 knots of true wind. We’re at the maximum loads for the boat. In the Southern Ocean we won’t be able to do that.”

If you did not know Thompson, (is British) it might be easy to infer it from his remarks from the same body of ocean. “It’s a bit bumpy. He goes on: (In this cut and paste from the VG news section whose work is duly recognized)

It is pretty amazing to be on a boat which in 16-17kts of breeze I can average 22kts. The breeze has finally come left a bit to allow Hugo Boss to lift up her skirts a little bit and go a bit faster. I have a bit more breeze for a few hours and then it will lighten up and drop a little bit before tomorrow when we will start a real fast, fast dash for three or four days towards the Cape of Good Hope. I could not have asked for it to be positioned more perfectly. It is a very normal scenario this. It is developing just to the south of us and will move down, and I will be able to stay ahead of it. I think just this lead pack will be able to stay with it. We will be with this low pressure for quite a while. I think Seb is right. This is going to be the first big test for the boats. I am imagining a wind angle of about 120 to 125 degrees true, sailing in 23-26kts of wind. Depending on the wave conditions is what will decide how fast the boats go. To be honest if it was flat water in those wind conditions my boat could average over 30kts. With waves I don’t expect to be going much faster than I am now, to be honest 22-24kts maybe. Today I will prepare the boat a little, re-tidy up, re-stack, and I will try and get as much sleep as I can in the next 24 hours. I have a little composite job to do, just to make sure everything really is ready, make sure my sail plan is correct for when it comes, make sure my contingencies are ready, make sure I am fresh to be able to hit the turbo button when it arrives. I guess we are going to find out how strong these boats are now. Who will be ready to lift the foot first? Show the French you have learned? I think these boats…well the limit is quite obvious. You know when you have to slow down. Last night I had to slow down. 24 hours before the Cape Verdes you get slowed down. You get told by the boat. The boat tells you when to slow. It is as demanding now as in more wind. We do not need a lot of wind. The more wind, the more waves, the slower you go.”

We’re not in Kansas any more Toto.

Sailing boat survives lightning strike

Every once in a while something momentous happens to us. Great and serious sicknesses, a death in the family, divorce, accident and so on. Measured against such profound personal challenges, it might seem slightly trivial then to read about the fellow in this picture. He is a long time mate of mine and one of the most remarkable characters any one will come across, Warwick, M. ‘Commodore’ Tompkins, Jr.

Commodore Tompkins once again at the helm of Flashgirl

A smiling and certainly greatly relieved Commodore Tompkins once again at the helm of Flashgirl, Thursday 29 Sept.  Picture by Kevin Meecham.

A few months ago, the 39 footer he built from a hull and deck into one of THE unique ocean cruising boats on the planet, was sitting on a mooring at one of the islands in the Hawaiian chain when it took a direct hit by lightning and sank. Later forensics determined that a PVC pipe connection to a thru hull shattered and so separated from the through hull. The boat sank to about a foot from the gunnel, better than under water, but not by much.

This was the first picture of Flashgirl after the blow cleared.

This was the first picture of Flashgirl after the blow cleared.

Flashgirl, as she is named, was not just a sailing boat. Apart from being the sailing home to Commodore and wife Nancy, aboard which they have been roaming the SW Pacific for the past 10 years or so, it is a reflection of the art of the man and his understanding of the art AND sciences of sailing and the power of the sea. For those of you unfamiliar with Commodore, well Google him for starters, but know he was a sailing professional before the term existed. Think back in your memory and consider the most famous sailors you know, Blake, Chichester, Robin Knox Johnson, Tabarly, Coutts, they are pikers compared to Commodore.

This from the 1970 Sports Illustrated article on Commodore

With something over 70 years of sailing in any and all Trans-any ocean you want to name, Hobart’s, Bermuda’s, Fastnet’s, various ‘xxx’ meter regattas, one design, winning the first Melbourne–Osaka double handed, races to Tahiti, deliveries, build projects, there is no aspect of the activity known as sailing that Tompkins has not done. In many cases he has invented the systems to make things better and easier on board too.

Commodore regularly sailed with the biggest and best names of the sport. In this case Ted Turner in the 1975 Sydney to Hobart race.

Commodore regularly sailed with the biggest and best names of the sport. In this case Ted Turner in the 1975 Sydney to Hobart race. Tompkins is at the shrouds in The Hat, for years, in fact still a trademark piece of his sailing kit..This picture courtesy of Aussie mate, fellow Finn sailor  and long time sailing writer, Bob Ross.

