Oh no not another learning experience!
Reflecting on what went right and wrong during this weekend's regatta, I have plenty upon which to ruminate. Many things went right and wrong on "Black Magic" during this weekend's regatta:
We started well. We even had the fleet leader covered for a while in one race, until he managed to tack away from us and we didn't follow ... to our loss.
We did have to protest one boat that fouled us, but it was a decent learning experience for all involved. We managed to be alert enough to avoid fouling other boats, including during some close pre-start maneuvers that required us to maneuver pretty precisely.
We were able to control the boat during heavier conditions than we normally sail in, and we flew the spinnaker in more wind than we've ever flown it in before, without any serious problems.
We managed to be second to the finish in all of our races, including one race where we had to catch up and pass a boat. We are generally getting a bit better at "saving our time" against the boats that have been correcting over us.
Despite heavier conditions on Sunday, we sailed better and applied some lessons learned the previous day.
And, on Sunday, for the first time ever, we did shroud re-tuning while under way out on the race course in heavy weather and our jib trimmer achieved good lower shroud tension by feel.
Several things did go wrong, and we have some possible solutions:
Some of our bigger problems this past weekend were
1. Our spinnaker guy broke during Saturday's second run, and our skipper decided to not try to have us re-tie the line. A few lessons from hindsight: We shouldn't have worried about the re-tied line not fitting through the twing, since the Etchells has a foreguy and even a free-floating spinnaker is a lot better than no spinnaker. And, the sheets that came with the boat probably weren't the best choice and should have been replaced. And, we should have had some spare line on board. We need to do even more preventive maintenance and replacements than we have been. Particularly, we should inspect for non-UV-resistant lines that may be weak.
2. During Sunday's final leeward mark rounding, a sloppy, slow jib hoist led to the jib wrapping itself around the forestay. Instead of being able to beat up the course, we had to sail off the wind, losing distance rapidly as we sailed away from the race. By the time we'd sorted out the problem, we were a few hundreds yards away and one boat had passed us and other boats had us on corrected time. Crisper, more practiced, more athletic jib handling is needed.
On #2, part of the problem was that we didn't start preparing to round the mark soon enough -- we should be getting the jib up BEFORE dousing the spinnaker, which will help to avoid the wrapping problem we had. But we were already practically on top of the mark and had to douse the spinnaker first.
3. On Sunday, the t-bar bracket attached to the mainsail halyard didn't click into its receiver on the mast. We cleated the mainsail as best we could, but during our sailing and racing the sail slipped down, costing us some power and pointing ability. We should have worked harder to click the bracket, and, failing that, re-cleated the mainsail as needed. The lack of full mainsail power was a handicap that cost us separation from the fleet and probably quite a bit of time.
4. Our boat had too much weather helm, in spite of generally good rig tuning. Two solutions: 1st: Middle/main trimmer should have dumped traveler more quickly/further for medium-heavy conditions. 2nd: Boat needs ability to have mast butt and rake adjusted. Installation of a forestay adjuster and a mast-moving system should allow crew to prepare boat when heavier conditions are predicted.
5. On Sunday, crew inexperience in heavy conditions, the novelty of the reach legs, and the lack of a third Etchells with which to compete, may have been reasons for the skipper to delay our initial spinnaker hoist. However, this delay let other boats begin to catch up with us.
Topping lift tangles delayed one spinnaker set, costing us some time. Crew need to be more alert to housekeeping.
Actually, the topping lift caused problems not just once, but three times. It got wrapped around the forestay on the first leeward rounding, delaying the jib set. It got tangled up with the spinnaker halyard during the second spinnaker set, delaying that. And it ended up somehow wrapped around the starboard shroud, creeping upward, on the final windward beat.
Solution: Foredeck crew needs to leave topping lift clipped to the pole or to the spinnaker ring at all times. When the pole needs to be dropped, the topping lift must be uncleated by the middle crew so it can remain attached (and foredeck and mast crew need to say more than just "Topping lift!" in order for the middle crew to know what to do with it; e.g., "release" or "uncleat").
Jib trimmer lacked physical strength to trim jib to close-hauled and had to get assistance from middle crew. Only one crew member had physical strength for some heavy-air tasks.
