Great turnout on Sunday – 10 Solo s(more or less) on the line for the class race, and a close race it was too. Light and rather shifty wind kept most of the fleet fairly compressed, especially downwind. Start ended up rather biased to the starboard end in a rather shifty force 1. Gareth got the best start hitting the line at speed right close to the cttee boat, with Mervyn slightly down the line but unfortunately fractionally over the line. (The experts say that if you are not over sometimes you are not starting close enough – race officer says it was onl;y a couple of feet but just too far for any doubt). Up the first beat it was Gareth from Dave Lawton who’s clearly getting much quicker and Peter Cottrell. I didn’t have time to see much behind them as those two and the wind shifts were keeping me rather busy. Upwind I seemed to have good speed – helped I think by the stern sheeting I was using making tacking more efficient, but downwind Peter and Dave L. kept creeping up on me. I thought I’d pulled out a decent lead on the second lap, going round mark one I was reasonably clear in company with the leading two lasers, but I ran out of wind (I even checked plate and rudder for weed) with Dave L going broad and getting through below while Peter C went high and drove over me. Once the boat stops it takes too long to accelerate even when the wind finally gets to you! So, going into the mark 3 we had Dave wide but coming up quickly just ahead of Peter probably just overlapped inside Dave and me on Peter’s transom. All set for a long game of snakes and ladders up the shifty beat from 3 all the way to 8. Peter and I tacked early and tried to find some ladders in the shifts. I managed to pull away a bit although I was hampered by the two lasers in front who were having a great dual. However when I looked back as I got closer to mark 8, I saw that Mike Lipscombe had ‘come from nowhere’ and slipped past into a safe second with Dave L also getting past Peter who must have caught a snake somewhere in the shifts. A final close reach to the finish saw Gareth home reasonably well clear of Mike L, Dave L, Peter C, Paul, Mervyn, then I think it was Ben (sailing Dave Thorpe’s boat I think) from Frank, Peter Renn and Dave Clark. Welcome Ben – hope to see you on the water again soon. Great to see lots of boats with I think everyone having a decent close race with someone else for most of the time.
Overall in the series Gareth has made a major dent in Mervyn’s lead but you can see the benefit of sailing most weeks. In these series it really pays, although a couple of good results and you can catch up quickly.
Please check the results on the web site – I think these are right but Eddie and I haven’t done a reconcile recently. Let me know any mistakes.
In the light airs today the biggest factor was knowing where the wind was coming from, and then reacting accordingly. I lost my ‘Hawk’ wind indicator last week and it was noticeable how much less sensitive my spare regular racing flag was. I couldn’t really trust the flag so I had to use the other indicators a bit more – that mean paying even more attention to the tell-tales on the sail, to the ‘feel’ of the boat on the run and to the wools that I have on the shrouds. I also used other boats and their indicators although it is a bit hard to judge angles on other boats wind indicators. Peter C (and several others) have old cassette tape on their shrouds. I think that’s even more sensitive than my light wool so I might be changing.
This week I’ll concentrate on light weather windward sailing because you lot were catching me downwind so I ‘m not sure I can teach much there! Upwind in light weather the first job is to keep the boat moving, the second is to worry about where you are pointing. Generally gusts tend to lift because until the boat accelerates the stronger wind’s direction isn’t as much affected by the boats motion. (If the boat is moving forward with no wind you ‘feel’ a wind from straight ahead – that’s why a lull seems to be a header.) If you get a definite gust that heads you probably want to tack. If you get a lifting gust first free sheets for speed – mainsheet is always in-hand in light weather, never cleated - ease sheets, let the boat accelerate then gradually point up and sheet in again. Be careful to not sheet too tight because you don’t want to stall the top of the sail. Light sheet (traveller central if you have traveller, I’m using stern sheet direct from centre-line), light kicker, outhaul out but not so tight it creases unless you have a very full sail, no Cunningham. You should find that you are changing direction a lot as you follow the lifts and headers. You know the wind is changing strength and direction a lot – are you adjusting sail and heading to match?
You should aim to establish a base wind direction, a small lift is great, but then you get a small header – should you tack or carry on? The simple answer is that if it is just the end of a small lift back to the base direction probably not. If it is a header lower than the base wind then yes, but wait a few seconds because it might just be a momentary lull so that as the boat slows down the wind direction resumes. You only want to tack if it is a real wind shift not just a lull. (Yes I know sometimes there really is no base direction, but that’s the theory!) If you are sure the wind has really headed (sometimes there is an obvious heading gust) then tack, but only if you expect it to last for long enough to complete the tack and gain the benefit.
I said boat speed first – so look around for patches of wind and where the next gust will reach you. Could you get to it sooner with a tack or is it coming to you anyway? Basically you are looking for darker patches on the water and watching which way they are travelling while at the same time still sailing hard concentrating on your sail. It’s very easy to be concentrating so much on keeping the boat moving and small local shifts that you miss the big picture and someone sails right round you in a patch of wind.
The other big thing to practice in light weather is tacking smoothly and with a little bit of roll – you don’t need to do an extreme roll tack, but a small amount of roll works wonders for a smooth efficient tack. Using the wind-shits means you will be tacking more so practice until it is smooth and efficient.
First add a bit more heel and then gently push the tiller away. The extra heel helps the boat start to turn.
Then, as the boat luffs towards head to wind, ease a handful of sheet bringing the boat upright and rolling it over a bit the other way as it passes through the wind.
Keep the new heel on until the boat is on the new course, then gently bring it back upright (or to just a small heel keeping the main eased as you bring the boat up). This should pop the battens over and accelerate you out of the tack, then as you stop bringing the boat up sheet in again. (We’re not talking a lot of mainsheet here – probably only 12-18 inches depending how vigorously you roll.)
This takes a lot of practice and the rhythm changes slightly as the wind is stronger or weaker but it makes tacking so much quicker and smoother so you can take advantage of wind shifts or just tactically tack without losing ground.