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 WHEN THE WIND BLOWS


Tom Stewart

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.

 

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