Thursday, September 22, 2005

On your Mark...Get Set...Go

The start is a crucial time in the race. Getting a good start position, timing and clean wind can be the key to reaching the mark first. Here are a few techniques that can help improve your starts.

Reaching Up and Down the Line
On a true windward leeward course the pins are perpendicular to the wind. On these set courses a great start technique is to reach back and forth down the line, plan to come up to a hole in the line or make a hole and tighten up as the countdown reaches zero. The reaching technique allows you to keep maximum speed and relatively close position to the starting line.

Broad Reach and Tack
Another tactic is sailing away from the line on a broad reach and tacking back to close haul to cross the line. The mechanics behind this start are that the distance sailed on a close haul is the same as a broad reach which enables you to time the start precisely. If you sail on a broad reach from the line at two minutes and tack back at one minute and 10 seconds from the start (allowing 10 seconds for tack time) you should end up at the line exactly at the start.

In Between
An aggressive tactic is always keep your competition between you and the committee boat. This tactic ensures you always have the windward advantage on the start. Be careful not to get pinched up from a leeward boat and always have and exit strategy in place in case you get too close to the committee boat and must bail to avoid collision.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Summer Series Results

The sailwave results are in for the 2005 Summer Series with complete times and corrected times. They are available below in pdf format along with the final overall series results. We managed to finish 5th overall in division which is a great finish! Looking forward to the spring series of 2006.

Smooth Move

Over the series this year I have been able to work on my tacks and jibes creating a smoother tack and avoiding oversteering, which I had been doing early in the season. I combined several techniques that I have either read about or have been instructed on to arrive at my technique. Not to say it is the best but it does seem to work for me.

One of the key pieces of information that helped me orient myself at the till was to follow these simple guidelines:

  • the helmsman always faces the sails to windward

  • Tacking: move the tiller first then move yourself (to the windward side) after the tack is complete

  • Jibing: move yourself (to the windward side) first then move the tiller to jibe

With these simple general rules the helmsman never has to think about whether they are pushing the tiller away from them to make a turn or pulling the till towards. By following these simple techniques the tiller is always pushed away from the helmsman no matter whether it is a tack or a jibe.

When tacking, ease the helm slowly and smoothly, as the turn progresses push the tiller faster but maintain a smooth sweep. This reduces drag and loss of speed during the tack. When the boat is head to wind start returning the tiller to centreline. The return action should be quicker than the release action but still a smooth motion. The timing on the return takes a little practice but the return timing will determine whether you land on your close-hauled course or not.

When Jibing, follow a smooth continuous speed motion with the tiller (whether in heavy winds or light winds, this action is always the same). The difference in light versus heavy winds is the main sheet. In lighter winds the helmsman can, once crossing the true wind, grab the mainsheet and coax it to the new side and continue the jibe. In heavier winds as you begin the jibe sheet in the main continually to help with the turn and to centreline the main. The main should be sheeted in to centreline as you reach dead downwind, as you cross the wind, ease the main out on the new side to maintain speed.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Frostbite Stings

Very painful race on Sunday (see race notes). Good wind though, and learned a few important lessons and confirmed a few theories, so all was not lost.

Primarily as noted in an earlier post, we need to practice the windward takedown and other drills that are not normally used but very useful tactically if the crew know how to do them properly.

I also confirmed that on heavier wind days the angle of the spinnaker is better at 50-60 degrees instead of closer to the head stay. I pointed the boat closer to the mark and did not reach as much. Overall I will be more aware of my pointing on downwind legs and make sure I am not sacrificing speed for distance.

Another major lesson is check conditions as we reach the channel and if re-tuning the rig is necessary do it before the sails are up. The forecast was for extremely light winds. At dock there was hardly any wind movement. I tuned the rig as light as I could anticipating less than 5 knt winds. Turned out to be gusty ant 10-13 knots.

And one final lesson is prepare the crew for all types of maneuvers. You never know when you will need them.

Do You Know the Way To San Jose?

The tactitian team, once off the start line needs to turn their full attention to the next mark."Where is it" is the primary concern, then "how to get there", and of vital importance "where we want to be after rounding the next mark". Well out from the approaching mark the decisions should be made as to when to tack onto the layline. The tactical team should be relaying key information and timing to the crew well in advance so everyone is ready. For example the tactical team should decide whether they will be doing a bear away set or a jibe set and letting the crew know "prepare to pre-feed in 4 boatlengths" and "prepare to hoist right at the mark".

Once the mark has been successfully rounded the immediate reaction from the tactical team should be "OK where is the next mark and how do we want to set up for it". This early thinking avoids much confusion and missed opportunities that happen when the mark is all of the sudden upon you and there is no strategy in place to round it. If possible once the overall course is established it is a good idea to have the tactical team confer and rough out a strategy for rounding all the marks in the course based on the wind and define a base strategy for the course for example: the port tack is favoured so lets go high.

Gray Jay is experiencing growing pains at the moment. We are at the point where strategy is important. We seem to be keeping up initially with our competitors but at key points such as mark roundings we find our strategy lacking which usually leads to botched hoists and roundings or hasty decisions.

Currently the tactical team on Gray Jay is the helmsman and Tactician. I think I may be expanding the team to include the trimmer and parse out specific tasks to each for key maneuvers in the race. I think this will help the flow of information and solidify the overall strategy once a plan is made.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Go Windward Young Man

During the Frostbite race one today we encountered a mark rounding on the downwind leg that I should have handled very differently. During our race preparation and practice we had always executed standard leeward takedowns of the spinnaker.

Today's race is a perfect example of when practicing for all scenarios pays off. Our port jibe to the leeward mark was right on the layline. The problem was that in order to execute a standard leeward takedown we needed to jibe over to a starboard jibe. Out of caution I held the port jibe till I was sure we could clear the mark when the spinnaker was down and we completed the second jibe back to the port. There were problems in the jibe which forced us to head way out from the mark putting us well behind the pack and by the time we were back on the port tack we had lost probably 2-3 minutes. Looking back now I think there are 2 ways I could have avoided this scenario easily. The first would have been head higher on the port jibe much earlier then jibe to starboard to takedown the spinnaker just before the mark and jibe around the mark to the port tack.

The second option, had I actually shared with the crew and had them practice, would have paid off huge in the end even if we encountered problems. Instead of the standard leeward takedown I should have called for a windward takedown. The windward douse is trickier and if not practiced could lead to twisted and tied up lines.

To execute the windward takedown the jib is raised while on a port jibe, the pole is taken off and stowed. When sailing with a crew of 5 the one crew becomes the human pole holding out the port sheet. The halyard is released halfway to drop the spinnaker to a point where it floats above the water. Once floating the trimmer releases the starboard sheet and sheets in on the port side with the bow man and human pole assisting the spinnaker as it is makes its way around the headstay and into the companionway. The person designated to gather the chute will need to get far out and retreive the spinnaker and ensure it comes into the companionway over the lifelines. Now the spinnaker is back on the port side ready for a standard hoist on a starboard tack around the next mark. be sure to have the bow man check the halyard and sheets to ensure they are on the right side of the stays.

I will definitely be adding this takedown approach to the practice drills for next season.