Candy Store Cup and high school sailing

The Candy Store Cup, staged out of the Newport Shipyard, in RI was held over 3 days, the last weekend of July. The Candy Store Cup is a dedicated regatta for Super Yachts, with the minimum LOA for entry of nominally 30 meters, around 100 feet. Such yachts are generally not the kind of boats high school sailors get the opportunity to sail on, outside of the owner’s family and friends. Fortunately I have a lot of mates in the area who know of my interest in, work with and passion for, having local high school sailors have the kinds of experiences I had as a teenager, well sort of. NOT too many 56 meter Perini Navi Ketches in Sydney town in the 1960s and 1970s.

Sarah taking it all in during the Candy Store Cup on Zenji

 

A couple of weeks before the regatta I had an email from Murray Lord, principal at Wellington Yacht Partners and former yacht captain of small ships of this size. The note asked me if I was interested in sailing on Zenji for the Candy Sore Cup, and if so to contact the captain. Murray was to be the ‘race’ skipper.

 

One thing led to another and after meeting with Matt, the very pleasant and easy going British skipper, I got the nod. At the end of our discussions I raised one point of interest to me, ‘can I bring some HS sailors? After some more talking on this subject, Matt was gracious enough to let me bring up to three young sailors per day. Hot Dog, I thought.

Crossing tacks with Meteor

I sent out the Bat Signal for another Cooper Kaper to the Prout School Sailing team email list on this topic. Short version? I was able to have 5 of the sailors, all young ladies, (80% of the 2017 team was ladies) rotate through the four days of sailing, one practice and three race days with me.

Well, ‘sailing’ on a 56 meter Perini is a rather different bag o’ sail ties than almost any other sailing. There is barely anything one person alone can do on deck, the kite sheets are probably 350 feet of 25 mm spectra, the dock lines not as long but twice as thick and even the fenders, light though they are being inflatable, are more easily managed by two. And the kite? I did not get the actual area of the sail but it lives, on the foredeck, in a bag that would be hard to get into the average sailmakers Ford 350 Econovan.

Payton, Isabella and Lucy, hamming it up before the start on Saturday, breeze on.

So just where does one start with ‘sailing with young sailors’ at this level? The same way one does it with any other boat, how to get off the dock. At 183 feet and 550 tons more or less Zenji is not simply pushed off the dock by a collective crew heave. It is an example of the kind of teamwork that is the hallmark of good, nay great, teams. On the first day, I took my charge to a convenient watching place, out of the way and discussed the co-ordination, teamwork, communications and calm required to move this ship. The mate, another pleasant young Brit, James, was at the stern with a hand held radio, another crew member was at the bow, with radio speaking to Matt, on the bridge coordinating which line was to be cast off, in what order, the distance off the dock, distance to the pier astern of us and so on. Zenji has bow and stern thrusters, so they supplied the collective heave, to perhaps 15 feet of the dock at which point Matt engaged the (two) engines and we started to idle south. This particular process was duplicated daily over the course of the regatta. All the time we were motoring out to sea, to hoist sails, there was a look out on the bow offering a running commentary on other traffic and lobster pots.

Friday was quite a bust with very little air making spinnaker work exasperating. Here, Sarah, Isabella and Mikaela seem to be managing the stress with aplomb during lunch. Two of my aft deck crew, Owen and Bill, are seen in the background, discussing tactics, one hopes.

At the first gathering for the race crew, the Monday prior to the regatta, Matt ran through the housekeeping issues, safety, where the day head was, where to stow our kit and so on. He also handed out ‘The playbook’ for the crew, ship and regatta.

The ‘play book’ was an interesting read I shared with Sarah, the Prout sailor on Tuesday, our second practice day. Multiple copies of this ‘book,’ secured in waterproof sleeves and bound in yellow plastic binders held all the information anyone on the crew would need during any evolution to do with sail’s and sail handling. The crew numbered about 20 ‘race crew,’ plus James, the mate and 3,4 deck hands. The binders were labeled, and mine had Aft Deck Boss written across the top.

Literally, the Zenji Play Book for sail and ship handling evolutions.

The discussion with Sarah was on the idea that sailing something like this required multiple people to do even the simplest task, and given the bulk of the race crew had not sailed together and in some cases, like me, not on the boat at all anything that could be done to get every one, literally, on the same page was good, sound and prudent seamanship. A discussion of just what Seamanship is, was a constant theme during the four days with the ladies.

To give one a sense of the size of Zenji, this is a picture of bowman, Juggy, going aloft to check in something. He is between the second and third spreaders.

The five main pages in the book were spread sheets of the crew dispositions and tasks for each maneuver. OK, this might not be critical in a 420, a J-70 or a 50-foot handicap offshore yacht. But the idea I discussed with Sarah was that each position on the ship has a role that varies by what evolution is about to happen.