Anyway, every aspect of this boat, built over some 12 years is a reflection of, literally, a lifetime at sea, on every ocean, under every condition on the widest array of boats imaginable. Born in Boston in 1932, Tomkins was raised aboard the family Schooner in Boston. He under took his first Atlantic crossing shortly there after. His father used the schooner in what to day would be called Sail Training, taking high school kids out into the wilds of the sea. A few years later the family, including the then roughly 4 year old Commodore (and sister Ann) doubled Cape Horn bound from Boston to San Francisco, sans engine in the schooner, named Wander Bird, an 85 foot Elbe River Pilot Schooner.

Painting of the Schooner Wander bird

This painting of the schooner Wander bird, a Pilot Schooner from the Elbe River was completed and presented to Tompkins senior if, I recall the tale properly, by an artist, who had such a good time on HIS trip, he felt compelled to memorialize the ship in this fashion. It is a really great painting of a ship at sea under sail. Tompkins Snr. had purchased the schooner  from the financially struggling Weimar Republic in 1929 or so and turned her into the first school ship, offering summer ‘cruises’ to the offspring of monied northeastern nobility.

There has recently been released a movie, http://throckmortontheatre.org/event/life-on-the-water/2016-02-24/ that had its World Premier at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, CA  Feb. 2016

'A Lifetime at Sea', movie poster

The poster announcing the World Premier screening of ‘A Lifetime at Sea’, placed in the window of the Throckmorton Theatre. The movie, documentary is a lovely presentation of the life of one of the last of a breed. This delightful little theater in Mill Valley is something of an Art House, used for cinema, presentations, theater and so on. Similar to say Jane Pickens in Newport for those familiar with Newport. I was honored to be one of the speakers, sharing anecdotes of Life With Commodore on the first night and to be MC the second night. Both showings we sold out ,standing room only.

The movie opens the door a couple of millimeters onto the life of this remarkable man.

From a visit in the early 2000's to help Commodore trim some of the large trees in the back of his property in Mill Valley. I think he was only in his late 60's then.

From a visit in the early 2000s to help Commodore trim some of the large trees in the back of his property in Mill Valley. I think he was only in his late 60’s then. Cordage, blocks, and an old but serviceable Barient winch, fastened to a suitable sized plank of timber, said timber clamped to the back deck provided some additional horse power as necessary

Here Commodore and I are moving some of the exhibits of his life to the Throckmorton theatre, only about 3/4 of a mile from his lovely aerie in Mill Valley. We lashed it all up on a regular hand cart and traipsed down the back lanes with it all.

Here Commodore and I are moving some of the exhibits of his life to the Throckmorton theatre, only about three quarters of mile from his lovely aerie in Mill Valley. We lashed it all up on a regular hand cart and traipsed down the back lanes with it all. Cordage is a never missing theme in The Life of Tompkins.

Back to the tale of the sunk Flashgirl. She was quickly drug to shoal water by nearby mates and so did not sink to the bottom. Tompkins arrived on scene within 36 hours-and was dumbstruck, not surprisingly. In emails and calls with him in the first week or so the strain and incredulity of the situation was plain to hear. For any normal person they would have called the insurance company, taken the money and got another boat. In so many ways Commodore is not remotely like a normal person. This was literally losing a part of him, a part of his eternal essence and energy. Losing an arm or eye would have had less impact on him.

Flashgirl, not long after launching, demonstrating the water ballast system

Flashgirl, not long after launching, demonstrating the water ballast system

Well, what to do? Fix it of course! So began the best part of the last couple of months, many, many hours a day.

The guilty party was a failed part of the galley sink plumbing. The tube broke allowing water to flood in.

The PVC pipe, part of the galley plumbing failed from the morion. All the cabinetry around the mast and galley was showing signs of powerful wracking, presumably as the charge passed by.

The PVC pipe, a part of the galley sink plumbing, failed from the dramatic motion that accompanied the strike, the forensics later indicated. This force cracked much of the cabinetry in the vicinity. Said cabinetry was showing signs of powerful wracking, presumably as the charge passed by. The PVC pipe leading to the thru hull failed and not the thru hull fitting itself. The first people aboard, locals who were keeping an eye her, got aboard and closed the thru hull. Think about THAT for a minute…

 

This is what an alternator looks like after 50 hours or so in salt water.

This is what an alternator looks like after 50 hours or so in salt water.

Much of the work was, for the situation, fairly straightforward. Tossing the water logged charts and books, heaving the worst of the rusted tools and so on. I mentioned the boat is a reflection of Commodore-it has water ballast actuated by two large electric pumps, the Autopilot CPU, the B&G CPU, sails, clothes, music, meters, instruments, electrical panel, alternators, reefer, stove. Think about the list of stuff on your boat-It is all soaking wet with salt water.

