Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Closing Blog

Greetings race fans! I realize it’s a long shot that any of you will be checking our blog for more news. The Trials ended over a month ago. But you know my recent fascination with long shots. I just wanted to bring closure to the adventure of Team Breault-Williams. You probably know that we finished 4th of the 5 teams competing for the Women’s 470 spot on the US Olympic Team. We posted a lot of 10th place finishes in the mixed fleet regatta. Those watching might say we were better competitors around the race course than our points attest to. We were satisfied with our performance. We knew we were the 4th best team there. We hoped for some exciting finishes, more in the mix, but we had some victories that lay beyond numbers and points. We were fast, especially in big breeze. We nailed sets and gybes, and the ominous last leeward mark-rounding of the outside trapezoid course! We had moments of brilliance and we relentlessly chased the boats within reach. In the end, our competitors and the coaches present congratulated us on our successes and encouraged us to keep racing the 470.

Casey and I pondered the idea of continuing. Perhaps we still are pondering, as it looks like the 470 will remain in the 2012 Olympic Games. However, for now we are hanging up our wetsuits and planning to sell the boats and equipment we have. We have some things to do before 2012 arrives. We have already emerged from our telephone booth as Casey, the civil engineer, and Nicole , the teacher-on-sabbatical.

We want to thank everyone out there who supported us in this endeavor and who cheered us on through it all! Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

On the Eve of the Trials

October 3rd is here! We are on the eve of racing the US Trials. Today was the first day of measurement. We spent the day in the boat parking lot, derigging and running around with all of our boat parts to get weighed and measured, then rerigging the boat while making last minute changes to this and that.

Casey and I managed to get out on the water for a short sail before the end of the day. More measurement will take place tomorrow and Friday. I tell you, 470 boat work can go on and on! We have a pretty short work list to complete before Saturday morning comes and the racing begins:

1. Replace Nicole’s spin halyard handle so that it doesn’t break her fingers anymore when the jib blocks the chute coming out of the bag during sets.
2. Fix two small “dings” in the gelcoat on the centerboard and the rudder.
3. Drill two drain holes in the air tanks back by the transom (class rule) – ah! Drill holes?
4. Make a small stitch at the front of the compression batten pocket to allow consistency of tension on the luff of the main.
5. Attach a second, shorter line to the head of the jib so that we can adjust where the jib rides on the luff wire in heavy wind when we are raked back.
6. Lengthen the continuous traveler line.
7. Check all knots, ring dings, fittings, lines for fray, bungy cord for stretchiness… tape everything up that causes disruption in sail trim or air flow in general!
8. Teflon wax the hull of the boat and the blades.
9. Affix the regatta bow stickers.
10. Open up the air tanks during the hot, dry afternoon so any existing moisture is wicked away.

We have certainly come a long way from our first day on the water in Niantic, CT. We have learned so much more than we wrote into our blog for you to witness. I can only plead blog-negligence. I guess a lot of you will just have to wait for the traditional face-to-face storytelling that friends share after experiencing adventure.

I’ve included an interesting picture for you. Yesterday, I visited Pacifica High School with our practice boat while Casey and Jonas (our awesome coach) were visiting a stretch-guru named Bob Cooley. I addressed the student body (2000 kids!) during their lunch break. I told them about Olympic sailing and tried to rev them up to pursue their passion in life.

Casey and I are competitive people, and we are going to give our competitors the best we have. But in the end, the essence of this Olympic endeavor has been the passion for competitive sailing we both have inside us. I told my father in an email several weeks ago, “I am already winning inside, regardless of the racing outcome...” Many thanks for those of you who gave this chance to us.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Getting Settled in Long Beach

The new boat (still in plastic):
Maiden Voyage:
Friendly Competition:
Special Thanks to David at Naples Fitness for donating his time and gym to make us as strong as we can be for the trials!!

The City Front

Long Time. No Blog

After the road trip to California, the intensity of our training adventure increased a lot. Apologies for such a long delay in the blogging about it. My fingers have been quite sore from gripping the mainsheet, so I have avoided excessive typing. And Casey has been reading Harry Potter books.

We were in San Francisco for 8 days, 5 days of 470 sailing with Jonas, our Swedish coach, and 3 days racing the Vanguard 15 Nationals. All of our sailing was done out of the St. Francis YC right under the Golden Gate Bridge. Just about every afternoon the wind blew 18 to 25 knots! Our goal for this stint of training was to be able to control the 470 in big breeze so our confidence is never shaken because of what the anemometer reads. It worked! We made great progress.

Other things included in the SF experience were: Casey spending some QT with her mom and dad and their new dog, Boone; Bruce and Jonas escorting Nicole to Peña PachaMama to hear the famous soul music of Freddy Clarke & the New World Band; Nicole and Casey soaking in the philosophy of Richard Feeney over Thai food in Sausalito; and Nicole’s rediscovery of her friend Jago MacCloud.

