Happy Christmas everyone
Wow – Sunday certainly blew a few cobwebs away… Small but select turnout in the morning (to be fair Rob and Ian were on duty and most of the senior team were on hand to watch the mayhem) Just four Solos on the line, but no less competitive for that. If I’ve done my sums correctly (and as a mathematics graduate I can assure you that arithmetic is NOT my strong point) we still have FOUR potential winners. At the moment there’s just 1.2 points between 1st and 4th. Rob leads with 6.8 points, Gareth and Paul are tied on 7 with Mike on 8. Whoever wins next week from these four takes the series. However if someone else like Mark or Tim wins Gareth or Mike can still take the series by finishing second (I think).
As a few people observed I have taken the plunge and invested in an Aero in ADDITION to the Solo. Not leaving the Solos – at least not just yet – but if anyone wants to suggest I stand down as fleet captain I’m happy to hand on the batten. (I will still write the blog and do the scoring unless there are also a volunteers for that). Plan is to sail the Aero for sure on Wed evenings but at least for a while I aim to sail both – Solo in the morning class race and Aero in the handicaps.
Well, Sunday shows that keeping the pointy bit upwards definitely pays. First lap Gareth just led at the windward mark from Tim with Paul in close attendance. Gareth stupidly took last week’s advice a bit too far and at the end of the lap hit the last mark as he rounded up – thought I was clear but forgot how much my bum sticks out and felt a solid thump from the mark. The 360 duly done, Paul had slipped through Tim and taken the lead so the chase was on. Up the beat to eight nothing in it, Paul preferring the clubhouse side, Gareth preferring the centre. Down the run Gareth started to press Paul who gybed to protect the left side (ready to be inside at three). Gareth saw some wind coming and stayed slightly right. Massive gust came in from the right – yes it was a shift to the right which took Paul into a rapid weather roll swim while Gareth clung on, rode the gust and then gybed for three. One down… Up the next beat Gareth kept loose cover on Tim who promptly tacked into a capsize – didn’t see what exactly happened but saw the boat tack and go straight over – and heard the cry of anguish. With plenty of rake on you only need to make a small mistake. Two down and Gareth could relax so long as he kept the pointy bit upwards. Credit also to Peter Halliday for getting round in some seriously challenging conditions.
So it seems like a good time to discuss extreme downwind especially running and gybing…
Let’s start with running in very strong winds because that’s where more people get into trouble… Fundamentally running in windy conditions is unstable – that is to say whichever way the boat tends to go there is positive feedback making it go further. You HAVE to be active keeping the boat balanced between two opposing trends. It is a bit like balancing a long pole vertically on your hand (or tight rope walking). So long as you keep it close to upright and detect and correct small changes you’re fine. If you ignore a small change it very rapidly becomes a huge change and crash. There’s also a danger of over-correcting – if you didn’t catch it when a very small change was needed you have to make a big correction and that is even harder to get just right. So – what are we trying to balance and what controls do we have…
Tendency to capsize to leeward – broaching. If the boat heels to leeward the force from the sail changes from straight behind to slightly sideways. If the boat is heeling it will tend to round up making that effect much stronger – worse still once you get to a reach the sail may suddenly unstall (start to get a smooth flow over it) and develop MUCH more power. How do we counteract – lean out a bit (stop the heel), stop the boat rounding up (tiller to windward), reduce knockdown (sheet out if not already right out).
Boat starts to come on top of you – ends up with a very fast capsize – the one most likely to damage the rig and you end up in the water with the boat on its side with the boom sticking up in the air usually resulting in boat turning turtle as you swim round. Happens VERY quickly! How do you counter – Sheet in quickly and hard and at the same time luff – what we are doing is altering the sail to cause it to generate leeward thrust and at the same time luffing to stop the boat bearing away due to windward heel. You MUST have some plate sticking out or the luff has no effect the boat just skids sideways.
