Hall Spars Carbon mast for a Gunboat 90

One of the great aspects of my life is I get to wander around boat yards and so see lots of really interesting and innovative things to do with boats. Very kid in a candy store stuff. A couple of days ago I was at the Hinckley/Hunt marina complex in Portsmouth RI when I came across two Hall technicians prepping a Carbon mast to be returned to its boat, a 90 foot Gunboat catamaran.

Hall Spars has long been a leader in the construction of Carbon fiber masts. Brothers Ben and Eric Hall have been building spars for pushing 40 years and carbon masts, booms, kite poles and other carbon bits for probably 25 plus years. This brief post shows some pictures of parts of the mast and some commentary from me. Enjoy.

This first image, below, is of the bottom of the mast. The rig is a partial wing mast (NOT a wing sail), which means that it is perhaps 700 mm long (fore and aft-Compare with the ladder or my coffee cup on the ladder) and is much more wing shaped, albeit thicker, as wings go, than a conventional spar.

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There are a number of reasons for using a wing shaped mast on a fast boat, not the least of which is to reduce drag as the airflow begins to pass over the sail. The drag from conventional shaped, (roughly oval in cross section) adds up when you do the math to sum the cross sectional frontal area exposed to the wind. An additional benefit of wing masts is there is a lot less standing rigging required to hold the mast up-This has long been a benefit of multihulls because of the wide staying base.

A wide staying base reduces the loads on the mast, and also the amount of rigging needed to keep it up. With the elimination of multiple sets of spreaders, and intricate standing rigging, the mast can be this wing shape.

Today, composite standing rigging is certainly lighter and stronger than any metal rigging, but composite standing rigging is thicker in cross section, so having less of it is a big plus. The image below is of the ‘bobstay’ securing the top of the deck spreaders to the hull on No way out, the latest IMOCA 60 from VPLP/Verdier. The acute angle demands stronger, so thicker material, but  you get the idea.

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The bobstay, is secured to the hull in some invisible fashion, below. Notice that all of this is so the boat can have its own partial wing mast, or vice versa…

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Finally the drag goes up exponentially with the speed, so a cat or tri (Like Spindrift, shown in the featured image) is incorporated into the sail area and sail shape for considerations of sail shape.

The facility of wide shroud base has transitioned into the IMOCA 60 boats, (seen below is ‘No way out’) such as those in the Vendee Globe presently underway.

This latest generation IMOCA 60 has the now common deck spreaders and wing shection mast. The spreaders are to get a wide shroud base, to minize the compression on the spar so it can be a but lighter. Many many Excel spreadsheet Cells were sacrificed in figuring out the cost benefit of this arrangemebt.

This latest generation IMOCA 60 has the now common deck spreaders and wing section mast. The spreaders are to get a wide shroud base, to minimize the compression on the spar so it can be a bit lighter. Many, many Excel spreadsheet Cells were sacrificed in figuring out the cost benefit of this arrangement.

The variations in the size of wing masts are as varied as the boats themselves, as this picture below, of Spindrift, shows. (Spindrift Racing was kind enough to let me have some of the Prout Sailing Team visit Spindrift a couple of years ago.) On the forward side of the mast, at the base, you can see the rotating quadrant with tackle attached. See too, the knife in the yellow sheath, just next to Julia’s left calf…..

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Back to the Gunboat mast.

Because it is a wing mast, it is deck stepped so it can be rotated. (Or perhaps it is the other way around. It is stepped on deck so it CAN BE a wing mast). To achieve this rotational ability, there are two unique details. The bronze colored circle in the middle is the fitting, slightly concave, which lands on top of its mate on the mast step, on the boat. It is basically a bearing surface for the mast to sit on, so it can rotate.

gunboat-mast-step-2

The half circle looking part is on the forward side of the mast. It is, and so acts like, a quadrant, in a wheel steering system providing a lever arm to move the spar. There are control lines mounted to it and when actuated, these lines can turn the mast thru, what looks like 90 degrees, but is probably only 45 degrees, either side of fore and aft, in practice. You can see these more clearly in the Spindrift images, above.