Going out for a sail on the good yacht Flashgirl a few years ago. The canvas dodger has been upgraded with a solid one

Going out for a sail on the good yacht Flashgirl a few years ago. The canvas dodger has been upgraded with a solid one

So for the last couple of months or so Commodore has been plugging away on Flashgirl, washing all the sails-Flashgirl is an offshore boat and has more sails than the average 40 footer with a main and roll up jib. Repairing, drying, testing, inspecting and working on getting her back in sailing trim.

The large white structure to the right is the case for the lifting keel.

Commodore Tompkins aboard Flashgirl in palmier days. The large white structure to the right is the case for the lifting keel. Galley is to port, reefer and tools are to starboard. Engine is under the steps. Way aft is the masters cabin. There is an aft hatch, similar to offshore race boats to day which can be opened at rest to let a cooling breeze waft thru.

Because the strike hit the mast and blew out thru the ground plate installed adjacent to the mast step, an inspection of the rig was in order. The idea of getting up the mast while working alone is commonly a showstopper for most people. Not so Commodore. He has had for ages a biggish bucket with several hundred feet of suitable line rove thru a four-part tackle.

The view of Flashgirl's masthead. The tall stainless rod and its mate to the left are the rollers either side of the masthead spinnaker sheave that diminish the chafe on the halyard as it exits the sheave.

The view of Flashgirl’s masthead. The tall stainless rod and its shorter mate to the left are the rollers either side of the masthead spinnaker sheave that diminish the chafe on the halyard as it exits the sheave. The remains of the VHF antenna base are to the right. The B&G wind wand is long gone. These pictures were taken by Commodore after he hauled himself up the 60 foot mast by means of a 4 part tackle.

One end of said tackle is hoisted aloft on a halyard, and he hoists himself up on the purchase. Sitting at the top of the mast one day he sent me pictures of the terminals from the Jumper stays-Flashgirl is fractional rigged. The B&G wand was gone and there was a burn mark in its place.

A seagulls eye view of the masthead of Flashgirl.

A seagulls eye view of the masthead of Flashgirl.

We spoke about the issues surrounding the possible damage to the rods and related issues. He was his usual articulate, methodical, rational thinking self with a professional electricians scope of knowledge of the issues. He asked me if I knew any one in my part of the pond, Newport RI, with whom the issues could be discussed, the chap who built the rig having retired and moved to Australia. A few phone calls later we had input from Hall Rigging, Phil Garland, Southern Spars, Ritchie Boyd who has been around Navtec hardware since he built the rig (for the gangway) for the Ark and Chuck Poindexter at Sound Rigging. All gave their take on it. Thanks gents, it is really gratifying to have the resources of such a wealth of experience available and have them respond to the call so quickly.

This image is of the rod terminals for the jumpers to the spar. The rig is about 16 years old and so look a bit tatty. Very close inspection and consultation with a cross section of mates in the game suggest that the rod is still sound, relative to the strike.

This image is of the rod terminals for the jumpers to the spar. The rig is about 16 years old and so look a bit tatty. Very close inspection and consultation with a cross section of mates in the game suggest that the rod is still sound, relative to the strike.

Earlier today, I get a ding on my Face Book feed, that Flashgirl swims. Nancy sent pictures of Commodore and Flashgirl sea trialling on the sound offshore from where this work has been going on.

A view looking aft from about the companion way steps. The aft hatch lets in light and, when open, air. The autopilot hardware is readily accessible. The turquoise material is the aft berth.

A view looking aft from about the companion way steps. The aft hatch lets in light and, when open, air. The autopilot hardware is readily accessible. The turquoise material is the aft berth.

Sixty days of work: hard, demoralizing, wet, strenuous work, alone inside the piece of art you created. It has finally paid off. Commodore and a band of the Usual Suspects will sail her to San Francisco from Hawaii, in a week or so, where the repairs will continue.

A view looking forward to Flashgirl's galley. Light colors, lots of light and air, lots of stowage space all belie the outside impression of a 'race boat'. Flashhgirl is a cruising boat that sails fast.

The view looking forward to Flashgirl’s galley. Light colors, lots of light and air, lots of stowage space all belie the outside impression of a ‘race boat’. Flashgirl is a cruising boat that sails fast. The fasteners on the ‘wall’ attach water tank inspection hatches to the tank. Loading a few hundred pounds of water into the tanks is a lot faster and easier that struggling to get a reef in. And it can be done in ones silk jammies & carpet slippers under the protection of the, now hard, dodger.

It will be fantastic to see him and the boat in February. I plan on going to his 85th birthday party….

Broken mast! What next?

Breaking a mast is by no means outside the realm of possibility on a sailing boat. Even if you have done everything right yourself there are always outside factors, never more so when racing. And frankly it even happens to the US Navy.

