View Full Version : Lesson's Learned (Ventus).....for those considering this race in the future.

07-23-2015, 04:32 PM
First some appreciation for this group of people making this possible!!!

I entered this race in a new boat J/88 that I purchased with the intent of daysailing on the bay. I had some training in offshore sailing and navigation and had about 3,000 offshore miles prior to this event.....however they were in larger boats with a crew.

If you are thinking of doing this event......I would highly encourage a week or two offshore as part of a crew and either informal or formal education.

My experience of the Long Pac was similar to most of the stories already reported.......what follows is a distillation of what I learned now looking back on it a week or so later.

The four priorities in order of importance

1) Sail the boat
2) Manage the crew
3) Navigate
4) Communicate

1) In general I knew what sails I needed for what conditions. However, I didn't have a plan book for when to move from my small jib to my storm jib. The last day beam reaching in 20-25knots I was way overpowered so put in the first reef then the second(in part because this was easy). At this point it was getting dark and still overpowered. I ended up rolling up the jib and continuing along with double reef. This worked.....but it would have been better for me to go to storm jib before putting the second reef in. At this point the wind/sea state would have been more conducive to changing out the sail. If I had been underpowered I could have always taken out the first reef. Although I knew intellectually that sea state/wind waves develop more offshore than in bay......years of sailing in 25 knots in the bay left me a little complacent.

2) Manage the crew. This is basically food and rest. I would encourage skipping any notion of regular meals and go with a variety of options. Definitely some gatorade or pedialyte (this was Dave's idea..thought he was crazy) but in rough sea state....being able to sip on a little fluid solution was helpful. Keep an eye on your urine color as a measure of hydration status.....goal is pale yellow. Some freeze dry was nice, and some fruit cups worked for me. Sleep is where I could have done better. I am used to sleeping when tired. And essentially sail till tired and then sleep. I would in further make more of an effort to sleep/rest very early on. Figuring out a way to cat nap in the cockpit would have helped. With time I figured out how to see instruments from my bunk so could rest....check direction/check AIS etc.

3) Navigation. Make sure you are comfortable coming by the Farallons, crossing the shipping channels/or bypassing them at night when tired and in rough conditions. I had done this quite a few times so felt comfortable in this area. A single Farallons outing would not be enough.

4) Communicate. Although I had a new radio installation and all tested fine in bay......I experienced some difficulty communicating with other sailboats....not sure why....but communicating with the large ships fine...although this is important I would put it as the last priority.

Fair winds,

07-23-2015, 04:58 PM
I've read all the trip reports from the Long Pac and have a great appreciation for all the knowledge learned and shared. Thanks to everyone for sharing...and Bravo to everyone who participated in the Long Pac. I don't envy any of you, but I definitely respect all of you.
Chris, I liked how you prioritized sailing the boat as #1. Having a plan on when to make sail changes and sticking to it has got to be it. It makes perfect sense that if the boat is balanced and sailing herself via AP all other issues can be dealt with.

07-23-2015, 05:17 PM
It is easy to get distracted from that with the large multitude of other tasks and accept a sail plan that isn't quite right.

One thing I forgot....but did....go sailing with an experienced single hand sailor. I was fortunate to go with Bob Johnstone on Ragtime......similar boat to mine and was especially impressed with the slow/patient and efficient approach. (slow is the wrong word...he didn't rush but everything happened quickly) I have a tendency to rush....and end up with lines in a pile to sort out....DONT.
flake every line immediately so it is ready to go. Finish one task move on...and Practice!

07-23-2015, 05:42 PM
Thanks Chris but you were a natural. Here you are "escaping from Alcatraz" two days after Christmas:

07-23-2015, 10:15 PM
Thanks Chris. How do you get from the roller furled jib to smaller "storm" jib? Would you be removing the larger jib from the luff groove then replacing the storm jib into the luff groove? Or a separate stay?


