Monday, December 26, 2011

A Christmas Day Rescue

The following is a tale of Alexia Fischer and Ken Inoue's rescue of a windsurfer on Lake Washington:

Hello Sailors,

Ken and I have a story to tell all of you. I was at home hanging out with my family and watching the wind pick up. I was debating whether or not to take a Laser out today but talked myself out of it. Ken called me and said he was interested in going sailing to get some practice for his Cat Skipper. I talked with my family, then decided, "Let's go for it." We both rushed to the WAC and I changed while Ken rigged a Hobie 16. The sails we picked were torn at the battens, so we tried different sails, which were also torn. All the cat sails ended up having tears at the battens. We decided that it was not a good idea to take a cat out with bad sails in winds around 30 knots.

But we were at the WAC, all dressed in our wetsuits... we were going to go sailing! We decided to take an FJ out, we knew we could find a decent one and it would still be a lot of fun with this much wind. We also knew that *when* we capsized it would be easier to handle. I turned my radio on, turned the volume up, and stuffed it in my life-jacket. There was a Pon Pon for a paddle boarder lost at Point Fauntleroy. We stopped to listen but it was no where near us so we continued to rig. Another Pon Pon came on the radio. At first we thought it was the same one, but then we hear "Lake Washington," "lost windsurfer," followed by the GPS coordinates. Ken doused the sails of the FJ as I sprinted up to the sail locker to grab a whaler key. Ken jumped into the whaler, turned the radio on, checked the gas, and the systems. I ran down with the key, Ken started the whaler as I contacted the Coast Guard and let them know we're on our way. At first the Coast Guard gave us GPS coordinates, but we quickly told them we didn't have a GPS. They then told us the windsurfer is lost between "Magnusun Park and Kirkland..."

We race to the scene, coordinating with the Coast Guard about who we were, where we we coming from, and more of a description. The windsurfer description was "Male, white sail, black wetsuit." That is basically no help since the lake was covered in white caps. Ken has watched the windsurfers sail around the lake so he knew a bit about their preferred sailing pattern. With such a big search area we decide to start at Magnusun Park, cross the lake towards Juanita (since they sail out of a park North of Kirkland usually), head further North downwind (because he's been drifting a while and will be further downwind than the usual sailing pattern), then cut back across toward Sand Point.

We were the first on the scene and finally saw Harbor Patrol arrive when we were almost to Kirkland on out first leg of our search pattern. We turn back early to Sand Point, realizing that two boats in the same location wasn't particularly helpful. Ken heads further North and downwind as we quickly discovered it was easier to see things upwind than down. It was so hard to see anything. The wind sprayed the waves in your face. Ken looked starboard and ahead, while I looked port and aft.

We were over half way across the lake when I saw a black object crest a wave about 50 yards off to port (to the South and upwind). I informed Ken (whose been driving the whaler) and a figure crests a wave again. It's the windsurfer!!! He waves to us. He's alive!!! We quickly alter course and come along side. He's hugging his board, the sail is gone and he looks cold. He immediately starts to grab at the whaler (he was clearly scared and relived we were there). We grab him and pull him aboard, and then his board. We ask him if he is OK, and if he is cold. He says "I'm OK, a little cold." We call the coastguard. We tell them we have him, he is on-board, he's OK, and we are going to head to Magnusun Park (where we were closest and the armada of rescue vehicles was awaiting). The Coast Guard informs us that we need to transfer him to the other rescue boat, Harbor Patrol. Harbor Patrol and the Coast Guard were not communicating well. We had to visually flag down the other boat. All this time, the windsurfer was laying on his side along the binnacle. He was pretty motionless and kept closing his eyes. I saw him doing this and shaking and kept checking on him every minute or so. I would ask him if he was OK and he would open his eyes and respond. I was worried he was very hypothermic and was trying to sleep. I wasn't going to let him go to sleep. He was wearing a dry suit with a neoprene head piece, no life-jacket, and he was probably out there for over an hour.

We pull along side Harbor Patrol. They take him and we take his board. The Coast Guard still has not communicated with Harbor Patrol as they ask me for their phone number and that I should tell them to monitor 22 A. Harbor Patrol is long gone as they took the guy and drove off. They can go upwind much faster than us. In the high seas and high winds we barley made 1.5 knots to Magnusun Park.

When we arrive at Magnusun Park the windsurfer's friends greet us. The man was transported to an ambulance and away before we arrived. His friends thank us for the help and said "He really needed it." They said they were windsurfing back and forth from Kirkland when they lost sight of him and he didn't come back. They called 911 and the Coast Guard sent the radio call. They say he is a very good windsurfer, and he must have gotten into trouble or the rig broke. He must have then jettisoned the rig because we only returned with the board.. We give them the board, but the bowline comes undone from the boat sending us adrift and we decide to head back to the WAC.

