How to blow the cobwebs away with a vengeance.
First race of the winter series – a new 60 minute pursuit – and the wind blowing steadily over 20 mph before launched. I don’t know what the wind strength showed in the club-house once we were on the water but some of the gusts were as strong as anything I’ve sailed the Solo in. They weren’t all the same direction either. I’ve been told that the gusts were showing force 7.
Great credit to Andy Ford for braving the conditions which got more severe once we were out there.
From what I could see Andy was going well before the start – clearly in control and approaching the line on time and ready for action. What I’ve subsequently learned is that the block on which most of his control lines terminate pulled off. In the spirit of the show must go on he lashed everything up and continued – not as much control, but pretty much everything needs to be pulled tight anyway – until he capsized on the reach which overtaxed his jury rig and he realised he was taking on water. Wisely at that point he called it a day.
I tried to review my own advice on the settings to make sure that what I actually do matches the description. I think I got it all – mast heel in the heavy weather position (right forwards with the heel to give more rake). Forestay released a couple of holes (that would be one hole if you have the single series of hole fitting, two if you have the fine adjusting double row of holes). Inhaul tight, Outhaul very tight going upwind, lots of Cunningham, Traveller our about 6 inches (brought it back up a bit in a few lulls but mostly out there) and plate only about 2/3 – ¾ down. Definitely sloping back quite a bit. Kicker fairly tight to match very tight mainsheet.
Then it is mainly working the edge of the wind going upwind. Rather than spill wind mostly luff slightly as the gust strikes to achieve the same effect. Don’t overdo it or you go in irons – it’s a battle to keep the boat moving fast by not luffing to far but not too overpowered. In a sharp gust you have to play the mainsheet a bit. Above all keep the boat flat. You have to work the boat fairly hard with the rudder if the gusts are shifting or just to re-align to a big gust. In that weather the boat will get moving again very quickly so using a bit more rudder to keep the boat flat and driving is more important. In light weather keep rudder movements to a minimum, in string winds more important to keep the boat flat so a quick luff to dump a gust is important – as is the quick bear away to get power back on.
Tacking in those conditions is challenging. You have to get the boat round quickly or the force of wind against you will stop the boat and get you trapped ‘in irons’ (stuck head to wind and then starting to go backwards). I muffed one tack on the first beat (I’ll say the wind shifted on me) – I got the boat round but had so little speed that I couldn’t get the sail to draw before I was pushed back head to wind. How to get out of irons… several things to do at that point – pull up more centreboard (makes it easier for the boat to bear away), reverse helm if the boat is going backwards, site further back to help the wind blow the bow away. Once you can sheet in make sure you sit out hard to pull the boat towards you to help it not get pushed back into irons before the rudder bites. (No speed = no steering). Once you get sailing put the plate back to 2/3 down. If you have the rig right the boom will be quite low – you might consider freeing a few inches of kicker before the tack to help.
Now we come to the reach and then … the gybe.
Reaching you must free the sail and get the board up to half way or the boat will tend to carry weather helm (it will want to keep turning towards the wind). The first lap I got a huge gust at the start of the reach and found the boat very hard to control – trying to stop the boat rounding up the rudder was starting to cavitate (generating enough force to suck air down the side of the blade so it goes light and ineffective – much like an over-sheeted sail or a stalled plane wing). It was only after I raised more plate, release the Cunningham and release a bit of kicker that the rig was back in balance and I could sail flat out. (That might explain Andy’s capsize if he wasn’t able to adjust the controls). I was surprised how much difference it made – subsequent laps I made sure I set the controls as I came up to the mark so the boat was able to bear away more easily – keeping the boat flat as you bear away is vital – that’s why I like having a string to pull up some board without having to sit in. As I approached the windward mark I lifted some more plate to about 1/3 down eased Cunningham and then freed the main as a bore away keeping the boat flat and ready for take-off.
I’ve talked a lot about gybing in previous blogs so I won’t go into detail here. I just waited for a gust to pass – the ideal time to gybe is just at the end of a gust because the boat is travelling faster than the reduced wind would push it. That reduces the force on the sail. I sheet in one about on full arm pull of mainsheet and turn smoothly into the gybe and then check the turn as the boom goes over and allow the main to pay out again. The armful of main that can pay out takes some of the snatch from the boom going over and makes it easier to steer. I often round up slightly before the gybe so I start on a broad reach for maximum speed, then smoothly away until the boom goes over, and as it goes over turn the boat back downwind to avoid a broach as the sail comes tight on the new gybe. The main point on Sunday was to take time to pick the right time to gybe. I sailed out to the right until I was very sure I could gybe for mark two, and then waited for the right moment to gybe.
Really great fun – but hopefully the weather will be kinder this week. Force 7 gusts are fun but they are not good for everyone!