07-24-2015, 12:18 PM
It is not ideal. Remove from luff groove and replace. I have some loose netting on the lifelines foreward to keep the sail from blowing overboard. The battens are horizontal in the jibe so can get it flat on deck, tied up like a long sausage and drug out of harms way. Bill Colombo (Doyle) was smart enough to design some tie points along the jibs luff, so it could be hoisted even if the foil/luff groove is damaged. I have wondered about the gale sail (goes over the furled jib) as it would be quicker. But then I would use the spin halyard to hoist the jib.....
Hanks would appear to have some advantages in this case, as sail can just be dropped and tied with more gusto. I have to bring tail of jib halyard forward to maintain some sort of control.

Separate Stay would be the "best" solution....but starts to get beyond the design scope of a daysailor/class racing boat......and has more complexity deck hardward....etc etc etc.

HOWEVER.....if/when I get around to a world cruiser....that plus a separate track for storm trysail.....both in bags on deck ready to go.....another fantasy.......

07-24-2015, 12:19 PM
Bob is very kind. Once you understand he has a secret apparatus that unfolds underneath his boat increasing the waterline length by 8 feet...you don't feel so bad when he goes by you.

07-24-2015, 12:33 PM
My diver ratted me out eh?

I have one of those ATN Gale Sails you guys can try if you like. I bought it from Etienne (aka "ATN") at the boat show, mostly because I liked the idea that it clips on over the rolled-up jib so you don't have to turn a sail loose on the foredeck in bad conditions. Like most of our storm sails it has never been used (and hopefully never will be). Let me know and I'll get it to you to play with.

I also have an inner stay on which I can set a hanked-on jib. It was a bigger project than I expected but it works pretty well. Lots of photos available if you want to check it out.

tiger beetle
07-24-2015, 05:57 PM
I was reading Chris' post about lessons learned from doing the race. I started to write out a note about how I've managed the LongPac, as it might provide ideas for other folks. There has rarely been a LongPac race seminar, unlike the multiple TransPac seminars, and it's a lot of work to organize a seminar. It might be worthwhile to start to accumulate a (managed/edited) LongPac Guide that could substitute for the seminars for purposes of the LongPac race.

My list would be slightly different than Chris':

Know your goal in the race (what's the purpose/expectation in doing the race)
Bank sleep, rest, and food (take care of yourself)
Navigation, weather (point the boat in the right direction)
Sail the boat as well as you and the autopilot can
Preserve equipment and yourself (minimize breakage and damage)
Communication - while fun, isn't essential

I believe that the LongPac is an excellent qualifying tool - the course is long enough that it forces the skipper to sleep while the boat continues sailing (something I normally would never have done), the course is entirely within what is usually the worst conditions found on TransPac, and coming off the course skippers often have a raft of new ideas or things to alter to the boat or their approach to the race - and that makes the race a great learning tool.

Know your goal in the race

My goal in the LongPac has been to sail the boat as well as I can, and if another skipper sails their boat better and beats me, that's fine by me. There have been specific boats that I wanted to beat on corrected time, and it's always fun to have a skipper to pace and see if you can outfox them. Doesn't always happen, but when it does, it's fun.

For LongPac, the initial goal for me was to complete my qualifier in order to enter TransPac. I've never viewed LongPac as a race but more as a rally. When using LongPac as a qualifier you 'win' when you've completed the required 400 miles on the ocean. It doesn't matter if you've actually finished the event, as the qualifier only requires 400 miles nonstop in the ocean. Just getting around the course is enough of a workout, no need to kill yourself to try and beat everyone else on corrected time.

After completing my first TransPac qualifier, the next LongPac event is for fun. I love it out on the ocean, there are whales and albatross and critters to see, just watching the boat zoom along through big rolling seas is great, and when the water turns that cobalt blue color it's amazing. Some years the sailing has been magnificent, some years the sailing has truly sucked and I've turned around rather than beat up myself and the boat. One year I did turn around and learned later that several boats that carried on ended up putting the masthead in the water - ouch! As I didn't 'have' to qualify, and I wasn't out on the course trying to prove anything to myself, I had no problem in looking at the grey sky and building seas and watching the breeze climb from 6 knots to 30 and saying, 'This is going to be no fun, there's no reason to crash out another 140 miles to then turn around and crash right back through it all again as conditions deteriorate; let's go home.'

