Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Playing (with) a Spinnaker - Part 1

RS Vareos at Minorca Sailing

Regular readers of this blog will know that 99% of my sailing is done in Lasers. But occasionally I like to challenge myself by sailing in other kinds of boats with devilish contraptions designed to confuse the poor, innocent, ususpecting Laser sailor... like another sail. Yikes!

Such was the case on my vacation in September at Minorca Sailing last year. I spent the first week working on my Laser skills (i.e. attempting to fix my general lack of Laser skills) with an excellent coach. Then the second week I joined what was laughingly described as the Basic Asymmetric Class where they sailed boats like the RS100 which are basically Lasers on steroids with all sorts of extra goodies like carbon fiber spars and a mainsail made of that crinkly see-through stuff and wings sticking out the side of the hull (what's all that about?) and OMG! some extra sail called an asymmetric spinnaker, a big flappy thing up front which looks about twice the size of a Laser mainsail and which, I learned, you actually have to pull up and down while you are still sailing the boat and steering and looking where you are going and all that other stuff.

I didn't mention to the staff that I had sorta kinda done a bit of the Basic Asymmetric Class at Minorca Sailing back in 2010, so on the first day they put me in a double handed asymmetric boat. My partner was a lady who had crewed a lot in asymmetric dinghies and wanted to learn how to helm. So they kind of figured we would make a perfect team. One of us (her) who knew a lot about spinnakers and a little about helming; and the other (me) who knew a little about helming and absolutely nothing about spinnakers.

It was a good theory...

I discovered how to get a spinnaker up and down and how easy they are to gybe if you have someone else handling the steering. She learned that if you let go of the tiller during a tack you will go around in circles several times while your crew cowers in the bottom of the boat trying not to get his head knocked off by the boom twice on every circle and screaming incoherently something about grabbing the tiller. I think it was a learning experience for both of us.

On the second day the instructor determined that I was ready to go solo in an RS Vareo, an older design of asymmetric single hander than the RS100, and supposedly a bit more stable than the RS100. (Clearly he had not been watching closely how badly I had been sailing on Day 1.) It was a nice gusty Force 3 to 4 kind of day, perfect for having fun on a Laser. I quickly discovered that my Laser sailing instincts did not work in an asymmetric single-hander. I managed three successful gybes and five gybes that ended in capsizes. I did not consider this a successful morning.

Over lunch and a beer or two I gave myself a good talking to. I had to rid myself of old Laser habits like heading up if overpowered. This is absolutely the wrong thing to do when gybing an asymmetric boat and will usually end in tears. That bloody spinnaker thing will tip the boat over every time. The old dinghy sailors' mantra of "Tiller Towards Trouble" has to be unlearned.

So I decided that the afternoon would be spent sailing up and down the bay in the Vareo doing as many spinnaker gybes as I could on each downwind leg, preferably without capsizing.

The first run I took it fairly cautiously and managed three rather timid gybes (and zero capsizes.)

The second run I was feeling a little more ambitious and scored five slightly less timid gybes (and zero capsizes.)

On the third run I was really feeling my oats and pulled off seven rather stylish gybes if I do say so myself (with zero capsizes.)

On the fourth run down the bay I had the bit between my teeth and executed thirteen quite slick gybes (if I may be so immodest) and absolutely no frigging capsizes.

I finished off the afternoon with a victory lap including fifteen absolutely superb gybes (it's just a shame I have no video to show you) and, of course, nary a single capsize.

So that was the score for the day...
Morning: Me 3 - Evil Capsizing Asymmetric Spinnaker Boat 5.
Afternoon: Me 43 - Evil Capsizing Asymmetric Spinnaker Boat 0.

By now the sun was over the yardarm/ I was feeling it must be five o'clock somewhere/ insert own metaphor for "it's time to find that bottle of rum in the hotel room" and so I declared victory and headed in.

Then, after a suitably mellow hour or two of relaxation, it was off to El Pescador with Tillerwoman for a plate of Fried Whitebait followed by some Sea Bass Menorcan Style washed down with a suitably celebratory quantity of White Spanish Plonk.

Life is good.

Coming soon: Playing (with) a Spinnaker - Part 2 in which our intrepid hero attempts to sail the RS100 and is kicked out of the sailing class.


Sam Chapin said...

Good lead into the next post. Will have us all checking in.

Tillerman said...

Maybe I shouldn't write the next post in the series until someone guesses correctly WHY I got kicked out of the sailing class. (It wasn't anything to do with alcohol. Honest.)

Keep Reaching said...

At least you didn't have to deal with a symmetric circus - which has even more clutter to hook and unhook, strings coming out of weird places on the boat to pull the pole and spinnaker up and down.

Tillerman said...

I don't do poles.

BlueVark said...

I think you got kicked out for either,
1)Being totally brilliant and showing up the instructors' inadequacy, or
2)breaking a boat.

Tillerman said...

The instructors were very good, certainly NOT "Inadequate".

And I didn't break any boats. Well not much. Well nothing that you couldn't fix with duct tape. (Only joking.)

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a fantasy holiday - we Lasered in Fornells last year - budget wouldn't stretch to a week at the illustrious Minorca sailing!

Very impressed you beat the evil capsizing Vareo into submission - I'm still trying..... to the point he clubhouse tend to lay bets on how far past the gybe point I'll get the boat before I'm swimming.....

Tillerman said...

Minorca Sailing is one of the best places on earth for dinghy sailors. Save up your pennies Victoria. You won't regret it.

Unknown said...

Very good sail report!

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