Thursday, November 27, 2008

Moments of Clarity

Forecast pathetic for a holiday but warmed up nicely to drive some sort of thermal into San Pedro. I expected it to hover around 12 but by the time foils hit water it had piped up to 20mph on the Pier J anemometer - a bit much for testing but nothing ventured nothing gained.

As America slid ever deeper into collective postprandial torpor, I hit the beach to skip the tack out the channel. Low tide on the beach puts you in the deep rather quickly, which is nice, except that with a seaway running onto shore it can be challenging to get the boat up and going before it drifts with wind, waves and current a yard or two toward shore, where it is too shallow to put foils down. Had some fun practice with that maneuver; have been sailing from the ramp at Alamitos Bay for months where the most challenging obstacles are a) legions of Sabots and b) no wind. Not even any Stingrays to shuffle for.

Anyway conditions were a bit much to cope with for the old girl not to mention the driver but there we were, headed out to oil island #1 and whatever lay beyond. Actually hoping to tack in the lee of the island, but happy to be going anywhere. Tack #1 OK. Slide over cruising boat, stack, bring it up, flail downwind. What an adventure. Serious speed - not much time to think about relative angles of attack or physics or what have you. Behaving reasonably well given chop and breeze. Lots of detritus floating from recent rains. Still haven't quite worked out how to tack in that condition. Think I need a more efficient rudder to level it all out a bit - always convenient to blame boat for one's own inadequacies.

After blowing a few tacks and the sun getting low, switched to preservation mode and headed back to shore. Piled it in to windward in lee of oil island, righted boat, drifted out of lee and - airborne, reaching. Flying was not really what I wanted to be doing at that moment, to be truthful, as I didn't want to any Gilmouresque foredeck demolition maneuvers, and I wasn't at all confident that the boat was going to stay in the water. But there didn't seem to be any way to prevent it while still aiming for my van on the beach. Sheeted in and went for it, figuring if I auger in, at least I'll be that much closer to the beach when I do.

Pretty sure it's going to end ugly, but nope - solid. Little voice says "Don't think you can just drive over that wave, because you're going to stack it." But after a couple of waves I realized that it wasn't going to stack, had no plans that way, like "stack" had been removed from its 20 knot reaching vocabulary. And that was really nice, given how frustrating the rest of the sail had been. Go straight over them, drive up the troughs, whatever you wanna do. It's your thing. Foil sounds a bit like a jackhammer, but the boat goes exactly where you point it and the foil stays on the painless side of airborne.

This was, in fact, something I had dreamed might be true way back in the beginning, but it was really weird to actually experience it. There is a minimum speed it wants to go, and as long as you keep it heated up, it's perfectly happy. Slow down too much and things get funky. Now all I have to figure out is how to gybe going that fast...

Unfortunately, it all proved too much for the sensor line, which I think is 3/32" spectra with no cover from a spool I picked up on sale. I heard a loud bang, looked down at the deck, but only saw water everywhere. Thought maybe I was sinking, but no - the foil just went full negative and took the hull with it. Sort of like driving a submarine while sitting on the periscope. Somehow managed to not pitchpole. Took a bit of rudder flap out after checking things over and sailed back to shore, which was only another 100m or so.

At this stage of the project I can say that it isn't something you do hoping to go faster any time soon. The idea of doing that is an attraction, rather akin to Sirens singing beautiful songs from rocky outcrops. The actual path to the goal, however, is a long one, and like dropping down into a valley to shortcut your way over to the next peak, you can lose sight of the original destination and end up somewhere else just as lofty, but not at all where you set out to go. I, for instance, had no ambitions to become a rodeo bull rider, but here I am. Odysseus never meant to spend a year with Circe, fathering in the process the son who eventually killed him, but some of this stuff is really beyond our control. You just have to roll with it. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Seasons

Summer and boat construction. Actually it's summer and ROAD construction, up there in the midwest, but periodically it is nice to have a meterological excuse to sit around doing nothing in particular when it comes to sailing. Maybe lay up a Moth. Take the trash out, clean the bathroom, do the laundry. All those things I can't get done on other weekends due to sailing, or during the week due to work commitments. And I don't even have a family. Kind of makes me wonder how people do it. 