During the New York Yacht Club’s Annual Regatta, 10-12 June 2016, the race committee sent the IRC classes offshore from Brenton Point. Among the boats racing were two boats from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. These so called Navy 44’s, now about twenty years old were purpose built training boats used by the Academy for, certainly sailing, but team building, offshore sailing experience, resources management and leadership training. All skills these young sailors will be called upon to use for the next twenty years at least. A wise man, a pilot, once said to me any one can fly a plane in a straight line, it is knowing what to do when something goes wrong is the trick.

And so it is with sailing. What do you do when something goes wrong? When it DOES go wrong is not the time to find out. For a successful recovery from any incident there needs to be a plan in place for all hands to follow. Nowhere is this a more needed component of sailing than with the Naval academy midshipman due to the generally low level of sailing background and experience the Academy students have compared to the passages they make and the responsibilities they take on.

I was racing on the same course as the Navy boats and when the Race Committee abandoned racing for the day, after the wind piped up over 30 knots true, we all made our way in. On our boat we heard some traffic on the VHF about a boat with a broken rig but were occupied with keeping our own house in order and so did not really think about the dismasted boat for a few minutes.

As we motor-sailed towards Castle Hill it became clear the dismasted boat was one of the Academy 44’s. The first thing that struck me was that the mast was on board. This is generally a rare situation, masts go overboard most often to leeward and so are usually cut away and lost to the sea. Hummm, I wondered, what happened here? What was different about this dismasting that allowed the Midshipman to get the spar on board……?

This post is the result of an interview with the Commanding Officer of the 44, Midshipman James Reynolds, (entering his senior year at the Academy) a couple of days after the incident.

The wreckage of the broken mast lashed down on top of Defiance.

The wreckage of the broken mast lashed down on top of Defiance. Carina’s bow went up across the side deck & smashed the hand rail.

I was particularly interested in the dynamics of the crew for several reasons. One is the Navy sailing squad is commonly populated by students with not much, if any, sailing background. In this case Midshipman Reynolds had the most sailing background growing up sailing Opti’s, 420’ and, living in New Jersey, scows on Barnegat Bay. Of the 9 Midshipman aboard, including two women, one of whom was the executive officer on the boat, about half had some time on the boats and at sea. So by and large an inexperienced crew, arguably less experienced in absolute terms than perhaps any crew in the regatta.

Then there was the fact that the mast was on deck, an unusual aspect to a dismasting. On the other hand we are talking about some of the brightest and capable young men and women in the country who are being trained and groomed for major leadership roles in the United States Navy and so broadly speaking on behalf of the US in general.

The Mid's did well to secure the spar. That was just about the third order of business after a head count and inspection below to make sure the hull was not holed.

The Mid’s did well to secure the spar. That was just about the third order of business after a head count and inspection below to make sure the hull was not holed. You can see the dent in the toe rail as well as some of the scratches. Probably due to the angle of heel AND the classically raked bow, Carina did not penetrate the hull.

Midshipman Baldwin outlined the process where by non-sailing freshman are introduced to sailing starting with a few hours of classroom instruction. They then move to hands-on sailing in the Academy’s fleet of Navy (Colgate)26’s. From this sailing the ‘big boat’ teams are selected based on criteria including aptitude and initiative.

A review of the Academy’s sailing website demonstrates the details in which the Midshipman are instructed and the goals including-The following paragraph is a Cut and paste from the site:

Offshore sailing serves as an ideal platform for team building, small unit leadership, and seamanship skill development. All planning and decision making involved with day sailing and long distance transits and racing is made by midshipmen team members. Skills developed include navigation, strategic planning, resource management, vessel maintenance, weather tactics, and racing strategy.

A broken mast is one of The Eight Events* for which crews on sailing boats in the ocean (even only a few miles offshore of Brenton Point) must be familiar.

The broken end of the spar. The mast head was extended about 20 feet aft of the boat.

The broken end of the spar. The mast head was extended about 20 feet aft of the boat.

So, on with the story:

On the way out to the start the breeze was in the 18 to 20 knots true from the north-west. Baldwin told me that there was a pretty standard team meeting that covered the action for the day, what to expect, especially with the breeze at hand and the forecast for stronger winds later in the day and the admonition to be aware of the loads, do not stand in the bight of a  line, double check what you are doing and to be steady and careful.

The incident occurred on the second upwind leg of the first race. Defiance, the Navy boat was sailing up wind on starboard tack in about 20-22 knots of true knots wind with a full main and number three set.

The impact tore the standing rigging right out of this carbon fiber laminated chainplate.

The impact tore the standing rigging right out of this carbon fiber laminated chainplate.

