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HOW TO BE EFFECTIVE – STEERING OFF THE WIND

On reaches and runs it is essential that the helmsman and trimmer communicate and co-ordinate their actions.

As the helmsman, you must also respond to input from the tactician and changing sailing conditions plus the trimmer’s input based on sheet load and boat speed. The problem here is that there may be conflicting voices advising the steerer thus unsettling his concentration.

Since your tactics won’t succeed without good trim, it makes sense that the tactician talks to the trimmer who then gives feedback to the helmsman so the trimmer is the only one who communicates with the helmsman.

Steering on Reaches –

  1. Light to Moderate Air

On a reach, the fastest way between two points is a straight line and you should plan the reaches with that in mind only varying this based on changes in the sailing conditions or tactics.

In fluctuating wind conditions, work up in the lulls and down in the puffs as necessary to maintain speed, while holding a good average course. The trimmer will indicate when the sheet load is light head up, and when the spinnaker sheet is fully loaded bear off. The amount of course change required depends on wind speed.

When you must head up to pass another boat or defend your position let the trimmer know before making an abrupt change of course, to ensure that the manoeuvre is successful.

2. Heavy air

In heavy air, the helmsman is at the mercy of the trimmers.

The vang, main sheet, and spinnaker sheet must be eased when the boat is overpowered or it will round up and broach but it is fast to carry as much power as you can as long as you can control it.

Carrying some weather helm is OK as long as the rudder doesn’t stall, leading to a round up, this is once again a time when communication between the helmsman and trimmer is essential.

Steering on Runs –

  1. Light air (3 to 9 knots)

In light winds, the best sailing angle is about 140° true wind angle (40° above dead downwind). The angle changes very little as the wind speed fluctuates, so don’t head up in the lulls and off in the puffs except for tactical reasons. The fastest way to the next mark is to tack downwind and keeping the apparent wind forward is fast. A word of caution here though, this is boat dependant so it pays to practice to find out what is true for your particular class or boat.

2. Moderate air (10 to 15 knots)

The optimum speed and sailing angle change dramatically with every change in wind speed. For every knot of wind the optimum course shifts five degrees. In ten knots of wind, the optimum angle is 140° true wind angle and fifteen knots a 165° true wind angle is fastest. Do your best to respond to every change in wind speed, driving off with the puffs and heading up in the lulls.

3. Heavy Air (over 15 knots)

Aim for the mark, sail fast and keep control using the waves to surf wherever possible. Use crew weight to balance the helm, avoid sailing dead downwind and trim the spinnaker directly in front of the boat. Crew weight should also be moved aft to promote planing and to avoid the bow burying.

The helmsman should be forceful to keep control but also be mindful that smooth is fast, jerking the helm creates drag and slows you down.

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Sailing Wind Velocity and it’s Importance

 

In all sailboat races, you must sail toward better pressure as more wind velocity almost always means more speed. 

On the course look for darker water as changes in wind velocity are a lot easier to see than changes in direction.

More wind creates more ripples on the water, and these appear darker because of how they reflect light.

Be careful though to consider variations in sunlight and clouds when assessing heading over to darker looking patches on the course.

Other boats around you are also a great source of information about velocity across the course and be sure to not only take into account their angle of heel but also their heading.

Changes in heading maybe a puff, lift or knock so continual observation should give you the answers you are looking for.

Generally, increases in wind velocity make more difference when the wind is light. An increase of a few knots in the wind when it is light may increase your boat speed by a knot or more whereas an increase of a couple of knots of windspeed in the higher wind ranges may see no increase in boat speed at all.

Once you have found yourself in better wind velocity, do your best to stay there and it may serve you better to stay in a puff longer by pinching up a little, footing off into it or tacking/gybing to stay in the puff longer.

Beware of velocity headers and when velocity changes it affects the wind you see and as an example, when you sail into a lull your apparent wind goes forward which feels as though you have been headed even though the wind direction stays the same.