Getting the rig in balance
The first thing we need to do is to have the rig in balance – mainly that’s a mix of kicker, sheet position and centreboard. When it’s really windy I keep a shade more board down to help steering – that’s probably ¼ down – still mostly up but a good foot sticking out underneath to give the rudder something to bite against. Kicker gets eased from upwind but not as much as light winds. Ease too much as the top of the sail goes forwards and the boat become very unstable – it want to start weather rolling. If you find the boat feeling very tippy to windward as you ease the sheet right out add a bit more kicker – some rigs need quite a lot more. You don’t have to let the sheet right out to the shrouds either. You may find that a handful back in (by the way NEVER let the shrouds take all the force when it us very windy or you can’t react properly and it can damage things) gets the right balance. That’s good because it means you balance the boat on the sheet ease a fraction and the boat starts to weather roll, pull in a bit and she starts to heel to leeward. Now you have a single control that you can use to keep the mast upright. Don’t bother about heeling to windward once you are already planing. Sit a LOT further back once planing downwind. Now you have to sail the boat it IS unstable but if you keep steering and use the sheet to control heel you can ride the express train. It’s a great feeling when you have all in balance.
Gybing in extreme conditions
First you MUST have mastered balancing the boat as in the previous paragraph or you have almost no chance. Ideally you want to gybe just at the end of a gust when the boat is still going as fast as possible but the wind has eased just a fraction. You want to avoid gybing at the start of a gust when the pressure on the sail is at its maximum. So… plan ahead a lot. It’s actually easier to gbye from a broad reach because the boat is going faster (reduces the pressure on the sail). I try very hard to avoid having to gybe right on a mark in extreme conditions because you have no control over whether you are in a gust or not. Happy to go a bit high, gybe early and come into the mark under control on the new gybe ready for a decent rounding. So – the gybe itself – really the key is in the balance going into the gybe. You want pressure on the sheet (see previous paragraph about not letting the shrouds do the work). Balance yourself in the boat ready to move to the new windward side BUT KEEP STEERING – absolutely critical that you keep steering. Smoothly turn downwind and all parts of the sheet to help the sail over and as the sail goes over kick the boat straight by a quick firm steer to stop the turn or even turn back slightly downwind. Avoid using too much rudder and really concentrate on keeping the boat flat – exactly the same balancing trick on the new gybe. As the boom goes over it is going to suddenly come tight against the sheet and that will try to twist the boat into a luff (as well as the weight of the sail going over and the force from the sail changing sides to again make the boat luff as the gybe completes. You have to resist that by steering. If you watch someone good they do not wait until the boom crashes over before straightening course – they straighten AS the boom comes over – if you wait for it to crash against the sheet/shroud it is too late. By stopping the turn and indeed slightly reversing the turn when the boom crashes against the stops (sheet we hope) it simply stops the reverse turn and we’re all balanced again. You have to slightly anticipate the potential broach after the gybe. If you start to weather roll after the gybe same as before sheet in quickly and try to luff
Well that’s enough for now (I’ll cover reaching in strong winds later) – suppose you want to know how the Aero was in a blow – well I probably should have had the 7 m2 rig up not the 9… but hey we needed to try it and the wind wasn’t quite as extreme when I rigged as it was once out there. Major lesson – I should have read the rigging manual and checked everything – turned out the toe-strap wasn’t rigged right and was way way too slack. Not ideal for those conditions (I couldn’t adjust it out there), and I didn’t have the right mainsheet blocks (they’re in the post…) so used my old Solo ones – but they are built for thicker ropes so the ratchet block didn’t really give me any help. Despite that I managed a lap with one capsize on the beat (to windward! in a nasty heading lull) - boat rights easily and the control lines double as righting lines – clever design. Downwind it absolutely flew and I caught most of the 200s and lasers who all fell in on the run/gybe. Aero gybed like a dream but when I had to try and lean out upwind again it wasn’t so good. Hopefully next time I’ll have the gear all sorted… Have to say though it was great fun and very fast downwind… If anyone wants a go in more moderate conditions let me know. In the meantime there is a Solo series to complete next week.
Have a great Christmas everyone – see you on the 28th.