Following our night at anchor – 15 minute fixing and hourly cable/deck checks – (see the end of Blog 29, Level 2 Training Part 2. The yacht, the team, the skipper and the plan, 28 Oct) we spent the rest of the week south east, south and south west of the Isle of Wight, within sight of, but clear of the main NE-SW going traffic.
Once again we tacked (putting the bows through the wind) and gybed (putting the stern through the wind). On both manoeuvres the sails also swap sides and in order for this to happen the “ropes” controlling the ends of the sail need to be released from the “working” winches – the winches bearing the load prior to the manoeuvre – and hauled in (by hand around the winch at first and then by winch-power and handle) on the opposite side of the yacht. One of the main differences between a tack and a gybe is that the sails remain “powered” up when sailing downwind. The Mainsail and boom are often well out from the centre-line of the yacht and, for safety reasons, the boom and Mainsail have to be brought back onto the centre-line before a gybe. And I haven’t yet mentioned the requirement to rig foreguys (as preventers) when running downwind but maybe I’ll save that for another day!
Bob (our friendly man-overboard dummy) continued his rather annoying habit of falling overboard on a daily basis – whether we were going upwind or downwind. He did at least have the decency to do this when most of us were up and around on deck so we all got maximum training benefit – bless him. We did, on one occasion, get our Bob-recovery-time down to 6 minutes and achieved a lasso recovery using a rope under his armpits before the rescue swimmer was dressed. Even that pales into insignificance when compared with the feeling that goes with hosing Bob down at the end of the week and lowering him (I will admit just a little unceremoniously), down below, where his only claim to fame is that he gets in the way!
We relearnt, revised, and put into practical use our sail anatomy and not only did we revise our points of sail (the angle to which the yacht is sailing relative to the wind), we also practised helming to various points of sail by day and by night, with the aid of instruments and without, and practiced trimming (adjusting) the sails accordingly.
Each Clipper yacht carries 11 different sails: Mainsail, Yankee 1, Yankee 2, Yankee 3, Staysail, 3 different sizes/weights of Spinnaker and a Windseeker, although for Levels 1 and 2 we have been using the Main, all three Yankees and the Staysail. Spinnaker training is what Level 3 is all about. Each sail has a specific wind range within which it will provide optimum performance and the best combinations of sails depends on wind speed, sea state, point of sail and even the condition of the sail. The size of the Mainsail can be adjusted by reefing (reducing its size) or shaking-out a reef (increasing the size of a reefed sail) according to the wind speed. Clipper yachts have a slab reefing system which, as the name suggests, allows large sections of the sail to be taken out of, or put into play. The following are the “rough guide” recommended maximum wind strengths for Clipper sails:
Yankee 1: 18 knots apparent
Yankee 2: 24 knots apparent
Yankee 3: 30 knots apparent
Staysail: 35 knots apparent
with 3 possible reefs in the mainsail depending on conditions.
As well as reefing the mainsail, shaking out the reefs, and changing the headsails we also practiced a racing headsail change or two on the Yankees. The speed of a headsail change is not measured by the time it takes to complete the overall evolution but by the time the yacht does not have a trimmed headsail up. To minimise this time a “racing headsail” change is conducted. This involves bringing the new sail up from below while still racing, and pulling it manually up to the bow on the windward side. The “tack” of the new sail is attached to an appropriate strop on the deck and then the luff is hanked (individual D shaped hanks applied by hand) on to the forestay by the bowman – an individual who perches, clipped-on to something suitable, Kate Winslet-like but facing astern, right in the bows of the yacht (the pulpit).
I had a go at this task, thankfully in benign conditions. When ready the “old” sail’s halyard is eased and as it drops the bowman unclips the hanks as they reach his (or her) level. The speed of the drop should be the speed at which the bowman can un-hank the sail. The bowman ultimately unclips the halyard from the old sail (don’t let go!) and attaches it to the new sail. The “sheets” also have to be changed over by other deck crew AND the old sail has to be kept under control, correctly folded, sail tied and ultimately returned to its bag and put below. Can’t wait to do all this when it’s blowing up a bit so very useful experience in more forgiving conditions.
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; and the realist adjusts the sails” ……. so we adopted the realism mode and also practiced our “trimming” – tightening in or easing out the sails for optimum performance guided, at least in part, by “tell-tales.”
