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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Learning to Sail
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  #1  
Old 06-18-2012
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Caught air on the foredeck

Well, that's never happened before.

June 6, approximately 4 PM, south San Francisco Bay, approximately 3 nm from my slip. Handheld wind meter reports winds 20-25 knots, forecast is ~22 knots, gusts to 27, nearby station (which is much calmer) reporting 17-20 knots; lots of chop. Motoring on Ericson 27. We're wearing inflatable life vests with harnesses, but we didn't deploy tethers or jacklines.

One weird thing about the south SF Bay is that the chop varies quite a lot, in ways that don't necessarily make a ton of sense. There's a lot of fetch here, and the wind blows pretty strongly out of the SFO airport, frequently opposing the tidal current, so it makes sense that there would be chop. But sometimes its windy, and not a lot of chop, and sometimes not very windy, but still choppy. And the nature of the chop seems to vary a lot, from smaller, shorter period ways, to larger, longer-period waves.

This was sort of the last-minute thing to escape the heat Saturday, so my girlfriend and I just went out with the 130% genoa furled. As we motored out (our usual habit, as there's three miles of upwind channel navigation, with varying degrees of traffic, until getting into the Bay proper), it became apparent that we needed the 70% jib.

So by this point things were starting to get fairly real, in terms of spray, substantial waves, etc. I convinced my girlfriend that I'd probably be able to switch it out myself while she helmed, and made my way to the foredeck.

Getting the genoa unfurled and down wasn't that big of a deal. I made the mistake, though, of not properly securing the bitter end of the jib halyard, sort of lamely wrapping it around the smallish cleat on the mast.

Getting the new jib up was a problem. Right as I was shackling the tack, the chop started to "get real" and it became difficult to stay steady. I tried to shackle the head, but at this point, sail started to go pretty much everywhere, and it took (what seemed like) several minutes to get from the tack to the head, to be sure I hadn't twisted it somehow. It's really hard to explain how difficult it was to feed the sail into the luff groove, and attach the screw shackle to the head, under these conditions.

This is about the time that the bow began to pitch downward rapidly. For a brief moment, I was totally in the air. I don't really understand the physics of this situation, as it seems I should rise and fall at the same rate as the boat, but whatever. Then I landed on the deck, fairly hard, as if I had jumped from some height. This happened a few more times, as I struggled with the sail.

At around this time, the cleated halyard came loose, and as it flew aft, the end hit my girlfriend in the head. She was getting soaked repeatedly from the spray off each large wave. It took a while for me to figure out that she was screaming, "Abort!"

So we sailed for a few minutes under these conditions under main only, and managed to recover the streaming halyard. We pretty much jointly came to the conclusion that there was no way this was going to happen in our current state of misery. (The girlfriend had never gotten seasick before.) So we turned around, and that was that.

I've been considering what exactly went wrong here, and what we could do differently. It obviously would have helped to have the right sail set on the dock, but it seems like a sail change like this is something we should be able to do. The girlfriend suggests that we could avoid these problems if we never went sailing ever again. My general feeling is that a much bigger boat would be more comfortable, but I don't think that's going to happen any time soon.

Well, just another summer afternoon on the SF Bay...

Last edited by aaronwindward; 06-18-2012 at 10:39 PM. Reason: Typo fix
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Old 06-19-2012
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Re: Caught air on the foredeck

If the stern is pushed up hard by a wave, the boat will pivot about its centre of gravity and the bow, therefore can easily descend faster than gravity.

I don't know what to do about the jib, but there's the physics part. :-)
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Old 06-19-2012
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Re: Caught air on the foredeck

any time you feel uncomfortable better to be safe .........always ....
practice
come into the winds for sail changes
once your sail is down.....
hang on ...dont rush ...take a breather ...fall back on your course .....smile and laugh....hug her ......
you are on a sailboat
you have no schedule
relax smile and enjoy
then when you are ready ...again set your boat into irons , raise the smaller sail and slowly fall into the wind while you are laughing and smiling
work and practice on team skills
working together
develope hand signals
laugh
if you do this
you will be amazed and in the process you will notice a soft and slow strengthen of your relationship
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Old 06-19-2012
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Re: Caught air on the foredeck

Maybe, while you are messing with the sail, she could fall off enough to make the ride a little smoother (maybe even onto a run). When ready to hoist, go back into the wind. My rule is, that if I can't swim to shore, I am clipped in. And I am a pretty sh*tty swimmer.
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Old 06-19-2012
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Re: Caught air on the foredeck

Did you give any thought to reefing the main ?