The mistake a lot of sailors make is to tack on a velocity header and tack is not only slow in light air but you could well be sailing on a knock on the other tack.

When you experience a velocity header, change gears to keep your boat speed up and continually be on the lookout for the next puff or shift.

The amount of wind pressure also affects your ability to survive in another boat’s bad air. In light air, wind shadows are bigger and much more hurtful.

In heavy air, you can sail fairly close to leeward of another boat and go pretty much the same speed.

Wind pressure impacts what you do in different positions on the first beat.
Having more velocity means you will sail faster with narrower tacking angles, so you’ll get to a lay line sooner. In light air both tacks take more time, so you can afford to spend more time on the shorter tack.

A factor that can have a big effect on wind pressure is current. When you’re racing upwind, the choice is easy – head for the part of the course where there is stronger current flowing toward the wind or less current going with the wind.

This will not only help you make better progress over the bottom, but it will give you better wind pressure as well.  

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Common Myths of Competitive Sailing

 

MYTHS REGARDING CURRENT ACROSS THE COURSE

MYTH – Your apparent wind will be different on each tack. Since you sail faster over the bottom on the down current tack, you’ll feel more wind on that tack and this will affect sail trim and speed.

TRUTHThe apparent wind on both tacks is affected equally by the current, so you will feel the same wind and therefore need the same sail trim on each tack.

MYTH – You can improve VMG by pinching to get the current on
the leeward side of your bow.

TRUTH – It doesn’t matter where you are heading since the current only
pushes your boat in the direction it is moving. So pinching will be slower.

MYTH – On a beat, it’s always better to sail the up current tack first.

TRUTH – Current affects all boats equally, so as long as you don’t overstand the mark it doesn’t matter where you are. But if the up-current tack is much longer, it may be better to sail that tack first.

MYTH – If the starting line is square to the wind, it’s better to start at
the up current end.

TRUTH – All boats are being pushed in the same direction by the current, so it doesn’t matter where you start on the line (as far as current is concerned). 

MYTHS REGARDING STARTING

MYTH – If you are in the middle of the starting line and you turn up so your bow is pointing straight into the wind, the end of the line that is closer to your bow is the end that is favoured.

TRUTH – Going head to wind in the middle of the line will help you determine which end of the starting line is farther upwind, but that end is not necessarily ‘favoured.’ The favoured end of the starting line is the one that will get you to the windward mark sooner, taking into account a number of strategic and tactical factors including which end is farther upwind (and by how much).

MYTH – You should be more careful at the start when the race committee has signalled with flags that a starting penalty is in effect. Because of this, you should be more conservative as you approach the line.

TRUTH – Even when there is no special starting penalty in effect, the consequences of being over the starting line prematurely can be severe. You should not change your approach to the start just because one of these flags is displayed the rest of the fleet will be hanging back so your chances of a great start are much better.

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Avoid Sailing Mistakes

An important ingredient to winning a yacht race is to make fewer mistakes than your fellow competitors.

Because of sailing’s complexities, even the best sailors will make mistakes but it is the avoidance of the major ones that are the most telling, minor mistakes will make a difference but should not be sweated over.

I have listed below things which will ensure that you avoid major mistakes. You need good planning, execution on the course and staying alert whilst racing to guarantee you avoid a disastrous result.

