WHEN THE WIND BLOWS
The Surf's up, the breeze is on, BRILLIANT!
National Twelves are probably the most exciting boats to sail in a
blow. Difficult upwind and downwind can scare you silly!
Get out to the race course in plenty of time and start
the fun. Try the beat, not just to check your compass, but to find out
how your rig is, and how it needs to be. Typically we ease the forestay
about an inch and probably crank the shrouds down about two in a
serious blow. As the wind increases we pull on more and more shroud
(the lighter you are the more you will need to de-power). This induces
more bend into the middle of the rig flattening the mainsail, as well
as maintaining the jib luff tension. (Otherwise the jib luff would sag,
effectively making the jib fuller and spoiling your pointing ability).
Due to the bendy characteristics of most Twelve masts you should find
that as soon as you are both fully hiked the leeward shroud will always
be panting. This is fast! Try to have the rig set correctly when the
gun goes, otherwise you will find yourself with your head down when you
need to be concentrating 100%.
Hike hard! The harder you hike the
faster you will go! Most people tend to edge towards the front of the
boat upwind. This is not fast in a blow. The thwart (if you have one)
is generally a good indicator of where to put your feet. Helmsman just
behind and crew just in front, be friendly- stay close together, it
reduces the energy wasted in pitching. If your boat builder forgot the
foredeck you may need to be even further back to keep the sea on the
right side (Atkins style for the oldies). Try not to let waves break
over the bow, going round or over is faster than under. This is a
matter of practice.
When you arrive at the windward mark make sure you have
an easy rounding. Crash tacking in a force five or six is a skill best
practised somewhere else. Ease the kicker before
you attempt to bear away, it might save an embarrassing broach. If you
have the opportunity to get the board up before the mark this will also
help. The most important thing in achieving a broach/capsize-free windy
bear away is making sure that both of you, (crew and helm) stay on the
side until you are properly born away. Well done, you are now on the
way to the gybe mark.
The reach is where the fun really starts. Most
boats are designed with lots of buoyancy under the mast with wide
sections for easy comfortable planing. National Twelves on the other
hand have developed to go fast. This means that there is no time to
relax on a windy reach because if you do you will either go slowly or
worse the boat will chuck you in. The one thing we all know about windy
downwind Twelve sailing is that you need to get back! When the breeze
is on this is definitely correct. 12'6" behind the bow is the
much talked about position. This is actually rarer on reaches
than most of us like to believe, most Twelve helms tend to retreat too
far too soon, and stay there too long. Dragging the transom from when
the first gust hits to the jibe will put you in the slow lane! As the
boat accelerates in the gust or down a wave you move back, but remember
to move forwards as the boat decelerates, this will increase the length
of time you actually plane. Steering the waves and boat balance are
absolutely critical for a fast downwind ride. As the helmsman holds the
tiller, he or she will know when the boat has weather helm, lee helm or
is about to bear away down a wave. Communication is the key.
I talk to my crew all the way down a windy reach about balance both
fore and aft as well as side to side.(She is very sensible and filters
the rubbish out and keeps the boat upright.).
Setting up the rig on a windy reach is a matter of how windy and how
heavy /fit you are. If you are struggling to make the mark do not power
up the rig! If you need more power then go for it outhaul off, leeward
shroud, the works. In my boat the leeward shroud stays on when we are
scared, or if we cannot get off the windward side to release it (same
thing). Probably the best sail trimming tip for breezy reaches is do
not over sheet the jib. If the helmsman is dumping the
mainsail in the puffs, the jib needs to be eased the equivalent amount
to prevent the slot between the sails being shut. Sometimes this means
the jib luffing but this is better than over sheeting, and helps the
boat accelerate in the gusts..
Next the gybe mark. GOOD LUCK! If it is that windy
and the result that important and your current position good enough, do
you need to risk the gybe? If you choose to wear round do not capsize
as you will feel particularly stupid. If however, you decide to gybe
then make it good. Pick your wave! Screaming down the face of a wave
takes the load out of the rig and flicking the boom over will be easy.
On flat water the aim is the same, gybe when the boat is going fast not
as a gust hits when the rig is loaded up. Crews need to pull the boom
over for the helm. If the boom won't come yell early, your helmsman may
abort in time to save a swim.
On the run, balance like on the reach is critical.
If you get the balance from side to side right you will find it much
easier to steer the boat where you want to. Playing the waves is how to
get down the run fast and safely. Hitting the back of each wave is both
scary and slow. As you pile down the old wave, work out where you need
to stick the bow next. You will normally want to luff to safely climb
the next wave, however if you can work low on the run it might save you
another messy gybe!. Again a windy run is often a "sit back" situation
and again most of us overdo it. But, if in doubt or fear, back is the
safe option. The jib stick on a breezy run is a necessity, without it
the balance is wrong and you will not get there. If it is windy enough
to be flat out planing rather than surfing on the dead run then keep
the shrouds on. You are far more likely to invert the mast on a dead
run than on the reach.
Remember before you leave the dinghy park make those extra checks.
Things like rudder fittings, worn halyards etc., are just waiting for
that extra five knots of breeze before they give up on you. There is
nothing more annoying than missing out on a storming sail because your
Twelve does not stand up to the breeze.
The worst thing that is likely to happen to you out on
the water is that you will get wet, and a decent drysuit can prevent
that, so when the breeze is on get out there and sail one of the most
exciting boats available.