It's a cold and long beat back (1.5 knots at almost full throttle). I was telling Ken, "Can't we go ANY faster?" (but looking back saw that the throttle was down). We were both so tired and cold (thankful to have been in full winter dinghy sailing gear though) that we decided not to sail. We were met by Goran and Evan. Goran was puzzled by why an FJ was left at the dock partially rigged, with the sails strewn across the dock and a whaler missing. He told us that he heard the rescue operation over the radio, then checked the canoe house for any missing boards, but there were none. Looking back we realized that we were out there and found the man within 45mins of hearing the call. The man was in the water for over an hour. We were glad we were able to help and that he made it back to shore alive. We were also a bit irritated that the Coast Guard and Harbor Patrol didn't communicate better. We really shouldn't have been the first on the scene and where was the helicopter?

In the end though, we were happy to to have found him and gotten him back to his friends and family alive. If it weren't for Ken, motivating me to sail, the cat sails in disrepair hindering us for a good 20 mins and me turning on my radio at the dock just cause, it may have turned our differently. I do want to say THANK YOU because the whaler had a full tank of gas and was working beautifully and we were able to get out so quickly. Ken did an amazing job driving the whaler.

Today was hazardous weather. Ken and I were only planning on sailing on the Bay. Remember, that when the winds are this strong:

1) Let someone know what you are up to and when you should be back
2) It is best not to sail alone with no one aware of where you are or your status (WAC is closed, etc.)
3) It is club rules that you must have a whaler with you when sailing on the Lake in Hazardous weather even if you have a skipper rating
4) This is not a club rule, but I cannot stress enough, it is a really good idea to have a radio with you if *you are sailing all alone, and/or *you are going on the lake. We would have had a much smaller search area and would would have found this man that much quicker if he had a radio. The radios are not that large and fit into life-jackets pretty easily. My radio has now helped save the lives of 2 individuals.
5) WEAR A LIFE-JACKET. If this man had become separated from his board, he would have probably been dead. The waves in that wind were about 4 feet and break over your head, making it hard to breathe.
6) Don't just assume that you will just get rescued. We were the first on the scene and Harbor Patrol and the Coast Guard were not communicating. We were one of only two boats on the call (it was us and 1 from Harbor Patrol).

To windsurfers: I personally think that him jettisoning his rig was a good idea. The rig would have served as a sea anchor, tossing the board around in the wind and waves and flailing widely if it caught any wind as the board spun. He was able to have full control of the board and lie on top of it. He was much more visible on top of the board than in the water especially since we were given such a big search area. In a life and death situation, the Club's last concern is the equipment. Do whatever you need to stay alive and keep safe.

Ken and I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!!


Later on, club member Bill Smersh found this first-person report on Yahoo group NW-Windtalk:

Re: Missing sailor in lake washington
    Posted by: "Ivo"morjick
    Date: Sun Dec 25, 2011 11:31 pm ((PST))

Yeah, it was me.....On my first jibe way middle in the lake something happened to my mast......either it snapped right there or the webbing on top of the sail gave out and the mast went thru it and detached. I will never know. All that I know is there I was in the middle of the lake in 40 mph winds with unfunctional rig. I tried to make it with only the bottom half of the mast and the sail almost collapsed, but in these winds and chop and cold water I just could not. Had to ditch the whole rig and let it behind. Started paddling laying halfway on the board......and so it went for about 1.15-1.30 min. What was really discouraging and alarming was that I simply could not paddle towards the beach and kept drafting downwind.......was getting mild hypothermia. Later I realized that for some reason even wearing O'Neill Boost drysuit I was very wet below the harness....really don't know how the water got there, there are not any holes or faulthy seals. It is basicly brand new. Anyway, I was probably about 15-20 min. from whatever that residential place is on the East side across from the old NOAA when the water rescue patrol pulled me in.
Had to spend about 2 hours in UW Hospital to bring back my body temp. to normal.
Looking back even that many things went wrong with my session I did all the right decisions, so I am still here to tell that story. That drysuit even partially flooded probably saved me, though I may wear wetsuit under it in the future. And of course Fabrice calling 911 for help.


P.s.  Since my boom is on the bottom of the lake I am looking for used small carbon boom for 3m2-5m2 sails.

There you have it.  Remember to be careful out there and follow Alexia's advice.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cruising Guide: Patos Island

This engaging review comes to us from club member Brent Carey.  Thanks for the advice!

It's a long haul from Seattle, but if you find yourself in the neighborhood, one of my favorite anchorages is at the north end of the San Juans, just swimming distance from Canada.  Three islands line up along the Strait of Georgia:  Matia (mah-TEE-ya), Sucia (SOO-sha), and Patos (PAT-os).  These are normally used mostly by locals from Bellingham or Blaine, though Sucia is a major anchorage for boaters from all over.  In fact, it is so popular that it tends to attract people away from the far less-visited Patos Island just about a mile away.

Patos Island is a 207-acre state park that has the distinct advantage that it has few decent anchorages.  However, those that exist are fantastic.  So, on the busiest of days, there will usually only be a half-dozen or so boats spread around the island, not including the occasional kayak.  This makes it quiet and peaceful, especially when compared to the circus at Sucia Island during the summer.  Go to Patos in the off-season during the week, and there's a good chance you'll have the whole island to yourself.

