Learning to sail a J24 on SF Bay

Discussion in 'The Dockhouse' started by Merrily, Jun 15, 2007.

  1. Merrily

    Merrily Administrator Staff Member

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    Hey, forum friends. This is what I've been doing for the last week. I hope you enjoy my journal. Merrily

    Day 1

    At OCSC Sailing in Berkeley Marina, we were handed the keys to a J24 and went out to rig it. When we were about done, we met Chuck, our sailing instructor. Chuck is a great guy, ex-Navy, cool headed, fun. Chuck warned us that only about 50% of the people who take the course pass the test on the first try. We terrified him—not because of our sailing. He was leery because we were new to the school and we were married. Every step of the way the office had asked us if we wanted to sail together. We did. Turns out they didn’t want us to sail together because so often married couples bicker, yell, or the men do things for their wives and the women can’t learn. John and I pretty much go our own ways with this stuff so we had a calm day.

    We also had another crew member, Brendan, who is an administrator in an emergency room and a certified adrenalin junky. We worked with skipper and one crew, with the extra crew standing in the cabin and observing and occasionally lending a hand. The instructor stayed in the back pulpit to the side.

    I was terrified. We were sailing in the Slot, which is the wind tunnel created by the Golden Gate—the only opening in 300 miles of coastline. When it’s hot in the Central Valley, which it has been this week, then it really sucks air through the Slot. This morning there were white caps and the wind grew to 15 to 20 knots—typical daily for this time of year.

    Besides review, today we began advanced sail trim, and we did lots of man overboard drills. The sail trim included the “fisherman’s reef,” which is tight outhaul, Cunningham, then tight backstay to bend the mast back to flatten the sail, loose vang and traveler moved leeward to create twist in the upper sail to spill wind. I noticed that the backstay acts like a Laser vang, which depowers by bending the mast and flattening the sail.

    In the man overboard drills, the instructor throws an orange milk carton overboard, the skipper goes to a beam reach, tacks back to a broad reach, heads up at just the right moment and at the right angle to spill speed and picks up the “man.” Sounds easy, right? Well, the wind is honking and it took each of us two or three tries.

    At the end of the day, Chuck praised us for not arguing. John said we could bicker for him but we charged a per hour fee. All in all, it went well. Scared each time I tried something new, then got over it.

    We came home and had to take care of the dog. She had been cooped up for 8 hours, so we took her to a dog park. SF dog parks are pretty fancy deals. The dog closed her day with a walk off leash right on San Francisco Bay. We also had laundry to do as we only brought a few clothes.

    Day 2

    Before setting out for more man over board drills and practice gibing and surfing in 20 knots again, we did lots of marina work. I was nervous anyway because it was my turn to command our way out of the marina, steering and ordering the sails up, and then at the end of the day sailing in getting it all put away. As for the marina work, first we left the sails down and motored in and out of our slip and up and down the slipways, narrowly passing the transoms of dozens of beautiful sailboats. At first it was a little heart knocking for me, and once I gave Chuck a coronary when I nearly backed into a dock. He grabbed the tiller and took over, but I repeated and got the hang of the maneuver.

    I was still skipper when we motored out to the marina entrance and turned around to come back in. Chuck gave me the scenario. You’ve come in and taken down your sails. Now your motor dies. You’ve got some momentum so you’re going to try to use that to safely dock.

    So I put the motor in neutral and we tried for the fuel dock, but glided past it. Chuck pointed out an empty slip and as I headed toward it, John prepared. He grabbed the bowline, hanging on to the sidestays, stepped outside the lifelines and stood on the toe rail. When I took the boat right into the slip he stepped off and stopped her. It was surprising how much energy was still in the unpowered boat, but we did have the wind at our backs. I then had to do the trick again, but this time I had to find my own empty slip. Sometimes Chuck threw curveballs, saying, Oh, all those slips are full (when they weren’t). The guys took their turns at the tiller and did the same drills.

    Next we practiced sailing around the marina and landing with the sails up. This wasn’t really too hard with all the dinghy sailing that we’ve done, except to get the boat slow enough as we came alongside. With John as skipper, and Brendan crew, John had to get creative because of Chuck’s desire that we find a new place to park the boat each time. There was a rickety old dock in the marina that sold bait, and Chuck said it was OK to land there. So John glided in, and Brendan stepped off and backed up for some reason—I guess to get more torque or whatever. We heard a ripping sound and Brendan leaped forward again. We had a laugh when we realized what had happened. Brendan had stepped on a tarp fastened over a bait well. Another second and he would have been swimming with hundreds of tiny squid.