I like to know why I'm going out on the race, know what I want to accomplish, and know my risk level. I don't like to break the boat and I don't want to break myself.

Sleep & skipper management

Each boat/skipper combination has their own unique approach to staying rested. My goal is to bank as much sleep as possible, as when I pop up on deck after a sleep I never know if I'm going to be back in the bunk in three minutes or five hours.

For me, the approach that has worked is a 20 minute nap, pop up to see what's going on, if nothing is going on, hop back down for another 20 minutes. I can keep this up for four days running, and then I'll crash out and sleep for 2 hours and go right through my 20 minute alarm clock. Repeat to the finish.

Each person has to find an approach that works well for them. There are sleep management coaches and doctors that can work with an individual to determine the skipper's sleep patterns, though I've never met one. I just go with trial and error, and found 20 minutes is enough rest to wake up refreshed - as long as I never let myself get rundown.

The LongPac adds its own weirdness in that the course has been just the wrong length for me: I'm usually coming in from offshore about the time I would like to get some real sleep, but once the Farallones are close (say, 8 hours sailing at current conditions) then I want to stay up all the way through to the finish. There's lots to hit as you get closer (like, say, the Farallones, weather buoys, shipping) and I don't like to sleep in close proximity to that kind of stuff. Worst LongPac in this regard was a light air drifter finish and three of us (Alchera, Xpression, and Beetle) spent the whole night drifting around in dense fog in no wind around the Potato Patch. To stay awake we kept calling each other on the VHF radio to keep each other up and talking, discuss proximity of ourselves to the shore vis-a-vis radar, the relative merits of color vs black and white chart plotters, and anything else we could think of... and that really helped me a lot in terms of staying focused and awake through the night and to the finish.

Eating offshore, for me, is completely unlike eating at home. Offshore I tend to want things that are ready to eat, one handed, munchy style - no plates, no utensils, just fingers. And I'll nibble continuously rather than try to eat an entire proper meal. Things that can be prepared before the race are nice: hard boiled eggs, frozen cheeseburger (pre-made, just unwrap and let it rattle around in the sink until thawed), licorice, can of garbanzo beans (open can, insert spoon), and instant mashed potatos (though this does require water, a pan, and heat). The most fancy thing I tend do offshore is make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and if it's really cold I'll open and heat up a can of soup on the single burner SeaSwing stove. I don't bother pouring that soup into a bowl, I'll just eat with a spoon from the cooker. And making popcorn on the stove works, that is fun as it makes the cabin smell yummy.

Navigation and routing

It doesn't matter how fast you make your boat go if you point it in the wrong direction - that's why I placed Navigation and Routing as more important than sailing well.

There's not a lot of navigation to do once one clears the Farallones. What I'm mostly doing is tweaking my intended route based on weather information as it becomes available: WFax, GRIB, VHF WX broadcasts, buoy reports, talking to shipping traffic, and comparing current conditions (and current forecasts) to the route I had come up with before the start.

Prior to the start there's much more information that can be used, particularly NOAA and US Navy weather models that are freely available on the web. I start watching the models and forecasts two weeks before race start, and twice daily (morning and evening) will spend an hour or more looking at the new forecasts, compare to old forecasts, look at what changed in the forecasts, compare buoy reports to the old forecasts, and re-examine what I think is a good route for me and my boat. By doing all this homework, when I hit the start line I have a clear idea of what's going on currently, where systems were, and most importantly, where the systems are supposed to go as time passes and I move around on the race course.

So I spend a couple of hours each day while out on the course gathering weather data and reviewing my intended track against the most current forecasts and reports. That's a significant effort, in that it's a lot of time at the nav station to get the data, and then more time spent studying the charts and pictures and numbers on the laptop screen and trying to correlate the new information with my handwritten notes on pieces of paper.

