N12 Handy hints - Light wind championships
Looking at the contents of the tuning booklet, it struck me
that there were heaps of articles about going fast in strong
winds, and none about light winds. I have for many years tried
to get someone to tell me just how to go fast in light winds,
but all light wind gurus seem to guard their secrets and hang
on to their advantage, leaving you and me to marvel at their
skill and pray for wind. So I thought I'd write their article
for them. Only mine is subtitled "How to hang on in championship
races without having boat speed"
So this article focusses on race day, from waking up to arriving
at the first mark up with the leaders. Thereafter, if it' s light
weather, I can't help you. For the moment just do what I do,
which is to hang on and wait for a real guru to write.
First, things to do before the championships. Make
sure the boat is simple and reliable. On simplicity, there is
clearly no point in having an adjustable fitting if you just
don't adjust it. Take it off. Perhaps less obvious is that there
is no point in it. So I always start by sailing with non-adjustable
controls, and only make them adjustable if this lack of adjustment
clearly slows me down. On reliability, make sure the fittings
work and are easy to use in both light and heavy weather. The
danger is that on control lines such as the boom outhaul you
put in so many pulleys to make it easy to adjust in a gale that
in light weather it won't free off on its own.
On race day, make sure you arrive at the dinghy
park and launch at times you feel most comfortable with. You
will tend to see the same boats launch early each day and the
same late. I like to get to the course around 25 minutes before
the start; this gives me enough time to check on tactics and
the tune of the boat, but not so much time I start worrying or
get fed up with waiting.
Now comes the most important time for getting to the first mark
first. You have to do two things; decide where to start and approximate
tactics and check that the boat is properly set up for wind and
sea conditions. Approximate tactics equates to which route you'll
do up the beat, whether you'll tack on all shifts or just big
ones, etc.. The worst sort of plan is the one that has no flexibility
- "Go left, hit the lay line and tack" is rarely good
enough for first place (except in Plymouth Sound), more likely
These tactics will then help you decide where to start. For instance,
if you, decide to go right initially, an early start will make
it less likely you can tack and could therefore mean y0ou spend
the first five minutes wishing you were going the other way.
And while you're wishing that, you certainly will be going slowly.
Thinking through your plan for the first beat thoroughly will
also help you come to the right decision quickly when you find
you are not where you planned to be. How different things turn
out from what you expected will help you plan the next beat.
What that worked up one beat will rarely work again up the next.
So often people base their route up the second beat solely on
what happened up the first.
Now comes the other pre-start activity - checking
the tune of the boat. I tend first to sail a bit on each tack
on my own to get a feel for wind direction, wave angle, size
and steepness, and frequency and size of windshifts. This practice
is especially helpful to your crew who can get a feel for jib
sheet tension, where to sit, how far to move back in waves, etc.
Then I try to team up with another boat and again sail on both
tacks to make sure that kicker tension, shroud / jib halyard
tension, and jib and main sheet tensions are optimal. Pick someone
of about your standard with whom you are happy to share information,
and then you'll learn why you or he is going faster before the
race instead of afterwards.
Other things to do before you pass the start; if
you pass the windward mark, do a bit of beating close to it and
check the tide. A lot of places can be won and lost there, and
if you know what to expect, it will be you that is winning them.
Discuss with your crew your tactics for the race.If he knows
what to expect, even better. And if you're like me, drink a can
of ginger beer. Pulling ring tops on a reach in a force four
is bad news.
At last the waiting is over, the path-finder is coming across
and you are in your chosen starting position, sitting with your
sails flapping a little way behind the line. The pathfinder is
now 30 seconds away and you are 15 seconds behind the line.
DO NOT BEAR AWAY. The important thing is to create a
gap to leeward and by bearing away you lose that gap. You put
yourself in the backwind of the boat to leeward and give that
gap to the boat to windward, who therefore will be able to sail
fast and unincumbered until she is ahead, to windward, and blanketing
you. Therefore keep moving foward slowly in a close hauled direction
until the final few seconds when it is possible you bear away
slightly to accelerate, clip the gate launch's stern, and sail
away into first place .... orchestra playing, boats fading into
the distant sunset, waves breaking against rocks - Wake up! Wake
up! The race has only just begun, the music will come later.
Now whilst you're concentrating on sailing fast, your crew is
keeping a look out for where boats seem to be going fast and
where slow. Your crew knows what to look for, because you've
already discussed tactics, and will be able to say how good your
pre-race plan looks in practise. And if you're on a loser don't
just hang on and hope that the almightly will come up with one
of his great windshifts and propel you into first place - that's
orchestra fantasy-land again. Instead give it some thought and
a little time - but not too much. Why are they doing better over
there? Is it going to stay that way, or is it going to be your
turn next? Often this is more luck than judgement, but do give
skill and thought a chance! Factors to consider are: is it a
wind shift, or a bend caused by the land? Is it because of a
cloud overhead or the sea breeze coming in, is the tide more
favourable, or the sea flatter, over there? Or are they just
quicker than me ..... in which case why have all the "quick"
boats gone one route and I'm going another?
OK, you decide it is a shift. Because you decide that, you do
not tack and do not go slower for being depressed. Instead you
carry on sailing, concentrating on the waves and wind. You are
proved right; the wind shifts back the other way after five minutes
(you'd spotted pre-start that shifts come about every five minutes),
you tack for the mark, and you're right up there with the leaders
. . . turn that music off! This is for real. The key thing when
getting close to the mark is to forget it is a championship course.
At the local club your longest beats are 200 yards, and
you would never dream of doing them in two tacks. Same goes for
the last 200 yards of a chamionship beat. Don't hit the lay line
early, don't ignore the wind shifts because you're tired and
nearly there, and do consider whether you want to risk a port
tack approach or play safe and join the queque on staboard.
And you get it right this time. You were lying third when you
spotted a small wind-shift. Two quick tacks, and you just catch
the other two port-starboard and squeeze around the mark in the
lead, let the outhaul off - plate up, put the needle on the record,
lean back in your arm-chair, and wait for the next article on
how to go fast on reaches!
Chris Atkins, 1990