    Chuck continued to marvel that John and I didn’t quarrel. In fact, he went so far as to tell Brendan that I was the kind of woman that he should look for as a wife.

    We went on out to sail in the Slot for some hours and I found that skippering out was easy. You just have to remember the order of things and give the commands. The crew does all of the work. Great work if you can get it! After our practice in the Slot, we came back in to practice more marina drills. Brendan was at the tiller this time and John was crew as we sailed up to the fuel dock. John stepped outside of the lifelines and slipped on the toe rail and went over the side. He hung on to the side stays though, for dear life, with his upper body against the sides of the boat. The water was 52 degrees. My first impulse was to run there, but held back to stay out of the way. Chuck was thinking the same thing as me and told me to go forward and take care of the bowline. There was no way I was going to be able to lift John into the boat. Brendan sailed to the dock and I jumped off and fended off the boat. This was tough because the sails were still up and the boat wanted to sail along the dock. I later learned that John thought he had plenty of room and he was going to try to swing his legs up to get onboard. He didn’t realize that the only thing keeping him from being squashed between the boat and the dock was me. He was in danger of being a John sandwich. Suddenly the boat stopped and I looked down. The bowline had wrapped itself on a dock cleat! Chuck and Brendan tried one, two, three lift together, but John’s life jacket was too loose and they had nothing to grip him with. They couldn’t get him in the armpits because of his death grip on the boat. The angle was also awkward because of the lifelines interfering with movement. Just at this time a couple of sailing school guys ran up with a ladder and John was able to climb out. Chuck told him to go get a shower and change, but John refused, saying, “I haven’t had my turn yet!”

    So John took his turn, then we called it a day. As we put the boat to bed, John said his brain wasn’t working very well. I joked that it was because he had chilled the area where they say men’s brains are. So just like that I lost my mantle as the perfect wife! We wrapped the day up by telling John’s Harpoon story. This was when he fell overboard with a spinnaker pole in hand at an Interlake regatta. At home, we draped our wet foul weather gear on every piece of furniture that we have. Fast food. Laundry. Another walk in the dog park. We are in slow motion, being that tired.

    Day 3

    We have a new instructor, a planned deal. Sean is a young guy who grew up in the LA area. We had a classroom navigation session. The plan for today was to sail to a cove at the south end of the Treasure Island, following a compass course, and eat our packed lunches. (BTW, it’s Subway sandwiches everyday.) It was mighty calm when we rigged the boat and the guys wanted to put up the Genoa. Who am I to argue? We sailed out and already there were white caps. We were on our ear for a while until Sean decided we should take down the Gennie. John went forward and he and Sean managed to trade out sails. The boat settled down a bit and then we sailed into the Slot. We put in the Fisherman’s Reef and still sailed with the toe rail nearly in the water all the way there. Brendan was at the tiller and Brendan was happy.

    We anchored in sunny Clipper Cove—anchoring was the lesson—and had an idyllic lunch in calm flat water. Amazing and also hopeful. This is where I plan to try Laser sailing Thursday next week. Even if we sail out of the cove, it’s a gratifying distance to the Slot.

    Anyway, after lunch we headed back to the Slot, and guess what! It was Janet’s turn to reef the sail! This was the real reef where you bring down part of the sail and tie it in a reduced size. I got into place before we reached the Slot, but suddenly we were thrashing about, water was coming over the deck, and the rigging was singing and howling. Later iWindsurf.com showed 23 knots. I banged my knee down on a deck cleat and was out of commission for a minute. I hope it’s not swollen in the morning. With instruction I reefed the sail in the windiest conditions yet. We continued in the Slot and took turns learning to sail downwind in three foot waves, keeping the boat flat. At least in theory the boat was flat! Then Sean said, let’s have some fun, and he threw the man overboard carton over. So we all took turns rescuing it. John picked it up on the first try, me with two, and Brendan with three.

    Home again. Wet gear on the furniture. Laundry. Fast food. Dog walk. All of us are pooped. Ha!

    Day 4

    We had lighter air today, 12 to 17 knots, but with three foot waves. We were still getting knocked about out there. It was hard to keep an even course going upwind, probably because of the conditions. Even still, we are less tired today.

    Our instructor Sean is 6’4” and 280 pounds. This makes John happy, as he believes that this guy could haul him aboard if he fell overboard.