The island has three main places to spend the night:  Active Cove, Toe Point, and the north shore.  My favorite is Active Cove which features two mooring buoys, a few campsites, a couple of toilets, and no running water.  It's a bit too primitive for the RV-on-water crowd that flocks to Sucia or the big marinas.  During the summer, it is all about timing to get a buoy - get there around 11 am.  During the early and off-season, you'll generally have no problem.  It is entirely possible to squeeze a few more boats in the cove by throwing down an anchor, and occasionally a few power boaters will think that's a good idea.  Don't be that person.  Active Cove is small and it is beautiful because it is quiet and secluded.  Jamming in more boats does not mean that more people get to enjoy it.  It means that nobody does.  If you really need a place to spend the night and it's a full house at Patos, just cruise over to Sucia and you'll find a place.

When tied to a buoy in Active Cove, remember that it is named "Active" for a very good reason.  Imagine tying up in a fast-flowing stream that switches directions every couple of hours.  Tidal currents frequently run 4 kts or so, and can readily exceed 7, but much of the time they just spin you around.  It's a little disconcerting at first, but not a problem generally.  It is otherwise well-sheltered.

There are two ways into and out of the cove:  the west inlet and the east/south inlet.  Don't even try the east/south inlet.  It is too shallow and narrow for a keel boat.  You could make it during high tide, but the currents are pretty unpredictable, so don't risk it.  Just cruise around to the west end, just south of the lighthouse (inactive), and you'll have no problems.  Dozens of seals and porpoises typically convene just off of the point where the lighthouse sits.

Once settled in, you'll have to pay $10 at the pay station.  Bring walking shoes and check out the rest of the island.  Even as few people actually go to Patos, of those who go, fewer still ever venture onto the island past the picnic table.  They're missing out.

If you can't get into Active Cove, or you really don't want to share, and you know what you are doing, it is possible to anchor in a tiny cove at the other end of the island near Toe Point.  This is a really cool spot - just a tiny cove between two rocky peninsulas.  Don't even think about it unless weather is relatively calm, you have ample competent crew, you understand tides, are carrying at least two anchors, and have more anchor line than you know what to do with.  This is a lot like parking a blimp in a hangar lined with spikes.  OK, it's not quite that bad, but you don't have a large margin of error.  You'll have to drop an anchor near the cove entrance, and run a line to shore.  Of course, all of this requires some very careful maneuvering and using your dinghy to get it all set up.  It is tight, but the payoff is your own private cove.  Plan to leave at high tide so you have more room.

And, if Toe Point is occupied or you just aren't feeling that gutsy, then you can also anchor along the north shore at the east end of the island.  I've never done this because the shelf drops off pretty sharply and I've never felt like I had enough rode to do it right.  But, I do see the occasional sailboat parked there, and it is a beautiful spot with your own private beach.  So, something worth considering if the winds aren't blowing from the north.

Patos is actually a decent destination, but is more like a great place to stop for a day or two on your way somewhere else.  I have a house in Birch Bay, about 10 NM northeast of Patos, so tend to stop here on my way into the San Juans.  It would also make a great last stop on your way to Canada unless you need supplies, in which case you'll need to stop at Point Roberts or Blaine (I recommend the latter).  The nice thing is, that even though it is frequently full in the summer by the time you get there in your sailboat, it is always worth going there to check.

Patos Island Lighthouse
Active Cove - Patos Island

Active Cove - Patos Island

Active Cove - Patos Island

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The WYC's collected wisdom on chosing a life jacket

            Recently, a club member asked for opinions about the best life jacket to buy for keelboat sailing. Since this issue comes up not infrequently, I’ve compiled many club members’ opinions in an effort to simplify the decision-making process for future members.  Let’s start with Brent’s overview of the considerations involved:

First, do you need/want a Type II vest?  The deciding factor here are whether you want a vest that will likely keep your head out of the water if you are unconscious.  If this is a concern, then you should look to Type II, which narrows your choices quite a bit.

Next, on a keelboat, I wouldn't want to use a non-inflatable vest.  Too bulky.  Yet, on a dinghy, you don't really want an inflatable.  To my mind, one should really have two different vests - one for dinghy sailing and one for keelboats.  If you can't have two, then you'll have to do with a non-inflatable while keelboat sailing.

If you want/need a Type II inflatable, there aren't very many options.  Mustang makes one with a built-in harness.  This is what I use.  I'm quite happy with it.

If you don't want/need a Type II non-inflatable, then you'll be looking at Type III devices, and it really comes down to personal preference, but there are a few big considerations.  First is bulk, but that's not the most important consideration in my opinion, though it's the one that gets the most attention.  Way more important is that it doesn't restrict motion of your arms across the front of your body, and that there are no edges, corners, buckles, etc. that are likely to catch lines.

I would much rather take a bulky vest with a smooth profile than a sleek one with bits and pieces that would catch a line.  In fact, high floatation is a big deal for me.  Most people just go for the lowest-profile vest they can find, but it is important to remember what the vest is for.  More floatation is better.

For a vest to do a good job, it should keep you as high out of the water as possible.  It is there to save your life and not look good.  However, if you won't wear it, it won't do you any good.  So, know thyself.