I'm on the east coast and not a SF bay sailor, but I have witnessed the conditions you guys contend with many times on my trips west.
If it's a short period chop with stiff winds against current, There's not a lot of joy in that. I've encountered that here in the narrows of New York. But, it's pretty short lived here, and you can duck into wind and current shadows. Not much shelter in SF bay from what I can see.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but, conditions there seem to generally support a 100% or less headsail more often than not. So why not start out with the smaller headsail...
Then if the wind is that light that it requires a larger sail....it's alot easier to switch to the big sail, than visa versa.
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Old 06-19-2012
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Re: Caught air on the foredeck

Tempest is right on for the main 'central' SF Bay, but other than the area near Candlestick, the south bay is often light/er. I can see why the OP has a larger headsail bent on his furler if he's spending most of his time down below the Bay Bridge.

So does your head foil have two slots? If so, do you have a spin halyard or second jib halyard? If so, you can do a 'tack change'. I'll go into detail later if this is the case.

If not, for the future, rig some bungie cord on your foredeck to keep the dropped sail under control when it's on deck and you're getting the new sail tee'd up. If you don't quite know what I mean, go look at any race boat. You also mentioned you have a screw shackle for your jib halyard... much much too slow. Hook-ups need to be quick to minimize time forward. You might also look into rigging a 'pre-feeder' on a bit of line to help getting the sail into the track, though I'm not sure how this will work with your existing furling set up. And yes, your guys could have cracked off and broad reached while you prepped and sorted out your change, then headed up (or downwind and hoist behind the main) and got your sail up.
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Old 06-19-2012
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Re: Caught air on the foredeck

I second the comment about bungees on the foredeck to wrap around sails and keep them under control. Mine are tied to the pulpit, run under the first stanchion, and are tied to the second stanchion. In between those three points there's a clip on the bungee that can clip to an eye on the toerail. "Sausage" the sail alongside the foredeck, pass the clip underneath, and clip on, and the sail is totally under control.

Another thing I found is that it's a lot more comfortable to bend on the sail while sitting on the pulpit facing aft, than while kneeling on the foredeck facing forward.

- You're not on top/under/tangled in the sailcloth.

- Depending on your jackline/tether setup, you can actually lean back into the tether at its full extension.

- A lot more to hold on to (though not as easy to hold onto the forestay).

- You are facing the cockpit so it's a lot easier to communicate with them.

It might be tricky to feed the luff into the groove from that direction, though... I have hank-ons, which don't really care what direction they're coming from (though I have to remember to use the opposite hands for pulling the piston). Otherwise I prefer this method any time the water is rough.
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Old 06-19-2012
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Re: Caught air on the foredeck

I sailed in the South Bay for a few years before moving to the Central Bay. I've seen some nasty chop in the South Bay. It can be worse than the Central Bay because the fetch is long (look on the chart at the fetch from the Bay Bridge to the San Mateo Br, and from San Mateo to Dunbarton.)

Sounds like you're sailing from Coyote Point? I like Redwood City because if the bay is rough you can just sail in the estuary.

In an ebb tide it tends to be worst in the deep part, in the shipping channel, and drops off in the shallower parts, because the current is strongest in the channel.

The chop also takes a while to build, which is why I think you think that that the chop doesn't relate to the current conditions. If you go out there on a windy day at the end of a big ebb, the chop will have really built up. On the other hand you could go out at the start of a big ebb and it's not had a chance to build yet.

I remember that weekend you sailed, because the conditions in the SB were nasty. My neighbour at the marina remarked on it, said it was one of the few days a year when he went to the end of the estuary and turned back.

So I suggest picking your battles. Stick to afternoons with a flood tide for a while, and less windy weekends. You went out in pretty demanding conditions but you'll probably find that in 6 months you are quite comfortable in them.
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Old 06-19-2012
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Re: Caught air on the foredeck

May I suggest that you work out roughly what sails you will require for an expected windspeed early on. At around 25 knots depending on the boat, crew etc you may be more comfortable with half the sail area you would use at 18 which should be around 100%.
I am not surprised you had difficulty on the foredeck in those conditions, and yes you needed to be tethered. The reason you were airborne is the bow fell away from you fast and it took a while for you to catch up with it. Changing head sails on a furler is difficult at the dock without two people one to feed it and one to raise it. Okay your halyard is at the mast but it seems to me you still have to hang on with one hand, so feed a few inches in then raise, slow and difficult. If you can't reef the jib to a satisfactory level ie with a foam luff then you need either a gale sail or a detachable forestay to which you can attach a storm jib. Again I would rather do this before I needed it.
I gather SF can be quite windy so you need to be on the conservative side with your sail choice.
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Old 06-20-2012
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Re: Caught air on the foredeck

Err changing the sail on a roller furler in 20 knots with one person? Are you CRAZY!

Nope 2 man job and even then the potential for a **** up is pretty high.

OK Here is what I would have done differently.

1 reef the main.

2 roll out a bit of the headsail and accept the poor shape.

3 find a destination that allows me to ENJOY the sail.

If 3 is not possible GO HOME. If it ain't fun why do it!

Last edited by TQA; 06-20-2012 at 11:35 AM.
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