Lightweights in a blow
This article is reproduced from the UKIDA 1996 Technical Manual.
The material for this article has come from my own experience of 10 years racing with light crews, together with information I have gathered from other Dart sailors, most notably Kim Stephens.
Psychology – To Race, or Not To Race?
To do well in heavy weather it is essential that you enjoy the sailing. This will only happen if you build up your confidence, by gradually increasing the wind strength you sail in. Remember the elements must be respected, however there’s no harm in leaving the beach with a little trepidation. Whenever you are unsure just how rough the conditions are, and whether it is safe for you to go out, I recommend that you ask your club’s heavy weather expert (that’s not the one who talks about it, but the one who always goes sailing when it’s really blowing). Listen to their advice, and once you’ve decided it’s safe for you to go, stay away from all others who are still deciding. Their discussions will only make you more nervous, and undermine your confidence. Instead, spend some time with your crew watching the first boats leaving the shore, to see how it’s done. You don’t need a crisis before you start! If you want to sail, but the conditions are just too much, consider leaving the jib behind. This reduces the tasks to be carried out, and the noise of the jib flogging (which can be quite distracting), and generally makes the boat more manageable.
Rigging for Heavy Weather
First adjust the mast rake. I put the shrouds on the bottom hole of the chain plate, and tighten the forestay just enough to allow the mast to rotate through 90 degrees from the forward position. Test this by pushing the mast spanner. Ensure the trampoline is as tight as you can get it, along with the toe straps and the hatch covers. Slacken the top 4 battens in the mainsail, don’t leave them so loose that they come out of the batten pockets in the luff of the sail. Move the jib blocks to approximately 120cm from the main beam. If you have an old/second jib then use it. (For a big event, check that the rules allow a change of jib). Slightly over tighten the jib luff.
Just before, or immediately after going afloat, put as much downhaul on the mainsail luff as possible. Be careful with the new 3:1 downhaul, as it is possible to permanently stretch the sail. Note: always remember to release the downhaul before you come back to the beach. For lightweights in heavy weather, it is important to keep the mainsail as flat as possible. To achieve this, the traveller should be ease from its central position. The exact amount will depend on you particular crew weight and the wind strength; the lighter your weight and the stronger the wind, the more you will have to ease. As a guide, you should be able to bring the mainsheet right in during the lulls, with the boat fully powered up and the windward hull just clear of the water. With the traveller out, you will also need to ease the jib. Ease it so that a 25cm (10 inch) strip down the leading edge collapses. (i.e. the sail becomes S-shaped). Don’t worry if the jib appears not to be fully powered up. I have found that the best system for controlling the sheets is for the crew to work the mainsheet, adjusting it to the gusts and lulls to keep the windward hull just out of the water. This is a constant process, and can be very tiring. I have no easy answer for this one, except to get fitter! As the waves get bigger, so does the angle of heel required to keep just one hull driving through the water (it can vary from 15 to 40 degrees). As the waves and wind increase, you will also need to move the crew weight progressively further aft, to keep the bow out of the waves, and avoid weather helm. In really heavy weather, the crew should ease the jib in the biggest gusts. As well as depowering the rig, this also helps the boat to luff slightly without any helm movement. Once the worst of the gust has passed, re-sheet the jib to help the boat return to its proper upwind direction.
Sailing Upwind on Flat Water
One of the effects of raking the mast back is to make the boat more sensitive to fore and aft weight distribution, which means you will experience weather-helm if your weight is too far forward. In waves, you can move the crew weight back to counter this problem with no detrimental effect on speed. On flat water however, you may find that this lifts the bows too high out of the water. The only solution to this is to bring the mast more upright, Move it up by one hole on he the chainplates, and tighten the forestay as described before.
Sailing the Reach
Lightweights should be able to match the speed of the heavyweights on the reach, albeit they will have to work harder! On a fine reach the sails should be adjusted together, with the crew working the main, and the helm working the jib, similar to sailing upwind. On a broad reach, the helm should sit as far aft as possible (i.e. on the rear beam case), and the crew should trapeze using the aft toeloops, clipped onto the reaching line (lengthen the trapeze wire if required). From here the crew can keep the jib in one hand, and steer with the other, leaving the helm with both hands free to make the large adjustments necessary to the mainsheet. I leave the traveller unjammed, so that in the large gusts, the main and traveller can be eased together. This depowers the sail very quickly, without putting too much twist in the sail. The big advantage with the crew steering is that being higher and having less spray in their face, the crew can see the wave patterns more easily, and can therefore use the waves to optimise boat speed.
Sailing the Run
This is where you have the advantage over the heavyweights, as you will be able to match their speed, and sail lower if you can stay upright! Again, the helm should sit as far aft as possible, this time with the crew beside them. The crew can then reach around behind the helm, and hold onto the rear toeloop. This stops you sliding forward, and helps avoid pitchpoling. The crew must also be ready to ease large quantities of jib sheet, to prevent the bow of the leeward hull from going under the water. Keep the mainsheet cleated, and sheet in enough to keep the sail flat. Excessive twist in the sail seems to make the boat more prone to pitchpoling, so don’t be tempted to ease the sail in the gusts. Instead, bear away! The boat should be steered in a series of large S shapes, bearing away in the gusts, and luffing as the speed starts to drop. When you gybe in very strong winds, make sure you are sailing dead downwind (i.e. with the jib flapping, and the wind indicator streaming straight out in front). You can now gybe the mainsail by hand, without having to use the rudder. Don’t try to gybe from broad reach to broad reach, unless you are both good swimmers.
Get a good start. Be moving on the line, with no heavyweights below you. Don’t try to follow the heavyweights upwind. They will sail higher and faster than you can. Instead, try to sail your own course, maximising your speed. Remember that any advantage that the heavyweights have upwind, you can more than make up for with better boat handling, and going faster downwind. (Two good tacks on the windward leg, and your overall time to the windward mark will be much the same as anybody’s). You can’t expect to beat the best of the heavyweights in a blow, but with a little practice, and a lot of teamwork, you’ll be able to beat most of them. And remember, if you’re racing a series or a championship, it’s consistency that counts, so aim for a reasonable result when it’s windy, without necessarily trying to win, It could be a Force 2-3 tomorrow!
Stuart Snell, 1996