Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fireball and Thistles at Lake Pleasant

Thistles and a Fireball dinghy begin the racing on day four of the Arizona Yacht Club's Fall Series 2012, 21 October 2012.

Viper and J/80 Sport Boats Sailing at Lake Pleasant (Sunday, 21 October 2012)

Sportboats hanging together on the east side of Lake Pleasant during Fall Series racing day four. Pairs of Vipers and J/80s keep it very close.

Snakes and J/80s downwind at Arizona's Lake Pleasant
Sunday saw a slightly different cast of racers and boats; a trimaran and some of the Catalina 22s went home, but were replaced by a group of catamarans.

Viper 46 finishing

Viper 221 finish

Sunday was quite nice on the water, with the winds quickly switching from a northerly early morning drainage wind to the more prevailing southerly direction while the race committee was setting the courses. A lull set in near mid-day and many boats went home, but more winds followed within an hour, letting people still on the lake enjoy cruising around or sailing just for fun.

J/80 Kicks finishing

J/80 Kicks leaving the finish line

2012 so far has been a difficult year for sailing safety. California captured all too much attention with the terrible loss of life from the Aegean and Low Speed Chase in races off California. On the east coast, a heartfelt tragedy was the loss of high-school sailor Olivia Constants in Annapolis. Falls or being swept off boats along with capsizes accounted for many deaths. This may not be a complete list, but it's more than bad enough.

January 22: Liveaboard sailboat owner’s body found floating in Ganges Harbor near Vancouver, BC; owner was apparently trying to board or leave his moored 26-foot wooden sailboat on a dinghy and was not wearing a life jacket despite rough conditions.

April 6: Father takes three young sons on new ten-foot sailboat on northern Minnesota lake. Boat sinks, two- and six-year-old Jake and Zech Risland were wearing PFDs but die of hypothermia/cold water immersion before they can be rescued.

April 15: Low Speed Chase (Sydney 38) is captured by breaking waves while rounding South Farallon Island during the Full Crew Farallones Race; five crew perish, three survive. Crew had tethers but were not using them. Permits for offshore sailboat racing are suspended during subsequent investigation.
RIP Marc Kasanin, Jordan Fromm, Elmer Morrissey, Alan Cahill, Alexis Busch.

April 26: Stockton Harbor, Maine; Thomas Edward Hoge, age 64, drowns perhaps while trying to climb aboard his sailboat in the night; a small overturned skiff was found next to the boat.

April 28: Aegean (37’ Hunter) runs into north Coronado Island during the Newport to Ensenada Race, all four crew perish. The boat appears to have been motoring under autopilot in the early hours of the morning. RIP Theo Mavromatis, William Reed Johnson Jr., Kevin Rudolph, Joseph Lester Stewart.

June 16: During a sailboat race sponsored by the Boston Yacht Club, 63-year-old Joseph Sampson lost his balance and fell off a 22-foot boat, possibly going into cardiac arrest in the 59-degree water. He later died in the Salem Hospital after being retrieved from the water by crew on the race committee boat. Sampson was highly experienced, sailing since the age of 11 and formerly campaigned the J/80 “Mistral” for many years.

June 21: A two-person Club 420 capsizes off Annapolis during high-school sailing team practice in moderate conditions with safety and other boats nearby; 14-year-old Olivia Constants is entangled with trapeze hardware while dousing the chute during an accidental jibe and drowns.

June 21: Henry Marwood “Woody” Baskerville III died after being thrown from his sailboat during a regatta at Lake Kegonsa in Wisconsin. He was wearing an auto-inflate life vest and initially alert upon rescue, but then lost consciousness.

July 29: While sailing with two friends on board as passengers, liveaboard sailor Ronald Frank Wood falls off his boat, the 36-foot La Paloma, in San Diego Bay and drowns. The passengers didn’t know how to turn the boat around and had to flag another boat down for help; its crew found Wood floating face down.

August 18: Jeffrey Nause jumped into the water from a sailboat in Lake Lanier, Georgia and was presumed drowned.

August 19: Lightning hits a 26-foot sailboat near Duluth, Minnesota, at the entry to Lake Superior, injuring seven crew and killing nine-year-old Luke Voigt.

September 1: Boston philanthropist/volunteer Dr. Ned Cabot swept off the deck of the sailing vessel Cielita off Labrador.

October 12: Just after crew of the 50-foot schooner Cuchulain had completed the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race and were taking down sails, 68-year-old Paul Stephen Case fell off the yacht into the water, lost consciousness, and died. He was not wearing his life jacket.

The keys to survival seem to be:
1. Prevent accidents.
2. When accidents occur, stay on the boat.
3. If you can't stay on the boat, be prepared to float.
4. If you can float, then you also need to survive the environment until rescued.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Sunset Regatta (5a): A case study in racing risks and seamanship; Tanzer 7.5 sloop gets stuck on a shoal... and then unstuck

Sailboat racing has many hazards and risks, and sometimes racers take calculated risks in order to gain time and distance in a race. When you combine this with a lake that was just beginning to recover from its lowest water levels in eight years, with a resulting much shallower average depth than usual and shoals in unaccustomed locations, and hold a long-distance race in areas where people don't sail so often, you get a recipe for the risk of grounding (or "allisions"). In fact, three of the Sunset Regatta boats did just that, but one was able to get ungrounded via muscle power only. This series shows what happened to a 24-foot Tanzer 7.5 sloop.

