Finally received our new poly-laminate headsail!

Robert ordered a headsail from Precision Sails (do not purchase from them) at the beginning of 2017. They promised to deliver it by May, in time for the 2017 racing season. They missed it, by months. It just arrive a couple days ago (Jan 2018).  It is shorter than it should be and the foot is two feet longer than it was supposed to be, but it sure does look good up in the rig.

July 24, 2017 Race Report – NRN

Race: Ballard Cup Series III Race 1
Course in Shilshole: NRN
Crew: Ben L, Robert K, Jeff, Mike, Robert Dall
Winds: 6-13 knots (guesstimate)
Average Speed: 5.6 knots

This was a tough race from the very start. The race committee had a snafu after the flags went up and had to postpone the race, and when they resumed the persons running the flags, horn, and timer were not in sync. They did pick a great course however, NRN. Perfect conditions.

The starting line was a mess. Boats from other starts were in our way. We had to duck and gybe to get around and into position. Our position wound up being ok. We picked a better line than Figaro by far and we had a chance to push Blue Lullaby over early. Beyond was nowhere near the start line. All we had to do was pull in the headsail and rocket out onto the course. Therein was our first snafu. We should have practiced a few tacks before heading to the line. When we needed to pull in the sails and power up the headsail was a mess. We had two people working the sheet but the tailer put the sheet around the winch backwards. It took him a long time to resolve the problem and a long time to get the sail pulled in. Figaro and Blue Lullaby shot across the line and pulled way ahead of us. Beyond was right on our tail.

Once we got our sails set we took off. We blew past Blue Lullaby and were hot on Figaro. There was a bit of a flood against us so our tactic was to head out on starboard towards the middle of the Sound and tack into the beach as soon as possible. We tacked in and could not get in sync with the headsail and stalled out. It took a couple minutes to get us back up to speed. We went into 12 feet of water before I spun the boat out and back over to a starboard tack. The idea was to get out of the current and ride the wind off the beach up and around the point. The headsail sheet was again wrapped around backward…. boat stalled out and we lost several more minutes powering back up. Surprisingly we were still ahead of Blue Lullaby and when we took off again we came within a couple boat lengths of Figaro.

Figaro tacked in and we kept shooting out. When we finally tacked in we were well above Figaro, Blue Lullaby was astern, and Beyond was still struggling near the starting line. Something happened on this tack that caused the headsail to go out of control and we stalled out again. Stalling on tacks really hurts us. We probably lost 6 minutes each time we stalled while finangling the headsail and waiting for the boat to power back up.The next couple tacks we were much better in sync. Robert Kirkman also had me spin over slower to keep pressure of the headsail a bit longer so the tailer could get more in before grinding was needed.

We drove hard into the bay towards Spring Beach. Only a couple times did we drop below 6.2 knots. Billabong is having some issues with pointing, partially from loose rigging and now backstay adjuster, but primarily due to a big Dacron headsail. We had the sail in tight on the winch but it was still billowing way too far out. The main was in tight to help with pointing but it caused heavy helm, which ultimately acted as a brake for the boat. If we could have gotten the sail shape better we would have been faster, pointed higher, and overall more efficient.

By the time we hit the beach and tacked back out we were dang close to the mark. The tack was much better than the others but we still lost a lot of speed. We would have been at the mark with Figaro with a clean tack. When we got up to the mark we got a bit too trigger happy and tacked early which caused us to go further away from the mark and require another tack.

Downwind we were pretty quick. The spinnakers were certainly faster than us but we held our own pretty well on a reach. Figaro was ahead but we were chewing up the distance, Blue Lullaby was far enough behind that we had her clinched, I could not even find Beyond.

As the wind shifted when we came to the edge of the bay we decided to put up the whisker pole and turn downwind more. Figaro had already done this. It took a long time to get the pole ready and up which lost us use of the headsail. When the pole went up it was on the wrong side of the boat and we had to turn away from our course, build speed, and gybe back out onto the correct course. During all this Figaro disappeared and Blue Lullaby pulled slightly ahead. Beyond was on our tail.