This closer detail shows a remarkable piece of carbon detailing and finish work. Smooth, shiny and undoubtedly strong. It is as much a work of artisan craftsmanship as an engineering part for a 90-foot high-speed sailboat.

gunboat-mast-rotation-quadrent-detail

Built into the base of the mast is a detail to accept the halyard turning blocks. This design is necessary because the (aft side of the) mast moves thru, perhaps 12-18 inches when being rotated, so incorporating the blocks mounted onto the mast eliminates the traditional idea of mounting them to the deck with big pad eyes thru bolted.

gunboat-mast-base-blocks

This traditional method would not be very successful in any event because the halyard’s lead out of the mast would be moving all over the place as the mast rotates. In keeping with the proliferation of using cordage in lieu of metal for securing things to the boat, these Harken blocks are looped onto the mast with large diameter spectra. The Harken Velcro straps stop the loop from separating when there is no load on the block. The little piece of light line is probably to keep the Velcro attached to the boat when working on the block

At the loads the sails on these boats generate the engineers must consider the transfer of this load thru the (main) sail’s leech to the mast track.  In this picture, a section of track is the pewter colored piece on the aft side, the bottom, of the of the mast in the image. The loads on this boat, when sailing full speed, close to the wind, with a fully hoisted main are considerable. Bear in mind that a 90 foot cat, particularly a light fast one, generates the kinds of sail loads roughly equal to a 140-150 foot monohull

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And just as much load is generated when reefed. This next image shows the beefy metal (I did not ask what) at the reefs too. The luff track/batten car slider system is suitably large Ronstan ball bearing equipment. This construction detailing on the spar of course requires considerable communications between the Sailmakers and the mast builders as to where the head of the sail will land when the sail is reefed.

gunboat-mast-track-reinforcement-for-reefs

Another detail to do with the huge loads on this (these) boat (s) is that they do not use ‘conventional’ jib halyards & furlers but rather the foresails are on ‘free luff’ furlers. These furlers have become pretty commonplace on high test boats from Class 40’s to Ultimate trimarans, like Spindrift, above.The dead weight of the sail and furler combination is lighter than a conventional aluminum section (or Carbon sections on bigger boats) and can offer the option, quite often exercised of removing the sail and stay completely. The benefit to this of course is to, again, reduce drag and weight aloft and, incidentally, improve stability. The concept and equipment for this kind of free luff furler comes from the reaching Genoas used on furlers for the solo offshore race boats for perhaps the past 20 plus years that has now trickled down to all manner of boats. In order for the loads to be accommodated, the sails/stays are secured by halyard locks. The idea of halyard locks has been around for a while–many smaller boats, Finns, Etchells, and so on have halyard locks, for the mainsail at least, and have had for years.

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The contemporary high-load halyard lock is a bit more sophisticated though. The rigging of this halyard lock and free luff sail arrangement involves a ‘stay’of a lightweight composite fiber manufactured for the purpose, being captured inside a luff tape on the jib and secured to the head and tack of the sail.This idea is basically like the luff-wire in the jib of a 420-dinghy jib for instance. The rolled up sail is hoisted on a ‘halyard’ that is really just a length of line, robust enough, to hoist the sail and, when hoisted, the top of the stay is introduced into this metal lock and is thus held in place with no load on the ‘halyard’. The lock is held to the suitably reinforced part of the mast with Spectra loops, seen below.

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This reduces weight in the mast because the sheave area does not have to be so strong as to resist the halyard tension, rotating over the sheave at about a 160 degree turn and the (hoisting) sheave itself can be much smaller, just big enough to sustain the loads of pulling the sail up. This absence of halyard load reduces the compression on the spar,(cf halyard loads in previous sentence) another element contributing to the weight (savings) in the mast. No (conventional) halyard means fewer blocks at the base of the mast, or winches and clutches on the mast and so on. The lock is probably one of the few metal parts on this mast. The lock hardware thus has a padded jacket around it to protect the (beautiful) carbon work the mast represents.

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The above view is up through the tunnel which the part to be locked, the top of the stay, fits.

The stay is tensioned by some combination of tackle, winch or hydraulics as seen on, again, the IMOCA 60, No Way Out.

Stay tensioning system on IMOCA 60 No way out

As noted, wing masts have a lot less standing rigging that a conventional mast, but they are not without some rigging. The picture below shows the additional layers of carbon laminated in  and around where the spreaders pass thru the mast. The technique the Hall folks use is a layup over a mandrel, so the outside of the mast shows all the effort put into the work by the technicians actually laying the fibers onto the  spar. Truly, art meets science. The shiny-ness of the mast is probably due to a clear coat paint job.

 

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The engineering of these masts is pretty complex and must take into account all manner of multi-directional loads, both static AND dynamic and peak loads, as when sailing into the back-side of a wave at 30-35 knots and slowing down rapidly to 20 knots or less. The composite lay up for the boat’s gooseneck must withstand this loading and have a suitable safety factor to boot. This probably accounts for the size of the gooseneck. My thumb is at 21 inches.

