Another great turnout and what might have been a flat calm in practice turned out to be a good light weather race – always some wind but never very much.
Off the start it was interesting to see that the line bias was steadily changing. Before the 200’s it had been very pin (outer) end but if you watched the 200’s start you saw Carl look very good from the committee boat end. Always worth watching previous starts to see who got the advantage and crossed ahead on the first tack. By our start it was definitely committee boat end. That suggested that we were seeing a progressive lift on starboard rather than oscillating shifts (and that matched the forecast). My goal was to work slightly right (the inside of the progressive shift) but keep the boat moving well, tacking on the bigger shifts. Behind me I could see Mike Lipscombe going well, Paul and Tony seemed to be down the fleet a bit. As the race progressed the wind continued to lift on starboard (sometimes called going right or more technically veering) so the first beat became a fetch and the first reach became a beat. I could see Paul gradually pulling through to second and it looked as if the race was settling into a pattern, but come the very last leg there was a twist. Mike was right on Paul’s tail. The last leg was now almost a run with Mike pushing Paul high of the finish. The leeward boat has right of way but if coming from behind you may only sail your proper course (where you would go in the absence of other boats which might be slightly high but you can’t luff), however if you are behind (clear astern) there’s nothing to stop you reaching up and trying to shadow the boat in front. The danger of course is that if you overdo it you slow each other down. Paul defending his wind lane went furthest right and ended up gybing to get back down to the finish. Meanwhile canny Peter Cottrell was sailing very free and fast either straight at the mark or even slightly below looking as if he might sneak right through with Tony just behind him. In the end Paul had judged it right and successfully defended his second place but Peter pipped Mike by one second with Tony a few seconds behind. Further back Ian, Tony and newcomer Andrew Bickel were having their own battle with Mervyn and Frank in a nice gap between them and the Paul/Mike/Peter/Tony group.
Great to also see so many boats in the B2B – more Solos than any other class (I think more than the RS200s even with their mini-series).
Now, given the progressive lift on starboard you would expect to head right taking the progressive header first and then tack and be lifted all the way to the mark. That was my basic strategy for the first B2B, look to work to the right... however there was a darker patch of water towards the clubhouse so maybe a long starboard tack into the wind would pay off. I worked the shifts but basically heading right to keep loosely covering Mike and Paul until I saw how well Tony Penfold was going heading left. Too late to cover - he’d obviously got a flyer but I could at least drop in close behind and keep my losses within reason. Light weather is tricky you have to have great awareness because a good patch of wind will trump a basic shift strategy! Round the windward mark Tony was just a few lengths ahead – I managed to close a touch with a good tack but down the reach from ‘X’ to ‘F’ I couldn’t catch him – and I had the N12 breathing down my neck. Round ‘F’ Tony gybed hard – I went for a softer turn and sailed initially low because I was sure Tony would defend if I tried to sail high. I seemed to have a fraction of speed advantage – sitting well forward and heeling to windward to get alongside Tony but a few lengths to leeward. It was always going to be hard to get fully clear but then I felt a wind shift that moved us more to a reach – that meant I had a chance to luff slightly and perhaps be able to get clear air ahead of Tony’s sail. Going to leeward risks sailing into the windward boat’s wind shadow unless you are running, but if the wind moves to a reach there is a chance that you can luff (accelerating a bit more onto a reach) and get into clear wind - pretty much have the wind shift move the wind shadow past you to go from clear air behind on the run to clear air in front on the reach. By the end Tony and I had pulled a massive separation on the rest of the fleet because we made it round the windward mark and down the reach/run still in a patch of wind. Those behind were stuck in a light patch.
Second B2B with a much shorter course. The line was biased to the pin – I erred slightly on the cautious side starting one back from the pin with Paul in front only just squeezing up round the pin. I’d hoped to roll over him as I started with more speed but he quickly got into his stride and was starting to gain my lee bow. I tacked off hoping to come back on starboard nearer the mark but it was Paul taking the left and coming in to the mark on a port tack lift to cross ahead. This time I couldn’t make any impression on the downwind legs but I was still close at the end of the lap. So, rounding up at ‘7’ what would Paul do? It’s much tougher being in the lead than you might think. Now he has to make the call – does he tack and go left again which worked on the first lap or does he stand on and hope that the right pays. Being in front is not easy – it takes a lot of practice to be comfortable leading – at the open meeting my mouth was so dry leading the last race that I had to really work at staying relaxed and letting the boat sail fast. You see it in all sports – it takes time to learn to win – Paul’s done it a few times recently but I don’t think he’s yet comfortable in the lead.