  • Read and absorb the sailing instructions before heading out and where possible carry a copy to refer to if time and circumstances allow.  If you are on a crewed boat have at least one other team member do the same. Write the most important or unique instructions on your boat with a Chinagraph pencil.
  • Constantly check the wind direction both before the race and during the event, this will help you to identify persistent or oscillating shifts and assist you to modify your strategy if necessary. Head out of the boat.
  • Constantly look around the course for differences in wind direction and strength. To head to the wrong side of the course in changing conditions because you were not constantly observing changes can be extremely costly.
  • Choose your lanes carefully to avoid sailing in dirty or disturbed air and tack or gybe away to stay clear.
  • Check current direction and strength and read tide tables to see if there is a likely change of direction and strength as the race wears on. What was correct on the first time round may, in fact, be very different the next time around.
  • Have a race plan before the start but be prepared to modify it if conditions or your position in the fleet changes, a constant re-evaluation may be necessary.
  • Sometimes even if you have rights in a mark rounding or crossing situation you may be better off not to force the issue. Avoid collisions, these could finish your day and by taking your right of way you could be pushed to the wrong side of the course. It is important to plan in each situation, this will avoid snap decisions which could end in disaster.
  • Don’t arrive at the course with minutes to spare, get out there early to settle the team and get their heads in the race. This also allows you to set the boat up for the prevailing conditions ensuring that you get off the line in as good a shape as possible. Having the setup wrong and the subsequent messing around to get it right will mean that you will probably not recover.
  • Don’t head out with an item of equipment that you haven’t used before. Try all new gear during training or two boat testing to evaluate its suitability or whether it is better than what you already have.
  • When rounding a mark, locate the next one as soon as you can. It makes little sense tactically, to blindly follow the fleet if you are behind and if you are in the lead, locating the next mark is fundamental in planning your strategy for the leg.

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3 Tips For Staying Out Of Trouble

Even though we employ the best tactical foresight out on the racecourse, we can still often get ourselves into a jam and to that end, I have outlined below some tips to enable you to dig your way out.

Ducking a Competitor:

The main reason that you have to duck is to minimise a loss and a good duck generates extra speed when you bear off.

As a bonus, you also gain a little lift as you cross close behind the other boat, it’s important though, as you cross close behind to get back to closed hauled as quickly and smoothly as possible.

If you do this well, there is a good chance that next time you come together and you are on starboard tack, that you will have the advantage. This is especially powerful at the top of the course a few lengths under starboard tack-layline.

If it appears the other boat will leebow you, and for tactical reasons you want to continue and you are in a lightweight boat with good manoeuvrability, try a late duck, which will keep from giving away your intentions.

Avoid The Pinwheel Effect at a Mark Rounding:

As an outside boat in a group approaching the leeward mark, don’t carry on with pace, not only will you sail extra distance in bad air, you will get carried wide around the mark and you will end up in a terrible lane coming out the other side.

The remedy here is to slow down and let other boats move ahead, kill speed by taking your ­spinnaker down early and steer a little extra distance. 

If you’re advanced on the group, you can slow down a lot by steering hard, swerving back and forth, and swinging wide to slow your boat and kill time.

The advantage of falling in behind is that while the group in front push each other wide of the mark and sail in each others bad air, there is the opportunity for you to round the mark tightly without fouling those boats and be on the inside track going upwind ensuring that you pass a boat or two.

When slowing down and waiting for your opportunity to round inside, there could be boats coming up from behind with no room and who want to sail into the gap you’re ­shooting for,  be sure to communicate with them that they have no rights.

Recover from Overstanding:

If you find that you have overstood a mark, the key to recovery is to crack off and put the bow down to get to the mark as quickly as possible.

In medium and heavy air, cracking off causes heel, so depower the rig,  traveller down, backstay on, hike hard, and move your weight aft.

Set the sails to reduce helm but always keep a little in the bank by sailing slightly high of the mark especially if you’re sailing in current or just in case you get headed or a boat tacks on you.

If you have overstood while sailing downwind, sail high and fast toward the leeward mark, if sailing high puts you in the dirty air from boats ahead, sail low to keep your air clear as long as possible, then heat it up late near the mark. 

At all times, either upwind or downwind, keep the boat flat to avoid going sideways and keep the foils working efficiently.

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Twist – How Telltales Work To Get It Right.

Twist is when the top of the sail opens in comparison to the lower sections and twist gives us the ability to control the lift and drag created by our sails.