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A proper seagoing mast ought to have a tunnel inside the spar to run the cabling for all the electronic and electric stuff. An innovative variation on the typical round tube held to the inside of the mast is this sheath fabricated from some light sailcloth. All the cabling is captive inside this sheath. It is held in place and tensioned by, at the bottom, the piece of  lightweight Spectra, the blue colored one. The reddish piece of Spectra is probably mouse line for installing and removing cabling.

gunboat-mast-cable-run-inside-spar

Certainly not all of us have the means to own and operate a gunboat 90, but as noted above, hanging around in boat yards is, for many water rats, a fine thing to do.

Feature image Spindrift Racing, 30 meter Trimaran.

Picture courtesy Spindrift racing

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Junior sailing opportunities aboard “Big Boats”

For Junior Sailors, at least in the North East, there are a variety of options for participating in “Big Boat” activities in July and August 2012.

The six seminars, three distance races and one day regatta outlined below are presented to foster the instruction & development of an experience base for Junior Sailors aboard “Big Boats”, as distinct from the dinghies they usually sail.

Juniors in command of the J-111 Fleetwing

Junior sailors aboard J-111 Fleetwing steering and trimming during the 2011 Jr. SAS Seminar in Newport

Storm Trysail Foundation Junior Safety at Sea seminars.

The Foundation’s Junior SAS Seminars introduce High School sailors to the arts and sciences of sailing on a Big Boat. The one day course includes land based instruction combined with on the water practice. Seasoned offshore instructor/volunteers cover the major skills needed to participate as a crew on a big boat: Some of the primary topics of instruction include handling of lines with particular regard to use of winches, reefing and sail changing, safety related issues, basic operation of a VHF, including Mayday drills, Spinnaker operations, different crew positions and the skills required in these positions & MOB issues & drills.

In nearly 15 years of presenting these seminars the Storm Trysail Club and more recently it’s Foundation have instructed over 2,000 teenagers in the issues of Safety At Sea and Big Boat sailing. In 1996 such training led to a USSA documented recovery of a Man Overboard in a Junior race, for which the crew were awarded the Hansen Medal.

  • Friday 20 July at Larchmont YC
  • Thursday 26 July at Raritan Yacht Club, NJ
  • Thursday 2 August at Sail Newport, RI
  • Friday 3 August at Stonington CT. This seminar is co-sponsored by N.E.S.S. and Fishers Is. YC
  • Saturday 3 August at Boston Community Boating, MA
  • Wednesday 22 August Annapolis YC

Contact info and registration particulars here: http://www.stormtrysailfoundation.org

Click on Safety at Sea seminars on the left toolbar

Then there are three distance races & a day regatta in Big Boats for Junior’s

Kite on J 40 with Kids

Jr.SAS Seminars introduce Junior Sailors to the nuances of sailing under spinnaker sen here during the 2011 seminar in Newport,RI

Fishers Is. YC Overnight race:
10 August. Block Is. Sound. This race is a new event specifically created to provide a practical application of the skills that the graduates of the Jr. Safety at Sea seminar on the 3rd have learned. Participation in a Jr. SAS seminar is required.

Dorade Trophy and Beach Point Overnight
13, 14, & 15 August: These are 2 separate events for juniors in big boats on Long Is. Sound. The Dorade Trophy (yes THAT Dorade) is a day regatta organized by Stamford YC. Sound. The Beach Point Overnight is organized by Beach Point YC.  Info can be found Junior Sailing Association of Long Is. Sound website calendar by clicking on the link above. Participation in a JR. SAS seminar is required.

Ida Lewis Distance Race:
17 August: This race features a selection of courses around Rhode Island Sound. The Youth Challenge Class was created for boats where there are two adults (minimum) and at least 40% of the crew is comprised of sailors between 14 and 20. High School sailing teams are invited to mount a campaign incorporating members of their school sailing team. Junior sailors falling outside this age group are welcome to participate but are not counted in the boats 40% number, so yes the younger sibling can come too…

Junior Junior aboard Falcon 2000

Falcon 2000, a N/M, Cookson 80 foot IMS maxi, now de-tuned, was a center piece at the 2011 Jr. SAS seminar in Newport

Participation in a Junior SAS seminar is recommended but not required for the Ida Lewis Distance Race.
For more information please contact me, Joe Cooper @:

401 965 6006
Cooper-ndn@cox.net

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