I use a Type II/V hydrostatic inflatable with built-in harness by Mustang Survival when I don't plan on getting wet (i.e. keelboats).  On dinghies, I wear a Type II by Extrasport (I think).  I require a Type II vest, but as I tend to sail away from the immediate shore, I would probably use a Type II device anyway.

The topic of wakeboarding vests has come up, and while attractive in limited circumstances they should be relied upon only with caution:

Keep in mind, wakeboard vests will generally not save your life.  They will only improve you comfort for a short time.  Many (most?) do not meet the minimum floatation requirements to even meet Type III standards, and those that do are pretty minimal.  These are adequate only to provide a bit of insulation and reduce fatigue somewhat.  Use a neoprene vest only if you are sure you won't go into the water unconscious, or become unconscious or semi-conscious, and rescue is guaranteed within a few minutes.  Otherwise, this is just false security.

These vests are not adequate for keelboat sailing, except perhaps puttering around the lake with a competent crew.  Also, they are not advisable for single-handing except under supervision.  If you don't believe how quickly hypothermia sets in and how important every pound of buoyancy is, come talk to me and I'll tell you tales from the ER.

Of course, each person needs to weigh risks and make their own decision about what precautions to take, but most (all?) neoprene vests only lend a false sense of protection when it comes to sailing.  They are not designed for this purpose.  They are designed for situations where the water is relatively warm and rescue imminent.

The reason there are so many different kinds of PFDs is because there are different levels of exposure to different sorts of risks.  Each requires different measures to mitigate.  If you want to buy just one PFD to suit any sailing you might do, then buy the device for the worst exposure possible.  Then, if you can afford a second device, consider something less capable and possibly less obtrusive for sailing that is less exposed to risk.

However, all things being equal, an inflatable, in addition to being more comfortable than a foam vest, provides more buoyancy and has a better righting capability than an equivalently rated foam vest.  Still, as discussed, they are not really suitable for dinghy sailing because of the high chance of going into the water in a non-emergent situation.  Though, if I didn't need an auto-inflating Type II, I would consider a manually-inflating Type III over a neoprene vest for dinghy sailing.  This way I would have some floatation and insulation, plus the ability to inflate if I had to.  Still, for keelboat sailing, I wouldn't consider using anything other than a Type II except perhaps in conditions where I didn't feel like I needed a PFD at all.

My advice:  Just plan on getting two vests - an inflatable for keelboats and a foam vest for dinghies.  Get whichever you need first, and get a vest with the buoyancy appropriate to the level of risk you want to mitigate.  If you don't think you'll do much keelboat sailing, then just use your dingy vest.  If you're going to race on a keelboat, get an inflatable or go without  - unless you're going to do any distances at all, in which case you'll want an inflatable with a harness.

Dennis suggests using a floater jacket:

I'm normally a KB sailor, but I do sail dingys.   On the dingy, I always use the clubs PFD's or similar.   They are cheap, quick and don't get easily damaged. 

For years, I tried to use a very nice offshore inflatable PFD on the KB's.    But I seldom really wore it --> not good.   Among other issues was the fact that it had to be worn outside any coat or especially rain coat, so to get the coat off, the PFD had to come off and again seldom went back on.

I sail KB's frequently in the winter - so it is chilly.    Ultimately I purchased a type III Mustang  Integrity Class floater Jacket.   It is thick, having 1/2" flotation all around inside.   It is very warm and having a nylon shell is reasonably dry.    Now, I do look forward to wearing my life jacket when it is cold out, so always have it on when I should.   It is comfortable on most all cool days.    When the weather really does get warm (shirt sleeve), I do go back to the inflatable.    Downside is price.

Of course the floater jacket has no maintenance other than keeping it clean.   I've waterproofed it once and that helped.

As if that wasn’t enough food for thought, John adds the following links to tests of different styles of life vests.  Do consider how they will perform in waves, since you’re most likely to fall in the drink on a heavy day:

I found this interesting when I was researching inflatable PFDs. 

Testing inflatables against traditional PFDs in a wave pool with waves up to 4 feet high:

In fact, the type III inherently buoyant vest-style life jacket proved the real eye-opener for our test crew who had to work hard treading water to keep their faces clear of the waves when using this device.  When another test was conducted simulating an unconscious victim, those wearing the Type III inherently buoyant devices repeatedly sank well beneath the surface as the waves rolled over them.

Above from:

More life jacket tests:

Complete list of BoatUS tests:

USSailing Safety at Sea studies (no life jacket tests):

Adrian’s experience with on european pfds should also be considered.  Some members have even discussed adding leg straps to their pfds:

I have a Mustang MD3084, which I bought maybe 4 years ago. Here's a couple thoughts:

-Get something with automatic inflation. When I fell overboard, it brought me up to the surface immediately, almost in time to catch the stern of the boat, and close enough to grab the life ring. If it hadn't been automatic, the boat would've had to circle around for me. I tuck the release handle into the PFD when I sail so it won't accidentally get caught on something.
-Get something with an integrated harness. I wear mine all the time, and with the harness already on the lifejacket, clipping in is like a second thought.