Mid. Reynolds, acting as tactician and so not steering, saw Carina, the venerable McCurdy and Rhodes 48 footer sailing upwind towards them on port tack and determined a crossing situation was in the offing. He made the ‘starboard’ call and Carina responded by easing sail’s and steering to pass astern of the Navy boat. Baldwin is not one hundred percent certain exactly what caused the next event, but thinks that Carina was knocked hard by an errant wave (there was a nasty chop left over from Saturday) that hit Carina hard and pushed her up to where she collided with Defiance.

Defiance being on Starboard tack was rail down to Carina and so the latter, with her classically raked stem, slid up the deck of Defiance, damaging the toe rail, smashing the hand rail pushing a winch of its mounts, hitting and breaking the boom close to the gooseneck and ripping the lee side chain plates out of the boat. The force of the collision pushed the Navy boat up into the wind, with the result that the mast fell more or less directly aft, landing on the aft rail. This answered the ‘how did they get the mast aboard’ question, since it never actually went overboard.

It broke in two places, right at the partners and about 12 feet up the mast. The crew was of course hiking out on the weather rail and scrambled to avoid being hit. The after most crew member actually jumped over board so as to avoid the spar crashing down around him. He had the presence of mind to hang on to the lifelines as he did so and so ended up hanging onto the boat and he was promptly gathered back aboard.

The bow of Carina penetrated all the way to the boom, which was smashed to.

The bow of Carina penetrated all the way to the boom, which was smashed to.

I asked what happened in the first few second after the mast fell. First action was a head count. Reynolds ended up in the cockpit, on the floor and could account for half the crew in his vicinity. The XO was further forward and reported all hands aboard and un-hurt, although in a few minutes one of the crew was taken below with what transpired to be concussion. Next step was to dispatch a hand down below to make sure the boat was not taking on water. Parallel to these activities, all in the first few second, the ships Safety Officer, Jon Wright took command of the boat. Not surprisingly, working for the Navy Offshore program Wright has vast experience across all manner of boats. What happened within the next thirty seconds?

The stainless steep protector around the Dorade was not spared either.

The stainless steel guard rail around the Dorade box was not spared either.

The crew emerged from under the sails. The bowman and foredeck hands started to work on getting the sails secured. The top 20 feet or so of mast was lying across the stern rail and dipping in and out of the sea, aggravating the situation with the mast flailing around on deck. They were able to get the headsail secured but had to cut the mainsail at the first reef, luff to leech after which they could remove the mainsail from the mast. Next task was to work on securing the mast. The boat was now sideways to the sea and was rolling heavily and so aggravating the situation with the mast in and out of the sea.

I asked if the actions were all on initiative or on instruction from Wright, (known almost universally as JW)? A combination of both was the answer. The crew had had sufficient instruction and, while not actually handling broken masts, training in what to do. The lee rigging, now disconnected from the boat was fortunately lying in the water, minimizing further potential damage to crew and boat from flailing wires.

One of the crew radioed the Race Committee advising them of the incident. The RC responded by sending the Windward mark boat to assist.

One of the crew remarked on having been hit, feeling lightheaded and unwell. She was dispatched below under the care of the XO, the other young lady in the crew. Once ashore she was diagnosed with concussion.

Within five-ten minutes the spar was secured along the centerline of the boat. The remains of the boom had been freed but discarded. The wheel had been damaged when the rig hit it and was out of commission so the emergency tiller was rigged.

The wheel was bent as the spar landed and so the Mid's rigged the emergency tiller.

The wheel was bent as the spar landed and so the Mid’s rigged the emergency tiller.

In a brief conversation with Rives Potts the owner skipper of Carina, I asked him if he had the opportunity to make any observations of the navy crew’s response. Potts told me that Carina immediately lowered sails and stood by. Once they ensured their people were OK and the boat sound, Potts had the opportunity to follow the action on Defiant. He remarked on the calm and professional way the young Navy sailors conducted themselves. ‘There was no yelling or shouting, they looked very cool and collected, and went about securing the boat although they scuttled the boom. It seemed like they had the mast secured very quickly. All in all a very impressive piece of work by young sailors’ he told me.

In a separate conversation with Jon Wright, again a pretty quick one-he and Potts are, as I write, preparing to go to Bermuda and the forecast is for hard winds-He concurred with Potts in the calmness with which these young sailors conducted them selves. He confirmed Reynolds remarks that the first order of business was to make sure every one was on board and not injured. Closely followed by an inspection down below for hull security. He agreed with Potts with the view that the actions and demeanor of the crew were very calm and professional. The crew worked together, with different members proposing solutions to the micro problem in their particular area.

The take away from this discussion and incident?

Planning, preparation and a game plan.