As we came around Meadow Point I called for the pole to be dropped. But of course after it was taken off we got the wind shift along the beach and wished we had kept the pole up. We cruised right up next to the beach in 13 feet of water. We struggled the final bit as spinnakers mucked up the wind around us to be 3rd across the line in our class and 4th on corrected time.

Though it was a rough race we learned a lot. Every week we are getting ourselves dialed in a bit more. Much more of this and we will be getting first places. To give you an idea, Billabong  is the fastest rated boat in her class by far. She was designed as a Transpac racer so she is fast. The only boat we should ever be worried about is Breeze and she has not been out racing this summer. Figaro and Blue Lullaby should never be a threat.

What we did well:

  • When the sails were set we drove hard and fast.
  • Weight was distributed well across the boat.
  • Communication increased across the course and we worked hard to get dialed in together.
  • I replaced the main halyard and it was much easier to get the sail up.

Opportunities for improvement:

  • I need to improve my crew training and direction giving ability.
  • We need to understand the whisker pole and how to use it downwind.
  • We need a downhaul on the whisker pole to control bouncing, flatten the sail, and catch more wind.
  • On tacks the headsail crew really needs to work together well. The tailer needs to pull like a banshee to get as much of the sheet in as possible and then help the grinder keep the tail in so they can go faster and not need to put it in the cleat.
  • I need to work on speed of maneuvers based on conditions and crew ability.
  • And the usual mechanical items: Rigging tuned, backstay tensioner, less stretchy headsail, replacing worn gear, etc.

July 10, 2017 Race practice and boat improvement notes

No race today to allow boats to participate in Whidbey Island Race Week.
We were not part of the race week so a few of us got together to do some practice.

Crew: Ben L, John P, Keith H
Winds: N 15-20 knots

Winds had been light and from the south all day. Right before the normal race time they switched from the north and started blowing hard. The West Point buoy registered 15 knot winds when we went out, when we were coming in it registered 18 with bigger gusts. We had waves rolling in from the north  that we were slamming into on an upwind starboard tack. Wave heights are harder to estimate but I think they were about six foot waves.

I had intended on giving us a legitimate course to follow but the high winds and pounding seas altered that plan. Instead we took the time to do an equipment shakedown test. I have not had Billabong out in these conditions before and it was a great opportunity to poke around the boat while John helmed, and helmed us very well. Throughout all maneuvers John kept the boat steady and charging through the water.

We put up a full main and the 140% genoa on a starboard tack, which put us bow first into the waves. Billabong was furiously pounding through the swells. Anything not held down in the cabin was quickly on the floor. After getting everything up and trimmed for the conditions I sat back to look at the rigging. The leeward side was slack, not something usually too concerning, but in this case both the inner and outer stays were swinging wildly. I crawled up the deck to look at the mast and from the side it looked like a noodle. The baby-stay, which I understood to be critical in heavy winds, flopped around like it was not connected. From the bow looking back the top of the mast flopped from side to side with each wave we pounded through. This was not good! The stress on the mast alone was intolerable. Too much more and I was afraid she was going to give way and snap in half. I crawled back to the cockpit to confer with John, we needed to reef, now.

We pulled the headsail in till it was about a 110% and moved the sheet cars forward to compensate. John said the helm instantly felt better. The mast was still pumping some but not nearly as much as before. We held that configuration for a bit and as I was adjusting the leeward genoa car my feet (which were on the toe rail) went into the water a couple times. We needed to reef the main as well.

Reefing a main can be an interesting proposition, especially in higher winds. The old adage many sailors live by says, “Reef early and often.” What that means is when the weather looks like it may get rough you set the sails before it gets to you. This makes the boat safer and more comfortable. We now had the prospect of reefing a big mainsail in winds around 20 knots. Luckily one of the previous owners rigged Billabong with a mainsail reefing system that can be operated from the cockpit. Unluckily I took out one of those reefing lines to install a vang line.