-Don't get a Mustang. They use a proprietary plastic ring on the cartridges. When I went sailing in Europe, TSA confiscated my cartridge and you can't find any with the plastic ring outside the U.S. The 33g CO2 cartridges are universal, but the plastic ring isn't, and it's glued on to the cartridges Mustang sells. This is so you will buy only Mustang cartridges, which aren't sold outside the U.S. If it weren't for this, I would heartily recommend Mustang. Go to fisheries and look at all the PFD recharge kits they sell. Buy the PFD with the most "standard generic" recharge kit you can find. If you don't ever plan on leaving the U.S., then a Mustang PFD is a great choice.

-When I was in sailing school in France, we had inflatable PFDs that were super tough, with an integrated harness with a crotch strap. It is slightly less comfy, but a crotch strap is way more secure, and will allow someone to pull you back onboard by the harness. I doubt I'll ever find any harnesses with crotch straps for sale in the U.S., but if I did I'd buy it in a heartbeat.
Here's one close to the one I used:
Here's an example of one with leg straps:
Keep in mind that the more complicated it is to put on, the less likely you are to use it...

-Other features: if it doesn't have a whistle, put one on it. I also wish mine had a pocket to put a strobe. I have to clip the strobe to the PFD, but it's not very secure.

This takes us to the matter of strobes.  Finding a crew overboard in the dark is nearly impossible.  Brandon tells us that “after doing some ‘toss crap in the water at night and see if you can find it’ drills with Dan in the KB Skipper class, I would NEVER sail at night without it or a PFD.”  So make sure everyone has a light on them if you’re sailing at night.

If you don’t find a pfd with an integrated strobe, consider Raz’s words:

A great strobe to have is the C-Strobe made by ACR. It runs about 30 bucks at fisheries and runs on 2 AA batteries. This is a strobe that NOAA uses and is excellent, proven technology.  When Brandon and I taught a keelboat class last year that did a lot of night sailing, we made all our students get a strobe and I think they all chose to get this one. Practice turning it on a few times so that the muscle memory is there if you ever find yourself in the drink. 

For a very worthwhile five dollars, you can get a little clip that attaches the C-Strobe to the oral-inflate hose on your PFD. This is nice because the strobe stays safely on the inside when the PFD is packed, but is really easy to access if the thing inflates.

And just so you don’t forget to do everything possible to avoid falling off a boat in the first place, skip forward to about 4:30 on this video John found:
Use jack lines at night or when things get rough.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Aerodynamics of Lift 101

            Many sailors can tell you that sails operate on the same principles as airplane wings.  The only difference is that the sail is oriented vertically in order to produce a horizontal force, while the airplane wing is oriented horizontally in order to produce a vertical force.   That being said, I think very few of us really understand how they work to generate this lift.  The object of the upcoming series of articles here on the telltale will be to break this down in less technical terms that don’t sacrifice accuracy.  I’ll start with the basic theory and then extend it to explain the interaction of two sails close together, like a jib and main.  Before we get to that however, I want to point out one explanation that is just plain wrong.

Bernoulli’s Principle and the Equal Transit Myth
            Like most kids that watched Top Gun, I thought airplanes were pretty cool and wanted to be a pilot.  When I tried to look into the encyclopedia to understand how airplanes fly, I was given an explanation that depends on Bernoulli’s principle.  But what is Bernoulli’s principle?
Bernoulli discovered in 1738 that as a fluid’s speed increases, its pressure decreases.  Intuitively, this makes some sense.  Imagine you are a particle of air approaching a high-pressure region.  As you approach it, you start crashing into more and more other particles since they are packed more tightly together there.  Crashing into particles is a drag and slows you down.  If, on the other hand, you are approaching a lower pressure region, then there are fewer particles in front of you to counter the force of those crashing into your posterior.  As a result, you accelerate into the low-pressure region.  In practice this phenomenon works in both directions.  If you cause an increase in pressure you will cause a decrease in speed.  If you cause a degree in speed you will cause an increase in pressure.
            That’s fine, but what does it have to do with airplanes?  Well, the conventional explanation asks us to look at a cross-section of an airplane wing.  Since the wing is shaped so that there is a longer curved surface on top and a shorter, straighter surface on the bottom the air across the top has to move faster in order to reach the trailing edge at the same time.  Thanks to Bernoulli we know that if the air on top of the wing is moving faster than the air on the bottom, it will have a lower pressure.  Since there’s more pressure below the wing than above it, the result will be to push the wing, and whatever’s attached to it, into the air.  This explanation is sometimes called the “equal transit myth” and it is plain wrong.
            Even as a child, I could never understand what principle compelled the air on top of the wing to reach the trailing edge at the same time as the air on the bottom.  In fact, there is no such principle.  For one thing, consider that unlike an airplane wing, a sail is nearly two-dimensional: the air flowing over the windward surface travels almost exactly the same distance as the air flowing over the leeward surface.  If this conventional explanation for lift were correct, sails couldn’t produce lift, but we all know that isn’t true.  Interestingly, experimental evidence has shown that not only do particles going over the two sides of a wing get to the trailing edge at different times, but in fact the particles that go over the top (or leeward side on a sail) reach the trailing edge long before their siblings on the other side.  Bernoulli’s principle is still true, but the equal transit theory isn’t the reason that the particles on the leeward side are going faster.