Should have some pics of the ChinchillaZilla coming together soon; helped the Boyz pile some carbon and nomex into their tool this past weekend, and it was all looking good in there. Photos when I have them. Bobby K is off to China later this week and I think they are hoping to have a deck on by then.

Have my eye on some sexy instrumentation for Le Moth so I can better analyse what it is doing. That should be a fun project. 

I could sort everything pretty quickly with some active controls, but that, apparently, would be cheating. Cheating whom is an open question, as I am the only Moth at my club. The temptation is strong, as it would only take a servo and a bit bigger battery -- everything else will be in place for monitoring purposes. But in the end it is probably not necessary.

Just like your parents always said: experimenting with powerful mind altering substances will only get you thrown out of school. Perhaps the situation is analogous to the early 18 era in Australia, where boats had to develop someplace outside the traditional confines of a restricted class to make the next big leap. 

I read a great article about Ry Cooder in the New York Times over the weekend, talking about the hot-rodder culture in California in the 1950s, all these people out on the dry lakebeds on weekends, making their cars go faster and faster. It's kind of crazy to think that lots of people would find this sort of thing appealing, given the complete dearth of development-minded sailors here, but I suppose people tend to focus on developing the technologies at hand. There are certainly oodles of seriously souped-up cars driving around town, though one suspects the only racing they see is between stoplights. 

Aerospace, another formerly dominant local employer that brought a lot of geeky experimenter-types to this area, is only a shadow of what it once was- though we do have a huge UAV company nearby - started semi-paradoxically by the same guy who made those human-powered airplanes in the late 1970s. It's all well and good that the F35 is driving composite tooling development, but who would have thought that a dude who built the Gossamer Albatross would start a company that would in turn go on to build Skynet-type drones? 

Gotta hand it to those sci-fi writers. Asimov wrote I, Robot in the 1950s, for heaven's sake. All that James Cameron Terminator stuff just seems to get closer to reality all the time - life imitating art and all that. But I'm sure Cameron never saw the T1 running for Governor of California, even in his wildest dreams.

Enough annoying links. Have a good week.

Monday, November 17, 2008

No Place In Particular

So the regatta debut of the New Stuff was greeted with near universal yawns and some derision, but proved extremely worthwhile nonetheless. I knew going in that it would be a tall order to make it around the course, period, but hey: it was the California State Championships, and I was the fifth boat. Gotta support the fleet, and in the words of the omnipresent Nige "If I made something like that I wouldn't give a damn if it was done or not - I'd want to see how it went against some other Moths!"

As things turned out it was all hopelessly anticlimactic. I rolled into Coronado in plenty of time to make the start but there was basically no wind until 1pm, when a breath of air lured us out to the course, dying progressively on the way there. It flirted with us for a few runs on foils, only to wheeze out in the lulls to something requiring a power boat to start.  

Speaking of which, I believe the San Diego yachties may be able to lay claim to something called a RIB start, where in pathetically sad conditions the wing of a moth is put on the RIB, which accelerates to foiling speed, at which point the helm jumps on the now-foiling Moth and bears away. In something like 5 knots of breeze it is possible to get some impressively good rides this way - or have fun trying. 

In any event, I foiled around a bit - not terribly well, but well enough given the fact that I had never been able to get up in those conditions previously in any reliable way. I did foil by Charlie at close quarters, and had the presence of mind to tell him he saw it Here first, but then I did also spend my fair share of time living up to his expectations of utter and complete failure, head down over the daggerboard trunk, fiddling with lines. In fairness to myself I should say that the 30 knots of breeze last Sunday put paid to my shake-down cruise, and that the boat was not in proper sailing configuration prior to Saturday's festivities. But that would sound like an excuse, which we all know would be lame and entirely uncalled for. Long story short the wind died and we lowrided/were towed back in.