Tanzer 7.5 approaching the mark. Government mark no. 7, near the southern end of Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico, was the turning mark for the Sunset Regatta and was also a marker for the north/northwest (port) side of a safe water channel leading from Elephant Butte Dam and the DamSite Marina northward up to the main body of the lake. About 200 feet to the north/northeast of it was a hazard marker buoy. (4084) (15:19:34 approx. time by camera time stamp, which may have some error)

Tanzer aground! Winds are very switchy and fickle and the vicinity of the "Elephant" formation that gives the lake and community its name. A southwesterly breeze that was blowing at three or four knots meant that boats coming from the upchannel were favored to be on port tack, and the Tanzer's line took her between the hazard mark and channel marker, but closer to the hazard mark. Staying inside the line of the channel markers would have meant taking two or more extra tacks and sailing extra distance, generally a no-no to racers. (4087) (15:24:38)

Tanzer 7.5 on the dirt. Also, most Elephant Butte Lake sailors are accustomed to the lake when it is at a higher level and has fewer shoals, particularly in cases where a boat is well away from the shoreline. Here, this proved to be a poor guide, as shoals appeared in the form of underwater ridges and hillocks well away from the visible shoreline. Exploring in the power boat, we later found shallow areas halfway from the hazard mark to the channel mark. In fact, the hazard marker only identified a general vicinity of hazards, which according to the park service could be within a hundred yards of the marker. That's tricky when the channel marker, which represents deep, safe water anywhere within its swinging radius, is much less than a hundreds yards from the hazard marker. (4090) (15:25:42)

Tanzer 7.5 near hazard buoy. After starting the race and watching the fleet head southward, we had remained on anchor until all the boats disappeared south past Rattlesnake Island -- which has been a peninsula for the past year and more due to low lake levels. In addition to getting more pictures of race boats, our purpose was to provide some security and safety in case any boats or sailors got in serious trouble. We could also provide a progress report to people on shore about the progress of the race. Also, by observing the mark rounding at the far end of the course, we would be in position to shorten the race if the wind had failed totally, and then probably help tow one or more motorless boats back to the marina if needed. Fortunately, the winds did mostly improve as the race progressed. (4091) (15:26:12)

Out on a limb. Tanzer's crew puts weight on the swung-out boom to heel the boat, thereby reducing its draft, while the skipper gets off the boat on the shallow side of the shoal to push and rock and rotate the boat off the mud. A previous attempt at kedging -- throwing an anchor into deeper water -- had not been successful because of steeply sloping bottom contours with depth dropping off from about four feet to more than twenty within perhaps a few boat lengths. (4096) (15:27:44)

Heeling the Tanzer. Under the current version of the racing rules, a crew may use any form of muscle power to un-ground a boat and return to racing. But, the use of a motor would normally disqualify a boat from continuing to race. (In the 2013-2016 version of the rules, sailboat race organizers will have the option of modifying the rules so that a motor can be used to get a boat unstuck, provided the boat doesn't get any advantage in moving down the course... but that's not yet available.) So, the crew was motivated to get their boat off the mud by whatever use of muscle power might work. (4097) (15:27:50)

Heeling the Tanzer, with hazard buoy visible nearby. In extremis, a crew could, after muscle-powered attempts failed, turn to using their motor, or being towed off by another boat, such as our boat that was being used a committee boat or a state parks patrol boat. However, our boat had a deep enough draft and was unable to use reverse gear because of a problem we had that weekend with the gear shift cable in the engine compartment, so we would have had to throw or float a long line to a boat from a distance in order to tow. (4098) (15:27:56)

Tanzer heeling. Most of the sailboat racing at Elephant Butte Lake occurs in the central basin of the lake, which is a few miles north of the area near the "Elephant". Hence, some of the skippers participating in the regatta had never been in this part of the lake with the lake level this low. (4099) (15:28:02)

Tanzer 7.5 maybe beginning to pivot and move off the shoal? (4100) (15:28:14)

Skipper pivoting Tanzer and moving the boat at the bow (4101) (15:28:36)

Dan and I got off the shoal by doing just what you can see in the pic. We tried putting all our weight to one side, backwinding sails (wind was from the wrong direction for that), etc. and still couldn't get her off so Dan went out on the boom over the water and I went in the lake to find that shoal to stand on and was able to shove the boat off the side of the shoal and climb back aboard via the stern ladder. Dan hoisted sails (the spinnaker this time) and we were off again on the downwind leg! What a great day of sailing! :)

Pushing the Tanzer off the shoal (4102) (15:28:42)

Moving toward deeper water (4103) (15:29:00)

Tanzer sailing off the shoal! (4106) (15:30:30)
Aftermath: The Tanzer and crew were able to continue in the race, after losing perhaps about seven minutes to the grounding, but were able to earn a trophy finish in the race, correcting their finish on time over that of most of the fleet. The bottom appeared to have been soft, and winds were light at the time, so it is unlikely that any damage was done to the boat other than perhaps some minor scratches.
Of course, groundings can be far worse and are not something that any sailor enjoys.
That applies to BOTH kinds of sailors: Those who HAVE grounded and those who WILL ground.