Reefing Billabong requires the handling of three lines: main halyard, fore reefing line, aft reefing line. The main halyard and the fore reefing line are controlled from the cockpit, however the fore reefing line has a hook on it that needs to run through an eye on the front of the main. I went forward and put the hook in place and we were able to pull the front of the sail down. That accomplished I again had to go forward to the mast to pull down the aft reefing line, which runs through the boom and comes out the front into its own jam cleat.This was the line that was previously run to the cockpit. It sure would have been easier to have it back there on a winch.

The boat stabilized and even sped up. It is amazing how reefing, which is the process of making the sails smaller, can actually make the boat go faster in bigger winds. Ultimately it comes down to boat control. With all the sail up we struggled to maintain control of the boat as the same speeds. With the sails reefed the boat again ran comfortably and we had control. Ironically, through this entire endeavor we had a Coast Guard rescue helicopter circling us waiting to assist if we got into too much trouble.

The sail was a great learning experience. Keith is a new sailor and got to experience managing a boat in trying conditions while John and I who are both experienced in those conditions got to learn about Billabong herself. Afterwards we went to Sloop Tavern for a beer and a recap. Here is the list we came up with:

  • The rig could really use some work. We could have held more sail but the looseness of the rig made it sloppy and dangerous. The forestay is so slack it looked like the genoa was curved.
  • Need to setup a backstay tensioner. This would help with flattening the headsail going upwind quite a bit. After a good tuning of course.
  • Till the rig is tuned we need to reef at 15 knots of wind.
  • Static topping lifts suck – We knew that but it really worked against us in high wind. Billabong needs a rigid strut to hold the boom up. If we continue to use the topping lift maybe we need to tap the spare (I think) line in the boom to make it somewhat adjustable.
  • We might be able to convert the two reefing lines into a single reefing line by using the aft line and running it through the fore reefing point eye. To control this from the cockpit we still would need another clutch on the cabin top.
  • The furler drum needs maintenance. It is not spinning as well as it should.
  • The battery box in the engine compartment came loose during the pounding. We need a better way to secure it.
  • The raw water pump belt may need to be replaced. It was not spinning when we started the motor.
  • And perhaps most concerning, the rudder post is leaking. Normally not noticeable, when the rudder is being worked hard water splurts out of it. I am hoping all that is needed is for the packing to be changed. This should probably be done with the boat out of the water though.

Overall a great learning experience. Even though conditions could have caused us some serious problems we recognized and compensated for them quickly. Everyone on board stayed calm, focused on what needed to be done and we all had life jackets on. We now know some strengths and weaknesses to address in the boat too.

Pulled out the old asymmetrical spinnaker…flying pretty

Billabong has a huge sail locker. I was pulling stuff out a couple months ago and found a compact blue sail bag. To my surprise there was an asymmetrical sail all ready to fly inside of it! Went out with my buddy David and we tossed it up to see how she was. Sail is still in great shape and flies pretty.

We left Shilshole with a Northerly and scooted across the sound quite well with just a whisper of wind. The wind built and we just kept speeding up. David had never flown a spinnaker before and he did a great job of learning to dance with the spinnaker and make the boat fly downwind.

June 19, 2017 Race Report – NBMBN

Race: Ballard Cup Series II Race 3.
Course in Shilshole: NBMBN – Shortened to NBMB due to lack of wind
Crew: Ben L, Robert K, Keith H, David S
Winds: 1-10 knots (guesstimate)
Average Speed: 5 knots

  • 3rd in class
  • 5th in series (Missed the first race and got a 7)
  • 59th overall
  • Results link

We had an interesting downwind start for this race right into a strong ebb. From the start line we had to fight our way down to the B mark against the ebb. Typically when doing this you want to stay near the marina breakwater to get out of the current as much as possible and that is exactly what we intended to do.

After Figaro forced us to gybe.