Air Circulation and Starting Vortices
            So let’s forget about that equal transit and start from the beginning.  Imagine a sail that’s luffing in the wind.  The air pressure is equal on the top and bottom of the sail.  Now start sheeting the sail in slowly.  All of a sudden, the sail is catching air on the windward side and deflecting it.  This causes a higher pressure and hence lower speed region on the windward side.  However, this isn’t lift.  It’s drag.  Right now all that pressure is in the same direction as the wind, which is of no use in going upwind.  As those particles reach the trailing edge of the sail, the pressure difference between the windward side and the leeward side will be so great that the air coming off that edge will swirl into a tiny tornado, called the starting vortex.  This vortex is absolutely essential to setting up the conditions for real lift to obtain.
            Thanks to the Baron Kelvin, we know that angular momentum in a bounded fluid is conserved.  In other words, when the starting vortex is created by our sail, there must be another vortex that spins in the opposite direction but with the same strength.  This is called Kelvin’s circulation theoremBy some miracle of physics, the equal-and-opposite vortex is centered on the sail itself, and induces the air around the sail to go even faster over the leeward side and even slower over the windward side.  This further enhances the pressure difference between the two sides of the sail and begins to generate lift proper.  Now that it isn’t just the force of the wind hitting the sail but the force of the wind being bent around the sail that can push a boat in directions other than straight downwind.
            The insight that there must be a circulation field to help drive the flow of air around the sail is called the Kutta-Joukowski theorem.  Its major limitation is that it only explains the flow of a two-dimensional fluid.  A lot of strange phenomena happen at the edges of airfoils that have to contend with three dimensions, but I’ll have to move on to those later.

Science in your Home
            Most of this information is a rehashing of the explanations put forth by Arvel Gentry.  He describes a simple experiment that you can perform in your bathtub in order to see the circulation fields around a sail-like airfoil.  I really recommend trying this out at home.
            Fill your bathtub with just a few inches of water.  Not too much, just three inches or so should do.  Then, sprinkle some kind of dark powder over the surface of the water.  Gentry recommends pepper.  I used ground nutmeg with success.  Now, fashion an airfoil.  A simple one can be made from a small piece of waxed cardboard like a milk carton.  Start with a flat piece and bend it very slightly into a gentle curve.  It shouldn’t curve as fully as a laser’s sail;  Because water is so much thicker than air it doesn’t take as much curve in the airfoil to generate the same lift.  Make sure the piece is tall enough to reach completely to the bottom of the tub and still be sticking up above the surface of the water.  Place the cardboard airfoil into the water near one edge of the tub (although don’t let it touch the edge).  Place it so the length of it is pointing to the other edge of the tub and parallel to the long axis.  Now, move it in a steady line across the length of the tub and lift it out of the water when it’s still a decent distance from the other edge.  Thanks to the spices in the water you should be able to see a vortex left behind where you first started the motion of the airfoil.  That’s the starting vortex.  When you lift it from the water you should see another swirl, opposite in direction and also larger and slower than the starting vortex.  This is the circulation vortex that was following the airfoil along and is left behind when it is lifted from the water.
            The whole operation should look a bit like this.  Note the starting vortex that trail behind each time the wing is accelerated, and the effect of circulation around the particles just in front of the wing.  Further experimentation can be had right in your browser thanks to some folks at NASA.  I definitely recommend playing with that for a few minutes.

Let’s Be Honest, This Doesn’t Explain Everything
            The biggest problem in this model of lift is that there is no explanation of why the circulation field that gets kicked off by the starting vortex should follow the airfoil as it moves through the airstream.  It’s just as much a bit of voodoo as the old equal transit explanation’s assertion that two particles just had to get to the back of the wing at the same time.  According to some new research, this circulation field doesn’t even exist, although after doing the bathtub experiment, I’m inclined to believe my eyes.  As mentioned above, this description of things is inherently two-dimensional.  The effects of a third dimension are harder to understand but also important to getting the most out of a sail, a topic that we’ll cover in future installments.  Until then, stay cool.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Snooze 'n' Cruise Fall 2011

University Bridge
The snooze 'n' cruise last weekend seems to have gone well for all.  The boats departed from Union Bay on Saturday with a fresh breeze.  Sailing to Blake Island under these conditions was fast.  Weather stayed clear until late Saturday night, but everyone had made camp by then.  Sunday's return to Seattle was under a gray sky but without rain.
All parties reported that the food was noteworthy.  The sandwich line, in particular, was a paragon of efficiency says Ben Lukes.  Ben was also the photographer of the event, and made his photos available.
At The Ballard Locks
Camp on Blake Island
Blake Island Marina

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Historic Telltale Issues Available

Thanks to the diligence of Scott Voltz, a former telltale editor, you can find a piece of sailing history on the web.  I'm not talking about the wooden boat museum or John Courter.  Rather, you can read back issues of The Telltale going back to 2000.  Links to the same are now available as part of this web log's back issues as well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

One WYC member's crewing stories in Mexico

Interested in crewing somewhere warm? Take a look at the blog of this WYC member who's doing just that.