At one of your off season crew gatherings, walk the troops through the eight events, noted below, and work up an Actions Plan for each one. The Navy sailors were fortunate to have this accident in broad daylight, 4 miles offshore and moderate sea. These circumstances may not be in place if your rig comes down.

*Coopers Eight events:

In the Junior Safety at Sea seminars produced by the Storm Trysail Foundation, I cite the following events as situations for which there needs to be established plans and protocols.

Dismasting, holing, man overboard, medical emergency, abandon ship, fire, rudder or steering failure. (They sound the same but are a bit different in the required response.)

 

During the Storm Trysail Foundations junior SAS every year, local high school sailors are introduced to the issues surrounding operating a big boat in a safe and seamanlike manner. Her, the hugely experienced former Commodore of the Cruising Club of America and multi-time Bermuda Race participant discusses some of the  safety equipment used on big boats.

During the Storm Trysail Foundations junior SAS every year, local high school sailors are introduced to the issues surrounding operating a big boat in a safe and seamanlike manner. Here, Sheila McCurdy, the hugely experienced former Commodore of the Cruising Club of America and multi-time Bermuda Race participant discusses some of the safety equipment used on big boats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newport to Bermuda Race-What sails?

Sails for offshore and the Newport to Bermuda Race:

The Newport to Bermuda Race, sailed in even numbered years and it’s counterparts that are sailed in odd numbered years, The Marion to Bermuda Race and The Bermuda 1-2 are something of a right of passage for many US sailors, especially those in the north east. While not particularly long in terms of famous ocean races, the weather across the track can make for some pretty hard going, more so for the unprepared. The Bermuda race is roughly the same distance as the Sydney to Hobart race and the Fastnet race but as has been seen in both these races distance is not the only factor to contend with when preparing to race (sail) ‘only’ 650 or so miles.

The Newport to Bermuda Race committee is rightly proud of their safety record (only one loss of life in the race’s history) and so the organizers hunt and peck from a variety of sources and mandate a few of their own safety regulations in some cases.

The default regulations for offshore sailing, including things like required equipment, the boat’s structure and training are the Offshore Special Regulations, known as offshore regs.

Front cover of the World Sailing Offshore Special Regs, aka the 'Offshore Regs.'

Front cover of the World Sailing Offshore Special Regs, aka the ‘Offshore Regs.’

This booklet-sized document contains these regulations promulgated by International Sailing Federation, ISAF, now called World Sailing. It covers all manner of particulars to do with getting to the finish in the same boat you started with and all the same crew you started with. It is EXTREMELY hard won information and a very informative read for anyone thinking of going maybe anywhere in a sailing boat.

It is however somewhat Euro-centric in that everything is cross-referenced to an ISO number. For the layman it is a bureaucratic black hole. To make things a bit easier for US sailors US Sailing started a few years ago to develop their own prescriptions for requirement for races in the US. The result is a document a normal person can read and defines the gear required for the boat for three categories of racing, not six, called by USSailing: the Safety Equipment Regulations (SER’s) and the three categories are Ocean, Coastal & Nearshore.

Finally the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee list their own requirements based on their very extensive research, surveys after each race and the vast experience in some very un-hospitable areas of the worlds oceans of the members of the CCA.

In the view of some the safety requirements for much of the Offshore Regs. are becoming more and more complex. I have over the past few years been told by at least two people I can think of that they are stopping doing offshore races due to the rigmarole and cost of the safety kit.

Regardless, the requirements for sails have generally remained pretty stable for several years. There are really only two principal changes to sails lately: Storm Jibs and Storm trysails manufactured after 1 Jan. 2014 are required to be ALL high visibility, usually orange, in color. So, the sail requirements for the Newport to Bermuda race are as follows.

There are three required sails and an assumed fourth one, the mainsail.

REQUIRED SAILS

The three required sails are: a Storm Jib, a Storm Trysail and what is called a Heavy Weather Jib. These are very specifically defined in the safety equipment section of Bermudarace.com. The mainsail has only one requirement and that is:

3.33.1 Reefing: A yacht shall have mainsail reefs capable of reducing the area of the sail by an amount appropriate for the weather conditions possible on the racecourse.

This phraseology is intended to push back to the owners and the master, the responsibilities for going to sea. This is in fact embedded in the Racing Rules of Sailing and RRS Rule 4 is here:

DECISION TO RACE

The responsibility for a boat’s decision to participate in a race or to continue racing is hers alone.

From a practical and seamanship perspective, contemplating sailing across this course on a boat with only one reef, would be a risk, way riskier than the reward of a few pounds less weight in the mainsail.

