Solo news 4 May
Definitely starting to feel summery – first time I haven’t worn a splash top over the wetsuit! Pursuit race this week with the most fickle wind I’ve seen for a long time. Ian and I swapped boats so I could try and see how his gear worked and show him where I set things, and see if there were any major issues. Unfortunately it wasn’t really a day for boat speed but much more a day to find the next patch of wind or figure out which way it was now blowing.
Ian has four major wind indicators – can you think what they are...
1. The sails of course
2. Wind indicator clipped on the front of the mast
3. Cassette tape on the shrouds
4. Racing flag at the top of the mast
In that weather it is really important to have multiple indicators – one problem I found was that the racing flag could do with being a bit higher clear of the top of the mast, or perhaps the bracket is on the side not the font. On some tacks I couldn’t really see it – I use a ‘hawk’ but if I use a flag I make sure it is well clear of the top of the mast and not on the side where it is partly obscured on one tack.
I don’t have a front of mast indicator but I found it interesting on Ian’s boat to see how well it worked. It does seem to be affected by the flow round the sail and show the wind as slightly freer than it really is. Any flag or wind indicator has to be well balanced so that heeling the boat doesn’t affect the reading. Always worth checking because the balance can change – the counter weight can move or the flag start to wear.
Cassette tape on the shrouds is excellent although you have to replace it frequently because it is quite fragile.
The sail is of course a wonderful wind indicator especially if you have good tell-tales. Ian’s sail turns out to be quite hard to read because the fabric is very white so when the sun is on the windward side the glare is significant and it is very hard or impossible to see the leeward tell-tales. I generally found myself checking for lifts by playing the sheet and looking at the other wind indicators when the sun was on the sail.
I found Ian’s kicker hard to adjust because it is only 8:1 and partly wire – most boats these days use rope and 16:1. Why is rope better – it is more flexible over the pulleys so you aren’t putting effort into bending the wire just controlling the boom. Also 8:1 means small adjustments make a big difference – especially if the boom attachment is quite close to the mast (as it needs to be on some boats to avoid catching the side tanks on a run). Although it was generally light weather every now and again there was a decent patch of wind so and I needed to control the leech more.
In those conditions nothing beats eyes out of the boat seeing where the next patch of wind will come from or which way the wind is shifting, but you also need to be constantly trimming sails or adjusting course to what the wind is now doing where you are. It is also critical to be able to tack smoothly and recognise what angle you need to tack to especially during a big shift because with a big shift you probably don’t need change heading very much at all. In those conditions I take the mainsheet direct from the pulley not through the jammer (not all fittings work for this). This gives a much smoother pull because I’m often standing up to get my weight to leeward. Tacking in light weather is so so important because some shifts only last for twenty seconds but in that time you can gain multiple lengths. Learning to roll tack so you don’t slow down is important. So, how do we roll tack....
· Add extra heel
o This make the boat want to turn. We do not want to use the rudder to force the boat round because we are already going slowly. We have to coax the boat round.
· Allow the boat to turn by gently adding some rudder. Don’t force it, be gently progressive allowing the natural turn to start. You also gain some ground upwind by a slower smooth tack.
· As the boat starts to luff gently bring the boat up so it is upright as it passes head to wind (this keeps the sail pulling the boat round as the mast moves sideways through the air).
· Bring the boat of on top of you (stay on the old side) as you continue turning until the boat is on the new course and now very heeled on the new course.
· Straighten out
· Ease a handful of sheet (12 -18 inches) – one pull - and bring the boat upright.
o Easing the sail is important because as you bring the boat upright the mast will move sideways through the air and the wind will appear to be on a reach
o When the boat is almost upright (where you want it to be on the new tack) sheet in because as the mast stops moving sideways the wind will come from more ahead again and you will need to sheet in.
o If your sail doesn’t easily ‘pop’ the battens to the new tack you have to start with a quick jerk to flip the battens and then progressively bring the boat up. You want to keep a good flow over the sail as the boat comes up.
· Most common mistakes
o not adding some heel and bringing the boat over too early and too quickly
o not easing a bit of sheet as (just before) you bring the boat up
o jerking the boat up before you have completed the turn or bringing the boat up too quickly. A longer smoother pull up is better.
Doing this smoothly required a lot of practice – when Mark, Paul and I had some coaching from former national champion Matt Howard – what was one of the first things we did... tacking practice.
Results from the Pursuit... (Pursuit places in parentheses)
1. Gareth (1)
2. Rob Pettit (4)
3. Paul Playle (5)
4. Peter Cottrell (10)
5. Chris Biscomb (11)
6. Mervyn Cinnamond (17)
7. Ian Peace (18)
8. Dave Clark (20)
23 starters in the pursuit. As usual the Solos the largest fleet.
What I found fascinating was the number of times I got conflicting information from sail, tell-tales, low and high wind indicators. Being aware of ALL of those AND looking ahead at the water is essential. Generally the mast head seemed to give an early indication of a major change. Often while the lower parts were still filling and the boat moving OK I’d see the top flick either to a dead beat (probably means the wind’s just switched off up there) or give a totally different reading. Usually about 30 seconds after the top the lower parts saw the same shift. The hard part was knowing when to start acting on the ‘new’ information especially if it was 180 degrees different!
Sometimes on the same leg I was running on either gybe reaching on either gybe or beating. I think I tacked on all except one leg. An example of reacting to the wind you have, rather than where you think the wind should be, happened in the Back to Backs. About 50 yards from the windward mark I had a boat (not a solo) directly alongside to windward of me about two lengths to windward. I was still in clear wind when I felt a big header and the indicators suggested it was a big header. (Judgement needed here whether a header or just a lull). I tacked found the wind and accelerated to pass slightly closer behind the other boat (who continued to coast and try to bear away to find the wind again), after about three lengths the wind went back, I tacked again and was now alongside but two lengths to windward moving well and laying the mark.
Upwind in light conditions you need to keep looking ahead (either side) for the next patch of wind – more wind means more speed and in almost no wind speed is king. You can literally sail twice as fast in wind – probably faster. Stuck in a hole there isn’t a lot you can do other than plot the quickest way back into some wind. Downwind it is much harder because gusts will (probably) come from behind so as well as working on keeping the boat moving as well as possible in what you have you are watching for boats behind out flanking you in an approaching gust. All you can do is to try and position yourself so that you get the gust as soon as possible and be in a good defensive position. On the first run in the pursuit I had a reasonable lead but could see patches of wind on either side. I was going slowly but the pack was rapidly catching me. It looked as if the boats coming on my left were gaining most so I gybed that way but aimed to stay marginally right of them to hopefully stay overlapped and be able to stay ahead by claiming mark room at one. As it turned out Rob and Paul came just past alongside but then I got the wind and was able to stay overlapped until we gybed for the mark and I was able to claim water and still round (just) ahead. Sometimes you have to plan a long way ahead but with that sort of wind you know that you can’t get it right all the time. When it goes wrong you have to accept it quickly and play the percentages to get back in the hunt. Twice I lost the lead, once to a laser and once to Rob. In those conditions even if a ‘faster’ boat passes you there may be opportunities to re-pass if you can find better wind.
I’m away this weekend – can someone please remind the RO to take times if there is a good turnout and email me the results.