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Old 10-08-2010
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Collision course!

Last weekend, my wife and I sailed our 31' Cheoy Lee ketch in a round the bouys race for the first time. We've sailed a smaller boat in races in the past. The wind was over 20mph with higher gusts, and the boat was a handfull. We particularly had to be on our toes to avoid the other boats that were jockying for position on the start line.

After the races were over, and we had avoided calamity; we talked about our comfort level of having other boats near us and occaisionally on collision course. This got me thinking about threads that mentioned other boats on a collision course with them, and having to avoid that collision.

What is your comfort level? How close can another boat come before you freak out? Has racing experience helped you stay calm in a tight situation?

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Old 10-08-2010
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Getting close in races, especially at the start and mark roundings is just the nature of the beast. You mention 20 knots and the boat being a handful - were you reefed? People have a tendency not to reef in races because they thing they will be slowed too much. The opposite can be the case. A reef on windward legs and unreef on others.

Also, you have to know the racing rules and with experience you get to know which boats tend to push their luck when they don't have right-of-way.
Finished the circumnavigation in early February in Grenada. Have to work on a book project for the next several months so the boat will be waiting for next year.
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Old 10-08-2010
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A couple of inches on both sides will do the job. Rudely take the guy to windward up if you need room or air.
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Last edited by sailingfool; 10-08-2010 at 09:13 PM.
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Old 10-08-2010
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We used a 110 jib and mizzen on the upwind, and hoisted the main for the downwind. However; some of the gusts were as high as 30mph, and caused many of the boats to have steering problems that made us have to get out of their way, because they couldn't steer well. We also experienced hard steering during gusts and had to dump the mizzen sometimes.

We probably had more close calls in one start, than we would have in a year of normal sailing. It made me think that I shouldn't be too nervous just because another boat is heading our way and is only an 1/8th of a mile. I'll simply give him room and avoid him.

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Old 10-08-2010
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Originally Posted by sailingfool View Post
A couple of inches on both sides will do the job. Rudely take the guy to windward up if you need room or air.
..but leave his/her room to keep clear in doing so.

I guess I'm pretty comfortable getting very close to boats. Oddly enough, I'm more cautious in 'casual race' type of events when many of the other boats aren't used to being close to each other and aren't very familiar with the rules. The local PHRF stuff though, most of the boats know what they're doing (with a couple of exceptions), so there's an element of mutual trust in boat handling skills and general knowledge of the rules.
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Old 10-09-2010
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Discretion is the better part of valor, especially at the start. Some people don't know the rules well enough to avoid problems racing. We caught a boat barging at the start in one race. Told him not to go between us and the Committee Boat. Warned him to turn away once he headed in. Protested when he failed to respond, and then tried to avoid him: luffed sails, turned, called warnings again: he kept reaching across our path. Despite our efforts, he ended up catching our bow pulpit on the dinghy outboard he had mounted on his stern rail. This pulled us to into the boat to our leeward, with a big CRACK. Our forward momentum pushed his stern around until the our pulpit came unhooked so that he proceeded, having lost steerageway, to bang down alongside the other side of the unfortunate boat to our leeward. Several thousand dollar's worth of damage resulted from getting four inches too close. (And, at 36', we were the smallest boat involved.) I like to keep boats that big at least two feet apart. We have a group of fairly intense racers.

Last edited by paulk; 10-09-2010 at 08:39 AM. Reason: punctuation
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Old 10-09-2010
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There's a big difference, IMO of the definition of "enough clearance" in a racing situation vs daysailing around the bay or cruising.

When you're in a crossing situation in a race, you KNOW (most of the time) the other guy is going to stay hard on the wind, or hold his course, or, if he maneuvers it will happen with your intentions in mind. A non racer often steers an erratic course, making judging a collision course more difficult.