Twist is increased in light winds and progressively taken out as the wind increases, the reason for this is that fiction from the water slows the wind down on the lower parts of the sail relative to wind further up. 

In the lighter wind, the wind angles as you look up the sail vary greater than they do than when you are sailing in heavier winds so you need to twist your sails in light air to make sure they are trimmed correctly all the way up.

As the wind speed increases and the surface friction has less of an effect on the wind angle there ends up being less difference between the top and bottom of the sail so less twist is required.

How to Set Twist for the prevailing conditions.

Headsail:  The luff telltales tell you where the sail is in terms of power and car position, but, when sailing upwind, the leech telltales are absolutely crucial as they show how close you are to maximum trim.

You always want to be right on the edge, as close to stalling as possible and your leech telltales are the best indicator of this. Generally, the top leech telltale will stall first so trim the sheet until the top telltale stalls.

Once it stalls, ease the sheet slightly and in the case of the jib leech ribbons, the top one should flow 95% of the time.

As the wind drops the sheet should be eased and as it increases, the trim should come on.

Mainsail:

Trimming the mainsail is virtually identical for all boats, fractional, masthead, racing or cruising and the cunningham, backstay, outhaul and running backstays (if fitted) are all used for the same purposes.

On a cat-rigged boat, telltales near the luff can help and are sometimes known as steering telltales.

Set the mainsail with the maximum depth it can carry but without stalling the leech and as with the jib different amounts of twist are needed depending on the prevailing wind conditions.

When sailing upwind twist should be controlled using mainsheet tension, and the correct twist is determined using the mainsail telltales.

A word of warning – If your vang pulled on hard you will not be able to add twist by easing the mainsheet.

When you sail into a lull and the mainsail begins to stall more twist is needed – the main sheet is eased until the telltales eventually fly.

For correct trim in lighter air, all mainsail leech ribbons should flow, in moderate conditions, the top leech telltale should flow about 50% of the time.

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Solo Training in these Unprecedented Times

Having a tuning partner is one of the best ways to get value from your on-water practice sessions but in these times of no racing, fewer boats out sailing and social distancing, keeping your skills sharp probably means solo training.

Before you head out, it’s important to have a plan but it is just as important to have a debrief when you hit the beach. The debrief is where you can go over what went right or wrong and what you need to do to get even better. Make notes and refer to them when you are planning further training.

Part of the planning process will be to analyse past races or regattas and to talk about problems that were encountered and then to prioritise what you will be practising and what will give you the biggest win.

If improving your downwind speed and maneuvers is your goal, put in a lot of gybes but make sure you have a few upwind goals as well so you can make good use of your time getting back uphill. 

The best practice sessions involve a variety of things but the majority of focus might be on,  sailing downwind where you concentrate on weight placement and the steps necessary to catch waves or practising sailing by the lee for those situations when you are in close proximity to another boat and need to stay clear or where you may want to lay a mark to avoid having to gybe twice.

If you are concentrating on upwind skills, shoot for a total of 10 to 20 minutes of really intense work for each skill you’re wanting to improve. If your tacks are normally around a minute apart, tack every 30 seconds, do that for 5 minutes, take a break and then do it again and again until you are comfortable with the result.

During your training session don’t be shy to stop sailing, take a rest having something to eat and drink before either going through the same practice again or if you are satisfied with what you have achieved thus far, go to the next drill you have planned.

Even though you may be practising tacks, gybes, powering up and down or something else, don’t lose sight of other skills such as keeping the boat flat, looking for pressure or watching the compass for shifts.

Another good way to cement the improvements is to keep in touch with fellow crewmates via email or text in the days following the practice. If you think of something afterwards that is related to what you were trying to achieve and was not covered off in the debrief, communicate immediately, as quite often by the time you get back to the boat it may be forgotten.

Other things that you can practice on your own could be time on distance for starting, mark rounding, timed spinnaker sets and drops, the list is endless and only you and your team know what it is that will give you the greatest gains for when we are allowed to race again.

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