We then headed to Long Beach, where we remain until the trials. Our first two weeks here were spent setting up our new 470 and sailing it from the US Sailing Center. We now are among other 470 teams and have been invited to spar on several occasions. We are on the sheer rock wall of the learning curve now. Our boat handling is being tested by the huge Long Beach waves which accompany the daily 15-20 knot sea breeze. And we are also feeling the growing pains of an expanding understanding of straight line boat speed. The pressure of playing catch up is very real now. We do see our potential to take these teams on successfully, but we still have a lot of space between moments of brilliance.

There is more to tell of our Long Beach story, and many pictures… I promise they will be up soon…

Friday, August 10, 2007

Traversing the West with Air Support

After leaving Chicago, Casey and I traveled through the farmland of Illinois and Iowa. Lots of corn. In the early evening we arrived in Omaha at the home of my Aunt Mona and Uncle Keith where they welcomed us with open arms. Casey and I went for a jog through their neighborhood in oppressive heat and humidity which rivaled the Gulf Coast. I have to admit I was quite anxious about the heavy dark sky above as we trotted off. Mona goaded me with a common Nebraskan reference to the Wizard of Oz, “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!” Luckily we were not swept up by a tornado and we returned to quick showers before a famous dinner of Keith’s smoked ribs, native tomatoes and corn on the cob, and Grandmere’s special potato salad. For dessert we had Mona’s delectable banana-pineapple surprise. Mmmm Mmmm good! Before turning in for the night, Keith took us into his Air Force Intelligence Operations home office to look at pictures of Kyle, their son, competing on Colorado State’s ROTC rifle drill team.

Keith and Mona met when they were both Air Force intelligence officers. They are both retired from active duty now, but Keith still works as a civilian contractor consulting the Air Force on matters of national security. Kyle is in the Air Force ROTC program at Colorado State. He is a senior this year, and will enter the Air Force next summer. This summer Kyle had an internship with law enforcement at Air Force Base F.E. Warren in Cheyenne. When we left Keith and Mona the next morning, with clean laundry and a homemade lunch, we scheduled a rendezvous with Kyle for a mid-afternoon workout at the base. After working out, Kyle gave us a tour. We saw antelope and warehouses where nuclear warheads are cleaned and maintained. Kyle has some ambitious plans to become an air battle strategist, however he may begin his career guarding ICBM silos. Whoa!

We drove on after our excursion with Kyle. We made it into Utah pretty late in the evening. Winding through the Wasatch Mountains at night with the truckin’ 18-wheelers and the periodic construction zones was a little frightening. By 11pm we made it to our destination for the night. Mona and Keith reached into their network of Air Force friends to find us housing in Ogden with Roxie, Jerry and Rory Sianez. Roxie and Jerry warmly greeted us despite the late hour. We only chatted briefly before crashing for the night. But in the morning, Roxie made all of us (including Rory, their 13-year old son, who gallantly awoke early to see us off) a wonderful breakfast – complete with a wicked triple shot cappuccino for me!

Right now we are somewhere in the middle of Nevada, after spending the morning driving across the salt flats of Utah. A special thanks for our wingmen who helped us get this far!

Newport in Review -- Part III

While boat handling was our primary objective in Newport, we managed to learn much more. An important part of controlling a 470 is related to powering up and depowering the sail plan. An understanding of how to achieve proper power for given conditions is a major aspect of boat speed. With these overlapping characteristics, we are bound to become faster as we learn the various ways to control the boat so it performs better. In Newport we learned the elementary principles of rig tuning and sail control, something we will refine in the coming weeks in California before the trials. Sailing side by side with other 470 teams will be a very important part of the fine tuning… a.k.a. speed tuning.

Since there weren’t any 470 teams training with us in Niantic or Newport, we were dependent on tuning guides put out by various sail makers, enhanced by our reconnaissance work among current 470 experts. At first, the tuning guides provided us with target rake, tension and bend numbers for the different wind ranges. There were references to the common masts used by 470 sailors and some guidelines for how the mast should be stepped to yield an accurate starting point. The key people who have helped us better understand what the numbers mean and how to actually apply them while sailing include Tracy Smith, Zack Leonard, John Morgan, Skip Whyte and David Hughes.

