Two More Stupid Things

After writing two posts Don’t Do Stupid Shit and What Did I Learn? about all my mistakes on the first day of our frostbiting season at Bristol YC last week, I did manage (more or less) not to repeat the same mistakes this week. Even better, I managed to discover some totally new ways of sabotaging my performance which give me some excellent fodder for this week’s blog post.

1. Don’t get tangled up with a mooring buoy
In the winter we race in the mooring field immediately in front of the yacht club because there aren’t any boats moored there at this time of year and it means we only have a short sail to and from the course. The bad news is that I don’t really understand mooring buoys having spent zero time sailing big fat old yachts that you tie up on mooring buoys and that was the cause of my first big mistake last Saturday.

As I understand it, there is a big fat old rope with an eye in the end of it attached to every mooring buoy. If you want to moor your big fat old yacht you pick up the big fat old rope and tie on to it.

Most of the mooring buoys in Bristol Harbor have a pickup buoy attached to them which has a long fiberglass stick so that the crew of the big fat old yachts can grab on to it easily and haul the big fat old rope up so they can tie on to it.

This means that, when it’s not tied on to a big fat old yacht, the big fat old rope called the mooring line is lying more or less horizontally under the surface between the big fat spherical ball and the light thingie with the fiberglass stick. Now even as dumb a sailor as myself can figure out from the above diagram that sailing between the mooring buoy and the pickup buoy might result in your daggerboard and or rudder getting snagged on the big fat old rope… which is a bad thing. So if I am looking where I am going I generally don’t do that. (One of my fellow sailors discovered why I don’t do that the hard way on the first day of the season. See Don’t Do Stupid Shit.)

Anyway I was tanking along quite nicely upwind in one race on Saturday when I sailed quite close to a mooring buoy that didn’t have a pickup buoy. All of a sudden I stopped tanking along quite nicely and also found that waggling the tiller didn’t seem to do what waggling the tiller usually does. I looked back and at first thought that my rudder might have broken or had come off its gudgeon or something. But I soon figured out that my rudder was snagged on a big fat old rope that had been floating just under the surface waiting to catch innocent RS Aero sailors and ruin their day. Duh! Of course there was a big fat old rope attached to the buoy.  By the time I had freed my rudder from the big fat old rope all the rest of the Aero fleet had sailed past me. Ugh!

So, can anyone give me any advice on what to do when approaching a mooring buoy while racing? Is it always risky to sail within a few feet of a mooring buoy? Do all mooring buoys have big fat old ropes lurking just underwater to snag unsuspecting dinghy sailors? Does the big fat old rope usually lie on a predictable side of the buoy? Down-current perhaps?

2. Don’t hit the windward mark
Another interesting feature of frostbiting at Bristol is that the windward and leeward marks are tiny little flag marks. I think they have some sentimental value to the club having been donated by the (now defunct) Penguin fleet back in the day (probably some time in the middle of the last century.) And who am I to question this choice of marks as I am only a humble guest in my second season whereas some of the members of the club have probably been racing here since the Carter administration?

So the committee dropped the marks and I, for one, couldn’t pick out where the windward mark was when looking upwind from the start area what with the clutter of mooring buoys and that fact that my eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be and that I was wearing sunglasses on a dark, dismal, early winter day. (Don’t ask.) Never mind, I thought. I will just follow the leader.

As luck would have it I was getting better starts than last week and occasionally even managing to sail the favored side of the course. Things were going so well that about three quarters up the beat in one race it looked like I might actually be in the lead. Woohoo! Peering upwind into the gloom I still couldn’t locate the windward mark among all the clutter of other buoys but I kind of knew roughly where it was (assuming that it hadn’t been moved) so I tacked onto starboard before I got too far to the right of the course. After a few seconds of sailing on starboard I picked up the mark. I was heading directly for it! I would lay it! Woohoo!

Or would I? I tried to sail a little higher so I would lay the mark but that just made me a little slower and I seemed to be slipping sideways a bit. A couple of other sailors ducked me and tacked on to starboard somewhat to windward of my track. I did everything I could to sail higher but was really just making things worse. A couple of boat lengths from the mark as I desperately tried to will the boat further to windward, Tillerson surfed over me sailing fast and low. I lost even more speed. I tried to shoot up into the wind to miss the mark but I was sailing so slowly that that didn’t work. I drifted sideways on to the mark. It went  under my bow and came out on the starboard side. Once I had done a 360 and rounded the mark properly all the rest of the Aero fleet fleet had sailed past me. Ugh!

I should have known better. How many times have I heard the advice that if you are not laying the mark you should bail out early? Do two quick tacks and come in fast on a higher line. Or if you really think you could get around by shooting the mark, then sail fast and free and shoot up into the wind at the last minute. (Although I suspect that it’s harder to make this work in a light boat like an Aero.) Whatever you do, don’t pinch and pray and pinch and pray and pinch and pray. God never answer those prayers.

Neptune – god of sailors – he’s not listening to you
photo credit OliBac

Each of these two mistakes cost me several places. When I saw the results for the day I was 5th out of 6 boats but only 3 points behind the 3rd place boat. Even avoiding one of these disasters might have put me in third. Avoiding both of them would almost certainly have done so. “Top three finish” sounds a lot better than “second to last.”

Oh well. There’s always next week.

I have a feeling that Don’t Do Stupid Shit – #ddss – might be somewhat of a theme for my frostbite posts this season.



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