Boats or sailors…
It’s got me wondering... Mervyn (I think) has put our berth list on the noticeboard. It shows 31 solos - with club boats taken out and allowing for the odd gap that still leaves at least 25 boats in the fleet - so why are we getting 6-7 boats on the water. What can we (those who are sailing / club committee / fleet) do to encourage you back to regular sailing? Obviously there will be one or two who are under doctor’s orders or recuperating and I know we're all getting older but with that many boats we should be getting 10-15 on the water. So please if you didn't come out on a nice sunny day what can we do to tempt you? I’m thinking that maybe we need a way for you to tell each other that you are planning to sail so that we get fleets within the fleet. The front of the fleet generally checks who’s planning to sail, and I know Mervyn, Peter etc. keep in touch. We need some coordination of the rest of the fleet – do you all just use email or should we look at some of these new ‘social media’ (Facebook etc.?). It’s always nicer if you have other boats near you to sail against and to see what they do different.
Sadly last Sunday the wind just wasn't really there, despite a promising forecast mid week. Race Officer postponed for a while and then when a whisper filled in he set a course and we tried our best. Actually I think the best wind was just after launching! Starting when it is that light it is key to stay really close to the start line and to keep moving. It's much easier to keep a boat moving than it is to start again from stationary. Boats will coast a really long way in light weather. So, starting in almost no wind boat-speed is the key. Unlike medium winds when we want to hover on the line almost stopped (and accelerate just before the gun) in very light weather acceleration is almost non-existent so concentrate on staying almost on the line and moving. Because we had a large Rs200 fleet, then H'cap and Laser all on the beat in front of us I decided that the best approach would be to hit one side or the other as the only way to have relatively clean wind (what little there was). I started out by the pin (port end) and worked the middle of the lake trying to stay left of the fleet but not too out on a limb. I could see lots of boats stuck towards the bank and beating to mark nine it usually pays to come in on port and look for a gap because the starboard tack boats get in the lee of the clubhouse and lose wind. Working the left and keeping the boat moving I was able to sail round most of the bunch and get to the windward mark without being slowed down too much. Then on the leg from nine to eight I again aimed to keep my wind clear this time working the right as the wind seemed to be mainly coming over the bank so new gusts would reach me first. Keeping moving and keeping clear seemed to pay.
Different people have different techniques but in that very light weather but here’s what I do. I'm trying to keep my weight well forward with a bit of heel to reduce the amount of hull in the water (makes the boat narrower on the water). Normally heeling would induce weather helm (boat tries to luff towards the wind) but I also reduce the mast rake which reduces weather helm. Hadn't really thought about how those two work together before but they do. I have the outhaul fairly tight - want a flat sail so that it lets the air flow more easily (a fuller sail stalls too easily) and I take the mainsheet either from the boom or from the main pulley (without going through the cleat). This allows me to stand up and have a free running sheet even though the pull is vertical. I stand with my front foot in front of the thwart and back foot on top of the side tank just behind the traveller. By putting more or less weight on the tank I can control the heel. Standing gives me a good view of the sail and tell tales - I'm watching the shroud streamers (light cassette tape works well) and wind indicator when it's very light and then the sail tell tales and leech streamers when there is a patch of wind. Also, standing up gives me a good view of the reservoir to see any patches of wind developing, and what everyone else is doing. I play the sheet to try and keep the air flow over the sail. If the wind frees a bit I sheet out accelerate and then harden up. Very gently with the helm and fine tuning the sheet position. When I get a gust and the boat has accelerated and I can feel more pressure because the boat wants to heel a bit more I gradually sheet in but generally I have the boom a long way out in very light conditions. I think 12-18” outside the hull but it is hard to really see – definitely bad to over-sheet or try to point high. If the wind comes up to sitting on the side-tank then you start to work at pointing a bit more because there isn’t much scope for going faster. In force 0 you can double your boat speed easily in a puff and carry that speed for a while.
Approaching mark eight I had been beating but the wind was rapidly freeing and an RS200 was able to come up to the mark with much better speed from a long way to leeward. I rounded the mark but completely ran out of wind. The way a boat can continue to coast was very apparent as the 200 glided past - my sails were set the same as theirs but they had momentum and I didn't. I had wondered about going right to avoid the dead wind under the fleet between nine and eight but having gybed round the mark I thought maybe heading up (more left) would allow me to get some momentum but in reality I struggled to get moving. Then the bulk of the fleet came zooming into nine and carried that speed on starboard tack looking as if they would all sail past me (and past Paul who by now was just behind me). I decided that trying to join them would just capitalise their gain so I would be better to plough my own course away from the fleet and hope that now there were no boats between nine and eight maybe I'd start to feel a fraction of breeze. Also looking ahead I could see Dan Goodman (200) starting to beat on port so perhaps the wind was going to come back from the left. Always look at what’s happening to boats ahead (and behind if you can when downwind). Paul hedged his bets and went more middle track but initially that meant the fleet was sailing over him. I found some clear air and crept slowly down to mark three ahead of the fleet as the wind indeed became a port tack beat - for a while I wasn't even laying the mark - but I could see the 200 in the lead had been freed and was able to head up a lot after mark three so I anticipated that I would make the mark and should go for speed because I'd be lifted later. I probably should have sailed even freer as Rob Pettit (in his Laser this week) footed away below me and gained while Kevin Pearson just behind me stayed high and I pulled away.
Round mark three with a short beat to finish at two. Again just concentrated on keeping the boat moving but tack when definitely headed. Close tussle with a 200 and the 300 who had overtaken me on the previous leg. Upwind the solo's fully battened main really works - I think it's a big part of why we are so (relatively) fast in light weather. The 300 although much quicker when there is some wind struggles up wind in very light conditions. On the final leg Paul slipped his nose ahead of Peter Cottrell followed by Tony, Mervyn and Mike.