The procedure aboard Zenji, for gybing including the 5 minute warning, then a one minute, then the action: GYBE and the post action activities.

I was honored to have three really skilled sailors as ‘my team’ on the aft deck where the kite trimming was to happen and introduced Sarah to them and we discussed the sequence and timing of setting, gybing and dousing the kite. Outside gybes were, by the way, great entertainment with about 250 feet of sheet moving around the bow in pretty short order…

The two headsail were on furlers, vast monstrosities, hydraulically driven from the bridge, that we wrapped in towels lashed up with light line and covered with multiple passes, mummy like of a 12 inch wide roll of a self-adhesive version of a shrink-wrap like plastic to protect the blinding stainless steel finish and the 30 mm diameter hydraulic cables.

The genoa furler on Zenji is like everything else on the ship, BIG. The light line on the deck is the lashings we had securing the towels, under the instant shrink wrap. The black line is one of the forward dock lines.

During Sarah’s, and on subsequent days, the other ladies, pre-departure tour of the bridge, they were introduced to the control panels for managing the loads on this ship. Everything from the centerboard up & down controls, the sail hydraulics, (the main and mizzen were in-boom furling arrangements) headsails in & out, headsail sheet controls-they were led to under deck captive winches. The crew was admonished to stand out of the way of the genoa sheets, at full crank there is roughly 10 tons of load on the 25 mm spectra sheets, and so on. The headsail sheet warning led to a discussion of ‘standing in the bight’ and a couple of quick tales, that almost all the crew had, of someone getting hurt when standing in the bight and a block let go. All of this hydraulic power was under the command of the Toggle Master, one David Dawes, formerly the master of the Oliver Hazard Perry, the RI tall ship.

The ladies on the bridge getting some tips from Safety Officer, Ted Hood

My take on all this to the ladies was along the lines of ‘anytime you have a team of any number of souls doing anything, it is important to break the tasks up into bite size and manageable pieces, to have competent managers in each area, to make sure that every team member knows what the goal is and when and how to do their task. This example happened to be on a sailing boat, but such principals are very handy in the non-sailing world’.

Handling the kite is, in essence, the same as any other kite evolution, except it takes longer and requires a lot more coordination. To this end the bowman, Newport local, Justin Juggy Clougher had a radio, as did I, and also Dale Tremain, aka Crusty, the overall Deck Boss, so co-ordination between the bow and stern teams was thus rendered about as straightforward as on any Weekend Warrior 40 footer, may be better.

I had plenty of opportunities to reinforce one of my common memes that the physics of sailing do not change with the size of the boat, merely that the boats get more complicated to handle. The handling of the sail(s) and the required coordination with the helmsman are all the same, regardless of the LOA.

The very beautiful schooner,Naema, roaring past us in conditions perfect for her.

The primary difference in spinnaker handling was in the amount of line (sheet) moving and the speed with which it needed to move particularly during gybes. This speed required that the kite sheets be ready to run and with no kinks in them. The sheets were flaked out on the aft deck, which was fortunately big enough, in long, perhaps 10 feet per pass, all neatly nested next to each other. This action gave me the opportunity to discuss the problems that arise if the sheets fouled on something. The action of preparing for the next evolution is another theme of seamanship I try and constantly bring to the attention of the ladies regardless of what we are sailing on. The ‘what will happen next and what will we do if it goes south’ mind set being a pretty good working definition of seamanship.

Speaking of seamanship, this 30 second video is of Billy Black out doing his thing. The red line, secured to the rail, next to the Zenji crew, is the coiled spinnaker sheet

IMG_0371

Five of the ladies had the opportunity to sail with me on this Kaper. They all enjoyed themselves, even if sailing was not strictly what they were doing. The trio on the last day did however get to experience that full effect of sailing on a Super-yacht, the ancient art of Wash-down and Shammy. The ladies took it all seriously, even while smiling and laughing, their signature trademarks as far as Prout sailors are concerned and worked just as hard as though they were a regular part of a big boat crew.

If sailing incorporates the idea of seamanship, even in an Opti, then a day or two on a small ship like Zenji is, while not strictly sailing, an eye opener into the larger (literally) world of sailing and seamanship, where everything needs planning and forethought, two key hallmarks of good and sound seamanship.

After the last race, the work of cleaning up begins. Here Isabella working is on the tidying up the kite sheets, which probably weight more then her.

My last job of the last day was to present Matt with a Prout Sailing shirt as a gesture of our appreciation of his willingness to help give young sailors a look at another card in the vast deck of this activity we do called sailing.

The last job of the day, for the ladies: shammy down the metal.

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