The Heavy Weather Jib (HWJ) is from a sailmaker’s perspective and design and engineering wise, are ‘merely” small, flat and heavily constructed jibs. But they must meet the rules for HWJs though which are-for the Newport to Bermuda Race:

3.33.3 Heavy Weather Jib:

A yacht shall carry a heavy weather jib (or heavy weather sail in a yacht with no forestay) of area not greater than 13.5% height of the fore-triangle squared.

In practice it turns out that on many, if not most boats an forestay sail, like the one seen on this Bristol 41-1 suffice as the Heavy Weather Jib but you should do the calculations or have your sailmaker do them, ideally with you.

Forestaysails commonly qualify as Heavy Weather Jib

Forestaysails commonly qualify as Heavy Weather Jib

A line item in the HWJ definition from World Sailing Offshore Regs is:

‘A heavy-weather jib (or heavy-weather sail in a boat with no forestay) with: area of 13.5% height of the foretriangle (IG) squared and a readily available means, independent of a luff groove, to attach to the stay.’

In practice this means grommets installed at suitable intervals in the luff of the sail immediately aft of the luff rope that enters into the headfoil on the boat.Thru these grommets may be passed lengths of line suitable for lashing the sail to the headstay in the event of damage to the foil.

The “alternative methods” of securing the sail to the stay has been edited out in the Bermuda race’s own rules. This now abandoned rule stems from the days of aluminum head foils being damaged by spinnaker poles bashing into them, rendering it impossible to get a sail up the foil. Today’s headfoils are made from plastic and spinnakers much less likely to be set on poles but at sea if something can fail, and this is everything, there must be a Plan B.

In the case of the HWJ, having your sailmaker install grommets up the luff so the sail can be secured to the foil (by short lengths of line premade for the purpose and stored in the emergency took kit, right?) is a very good idea. You can also leave the lines in the sail permanently because IF the foil fails AND you need to set this HWJ, having the lines already installed will be a lot easier than having a couple of crew sitting in the bow lacing the lines they the grommets for 30 minutes or so. And as a practical matter their presence will have zero impact on the performance of the sail for those thinking abut windage

Here is another Cooper TIP too. Backup grommets are something to think about for all headsails. Apart from the fact the head foil will not get un-busted when the breeze abates and having a way to set headsails is generally a good idea in an ocean race there is another utility made available by such grommets in the luff.

During the headsail changing process sails so equipped can have a length of light line woven back and forth, Dutchman like, through these grommets. The bottom end is made off with a figure eight knot so the line does not pass thru the grommets. All of this does a couple of things. It helps keep the luff of the sail forward in the flaking process. It offers a way to tie off the bulk of the forward end of the sail. This gives the crew at that end of the procedure a bit more freedom to wrestle the sail back into its turtle. If push comes to shove, a sail can be tied off to the boat at the forward end and it is perfectly possible for one man or woman to get a headsail into a turtle by themselves. Just ask anyone who did the sewer on a 12-meter, back in the day. Finally when changing back to this sail as the wind diminishes, the upper end of this line can be temporarily tied off until the sail is really ready to get hoisted. This makes it a bit harder for the (forward end of the) sail to go over the side.

STORM SAILS:

Sail offshore long enough (and or sail with no reefs in the mainsail) and you WILL meet conditions that will require all your seamanship skills, those of your crew AND small sails. The Newport to Bermuda Race requirements for the storm sails are:

3.33.2 Storm Trysail:

A yacht shall carry a storm trysail, with the yacht’s sail number displayed on both sides, that can be set independently of the main boom, has an area less than 17.5% of “E” x “P”, and which is capable of being attached to the mast. Storm sails manufactured after 1/1/2014 must be constructed from a highly visible material. Commonly this is an orange, yellow or pink material.

Trysail sheeted to boom

Trysail sheeted to boom

 

Rugg J 105 Storm Try tied around the boomA trysail sheeted to the boom: The traditional sheeting method for trysails is to lead the sheets to the quarter blocks in the stern. This causes chafe, where the sheet passes over the life lines, results in a poor shape when the sail is eased, leaves a lot of sail flapping around in tacks or gybes or needs more people to perform these manouvers. A very viable alternative is to set the trysail off the boom as seen above. In this case a reef lines is used. HOw ever the sail is set one must be on constant guard for chafe.

3.33.4 Storm Jib:

A yacht shall carry a storm jib not exceeding 5% of the yacht’s “I” dimension squared, and equipped with an alternative means of attachment to the headstay in the event of a failure of the head foil. Storm sails manufactured after 1/1/2014 must be constructed from a highly visible material.

Storm sails built after 2014 are required to be a high visibility color.

Storm sails built after 2014 are required to be a high visibility color.