Sunday dawned hot with a forecast high of 93 degrees, which if you subtract 32, multiply by five, and divide by nine will give you a number in something called "C" which apparently means something to someone somewhere other than the US. Here we don't go in for all that hype - our system works just fine for us and we all know what each other mean, even if arcane formulae are somehow required to keep it all feng shui with Lord Kelvin.

I rigged a little thingy to give me less drag and more lift at lowish pre-foiling speeds. Saturday it was just a pitiful bit of line rigged to the old bungy cleat on my tramp, which as you may recall from your own boat is a one-trick pony: if you're not on starboard, forget about it. A double-ended solution was in order, and after pinging Charlie about it on the tow back in, a plan was hatched involving some Spinlock cleats and a fair amount of cash. Call it my fair share of economic stimulus. It wasn't that dear and is definitely sexy - just wish they would make those cleats from something lighter than whatever they are made of.

Thus equipped I missed the 1pm launch by 30 minutes or so and had a good drift/capsize/adjust repeat session out to the bridge, where the wind was eminently foilable. By this point Charlie, Hans and Jack were far down the bay sailing races. My effort to arrive on the scene was hampered by some setup issues which resulted in my warping around and stacking for another hour or so, after which I was rewarded with a sailable boat in a manner not entirely unlike a Genie materializing from a lamp:

"Three wishes? OK, well first, please make the 2:1 on the negative anti-bungee thingy behave itself, and put it in phase with something, preferably the wand there on the bow - yes the thing hanging down." ALAKAZAM! Done. 

Next: "Please make the boat stop imitating a submarine." AS YOU WISH BLAMMO - done. 

"Now speed this whole program up!" Done. 

"Ridiculously excellent! Now, make my wand stop throwing showers of spray every which way like a firehose! What? I'm out of wishes? Well, I suppose I can live with that for today."

I ran around enough to figure out that starboard tack seems extremely quick and port is misbehaving - I've no idea why but it must be something with the asymmetricity of my wand paddle and its unique Coriolis-like ability to slingshot streams of piss ten feet in any given direction +/- 90 degrees of the main velocity vector in non-Newtonian fashion. Last night I watched the stupid video on SA of the little prop-driven wind cart pushing itself up a treadmill, and started wondering whether my wand was violating any laws of thermodynamics by throwing spray so far out in front of the boat at 14 knots. Who knows? It seems more efficient at making waterworks than actuating my wand, but the visual effect is really spectacular, and it will be a sad day when I cut that thing off. You really can't take your eyes off it. I think Charlie's comment was "an incredible amount of spray". Pyrrhic victory.

Never did make the race course. By the time I was sorted they were coming back in. I felt bad and good at the same time - bad because I had missed the races (Charlie won, 2 races to one each for Jack (GO JACK) and Hans (who will no doubt be out for revenge in Australia in a few weeks' time). 

I could not help feeling really good also though, because this little project just seems to pay back in spades every little bit of effort I put into it. It may never be fully competitive, but it is just so satisfying to see a problem, conceive a solution, implement it, trial it and actually have it WORK that after a few rounds, one is irretrievably hooked on the process. 

Of course, having cut up your only Moth is a pretty good incentive to continue down the road less traveled. I could buy another boat, and would love to race more, but I am simply having too much fun with this to quit. 

Twenty years from now, odds are I will be just another guy who tried something kooky that didn't work. But my inner Yoda keeps whispering: "What if WORKS it does? What THEN will you be? Mmmmm?" Delusional. Yes, I know, like Luke in the cave in Empire Strikes Back, conversing with his father, not liking what he sees, and jetting off to the Degaba System without completing his training. Only cost him a hand in the end.

An old girlfriend once said that she always thought it better to regret things she had done rather than things she had not. I suppose I am far enough from the beaten track to not be satisfied with simply sailing a foiler, and even though it is costing me some racing experience, the amount of personal growth my own project provides just seems to dwarf whatever I might otherwise accomplish in regatta terms. Hans, having seen the boat working to weather from astern for a minute or so, made the comment closest to my own thoughts: THAT THING FOILED! THAT'S AWESOME!

Not perfect, not refined, not competitive, not reliable and completely unproven, but awesome nonetheless.