Anyone with, or close to, a now 25-year-old son or daughter will remember the phrase “Mischief Managed,” and the tap of the wand, needed to close the Marauder’s Map. Said map of course being a way for Harry to roam the castle and see who was afoot. Kinda like AIS for wizards. Harry’s Mission was of course, well, we’ll let that one slide and revert to the Mission needing Management. This particular mission was (helping) set up a client’s brand-new, fire breathing, purpose built (albeit a production boat) doublehanded speedster. A Firebolt for sailors.
This month’s column comes about after spending a day with this client last week, doing exactly this, i.e. setting up the new boat for some Mischief. Such activities are often fraught with annoyances and head scratching. This can be raised to a third or fourth power when the owner, the sailor, is both new to sailing in general and so new to seamanship and this is his first boat. He will not be offended were I to remark that he has just got his driving license…and purchased a McLaren.
The boat had the bulk of the purchased gear aboard when originally delivered, and I brought up the ordered sails in April. Yet of course some things were missing. The other interesting variable for me was the layout of the boat, aimed fair and square in the supposedly new, and burgeoning, market for DH production boats. That is a different column.
The boat looks sporty and visually has all the currently in vogue elements. Hard edges, sleek cabin windows, carbon rig, a bowsprit, hank on 100% jibs, squarehead mainsail requiring double running backstays, twin rudders – all the FAST gear. But things like the mainsail reefing system left me scratching my head. It is set up, more or less, so you must leave the cockpit to secure the luff reef to the tack. Not remotely a big deal on a small boat, but an odd variation (or perhaps a simply missed detail) on a boat intended for a shorthanded competitor.
But in the interests of looking out for my client, there have been long discussions about the process of bringing a mildly complex machine like a race-specific boat up to snuff, more so when it’s a shorthanded boat. We’ve been working on testing different ways to set up double line reefing systems, i.e. a reef line at the tack and the clew of each reef. The boat was not so outfitted, and designing ways of squeezing in another pair of clutches, lead sheaves and blocks at the mast step has been a chore. I have written about this, and there’s even a video about it courtesy of Phil Haydon and the Sail4Epilepsy group, shot during the prestart of a race on the bay a couple years ago.
There’s a long list of tasks to be undertaken when preparing a boat, new or otherwise, for making Mischief. They include setting the boat up so as to be as easy to get to, and stay at, full speed. The bulk of this falls under the department of, as I refer to it, “gear changes”: backstay tension, mainsail outhaul, mainsail Smart Pig (cunning ham) jib halyard tension, jibsheet leads – the three D system of course on this boat – lots more string that must be accurately led and of sufficient purchase for the purpose. Then there’s the sail handling: kites up and down, zeros in and out, small sails up and down, reefs in and out, all efficiently and in the least amount of time, with the least diminution in speed and without falling off the boat. Much of it done when wet, cold, tired, hungry, sore, and yes, perhaps even scared.
This gear changing idea devolves to ease of systems, ease of adjustment (Cooper’s oil dipstick principle*). Relatively secondary departments include setting up the autopilot, the nav and performance meters, stowage of stuff inside the boat, and for this chap, backing the boat into the slip. The boat he trained on had one rudder on centerline, so the prop wash could be used to advantage. On boats with twin rudders, this option is not available for close quarters boat handling under power. Just this modest list required to get the Firebolt up in the air presents a much longer punch list of individual tasks, each of which has multiple line items. Fortunately, this client works in the computer and robotics fields and is very aware of the process of managing complex integrated missions.
We talk about this a fair bit. He relates a tale of attempting to lower the jib one day while out practicing. This was the day after he had installed on the spar the shock cord needed to hold the runners forward when they are eased, and so minimizing the potential for fouling the top edge of the mainsail. In this case, because of the location of the shock cord and the looseness of the leeward side, with the runner fully eased for deep running the shock cord was fouled around the shackle (NOT snap shackle – another oddity) that secures the jib halyard to the head of the sail. Result: jib one third down with head shackle fouled on elastic. The various methods he employed did not work, so he went aft to come head to wind when the shock cord flapped off of its own accord. If you have not only never installed such a small piece of kit but also never seen it in action, you really are on the loose in the castle without the Marauder’s Map. Snape, Filtch, and Mrs. Norris lie in wait at every corner.
The task: install the shock cord for the running backstays to prevent them getting fouled on the mainsail. Execution: Lash shock cord to one runner, lead around the mast and secure to the other runner. Next! Well, if you have never done it, and only know it needs to be done because there’s a sentence in the manual about it, there are some questions. How high up the runner? How is the shock cord secured to the runner? Tie a knot in the cord? Seize it on with lashing or plastic tape, or? Where on the mast does it pass around? What keeps it in place on the mast? Does it need to be kept in place? How tight must it be? How boing-y must the shock cord be? I invite you to think about the process of planning all this out, including getting up the mast to do it. By yourself. With two runners.
At the conclusion of this past day’s activities, we chatted for a bit about the process: getting stuff done (shock cord for the runners) versus principals. What is the end result desired and what are the questions to ask first? i.e. mapping out what needs to get done in what order to optimize sailing time, being mindful that tiller time is king.
I will remark to anyone who asks or listens that preparing and competing in a race boat is an exercise in business management. I use this phrase because it’s the one I reckon most people can relate to. But in reality, it is a Mission Management exercise. What is the Mission, and how do we get to the desired conclusion? Regardless, if it is organizing the process by which you will choose the college you attend, a daunting feat in my view, or a new branch in Somewhere Mi, or zapping a certain bearded bad guy in Pakistan, there are lots of elements to the Mission.
The efficacy of the result is very largely determined by the skill level of the participants. Skill not in each task per se but identifying the tasks to be done, identifying the parts and hardware needed for the task, and preparing the flow of each task. Do I really have to do X before I install Y? (Rule one in Mission Management: There is no such thing as a dumb question.) My client is in the interesting position of knowing enough to sail and is able to bring to bear his day job skills to manage the process of preparing the boat. And this is a 30-foot production boat with functionally no systems compared to many yachts one might buy today. Water is supplied through a five-gallon jug under the sink. There is a head, and a small integrated gas stove.
I have in the Cooper Archives all the notebooks from my days running race boats from 12 Metres onwards. The lists …Oh the lists, each line item having several subcomponents. One I fondly remember is installing a set of jumpers on the mast of Australia in the slip in Freo in late spring 1979, prior to shipping to the U.S. to cause some Mischief in Newport. The drill was plug-in version on 80 feet of extension cord, and I was working above the hounds on a 12 Metre. Drill bits, including spares, taps including spares, tape measures, pencils, hacksaw and spare blades for cutting slots in the mast to accept the terminals for the wire, and files for cleaning up the slots were contained in a bucket hanging off the bosun’s chair. With all the hardware to be installed hanging on a line tied to the halyard, I was hoisted aloft.
It was a grey overcast day, blowing 30 from the SW, right off the Southern Ocean. A very long, tiring, and bloody cold mission. I remember it took (felt like) four or five hours, but it was all done, and I don’t think I had to call down for anything to be sent up. Such was the planning involved in getting all the stuff together beforehand. Mission accomplished, though it would have been easier and faster on the Firebolt I reckon. ■
* Cooper’s oil dipstick principle: If the dipstick is readily accessible, you will check the oil. If it’s not easily accessible, checking the oil becomes a chore and is done less often.