That's also a great time for me to chit-chat on the SSB or VHF - I'm awake, I'm sitting in the nav station, and it's easy to grab the microphone and talk to someone.

Sailing the boat well

I like to sail the boat as well as I can, which can mean changing sails, adjusting trim, adjusting the autopilot, fairly continuously. I don't like to give something away in terms of speed or course or time, so when I get up every 20 minutes I will spend a short time evaluating the sail trim, number of wraps on the headsail furler, angle of the main, angle of the rudder, and see if there's something I can do to improve things. Usually there is, a quick tweak, and I'm back downstairs hidng below decks. Having the sail controls lead to the cockpit makes them easy to access and adjust (nothing worse than getting doused with cold salt water whilst on deck at 4AM adjusting the jib car).

I don't like to handsteer the boat unless conditions are perfect and I want some entertainment; otherwise the entire time offshore the autopilot is driving - this frees me up to do everything else I've got going on, such as sleeping to rest up for the next squall/sail change/weather report/check-in/eating dinner. Early on I decided self-steering was super important for getting to Hawaii, so I saved up and installed two large, powerful below decks pilots connected directly to the rudder stock, plus the Monitor windvane on the transom.

Autopilots are not as good at handsteering as a good helmsman (maybe not even as good as a bad helmsman), I think this is mostly because the autopilot always reacts and never anticipates. I'm a decent helmsman on my boat, but after three hours of hand steering I've learned the autopilot is a way better driver than I am.

To help the autopilot drive the boat I like to run with a small mainsail and larger headsail; running the boat under main alone puts lots of stress on the steering system, as the boat isn't balanced and the mainsail loads are continually trying to turn the boat to weather. In heavy air reaching conditions I'll put in the third reef in the main and unroll perhaps five feet of the headsail, just enough headsail to help hold the bow down so we stop rounding up.

I've learned, through trial and error, which sails the boat and autopilot like under which conditions - that's just time on the boat. There exists quite a bit of information about sail selection for racing to Hawaii, and LongPac uses the first two parts: getting out the gate (upwind pointing ability), and the second part (heavy air reaching). Synthia (Eyrie) and the Corenman's Pacific Cup Handbook go into this in detail.

Preserve Equipment and Yourself

I don't like returning to port after a big offshore race with a broken boat, that to me is relatively poor seamanship. As my goal has never been to win at all costs, I don't mind reefing early, being conservative, unloading systems when possible. I'd rather be slow than break the boom or blow out a headsail. Rounding down while under spinnaker while doing crazy speeds surfing down a wave is a great way to pull down the rig, break the pole, or shred the spinnaker - that would ruin my enjoyment of the race, so I tend to never run DDW or even close to that with a spinnaker up. If the boat's going to crash, I want it to crash to weather.

I do carry enough tools and spare parts to fix things as they break. I'm not sailing an ultralight, and while every pound counts against me, I have a lot of tools on board - perhaps not as much as Mike "Snap On" Jefferson, he may carry a welding set on his aluminum boat. I've had to fix all sorts of little things: replace stuffing box material when the engine shaft starts leaking severely, batten cars on the mainsail, blocks that explode when shock loaded, belowdecks wiring when all the lights went out in the middle of the night, repair roller furling drums after the screws stripped, that sort of thing. Most of those aren't show stoppers at all, but I'm out there on my own and if I didn't bring it then I can't get it.

On TransPac I've had bigger failures that required forethought and preparation: I did break a rudder going to Hawaii and finished under emergency rudder, and I did have a headstay stem fitting break and release the headstay but fortunately not taking the mast with it, tension was applied with kevlar line (low stretch) through blocks back to primary winches - both of those were huge problems that completely altered the race for me, as the goal shifted from sailing well to simply getting to the other end.

Upshot is a significant part of my race goal is to finish the race with the boat in the more or less the same condition it started in. That keeps me from taking what for me would be too much risk in powering the boat up just to go as fast as I possibly can. I like to go as fast as I want to, which is usually way less than the boat could do when sailed with a full crew.