I took winter quarter off from UW to crew on sailboats in Mexico and Central America.  With some luck and guts I was able to find a beautiful 53 boat to crew on after being in Mexico for 24 hours. 

I think a lot of members might be potentially interested in doing this but might not know how to get started.  Right now I'm keeping a travel blog which I will turn into a "how to crew" site when I have time in the next couple of months. It's amazing down here, I'd love to help others get into crewing.

Check out Kyle's blog at:

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Finn: take another look at this WYC boat

Learn more about the club's Finn, a boat that gets great reviews from club members Jay and Alexia. 

BY Jay Flaming and Alexia Fischer

Alexia takes the Finn out on the bay. Credit: John Courter
There has been quite a bit of debate around the sailing world concerning the appropriate classes for the next summer Olympics. The current classes include the Europe, Finn, 470, 49er, Laser, Star, Tornado, and Yngling.

One of the most contentious classes has been the Finn, which is the men’s heavy-weight single-handed dinghy. Some people have pushed for eliminating it, arguing that there is no need for multiple classes of men’s SH, while its supporters argue that the Laser’s design leaves large, muscular sailors without a competitive boat. If you are interested in comparing, we have a 470, Lasers, and a Finn in our club. The Laser is the basic novice single-handed boat in the WYC, and the Finn requires an intermediate SH and a rig rating.

The Finn has a Portsmouth number of 90.8, just a bit faster than the Laser, at 91.1, and a bit slower than the Lightning or 470 at 87. It has a reputation for being the most athletically demanding single-handed dinghy, especially in high winds. The Portsmouth numbers indicate that the Finn is only slightly faster than the Laser, despite a much larger sail area (both are cat rigged, with only a mainsail... the Finn has an are of 10.6 square meters to the Laser’s 7.06), so it isn’t the most efficient hull.

Portsmouth numbers are calculated for optimal crew weights. The Laser’s optimal crew weight ranges from 143 pounds to 187 with the standard rig, while the Finn’s optimal skipper starts at 187 pounds and ranges up to about 250. Height is an advantage on both boats, as getting the weight out farther on a lever arm provides better ability to combat heel. Competitive Finn sailors are generally taller than 5’ 10”. Does that mean you must be 6’ tall and 200 pounds to sail it?

Our Finn is one of the lesser sailed boats in the club. Club members have mentioned that the boat’s reputation for having a low boom, complex rigging, and a perceived need to be a big sailor are reasons they haven’t taken advantage of it. Jay Flaming and Alexia Fischer, both first time Finn sailors, took it out for test sails this fall to evaluate how those concerns bear out in real life.

Jay’s Report

I should state from the beginning that I am not a fan of the Laser. I find it uncomfortable, too small, and to me it feels slow. In general, I prefer to sail keelboats or daysailors for social sailing, or catamarans when I want to go fast. However, I have been wanting to get more practice in the single-handed class, to work into a skipper rating, and I just never feel like going out on a Laser. So, on October 31, I took the Finn out for a try. At 6’4” and well over 200 pounds, I anticipated finding the Finn a better fit than the Laser.

It was a shifty day, with winds varying between five and fifteen knots, with gusts to twenty knots, predominantly from the south. Rigging the boat was pretty simple. The halyard has a hook on the mast, like a Hobie 16, but easier to operate, because it is lower down and easier to manipulate from the deck. There are a lot more sail controls, mostly run to the cockpit, including a boom preventer, outhaul, a vang with a tremendous mechanical advantage, cunningham and adjustable hiking straps. There is no trap wire. The lines were all colored differently, and it was fairly easy to make adjustments under way. The traveler was very difficult to adjust, because the continuous adjustment line was pretty short, making it hard to adjust without pulling the line out of the cleat.

The winds were stiff from the south when I left the dolly launching ramp, so I tried to short-tack my way out down to the ship canal end of the docks. However, I kept popping the traveler loose when tacking, which resulted in the car sliding completely to leeward, and making it hard to make progress upwind. Since there was a small crowd on the docks, and I didn’t want to look like too much of an idiot, I decided to turn and run downwind rather than beat. The big boom whacked me on the head on the gybe, but the boat accelerated like a rocket on the turn. I was immediately impressed by the performance on a run. The preventer pulls the boom out easily, so you don’t need to push it out like you do on a Laser.

On the turn past the outer docks, I picked up a gust at the wind line and the boat easily planed out towards Webster point. I looked back and saw an impressive rooster tail behind the transom. The boat feels very fast. When I brought the boat up onto a beat, I had to hike out harder than I have done on any other dinghy in any conditions. I quickly found myself with the backs of my knees on the gunwhale realizing that I needed to flatten the sail. I had tied the Cunningham too loosely, and I wasn’t able to harden down on it sufficiently, so I never got it as flat as I’d like. There is a block arrangement that provides advantage below decks, which limits the travel of the line. I had been warned about this on the docks but thought it was ok. I recommend checking this before you leave the docks, as it is impossible to fix underway. The mast bend on this boat is awesome.