In Niantic and for the first week in Newport, Casey and I were sailing with a Proctor Cumulus mast. We had an old suit of Toni Tio sails. We had some basic settings for light, medium and heavy conditions. We didn’t bother thinking about mast bend except whenever I used the vang we would put puller on. Our sails looked terrible, but we cared most about boat handling. We made pin changes mainly to remain safe as the wind came up. Tracy Smith helped us clarify our settings a little bit, and we put a chart on the back of the boat with the various control settings for the different wind strengths. This sufficed for our first stage of learning the 470.
When we decided to jump into the short-duration Olympic campaign, Casey and I wanted to eliminate guess work and experimentation. We found out what boat, mast, and sails most of the top 470 sailors were using and determined that to be our starting point: MacKay boat, SuperSpar M7+ mast, North Sails – Japan design. We made a big jump into the technical realm of rig tuning when we purchased 2 used SuperSpar M7+ masts and changed out the Tony Tio sails for our newest set of North sails. We transitioned into our second stage of learning at this point. Here is a run-down of what we have achieved so far. I will spare you the details of the hot parking lot, the water jug, the saw horses, the number grids, the stepping of masts, the turning of the boat on its side, the returning of the boat upright, the measuring devices, the mix of English measurements and metric, the old Loos gauges and the acquiring of the new, the tension going on, the tension coming off, the Excel spreadsheets… just know that where we are now required a process of meandering and frustrating proportions. And ironically, where we are now is essentially a very simple place.

1) Mast deflection: All 470 masts are different. After measuring our 2 SuperSpar masts’ fore and aft bend and side to side bend under controlled circumstances, we have found one to be stiffer than the other, but both to be on the bendier side of the stiffness range. We plan to retest them one more time, and also test the Proctor Cumulus before we make a final decision on which mast to use in the trials.

2) Sails: While the jib and spinnaker sail order with North is relatively simple, the main sail we order depends on the mast we plan to use. Our current North main sail (the N9-L5) has a flatter cut and tends to work better with a stiffer mast. There are two modified versions of this sail that will work better with a bendier mast (the N10-L5 and the C21-L5). We will test out both versions and make our decision at some point in September.

3) Rake: There is a magic base setting (for light wind) that all 470 sailors use. By English measurement it is 22’2” from the top black band on the mast to the top of the transom. There is a growing movement of people (it’s up to 3 people now) who don’t believe in rake beyond this starting point. What this means is that measuring rake settings when you drop pins is not important. Of course there are rake measurements to take, and they generally decrease as the mast is raked back in increasing wind velocity.

4) Tension: There is a magic tension setting to try to maintain for all wind ranges. It is probably different for every specific mast and crew combination, but the common base number is 25-26 on the forestay using a PT-1 Loos Gauge. This number is specific to the jib luff wire we use (which is a standard European deiform 2mm).

5) Bend: The amount of mast bend at a given rake and tension is controlled by a lot of variables: fore/aft placement of the mast step, the pin setting, the spreader fore/aft position, the spreader length and the puller. Pulling the main halyard straight down from top black band to the gooseneck black band produces a straight edge. The distance from the back of the mast to the straight edge at the spreaders should be generally within the range of 45mm to 65mm depending on sea state and wind strength. We learned a couple of tricks to manipulate the bend of the mast. Depending on which trick we employ, we can affect where the bend is greater on the mast from top to bottom. For example, we can pull the mast step back in light air to produce a general increase in overall bend to flatten the sail; we can put the spreaders forward or back to induce bend or straighten the middle of the mast; we can put puller on to reduce lower bend. And we can use a combination of these controls to produce a desired result in the mainsail shape. What shape we want depends on the conditions we face.

Warning! The technical set up, all of the numbers (of which I have only presented a few), can be overwhelming. And we did at times become overwhelmed. What is most important to remember is what all these numbers really mean when applied to a sailing 470… The main two things they means are sail shape and feel, the former being an influence on the latter.
A balanced boat produces a balanced helm, and the boat goes straight. A boat not in balance will fight the skippers hand on the helm as he tries to keep the boat going straight. Try to isolate your sense of touch to detect the forces on the helm without distraction. Another aspect of feel is the obvious feeling of going faster. The more time Casey and I spend in the 470, the more sensitive our sense of feel becomes. We are now guided by a general rule of thumb regarding rake. As the wind increases, we rake back when we feel the boat is bound up and hard to muscle flat and move forward. For every ½ pin hole down we go, we move our spreaders forward to maintain our desired bend for the conditions. We also increase puller as the vang comes on harder so that we don’t produce too much bend down low. Puller is a feel thing too. If the chop kicks up or waves build with the wind, we can feel the need for power through the waves and puller gives it to us. Spreader changes and puller are still a bit elusive to us at this point. I think that once we have the trials mast and sails decided on, then sail shape will guide us in using them properly.

Sail shape is something we are also starting to understand more. Both John Morgan and Skip Whyte taught us how to read the wrinkles in the mainsail in combination with how the boat feels through the helm. We now can see when there is too much or too little bend and apply that to our trim for optimal boat feel.