I like to talk on the radio when I'm out on LongPac; there's a bunch of us doing the same thing, tackling the same problems, and it's fun to hear the solutions other folks come up with. I also like to send notes back to shore, and installed an SSB with Pactor Modem and I can send/receive email via SailMail. I have a decent Icom VHF radio in the nav station with the big thick antenna cable that minimizes transmission loss to the 3' Metz whip at the masthead. The Beetle Laptop lives in the nav station, it interfaces with the SSB - I use this stuff a fair bit, especially for bringing on board weather information.

Talking with competitors on LongPac is fun, and for much of the race fleet is within VHF range unless everyone spreads out too much north/south and the faster boats will move off to the west and out of range until they turn around and come back. The SSB is mostly a novelty on LongPac, but the VHF does get a work-out.

AIS is a great tool for knowing where the shipping is. I installed a Class B AIS transponder, so I can tell the shipping where I am as well. I figure they're looking at their AIS display more often than I am, and it's easier for me to see them out my window than for them to see me out their window. I do think of AIS as a communication tool; it certainly doesn't help the boat go faster.

The most valuable part of talking to the other skippers is keeping morale up. I find it easy to get depressed or angry when things go wrong, somehow being sleep-deprived and working your way through weather systems you don't control while fixing the boat tend to accelerate my high and low emotional state - and there's no value in beating myself up if a decision turned out to be stupid or wrong. That's when it's nice to talk with someone else and hear that they are doing fine, and realize that you're doing fine as well.

- rob/beetle

07-25-2015, 03:06 PM
Thanks for this post! This is some great stuff. For me "Sail the Boat" was a reminder to shake myself out of any tired state and get stuff done. Don't sit by with too much sail up with wind increasing. From hearing stories of other people it seems common in increasing winds to delay an little bit and keep hoping this is it.....in the future I would have a play book written out for what sail changes when. This "book" would most likely have me reefing earlier and shifting down headsails sooner.

Your fist point of knowing your goal is great. I would go so far as to write it down. My goal was to finish; and I almost quit when the wind was very very light because I wasn't going as fast as I thought I would. I was fortunate to have plenty of vacation time so getting back to work was not an issue.


07-25-2015, 04:59 PM
My diver ratted me out eh?

I have one of those ATN Gale Sails you guys can try if you like. I bought it from Etienne (aka "ATN") at the boat show, mostly because I liked the idea that it clips on over the rolled-up jib so you don't have to turn a sail loose on the foredeck in bad conditions. Like most of our storm sails it has never been used (and hopefully never will be). Let me know and I'll get it to you to play with.

I also have an inner stay on which I can set a hanked-on jib. It was a bigger project than I expected but it works pretty well. Lots of photos available if you want to check it out.

Here are photos of the Gale Sail and the #4 on the removable inner stay. The Gale Sail attaches with hanks on the side away from the camera.

07-25-2015, 05:25 PM
Thanks for the pictures. In my case I would use a spin halyard to hoist, which would then cross the forestay and chafe a bit. I like this solution better than trying to drag the old jib off the foredeck and feed the storm jib in luff groove in 30 knots.....
As an aside I seem to recall you have vertical battens.....how do you deal with headsail changes offshore.....or is do you furl main jib and go with #4 on inner stay? If so any concern about furled jib getting loose in bigger wind??
Thanks as always,

07-25-2015, 05:48 PM
You might check the sheave box for your jib halyard. I discovered my 92 had a second sheave in there, just below the primary jib halyard. I use that second halyard more than I expected. Even if you don't have a second jib halyard I wouldn't worry about chafe using the spinny halyard instead. For Hawaii you're going to want to cover the sail end of the spinny halyard with some DCS (Linky to DCS cover) (http://www.apsltd.com/line/cover-only/dcs-spectra-cover-3.html). Just add enough more cover to handle where it crosses the headstay when used with the storm jib - it won't add much. (Edit: Yes it will on your boat - I just remembered your kite is masthead.) Also, in a blow the halyard won't be laying against the headstay unless you've tacked - that much halyard (between the head of the storm jib and the mast) will push off to leeward.