(Perhaps a few have prevaricated about having grounded!
Or perhaps a few are like the so-called "Old Salt" who told his passengers, "I knew every reef and shoal in this bay."
"Boom!! Crunch!"
"See, there's another one!" ).

Snug lines, sail well.

Sunset Regatta (5b) Tanzer after rounding and S16 dinghy

The Santa Cruz 27 "Warm-n-Fuzzy" had followed a similar approach to the mark behind the Tanzer, and wound up stuck on a shoal about half a cable's length behind. But it was a heavier boat with a solo sailor and the skipper had to use its engine to free the boat (4111)

After several minutes of effort, the crew freed the Tanzer 7.5 by heeling (tilting) the boat and pushing it off the shoal and were able to sail to the windward mark near the south end of Elephant Butte Lake (4113)

Tanzer 7.5 safely around the mark -- and probably a few sighs of relief to be back in the hunt; in fact, the grounding delay was short enough that the boat was able to finish in a trophy position (4118)

S16 centerboard dinghy around the mark! This was a boat that didn't have to worry about groundings or getting clear of them and was well suited for the lake's very low water level. (4127)
S16 dinghy after her rounding, with her skipper and one of the West Mesa high school cadets on board (4129)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Sunset Regatta (4a) Etchells ("Dave's boat) rounding the windward mark

The International Etchells sloop "Dave's Boat" approaches the windward mark at the Sunset Regatta, 29 September 2012 (4048)
Etchells sloop at the mark (4049)

Nice stern view of Etchells sloop after rounding the mark at the southern end of Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico, USA (4051). Water levels at the lake were unusually low due to recent drought years.

Etchells sloop heading downwind after the rounding (4052)

Etchells crew beginning to hoist the spinnaker (4053)

Etchells sloop heads downwind under spinnaker (4054)

Panoramic view of boats approaching and departing the mark rounding area, with the International Etchells departing at center right, Hunter 22 "Valkyrie" approaching at far right, 24-ft. Tanzer 7.5 in the background at center left, and Santa Cruz 27 "Warm-n-Fuzzy" barely visible at far left (4056)

Sunset Regatta (4b) Hunter 22 Valkyrie at the mark, Elephant Butte Lake

Hunter 22 "Valkyrie" approaches government mark no. 7 at the Sunset regatta, with the J/24 sloop "Mustang" in background. (4057)
Hunter 22 approaching the mark while Elephant Butte Lake was experienced extremely low water levels. Valkyrie eventually won the regatta on corrected time, and finished only six minutes behind a much larger boat after more than four hours of racing. (4058)
Hunter 22 at the mark (4059). The "Sunset Regatta" replaced the usual "Sunrise Regatta" due to very low lake levels making it not feasible to have 25- and 50-mile races.
Hunter 22 rounding the windward mark, 29 September 2012 (4060). We provided the race committee boat for the regatta and were very comfortable on "Just Chillin' ", a Bayliner 2850 Contessa/Ciera cabin cruiser.
H22 "Valkyrie" makes her mark rounding near the south end of Elephant Butte Lake. (4061)

Hunter 22 leaving the turning mark during the Sunset Regatta (4062)
Hunter 22 after rounding the mark (4063)

Valkyrie (with Mustang J/24 in background) (4064)
Scenic view with Hunter 22 "Valkyrie" at Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico, USA (4065)

Sunset Regatta (4c) West Mesa Mustang J/24 at the rounding mark

"Mustang Navy" J/24 approaching the turning mark at the Sunset Regatta (4067)
"Mustang" J/24 approaching the mark in the south end of Elephant Butte Lake (4068)
J/24 Mustang closing on the mark, Saturday afternoon, 29 September 2012 (4069)
J/24 at the mark (4070)

J/24 beside the mark, scenic Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico USA (4071)

J/24 around (4072)
J/24 panorama with Elephant Butte dam in background (4073)
J/24 with Elephant Butte in background (4075)
J/24 and "Elephant" (4076)
J/24 northbound in light air (4077)

Crew messing with chute on Mustang J/24 (4078)
J/24 crew working with sails (4079)
Something going on with a J/24 spinnaker. This was probably about 15 or 20 minutes before the J/24 hit a shoal near the eastern edge of the lake. Because Elephant Butte Lake was just beginning to recover from the lowest lake level in eight years, the average lake depth was only about 20.7 feet and there were proportionately many more hidden shoals than usual. (4080)

Working with the Mustang's chute (4081)