    John and I are both getting more confident. We continued our man overboard drills and sail reefing. The situations are getting tougher, as we are getting less help and having to think things through by ourselves. We are really getting the idea, but it is still hard to do successfully each time. Today I had at least three man overboard drills in the afternoon. Sean carries on a casual conversation, then throws the carton over as a surprise. On my second drill, I hit my hurt knee pretty hard. I forgot to tell the crew to blow the jib and it messed up my approach. I was more focused on the feeling that someone had just smacked my knee with a hammer. Sean got me ice for it at lunch and offered it again after we got off the water. I skipped my reefing practice in the heavy seas and will do it in light air in the morning to preserve my knee.

    If there is time tomorrow we’ll have our on the water testing. I believe I will fail. The man overboard drill is my downfall. I’m successful getting it the first time about half the time, and we need a 75% success rate. If we fail, we just keep scheduling practice sessions and go sailing (for free), so it is not so bad. I’m really going to try to pass.

    John and I both agree that this is a great place to learn to sail, but we want to do our sailing elsewhere. We like Florida with the warm water and lots of great food destinations. Lighter air doesn’t hurt either!

    We had a nice grilled steak dinner and will take the dog out soon. We still have to do that laundry and spread our foul weather clothes out to dry.

    Day 5

    It just didn’t seem as breezy today, but that’s very subjective. iWindsurf.com said it was 17 to 25 knots. Maybe we are getting used to it.

    I thought I solved my problems this morning by buying Kevlar knee pads at the sailing school store. They were great while I put in a reef at the dock before we left. I feel confident that I have reefing down. I never got to find out on the water though, because the muscle that runs over my collarbone spazzed or knotted and when I would move my left arm, the muscle would “catch” on the bone. Yow! I skippered briefly this morning while John reefed underway, and then I decided I would stand in the cabin and observe. There wasn’t much else that I could do, and I was bummed!

    John and Brendan went through reefing, man over board drills, heaving to, tacking and gibing and then motoring around the marina like champs. They both passed the on the water test, so congrats to them!

    I’m giving myself time to heal. I’ll go back for a review and try the test in about ten days. John and I both plan to take the written test tomorrow, so wish us luck.

    There’s great breeze in the Slot and my confidence level has shot up 100%. In a way, it was easy, even with wind higher than I’m used to, because it was steady. At home, the shifts can be sudden, vicious, and dangerous if you are inattentive. Getting used to keelboat heel and all that heaving with the waves was the thing.

    OCSC was very attentive and tried very hard to make it a fun experience. I recommend lessons there whole heartedly.

    Now it’s time to spread out that grimy, salty gear.
     
  2. Bradley

    Bradley Administrator Staff Member

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    Great read Janet! I hope your knee heals quickly. Let us know how the testing goes...
     
  3. Rob B

    Rob B Active Member

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    I don't care what anyone says the J24 is an awsome boat. I cut my OD teeth running bow then middle on one. Once I got a job out of school the first thing I bought was a J24.
     
  4. Merrily

    Merrily Administrator Staff Member

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    The J24 is an awesome boat! Did I give the impression I didn't like the boat? I don't think I said much about the boat, so maybe you were miffed. ;)

    The J24 can turn on a dime. I'll bet it is the closest thing to the responsiveness of dinghy sailing with a keelboat, only you don't capsize if you forget to switch sides. Way cool. If I were going to race a keelboat, I'd strongly consider a J24. I'm more into the cruising side--you know, clear warm water with colorful fish darting below. So I need something with a bit of a kitchen. You could rig something like this on the J24. I already happen to have a Starwind 223, which is a shoal draft keelboat perfect for those shallow Florida and Bahama waters.

    Another thing, last night when we walked the dog, the wind had gotten gusty and shifty! There was also a bit of fog scudding across the water. So three cheers for the high pressure system over SF Bay this last week!
     
  5. Rob B

    Rob B Active Member

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    No. No. Not you. Just so often you hear people saying, "It's an old boat". "They are the most uncomfortable boat to sail in the world." and so on. If you think the 24 is fun you should try the 22.
     
  6. Merrily

    Merrily Administrator Staff Member

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    If it's an "old boat," then you can find bargains on them, I'll bet. Is the 22 even more responsive? We have only sailed our 223 a little on our reservoir, and we are curious to see how it compares to the J24. We hope we are not spoiled. Also, the Thistle is the most uncomfortable boat in the world! And I must be a glutton for punishment. I have one of those, too.
     
