Light Wind Thoughts
- Now that we have failed to retain the Thames
Area trophy, Mandy and I have been asked to disclose the secrets of
inland sailing. Isn't editing a weird science?
- Under pressure I would admit that the wind does tend
to be more variable inland than on the open sea, but there are more
ways of gauging what the wind is doing inland. We always watch
the boats (and their burgees) around us to spot the shifts,
but we also look at our burgee and any flags on the bank, and even the
wind in the trees to get some idea of what is going on. Even with these
indicators we find it hard to predict what the wind might do, so we
always try to be prepared for anything which enables us to respond to
the changes. For example we have practised our boat handling so that a
big header naturally transitions into a good tack, and we tend to sail
with a slightly loosened outhaul to get more power from the lifts.
- The winds variability inland means that there can be
huge speed differentials between boats that are physically very close
to one another, it is for this reason that we often 'sail for the
wind'. This can mean deviating from the shortest course to the next
mark to get the maximum benefit from a patch of wind. Equally it means avoiding
the wind shadow of other boats; one missed gust can make a
big difference inland.
- Several inland venues have strong tides and currents.
These have a greater impact inland than those on the sea because they
are not uniform over the race course. As everyone knows the currents
weaken as one gets closer to the shore, but conversely the wind often
gets weaker too. Because of this the big gains and loses are
made in areas where the current eddies. Water likes to flow
in a straight line and eddies are formed when this laminar flow is
broken up. Thus one tends to find eddies where a river bends, or where
a peninsular juts out. However eddies are equally formed by underwater
rocks and shoals, so watch those local sailors!
- There are often a lot of comments about what makes a
fast inland boat, and there is no doubt that some competitive inland
boats do not sail so well on the sea. Our experience is that the boat
design does not have to make a huge difference to your potential
inland. It seems to us that if you put a good inland sailor in a dog of
a boat, then they will still sail well. Ask the Meadowcrofts whether
they are quicker inland in the 'Greyhound of the Sea N2812' or 'Fools
Gold N3429'. However it is important to sail to a design's
strengths: whilst we tack at the drop of a hat in our
Tigress, in the Chapter we tend to use the whole width of the river.
- Regardless of what design you sail, there are a few
ideas that may enable it to go faster inland. We never sail without a
burgee; it seems to me that the burgee tells you not just what the wind
is doing but also what it is about to do. When the wind is light, which
only happens very occasionally inland, we sail the boat heeled slightly
to leeward and trimmed down by the bow. Heeling to leeward
definitely helps sail shape, and can reduce the drag in some
designs. I'm not really sure why we trim the boat forward, but all the
fast sailors seem to do it.
- Despite the lighter winds sail shape is still very
important inland. As mentioned previously we sail with fuller
sails than most, both to make the most of the gusts but also
because it is difficult to be certain where the wind is coming from -
even when sailing up the beat. Similarly we often sail with the jib not
quite hard in to make good progress and the most of the lifts. With
modern sail designs this tends to mean sailing with more kicker than I
would expect, but it does result in a good-looking sail shape.
- To conclude, the comment must be 'never give
up'. This may sound a little psychological, but it is the crew who
remains calm and unruffled by the vagaries of inland sailing that can
make the best of the opportunities which will arrive. It has often been
proved that is possible to make up huge distances on the last
leg of inland courses.