We've always had a nimble enough boat to be confident of executing a close cross and keeping clear - but always assuming the other boat will behave logically and/or according to the rules. Occasionally while cruising and on a beat, we're loathe to give up some hard-fought height because a cruiser is crossing with rights... so the racer in me wants course before ducking to clear. We won't press a cross ahead, but also won't feel the need to clear by a huge margin.

What happens, of course, esp if the crosser has never raced, is they 'panic' and tack away or otherwise maneuver in a way that foils our plan to safely clear and now we'll have to react to the new situation.

It's hard to blame the other boat for taking those measures, after all they don't know what we intended and may not know that a)we see them, and b) can easily get round them. Some peoples' 'comfort zones' extend 1/4 mile and no closer.

How close is too close is a hugely variable parameter... Either way it's critical to be aware of traffic, and with a big genoa this means plenty of trips across the cockpit to have a look around in your blind spot. (Especially on a sunny, crowded bay full of people out for a daysail, sailing school fleets, etc.)

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Old 10-09-2010
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Racing is a total different beast. A majority of my sailing time has been racing on very competitive boats. I am very comfortable with all aspects of sailing but would not want to helm a boat at the start of the race, knowing that a collision could result in a large portion of my annual income being gone.

Also at the mark rounding there are other close calls. It can get very exciting and the skipper needs nerves of steal and skills to back it up.

I used to race on a boat called a Kiwi 35. Dad had another 35 footer and let his son (30 something) race it. Imagine a 2800 lb dingy with wings that had a crew to sit on the rail to try to keep the boat flat. The skipper was a very skilled helmsman and would cut the marks as tight as he could, often requiring the crew to lift their legs to avoid hitting the mark. Every time the crew would be yelling at him to quit showing off. We are talking inches not feet of clearance. The crew would be pissed at the risk taken but he never hit one when I was aboard.

Once on a coastal race we were crossing traffic. A sailboat towing a dingy was heading to an offshore island. We crossed about 3 boat lengths in front of the other boat that then yelled "Starboard" angrily. The rest of the trip all you had to do was yell starboard to get riotous laugh out of the crew.

The point of the story is the level of skills and comfort in close quarters between racers and non racers, makes it a different sport. Experienced skippers will use their skills to make a Newbie flinch and get out of the way. It is not for the feint of heart. The opposite as Paulk pointed out is inexperienced people out there not knowing the rules can make it dangerous and expensive. Watch out for unknown boats or observe them in the 5 minutes leading to the horn, to see if they know what they are doing, avoid them if in doubt.

If your area has a lot of boats there will be fleets, A, B, C, etc. each being slower and less aggressive than A usually. It might be good to start out crewing on the slower fleets to see how it can go in a less competitive environment. Another tactic is to hang back and cross a few boatlengths behind the competitive boats, tack for clean air.
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Old 10-09-2010
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When I was working on ships the allowed CPA was Three miles.
When on Offshore supply vessels the comfort zone was a CPA of about three quarters of a mile
On Utility Boats it was about one third to a half mile of a mile. Pending on the other vessel's steering skills.
When I had my sail boat it was around seventy yards.
All of the above was with other vessels of similar sizes.
But with a sailboat and a ship? Three miles is a good CPA.
All of the above is on open waters... When on rivers, bays, ICW and bayous, I take the furthest away I can be.
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Old 10-09-2010
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Chuck, "close" is a totally objective thing. Whatever your comfort level is, is close enough. If you spend a season playing with barge traffic, 1/4 mile clearance might be as thin as you want to get. If you spend that season Racing with a capitol "R"'ll either be dead last all the time or you'll learn that if there's space to drop a playing card between two hulls, that's all you need.

And that also means you need to make some judgement calls about the other vessel and how sharp their crew might be, yes.

If you are there to win--you have to push for the playing card distance. If you're repair budget isn't that great and you'd rather relax, you open it up to whatever your personal comfort zone is.

I've only known one exception to this rule: A beautifully varnished wood boat that competed in weekend races one year. The unspoken rule among all the other competitors was "Don't you dare hit that boat, give him room!" Yeah, the brightwork WAS that awesome.
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