  7. Rob B

    Rob B Active Member

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    You can get great deals on 24's. The 22 is much more responsive. A well sailed 22 will beat a decently sailed 24 boat for boat. PHRF on the 24 runs around 168 and on the 22 around 174. Class crew weight limit on the 22 is a little over 600 lbs. So, we sail them with 3 good sized guys usually. We roll tack and jibe. I mean really roll them. Get the toe rail wet kinda stuff. No lifelines on the boat and no interior. If you want something that can hold a porta potti or something you can actually sleep in the 24 is much better.
     
  8. Merrily

    Merrily Administrator Staff Member

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    When we were practicing that the sails were down and the engine had just died in the marina, we tried to use our momentum to get to the fuel dock. Instead of using the tiller to turn, I asked the guys to get on the high side to roll the boat, and she turned right around. We still missed the dock though.

    One thing I kept doing--when asked to get on a different course, I would set the sails right, but forget to turn the tiller. I got a lot of "ahems" from the instructors. If you set your sails with the Laser, it turns the boat quickly, and I assume if you left it long enough on a J24, it eventually would go to that point of sail. Do you know if it does?
     
  9. Rob B

    Rob B Active Member

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    It won't. You can drive with the sails if you pull the rudder up, but someone has to trim the jib and one has to work the main while you are moving your weight around high or low.

    I used to single hand my 24 all the time. I would take a spare spin sheet, tie it to the tiller and run it through the stanchion posts, around the front of the mast and back to the tiller. I could adjust the helm from any point of the boat using the tiller line, but I could never just set it to a course.
     
  10. Merrily

    Merrily Administrator Staff Member

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    Single handing the boat sounds feasible, but not relaxing. Did you win any races? :)
     
  11. Rob B

    Rob B Active Member

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    Yes. We had an annual PHRF single handed championship. I won 3 times. 2 times in the 24 and once on an O'Day 322. The O'Day was a handful when the breeze got over 12, but the J was very easy.

    Actually, I spent a few Friday evenings single handing the J, (when I didn't have a date). I'd get a beer and sit on the rail using the tiller rope for keeping the helm straight. Would sail for hours. Very relaxing.
     
  12. vtgent49

    vtgent49 Member

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    You can sail my J24 when and if you come up in August. I'll tell you stories about when the J24 NA's were held at St. FYC.

    Al
     
  13. Merrily

    Merrily Administrator Staff Member

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    Thanks! The plan is still to be there in August, and we are bringing our Starwind 223. It would be interesting to compare them side by side. I know that the J24 has much greater performance, but I'd like to see how the Starwind stacks up. It's the Laser sailing that's optional! :eek: I read, I think, that openings are limited at your regatta. How is registration going? Any places left?

    I'm not getting any Laser sailing in so I'm way out of practice. The boat is still on top of the truck after three weeks, hull side down on padded bars. Could that hurt the boat?
     
  14. ralfeez

    ralfeez New Member

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    Yeah Merrily is sailing with us at Treasure Island. Welcome! You will have a blast. If the wind fills in (typical for summer), you will be looking at 15+ on Clipper Cove. It is great fun.
    See you out there,
    Ralph
     
  15. Merrily

    Merrily Administrator Staff Member

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    Thanks, Ralph! See you then.
     
  16. Pippa

    Pippa New Member

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    Merrily,i like your name. mine name is Pippa. its like Pizza only with all ps! ok thats silly. i did'nt read all your stuff. it was to long. whats a kt?
     
  17. Merrily

    Merrily Administrator Staff Member

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    Pippa, I'm glad you like my name. It was a long post. A kt is short for knot. A knot means nautical miles per hour. Like miles per hour, only on the water. The miles are a little longer.

    Pippa, do you sail a Laser?
     
  18. jamesfreedman

    jamesfreedman New Member

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    I have spent 5 years in the cockpit of a j24 and j22. IMHO the j24 is a pig, but of course it is one design. We sailed circuit regattas and the region is texas, oklahoma, kansas, and colorado. A lot of good competition. I called it quits because you can go from Laser to any boat and be ok but going from j24 or j22 you will suffer.
     
  19. Merrily

    Merrily Administrator Staff Member

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    Yeah, I already knew how to sail the J24 from sailing my Laser. I learned boat specific details like reefing and how to maneuver in the marina. I can't imagine how long it would have taken me without my Laser experience. In what way is the J24 a pig?
     
  20. jamesfreedman

    jamesfreedman New Member

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    The j24 does not plane. That is why I call it a pig.
     

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