Forward crew used imprecise language such as "give me some topping lift". What does "give me" mean? Trim? Ease? Release? Raise? Lower? How far?
Crew was a little slow to learn when to square back pole for running on Saturday but did better on Sunday. We can likely set the chute better in the future as we get more practice with it and get more comfortable with it. We should think about and practice what to do should things go foul with the chute.
Mainsheet sometimes kinks and requires policing; sometimes trimmer has to delay sheeting out or in to untangle the sheet. Mainsheet tends to stick to or get caught in skipper's hair or PFD. Tiller and extension sometimes get caught in cuddy opening or traveler lines. Solutions: Better lines or more housekeeping??
The mainsheet has never been tangled up with my hair, but it does indeed sometimes catch my PFD.
I've been lifting the tiller up over the coaming on tacks, so it doesn't foul on the traveler lines any more -- the two times it got stuck this weekend, it snagged on the strap of my PFD. A new tiller with a higher arch would at least be easier to handle -- but also right now remains on a wish list.
Spinnaker guy flew out from spin pole, leading to a chute collapse and an early spinnaker takedown on a run. Was this caused by a pole problem (test it and fix it) or a crew error (incomplete insertion of guy or closure of jaw) or something else strange, such as maybe the knot bumping the jaw?
We'd replaced the original spinnaker pole with one that was in better condition, but it has a quirk. One jaw sometimes is reluctant to close on its own.
Solution: Foredeck crew needs to check to make sure jaw is fully closed. Crew should be briefed on quirks of the pole and other equipment and given time to practice before a race. Peculiarities of a specific spinnaker pole and conditions on the race course may affect the skipper's response to the "jaws up" or "jaws down" debate. Note: The pole jaws were lubricated before the race.
We did have a couple of near-misses on boat control when the chute was flying. Practice, practice, practice.
Spinnaker bags are tucked away under the side deck coaming, which makes it harder and more time-consuming to deploy the spinnaker and increases the chance of the spinnaker getting snagged. Solution: Replace bags with bins attached to cleated release line so bags can be brought into the cockpit to make hoist easier.
Traveler cleat doesn't always hold. Solution: replace cleats when we can afford to do so.
Various cleats are mounted loosely, or have bad bearings, or damaged jaws, or other problems. Solution: continue to replace hardware as our budget allows. Relocate cleats and lines to better positions when possible.
Mast is old and soft. Solution: We need to learn how to adjust the rig, mast blocking, and other controls to get the most we can out of our mast and match mast and sail shapes.
Sails are mostly older and our inventory is limited in some areas. Some sail seller's catalogues and labeling are inaccurate. Solutions: Now that we've been inventorying our sails to find out what we really have, we can try to buy certain types of used sails to fill some of the voids in our inventory. We also need to learn how to adjust the rig, mast blocking, and other controls to get the most we can out of our mast and sails in different conditions.
General comment: Lots of rigging and hardware needs to be replaced; all we can do is replace items bit by bit.
Skipper’s additional comment:
Being fouled by another boat during Saturday’s first race, first beat, caused us to be driven away from the windward mark. Although we protested the other boat, and their crew said they took their penalty, we wound up suffering more than they did as we were driven into a wind hole and the other boat got ahead of us at a critical point in the race, gaining a significant advantage. It took five minutes to get out of the wind hole, during which time most of the fleet passed us. Although we later passed all the boats except for the fleet leader, we lost to some of them on corrected time. In a more formal regatta we likely would have had grounds for requesting redress from a protest committee.
Estimated cost of various mishaps or "opportunities for improvement" in Sunday's race:
90 to 120 seconds Jib wrapped around forestay and big detour
60 to 90 seconds Mainsail not clicked and sagging halyard cleat
45 to 75 seconds Too much weather helm; traveler trim, mast rake, mast butt
20 to 30 seconds Slow to deploy spinnaker for first reach leg
20 to 30 seconds Topping lift tangles delaying jib and spin sets
15 to 20 seconds Lack of full jib trim
10 to 15 seconds Spinnaker trim and control
??? Crew coordination and crew strength
??? Limited ability to find wind