Tell-tales are very simple and effective trimming indicators attached to the luff of headsails and the leech of the mainsail. For various aerodynamic reasons they do not work when sailing downwind but in other conditions they are visual representations of how well the air is flowing over either side of the sail. At its most simple, if the tell-tales on both the windward and leeward sides of the sails are flowing straight along the sail in a fore and aft direcrtion then there is a good, equal and attached laminar air flow over the sail. Simples. Trim can also be adjusted by moving the headsail car position (a moveable turning block – traveller – on a railcar system attached to the upperdeck through which the headsail sheets run) which is used to set the tension on the foot and the leech of the sail – but I think that’s enough of trimming malarkey for the moment. Lets just say we practiced it – day and night – and for different points of sail and all you really need to remember is “if in doubt, let it out” and “a flappy sail is an unhappy sail.”
We spent quite some time working in the snakepit – that area on the upper deck, surrounded by 5 pit winches; 3 forward of the pit and one to each side – and into which pretty much every sail control line (except the Mainsail sheet) comes and where sail ties are also kept. It’s called the snake pit because that is exactly what it resembles, a pit of snakes.
Most of the ropes – ok lets get nautical – delete ‘ropes’ insert “halyards” (ropes that are used to hoist the sail up the mast/forestay), “sheets” (ropes that pull the headsails (Yankees and Staysail) in and out (the Main-sheet is used to control the angle of the mainsail and has its own dedicated winch on the port side in front of the helm and is therefore NOT in the snake pit). With headsails sheeted IN the yacht will be able to sail closer to the wind and vice versa. “Reefing lines” (ropes that are attached to the mainsail and run to the snakepit via clutches in the mast) – used to reduce (reefing in) the size of the mainsail, the “outhaul” (a rope that is used to control the shape of the curve of the foot of the sail) and the “topping lift” (a rope that applies upward force on a boom used primarily to hold the boom up when the sail is lowered) – pretty much everything comes into the snake pit. All are generally different colours and most come through “clutches” (provided for some lines to grip under tension by means of a lever and cam, which enables winches to be freed for other purposes) and a “jammer” each of which is, generally, labelled. Ok so far so good. After a little experience it IS possible
to make sense of this chorded-confusion in DAYLIGHT. Now try it at midnight under the light of a red head torch – which makes all colours look pretty much the same – AND after the previous watch, for very good nautical reasons, have moved lines off the winches on which you had expected to find them, AND added a few extra lines/sheets etc where you did not.
And for the really heavy work we have the coffee-grinder that can be switched to “drive” either of the two primary winches – one on each side.
I need now to introduce the handy billy and the marlin spike. The handy billy is a pulley-like arrangement, similar to the one shown here, used to attach to the reefing cringle when making a new tack between the mast and the boom during the reefing of the Mainsail. It follows that when “shaking out the Reef” and re-hoisting the Main that the handy billy must be released by “spiking” the release mechanism by use of a marlin spike (or similar) kept in the snake pit.
Just to add a little extra “spice” to all the new terminology, we also learnt that to avoid inadvertent “spiking” and thus early/inadvertent release of the handy billy the use of the word “spike” was verbotten. During the week, the executive order “to spike” would be given by the use of a term or word unlikely to ever be encountered at sea. Are you with me so far? And that word for our Clipper Level 2 training would be …………………….…. “hedgehog!” on the basis you wouldn’t see many, or even ANY. Now, having already explained to fellow crew members the Naval origins of the terms “Two-Six Heave” and “4 square meals a day” I did not think the time was right to do a short piece on 1942 Royal Navy Anti Submarine weapons systems ……… so I kept quiet!
For me, Level 2 was pretty nearly always 25 minutes past 4 in the morning. Because that’s when my watch stopped. 25 minutes past 4 on the first Sunday morning. Thankfully it didn’t turn out to be some weird omen or spooky premonition. It just meant my battery had packed in. I don’t remember the last time it happened, but watchkeeping ……….. without a watch …………. adds a certain je ne said quoi to waking in the dark of a pitching yacht, woken by some strange noise or sudden lurch, and NOT knowing what time it is, not knowing how much longer you have until your opposite watch will wake you from your interrupted slumber, and not knowing how much more sleep you might get if you managed to get straight back to sleep. It makes remembering to make hourly log book entries that little bit more difficult too. Somewhat un-nerving at the start it did, eventually, become rather liberating. Time becomes defined by changes in the light as the sun sinks or rises; by meal “times” even when whole-crew yacht evolutions make lunch something of a moveable feast. Sleep, eat, sail, repeat. Maybe I should try it more often? Or maybe I should quit trying to be philosophical and just go out and buy a new watch battery 😉.
………. Level 2 training ………… “Level 2 Training Part 4. All The Other Stuff” ………… to be continued…… …