It had to happen… WELL DONE MARK – really Mark Ampleford should be writing the blog this week so he can describe his win …
Sunday we had medium but very shifty northwesterly (ish). Shifty winds give the chance for large gains if you can get the shifts right. Also potential for very big losses…
First lap I was on Mark’s tail and slipped past in a couple of quick shifts on the short beat. You’d think I’d learn… next lap Mark passed me in almost exactly the same place. Could I have covered him – maybe but some of the shifts were so large that getting out of phase by covering would have been difficult. Although I closed several times I couldn’t get past – very little if any difference in boat speed between us. It was all about using the shifts and gusts to best advantage intermixed with dodging the backwind of the laser fleet that we were catching!
Behind us Dave Lawton and Peter Cottrell were also having a close race with Dave coming out on top.
On Saturday when I was on duty we had four solos competing – John Carpenter, Ian Peace, Peter Cruise and Peter Halliday. The more of you who can make it the more you will each learn and enjoy the races. It might be good for those of you who can make Saturdays to start your own little mailing list so you know who else will be there.
After racing on Sat. we found a paddle (or praddle) which I think was either John’s or Ian’s – I remember seeing it on a line trailing in the water from one of you and it came off. Someone picked it up and brought it in and we put it in the committee room.
So this week’s article is about sailing in shifty conditions – while there is an element of luck involved you’ll find the same people tend to come out on top most of the time so there is also a lot of skill that can be learnt.
The first and biggest skill is just general wind awareness and concentration
· What’s happening to boats ahead (especially to windward)
· What can I see on the water (looking for darker patches of more wind)
· Am I on a header or a lift compared to average wind direction
· Is the wind trending in one direction (going from SW to S or NW to W etc.)
· Where was I pointing at the same stage last lap (or a few minutes ago)
The next is how quickly and accurately can I react to wind changes
· Do I notice lifts immediately when beating or do I lose a few yards to windward each time
· Is an apparent header really a direction change or just a lull (and the boat coasting into an absence of wind)
o tack if real and sustained direction change
o coast for a few yards without bearing away much if just a drop
· Am I constantly trimming the sail to match shifts on reaches
· Can I stay in a gust on a run/broad reach (bear away to dead downwind)
· Can I get in a gust on a run (sometimes you need to move sideways to get in a wind lane by luffing or gybing)
· Have I become too far by the lee downwind so I should gybe
Inland generally it pays to work the shifts tacking on real headers etc. On the sea it is more typical to follow trends – one side of the course has better current or a wind bend but you need to assess if the wind is relatively steady so concentrate on boat speed and strategy or very shifty so concentrate on working the shifts.
If you have a compass you can assess shifts compared to a bearing you have noted or set. If not you need to be aware of your direction using the shore/landmarks. before the start – another of the points I keep banging on about – I check the wind direction and the line bias about every minute aiming to have 10 minutes of data in my head. I want to know if the wind is shifting to and fro, staying steady or gradually trending. If it is shifting my biggest concern is getting and staying in phase with the shifts so I’m on the lifted tack for the maximum time. How short a shift you can gain on depends how good your tacking is. I probably tack slightly too often – what I’m trying to judge is whether I have a real header or just a very brief lull/flicker. If I feel wind strength (on my face typically) and a big header I always tack. If I suspect just a lull I aim to coast for a few yards to see if the apparent wind comes back as the boat slows down. If not I’ll probably tack – in some conditions though it’s better to wait a few more seconds or have a better look round at the water first to see if there is a another puff coming.
If it is shifty at the start of each beat you need to immediately spot if you are on the lifted or headed tack. Fail to spot that and you could be starting completely out of phase with the shifts. I always try to round up at the leeward mark several times before the start to not where I’m heading and have a reference ready for the end of the lap.
The biggest thing is that general awareness and speed of reacting to changes. I see too many people sailing down reached never trimming the sails or sailing a straight line down the run never trying to stay in a gust a bit longer. If you are having to keep tacking or luffing/bearing away upwind surely you must be needing to make similar adjustments to sails or course on the reach or run…
Sadly I shall miss the next two Sundays due to family commitments – I will be there on Wed evenings and will be doing the Tuesday coaching.