Wasn't Sunday just a beautiful sailing day. Wall to wall sunshine, mild temps and enough wind to sail without being overpowered - and we had TWELVE solos on the start. What's more it is obvious that everyone is improving as the back of the fleet are pushing hard for mid fleet etc.
The personal really handicaps show how the fleet is closing up - Lloyd from the conference was close enough to the fleet to take his first personal handicap victory ahead of Ian Roy, Ben and Mervyn - just one minute separating the top five on personal handicap. Meanwhile languishing at the bottom on PH were our premiership boys who just couldn't pull out a big enough gap.
Tony P is kicking himself because he really should have made second. He had led at the first mark, held Paul off, let him past, overtaken him again and was ahead almost all the way up the last beat. When they crossed with only about 100 yards to go Tony was ahead but didn't tack to cover. He pressed on, ran into a light patch, Paul got a gust and a shift and came romping in clear ahead - in fact Mike L nearly caught Tony. When it gets to the last half of the last beat and you know you can't catch the leader it is time to go defensive. Keep your boat between the opponent and the finish. You don't have to aggressively cover and try to block his wind - that will start a tacking match and risks a bad tack letting him through and slowing both of you down too much. So, this week’s note is about tactical sailing. Tight cover, loose cover and herding.
Covering on a beat basically means you keep your boat upwind of the opponent so that your sails ‘cover’ his wind.
Tight cover means you simply tack to block your opponents wind, when he tacks you tack so you stay tightly blocking him. That's great if you don't mind sailing both of you down the fleet - last race of a series and you have a better discard it makes good sense. If you are behind usually you have to either keep tacking or free off and try to find clear air to leeward. If your leader is just always tacking you might throw in a dummy tack (start the tack but pull out if he starts to tack). It can be hard to establish a tight cover because as you tack on his wind he will immediately tack away. If you know you will want to cover you generally start it right from the start of the leg. That way you can stay tacking in phase with the opponent. If you are being ultra-defensive you try to make two tacks before he rounds the mark so you are already on the same tack as he rounds. Then if he tacks you tack. Even if he is managing to keep tacking off, each time he does he passes through your wind shadow so unless there is a big shift it is hard for him to gain. Of course if he’s very close you can’t do the two tacks initially and establishing control is more difficult.
Loose cover though is slightly different, and better if you have a slight gap. You don't tack right on your opponent, but you just try to keep somewhat between him and the next mark so that if he closes he will enter your wind shadow. Now you can still look for shifts and try to sail your race but staying in touch with your opponent so he doesn't have a chance to take the other side of the beat and gain an advantage.
Any covering risks pulling your opponent closer because you are tacking more when he wants to than when you want to, so you miss shifts and may be gulled into tacking at exactly the wrong time. That's why loose cover is usually better because if you can still take a few shifts you may be able to preserve or increase the gap. If the opponent closes he will start getting his wind blocked.
Blindly covering without considering the shifts can simply let the opponent through because he dictates the tacks. If he makes you tack on a lift he might be able to force you to lose ground. You have to still keep an eye on the shifts and if he tacks at definitely the wrong place for you (you have just got a lift) don't tack but take the lift and then come back as soon as the lift is over.
OK so we have the idea of tight cover and loose cover. What's herding? If you are leading and there are two boats behind the last thing you want is them splitting tacks one going hard right and the other hard left. You can't cover them both! So what you do is to focus on the boat immediately behind you and try to make him go the same way as the next boat. He may want to anyway to protect his position, but if you tack hard on his wind when he goes the way you don't want and let him have some clear air to leeward (you tack a bit later) when he's going the way you want you can 'herd' him to keep both boats under control.
The danger of any covering or defensive sailing is that you are no longer sailing your race but focussing only on staying ahead of one or two boats. Very easy to lose the big picture and find that another boat has made a big gain, or in a handicap race that you have just sailed each down the fleet on handicap. That said, if the beat is even and you are crossing ahead why not tack to keep an eye on everyone else.
Now - a few observations looking down the fleet (mainly just things I noticed watching the fleet coming up the last beat):
Several people still need to sit further forward. It depends slightly on your boat and weight but everyone at least needs to be right against the traveller/thwart - and that means the main part of your body. It is no use sitting facing forwards with your knees against the thwart if you body is then 12-18" further back. In that lightish weather when I'm not hiking out I straddle the thwart. You have to come back behind the sheet as you tack but get forward again as soon as you can.
Some people are letting the boat heel too much for too long in gusts on the beat. You must keep the boat flat - lean out but if that isn't enough and some of us are lighter/older/stiffer/less physically fit… you must take action to keep the boat flat before it heels too much. Heeling just make the boat dig in, makes you have to use the rudder to hold the boat straight and puts on the brakes. Keep the boat flat either by a momentary ease of the sheets (remember to pull it back in again) or by luffing a fraction closer to the wind.
Enough for this week - a fabulous Sunday and it looked like everyone enjoyed a great race. Forecast for this week hasn’t stabilised yet but the most recent forecast looks promising for the morning but with some heavier conditions coming in later. It will all depend on the timing so as always best policy is to come down and look at the wind and water on the day.
Chris has put out the TrySail programme - I plan to start TryRace (coaching) in week 5 of TrySail. In the first four weeks I'll be teaching beginners.
Nothing to stop you practicing yourselves of course - or just helping as shore party to get everyone up and sailing as soon as possible.
One final thought – Open Meetings and championships are a great way to meet other sailors and see how other people set things up. Several of us plan to go to things like the Winter championships, Spring Championship, Southern or Welsh champs all of which generally get a large attendance as well as local open meetings. details of all forthcoming events are of course on the Solo Association web site which is also a great source of information. http://www.solosailing.org/ I encourage everyone to join the association. If anyone is thinking of going to an open meeting let me know because there is a good chance that Paul or I or Mark will be going and potentially (when he’s got his new boat) Mark will have a double trailer with a possibility to share transport. Having a good fleet attendance is another way to spread the word about what a nice place Island barn is!