I spent about three hours sailing the Finn, and I found it to be very responsive, easy to tack, and a real blast. I hit my head fairly regularly, and so I often eased the sheet and/or vang to keep the boom up a bit higher than a truly competitive sailor would like, I think. I still ended up with a big lump on my head at the end of the sail, but there really is plenty of room to clear under the mast if you’re more coordinated than I am. Towards the end of the day, I found myself missing easy maneuvers, and eventually realized that I was just physically exhausted. In the puffy winds, I had to move in and out of the boat continuously, which was quite a body core workout, and sailing the boat in the higher puffs required a bit of muscle... the sheet loads are higher than most dinghies, and you can’t get by with lazy hiking.

I never felt like the boat speed was as high as it should have been (and at one point I found John Courter keeping up with me in a Bravo, but I’m getting used to this in any boat). I did find a big bushel-basket sized wad of lily pads and weeds on the rudder at the end of the day, which must have been slowing me down quite a bit. With a bit more practice, a repaired traveler, and no weeds, I think it would be faster.

Before I de-rigged, John recommended that I try a capsize test, since the boat reputedly brings in a lot of water after recovery. I was surprised at how difficult it was to capsize the boat, as it developed quite a bit of stability at about the time the rail hit the water level. I wasn’t able to do a dry capsize, as I felt like the mast was going under when I started to climb up the centerboard trunk, so I jumped in. The boat righted easily, but it brought in about a foot of water in the cockpit. I wasn’t able to get enough boat speed to get the auto-bailers working, and any movement in the boat made it very unstable as the water flowed around. I think if I had bailed for a couple of minutes first, it would have been fine, and the bailers would have functioned with less water in the boat. There was a plastic bailer lashed to the mast.

At any rate, I found the Finn to be a fun upgrade for a sailor of my size versus the Laser. It felt faster at my weight, and more comfortable. However, I don’t think I could sail it as long, at least without some more conditioning. I was surprised by its stability, and interested to see if a smaller sailor would find it enjoyable.

Alexia’s Report

I watched Jay take the Finn out on October 31 to capsize it. He had a little bit of an audience because we were all curious about how it would right. I heard stories about how it capsizes easily, is nearly impossible to right, and if you do right it, it comes up full of water and is pretty much unsailable after that. These reasons and the stigma that it is only for heavier sailors in any wind had caused me to be apprehensive about the boat and not bother with it. After all, I could take out a Laser, which I enjoy doing.

We all gathered around Jay and watched him try and try again to capsize it, but it wouldn't go over! Once he got it over he had it upright in no time and was able to sail it full of water. After seeing this I realized that all these stories were for the most part bogus, and I had to give the boat a try.

I took the Finn out Sunday, Nov 7. The boat rigged very easily. The main rigs like a Hobie 16 where you hook a grommet in a fork in the mast. Then, you adjust the downhaul, outhaul, boom vang, bailers and other rigging. The trailer is a bit heavy but I was able to put it in the water with little trouble. The rest is like rigging an FJ; put the centerboard down and the rudder in and it's good to go.

There was stiff 10-12 knot breeze on the bay with gusts up to 17 knots. I also tried to tack it out of the South end of the docks but had little room because of a submerged tree and a huge motor boat tied up at the guest dock for a wedding. I ended up heading down and running out of the North end. I jibed around the North end of the docks, got into some wind, and the boat took off. I had to hike out hard and feather up in big puffs to keep the boat level, but it was pretty stable and not too difficult to sail. The boat had a lot of power but it wasn't too overpowered. It was a blast on a beam and I was only a little slower than the cats cruising around. I intended to only go out for an hour but two went by very quickly! The boat was incredibly fun and fast.
Alexia hiking out on the Finn. Credit: John Courter

The whole time I was out there I didn't have an accidental capsize. It was easier to jibe than a Laser because the main sheet block is by the centerboard like and FJ. It also felt more stable than a Laser going downwind. Tacking was not a problem either. The boom looks low but there is a lot of room in the boat to duck under it.

I wanted to give capsizing a try to see how someone lighter would do with righting the boat. I decided to try and sail it over but failed miserably. I would get going real fast on a beam reach, sheet in all the way in a puff and try to keep the boat heading straight. The boat would lean over hard, then round up and level out. It was surprisingly very stable at a 50-60* angle of heel. Finally after about 6 attempts, I just jumped over to the leeward side when it leaned over and it finally capsized. Because I was on the leeward side I couldn't do a dry capsize but I believe it is doable. The boat was very easy to right. Unlike the Laser and the FJ, the centerboard is almost at water level, which means someone with minimal upper body strength can easily get themselves on top of the board. The trailing edge of the board is very sharp though!

It didn't take much effort to get the boat up, but it did come up full of water. I sailed it around with all the water to see if it would empty, but it didn't. It was still pretty stable with all the water; I just had to be more aware of the heal and how far the bow was being pushed down. I started bailing it with a plastic bottle which worked and then I headed in.

I was also really tired at the end of my sail. Hiking the boat was physically demanding and a great core work-out! I was a bit sore the next few days. I can't say if it was more or less fun than a Laser, they are too different. I would definitely take the Finn out again though!