Vertical battens are a PITA solo. In that photo of the #4 they aren't installed and it seems to work okay without them. My newest #3 has horizontal roller battens, which have their own issues. A J/92 owner in NY told me he has a way to fold the #3 (with verticals) along the leech before stowing it - I'll see if I can find that note. He says it works fine and he doesn't have to remove them. On headsail changes I've been pulling them out before the sail gets stuffed down the hatch. I try to do things methodically up there but I'm surprised I haven't lost any jib battens yet. To answer your question I remove the old jib and stuff it down the hatch, then set the new sail. Unless that ATN sail was clipped over the rolled jib, I'd be worried about it starting to come loose and tearing itself up.

07-25-2015, 07:11 PM
I will check...thanks. I do have some cover on the spin halyard.....not sure it is long enough.....good point that it will be blowing away to leeward anyway (if it lead it correctly ;-)

I have seen a flaking method so the vertical battens don't need to be removed. I seriously doubt I could pull it off (solo, wind and waves).....3 of us managed it at the dock. And then it is very poorly set up to re hoist because the luff is flaked at an angle so it struggles with the pre-feeder and luff groove.

Had not considered pulling battens and using hatch. I trussed up my jib like a large sausage and drug it back through the cockpit. Perhaps I am overly fearful of wave coming over the bow..

In the situation where you are striking your #4 and putting up the gale sail.....do you envision using the hatch or dragging it all aft?

07-25-2015, 07:22 PM
Yeah, when Todd told me about folding the verticals up the leech I had my doubts - probably why I didn't save his note.

I don't ship much water over the bow - the boat has some flare to the topsides. Especially with the dodger installed jibs go down the forward hatch. A someday project is to turn the hatch around so it opens on the aft side instead of forward.

08-09-2015, 01:31 PM
Chris, in the very light winds, were you able to induce heal by sitting on the low side?


08-09-2015, 03:47 PM
I like the SSS because it’s Fun in a managed risk environment. The NOR ocean requirements are getting to be a bit much and too focused on equipment and not on the “Human Factor.”

Safety at Sea Seminars have helped raise that awareness, but I strongly believe the rest is up to You.

Ocean racing is fun, but I know that I can be pressed to the limit and it’s the risk that I accept and try to mitigate.

If there were no risk, it would be no Fun for me. Risk taking is part of the human culture, no leaps or advances can occur on a group level or personal level without it. Society understands that, else we would outlaw many activities like motorcycling, skydiving and single handed sailing, or "America's got Talent."

Sleep deprivation and Fatigue. The better your physical conditioning, the better your mind will operate when that time comes. I know my limits and I know when to hit the sack. If I can’t hit the sack because of stress or fear, then I need to make adjustments to my expectations. If I must stay up because of risk of life or property, then it’s the only time I will triple dose on instant coffee. I break my coffee habit before a long ocean race, so that also increases the stimulants effect.

From Major Dick Winters, Commander of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, war memoirs from Band of Brothers combat leader reflecting on pre-requisites for success.

“Because I was in such good shape, my fatigue level never reached the point of physical exhaustion that contributes to mental exhaustion and, ultimately, combat fatigue. We all experience sleep deprivation at times - that is the nature of stress - but a physically exhausted leader routinely makes poor decisions in times of crisis.”

I think a good start is sharing our sleep management experiences. Research and presentations help, but talking about what works across the different sailors is valuable.

AIS transmitter? Not on my Express 27. I would rather save the energy, space and weight for other essentials like a robust emergency rudder system. I am more concerned about hitting debris.

08-12-2015, 08:53 AM
Quick answer yes......in light winds with lots of sun I usually went for shade ;-)

08-12-2015, 08:55 AM
I think you are probably right about bigger risk being debris...and the priority on the steering system....being pretty new I found it easier to rest with the AIS transponder...even if it wasn't really making me any safer...the feeling of "safety" was helpful.