At the start we gybed onto a port reach and smartly crossed the start line headed right into the breakwater. Figaro and Blue Lullaby started on the other end of the line on starboard which gave them right of way over us (No idea where the rest of our class was). We were scooting along well when Figaro (who had ultimate right of way) decided to bring Blue Lullaby up and force us to gybe over again to avoid a collision. We executed it cleanly and accelerated away from Blue Lullaby.

Bye bye Blue Lullaby

Once we were far enough ahead of Blue Lullaby we turned down and went wing-on-wing. Figaro stayed on a reach and we scooted past and beat her around the first mark.

Looking back at the fleet after the start

On the upwind leg our mark was the Meadow Point buoy. With the tide now at our back and the wind picking up we streaked out on a long starboard tack. Our strategy was to head out till we could turn and come back in on a single tack just about the time the tide turned slack. We had a bit of a snafu near the mark with another boat fouling one and nearly fouling us which allowed Figaro to sneak ahead. We caught her and passed her a few minutes later when she tacked into shore way too early. Possibly trying to stay closer in for the tide, but with slack coming up we were not concerned about it pushing us away from the mark.

Blue Lullaby

When we tacked in our fleet was far behind us. As we got within a couple hundred feet of the mark the wind got light and shifty. A big header pushed us down away from the mark and we had to tack up to get back.

After rounding M we needed to head back to B. The plan was to hit the breakwater and gybe around behind the committee boat. We shot inside and the wind died… We were far enough out front that the rest of the fleet saw what happened and stayed outside. The wind filled outside first… We gybed over and struggled to make our way back out. That allowed Figaro and Blue Lullaby the opportunity to stay in the wind and sneak by. Womp womp.

The committee boat pulled anchor and reset the finish line at the B mark. We nearly caught Figaro again when our wind died and Figaro was able to slowly float across the finish line. Blue Lullaby as well.

Because Billabong owes both boats time the best we could hope for was 3rd place after the corrections and that is what we got. Our real time behind Figaro was 9 minutes as we slowly bobbed our away across the line, 14 minutes corrected time.

Overall we had a good race. If the wind had not died on us inside I have no doubt we would have crossed the line first in our class. I think corrected time would have put us 2nd behind Figaro. We had a couple snafus with getting the headsail around and in that lost us time but the crew is learning! As I improve in tactics, boat handling, and ability to direct the crew we are gonna start smashing the competition way (Until Breeze shows up again…)!

Eagle Harbor – First cruise since motor rebuild!

Today I finally took my first cruise on Billabong! It was a small shakedown cruise from Shilshole Marina to the Eagle Harbor Public Park dock on Bainbridge Island.

Took a couple good friends along as well as a new friend Jesse that I met right before he got on the boat. Motor fired up beautifully again and we got out of the marina no problem. Wind was strong on the way down to Eagle Harbor. 16 knot southerly with big gusts. As we headed south towards West Point from the marina we got lots of lifts and headers. I was sitting on the low side watching the headsail and missed a couple gusts and buried the rail in the water. It was a blast! As we came around West Point the wind shifted to south south west. We set the sails once and stayed on a port tack from the marina right up to the entrance buoy of Eagle Harbor.

The Eagle Harbor Public Park dock can be crowded and rafting is encouraged. We rafted off to a beautiful old Westsail owned by a nice couple and headed into town for a food and drinks. The dock pay per foot and the cost of this “big boat” compared to Zippey is quite different. Zippey would have cost $2.30, Billabong cost $3.60! Breaking the bank here ;).

One of the crew over was Benjamin, a co-worker who lives on the island. He hopped a ferry to Seattle and I took him back home. It was fun.

One the way home the winds died and the seas became glassy. Used the iron sail to get home.

We made it to Eagle Harbor in about an hour and a half and got back in about an hour with the motor.

Great day all around! I think that long tack helped me learn the steering on the boat much better. She is a bit sensitive. I was able to keep her on edge pretty well. Looking forward to testing myself again on tomorrow’s race!