Paul elected to tack – it had paid to go left on the first lap… but remember we still had a slowly progressing starboard lift. I stood on looking at the RS200’s ahead and sailed further into the header on port because the 200’s seemed to have got a good starboard lift further up the track. When I got a header and a little zephyr more I tacked and I started to hook into the lift that the 200’s were seeing – I concentrated on sailing fast rather than high as I wanted to capitalise on the gain. When the lift ran out for a few seconds I tacked and when it came back I tacked again. By the windward mark it was clear that the starboard tack approach was very favoured as I was being lifted but Paul coming in on port was being headed. I was able to comfortably cross ahead and now Paul was having to be careful as Mike L was creeping up. Tony had also committed the cardinal sin or not looking at the course between races and hadn’t spotted that the RO had massively shortened the beat – Don’t worry Tony we’ve all done it (and some of us more than once!) so he wasn’t in contention.
Recently I’ve talked about heavy weather settings. By way of contrast how do we set the boat up in those lighter conditions. There is no single answer – what we are looking for is a fairly flat sail that doesn’t stall too easily (too much draft or depth in the sail makes it very hard to keep a good airflow in a light breeze) but how to get that is dependent of the rig. I use much lighter sheet with the traveller about 2” off centre – that’s the nearest to centre I get it. Some people reduce mast rake – the idea being that a more upright rig can be heeled a bit in light weather without inducing lots of weather helm. I use centreboard very far down - all the way down which on my boat means raked forwards about ten degrees. Paul doesn’t do that – he finds it doesn’t work on his boat with his plate. You have to experiment and learn what works for you. Paul uses more kicker and traveller further out – but looking at his sail it is a bit fuller in the upper middle so I suspect the extra kicker bends the mast a little and flattens the middle of the sail. Then to avoid stalling Paul eases the traveller a bit. We’re looking for the same sail shape, there’s just more than one way to get there. I’m being very careful to not over sheet or over kicker but I have the traveller further in – boom is in fact a bit further out in light weather (progressively comes with more sheet tension as the wind rises until I start to be overpowered). So I suspect that if you photograph our sails we have a very similar position and shape, just achieved in different ways because we have different makes of sail. I love to experiment and what works with one rig doesn’t work with another. You have to look at the sail!
I stand up a lot in very light weather – easier to see what’s happening and to get weight to leeward a bit. I straddle the thwart with both feet to leeward. If it gets very light I place one foot on the side tank. Because I’m stood up I take the mainsheet from the pulley not through the jammer (whether you can do that depends on your mainsheet jammer) so it runs very freely.
Tacking well in light weather is critical – we need a good roll tack to allow us to make good tactical calls on wind-shifts. If we lose a few lengths each tack we can’t afford to tack short shifts. So, a good roll tack... Start by adding extra heel to leeward – that makes the boat want to luff so then allow the boat to start turning with the helm – don’t use too much helm – smooth and steady is important. As the boat starts to turn, gently bring the boat upright fanning the sail through the wind as the boat turns. Stay on the new leeward side until the boat is very heeled and fully on the new course. Flip the battens over, and bring the boat up. If you can, ease the sheet slightly just before you bring the boat up and then complete the tack by sheeting fully in again. This takes a lot of practice but the goal is to come out of the tack at full speed. In light winds you shouldn’t lose anything by tacking and in fact you can gain – the rules are that you mustn’t come out of the tack faster than you would be sailing without tacking, but because you keep the boat moving through the tack you have effectively pointed straight upwind for a while with no loss of speed. You also must not tack excessively without reasons to do so due to wind changes or tactical position – you can’t just fan the boat up the beat.
Results are on the web. As usual the personal results tell a different story – Peter C taking the personal honours from Gareth followed by Mervyn and Mike L – the championship and Div 1 doing well but Andrew (3711) – welcome to the fleet Andrew - from the Conference showing that he will be a pushing into mid fleet before long.
Fingers crossed for this week – there’s some strong winds coming through but it looks as if they will have passed by Sunday. As always best to come down and see for yourselfJ