The decision to set a trysail or not (and how to lower and stow it, don’t forget) is largely driven by the size and type of boat and by extension the skills of the owners and crew. The age, physical dexterity, strength, skill, sailing ability, seamanship and experience are all factors in sail handling in these conditions. And the last two are not always the same as sailing skill. One magazine article cannot address the many variables in methods for using and lowering a trysail let alone the variables on the course.

I would strongly recommend practicing as often as you can with all the crew and especially in crappy, windy weather doing all the evolutions and especially reefing and headsail changes.

Frankly the forgoing requirements for racing boats present very sound information for anyone bound offshore. AND yes, I get that people don’t want to carry Storm Sails around but they have uses outside of conditions over 50 knots.

Next up, what sails do I NEED for the Bermuda races

 

SAILS-Mainsail measuring

Measuring for a new mainsail:

Sailmakers require many more details than just the luff and foot length and the color of the sail numbers. Here is a review of three of the core elements of the 10-15 details that are needed for a mainsail

TACK/REEFING DETAILS.

Getting the small details right is an important part of the thinking that most sailmakers put into the building of sails. If the following details are not right, they can have a visual or practical effect on the sail. This post will focus on the tack, clew and reefing information sailmakers need.

The TACK & REEF set backs are taken from the AFT face of the mast.

The Tack SET UP is taken from the top surface of the boom,  In this image, below, I can get the tack set back: This is the distance aft from the aft face of the mast to the bearing point (Aft side of the pin of course) of the tack pin known as Tack Set Back. We abbreviate this to the TSB.

In this photo, below, the TSB is 3 3/4″

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Tack SET UP, is the same idea but measured vertically from the top surface of the boom UP to the bearing surface of the tack pin as seen below. IN this case the TS UP is on the order of 7/16″ and the TSB is about 2.5 inches. And yes this is a dinghy, but the principals remain the same

IMG_3703

 

BELOW: The TSB is measured FROM the aft face of the MAST to the FORWARD side of the tack pin, the bearing surface of the pin. In this case TSB is 20 mm. or /3/4″

Tack set back in an Olson 29

 

Below: In some cases the tack set up is zero, or is noted as being in line with the bolt rope as on this Halberg-Rassey 31 with, again, Selden spars. The tack is secured with string because the tack shackle was missing the day I was there. And notice also the distance aft of the mast the bolt rope is. This sail had full length battens and so that hardware pushes the sail ‘skin’ aft too.

Lorteau tack detail

 

 

BELOW: this is a detail of the tack area of a Saga 40 with a Selden Spar. In this case the boat will not use the ‘J’ Hooks because it has single line reefing.

Saga 40 main tack detail

 

BELOW: Reef Ring Set back on the same boat. In this instance the boom has a single line reefing arrangement where the luff reef line exits at the top of the boom and attaches to the reef tack. This naturally enough causes the bearing surface of the reef grommet to be some distance aft, like about 4+ inches in this case. IF the RRSB is too far forward, THEN the sail will drift aft until it is restrained by the reef line. IN this case it is most likely to place a heavy load on the slide immediately above the reef point. Worst case scenario, this slide will tear the sail.

Luff reef 2

 

 

BELOW is another version again on a Selden mast, of the same kind of detail. IN this case the line goes thru a block in order to reduce the (tremendous ) friction that single line systems have. In both these setups one needs to be careful to not grind the luff down on top the blocks on the top of the boom, or in the case of the version above, onto the tack fitting and related metal work as it is here. This was a test set up a the dock. We subsequently marked all the lines.

Selden reefing system with block at luff

 

BELOW: These so called ‘floppy rings’ make it a lot easier to get the ref secured to the ‘J’ hooks, rather than trying to bend the cringle in the sail bent around the hooks.

 

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I can also get the same detail for the reefing arrangement at the luff of the reef. The two inverted metal “J”s receive the luff reef ring. Called by Sailmakers the Reef Ring Set Back, RRSB. We would put “floppy rings” in the luff reef in this case.

OLDER WOODEN BOATS: With roller reefing booms. The details on these booms/goosenecks clew ends are a little bot more tricky. As seen below, the tack shackle is a long way aft, I have seen as much as 6 inches. IF this is not captured in the sail, AND the tack ring in the sail is not the right amount of setback, the loads really come on the first second sometimes third slide above the boom.

 

BELOW: this older Alden design has an original roller reefing boom from the 1950’s or earlier. There are two details here. ONE is the big Tack Set Back. There other detail is there is not reefing mechanism, no obvious and easy way to secure a reef in the mainsail

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SO: Tack set back is that distance aft of the mast at which the bearing point of the pin that takes the tack load is located.

SO: Reef ring set back is that distance aft of the mast at which the bearing point of whatever secures the reef grommet takes the load.

 

CLEW details