Solo News 1 Feb

Great news for the spring – I just heard from Evan Cairns… “I am the proud owner of Solo 5277 a Winder 1, so I will be joining IBRSC for the 15/16 season starting in April.” For those who don’t know Evan – he goes back a long way with the club – I was sailing against him back in the 80’s.

I suspect Evan will provide even more competition towards the front of the fleet. We’ll have to all practice hard…

Sunday was a tad windy – Pursuit in the morning just Paul, Tim and Gareth in Solos (Mike Dray sailed my Aero with the 7 rig). It definitely helped to keep the pointy stick out of the water in those conditions.  For the first couple of laps Paul and Gareth swapped places a few times – in general perhaps Gareth has the edge upwind – certainly pointing higher but Paul does go a shade faster – I suspect that is partly down to different weight – I’m a bit lighter so I have to sail a shade higher without quite as much power. Paul can stay slightly more powered up. First beat was mainly a long starboard tack drag race with Gareth just crossing Paul who tacked first. Gareth carried on as did Tim but Paul obviously found a good shift on the right to be just ahead at the first mark. Down the reach and onto the run not much in it but Gareth managed to ride a gust and get an overlap at 5 onto the (very) fine reach from 5 to 2. Mark 2 was tricky coming in from a very fine reach – almost a beat at times to bear away and gybe onto a run. I messed up the first gybe attempt – because I’d had to beat the last bit into 2 I had too much kicker still on and got the boom caught on my back mid gybe. Had to bail out of the gybe – somewhat wobbly that bit then re-balance, set the boat correctly, gybe and get back on course (see below for more details). Paul made a good gybe and slipped past. Round up at 3 with Gareth right behind Paul and the difference upwind became apparent as Gareth climbed out to windward while Paul blasted forwards. I suspect there was a bit of a lift as well but with a very one sided beat the higher pointing paid off and gave me a fair lead. Downwind riding gusts from behind Paul got on my tail again but this time no mistakes and at the end of the lap it was Gareth from Paul. This time upwind another slight gain and rounding the windward mark in a huge gust Gareth rode it all the way downwind while behind Paul could only watch and wonder where the wind had gone.  I lost count of how many laps we did because the sailing was very fast but I did notice Tim had got quite close to Paul before the final squall hit. Boats starting to pile in all over the place and I’m told that included some solos… but I was a bit too busy to look! I made the first gybe in a huge gust avoiding a capsized boat of another class at the mark, rode the squall down the run and shy reach for it to finally ease a bit by the gybe at 2.

 

So this week’s topic – heavy weather technique again.

I realise I often cover the same ground but I usually word things differently so hopefully there’s something new each time.

Boat setup – I use maximum rake in heavy weather – basically as much rake as I can get and still (just) be able to tack. With that however you have to keep the boat balanced – the rake is achieved by first moving the mast heel forwards and then easing the forestay and correspondingly tightening the shrouds (note that the shrouds are still slack enough to allow the mast to move about ½ inch at deck level) – on older boats you might not be able to move the heel forwards so you just get as much as you can and maybe ease the forestay an extra hole to allow the mast to bend a shade more. With more rake you move the sail back a bit which tends to cause more weather helm (boat want to luff all the time). You counter this by raising the centreboard – effectively moving it back as well.  As the wind gets towards survival conditions you might be going to windward with the plate only 2/3 down – angling back about 30 degrees. Also once you are depowering the front of the main is starting to lift so the force comes from the back of the sail which tries to make the boat luff.  If you feel you are fighting with the helm there are two things to do – keep the boat flatter, and raise the plate a bit more. The difference is quite amazing. Upwind outhaul tighter to flatten the bottom of the sail and Cunningham tight to free the leech – open the top of the sail to depower that. I ease the traveller a bit as well.

Downwind – reaching – plate a long way up, weight a long way back, and keep the boat really flat. Bear away in the gusts and work back up in the lulls.  Ease a bit of kicker if you had it tight upwind, ease the Cunningham.

Downwind running – key is to have the boat balanced – imagine balancing a long pole on your hand – with small movements you can keep it vertical but if it starts to get tilt you have to react very quickly or it’s too late. To a large degree what you are doing with the steering is the same you are making small adjustments to keep the hull under the mast (just as you move your hand to balance the pole). If the boat starts to come on top of you luff slightly to move the hull back under the stick. If the boat starts to heel away from you bear away to move the hull back under the mast. You can only do that if the boat is well balanced and easy to steer. If the helm feels heavy you can’t do it. To get balance… Plate well but not right up – I think a foot or so sticking out under the boat (check it in calm weather or look after you capsize). You must be able to steer easily without the boat sliding sideways. Too much down and again the boat always wants to luff and you tend to broach and capsize away from you. Boat must be very flat to marginal windward heel. No need for the aggressive windward heel of light weather (too easy to roll it in to windward). Weight well back. Then we balance the boat by a combination of how far out we let the sheet go and how much (or little) we ease the kicker. Ease the kicker and the boat will roll to windward. Too much kicker and the boat will still want to luff. You need it balanced and neutral on the helm. One last thing on boat setup, you need the rudder to go down far enough that the helm is light. That means the leading edge angles forwards about an inch so the rudder is well balanced. If the helm is always slightly heavy (rudder angles backwards) you won’t be able to make the quick small corrections needed.

In really heavy weather I like to have the boat balanced with the main just not quite hard on the shrouds so I have a small range to still ease if the boat starts to heel to leeward. The kicker is about half way between beating light weather slack but I adjust that to make the boat feel balanced with the main where I want it. (By contrast in light weather the boom is right out and the kicker right off)  If the boat heels to windward you have to correct in two ways – resist the boat turning with rudder and quickly sheet in the main. The main has lots of power to correct but it takes practice to not over-correct. Generally active steering with small correction is the key - as soon as the boat tries to come a fraction towards you luff against it. As soon as the boat starts to heel away from you bear away a fraction. The key is it must be a very quick but small early correction - ideally you have the sheet in hand as well and make the corresponding small change there. I think I steer on the run holding the tiller itself for the most positive feel to make small corrections. Sometimes you feel you are sitting or almost on top of the tiller (exactly where as beginners we tell you not to sit – but only there in very strong conditions.

On Sunday I hadn’t eased enough kicker as I bore away round 2 – almost beating to make the mark and then bear away and gybe. Result was that the boat didn’t really want to bear away even when I eased a lot of sheet. As I tried to gybe the boom caught on my back, when I bailed out of the gybe the boat wanted to broach (luff) and although I held it I did take on some water. With the kicker in the right place I could then bear away accelerate and gybe.

Gybing – you need the boat going fast. Easier to gybe from a broad reach because the boat is going fast (less wind pressure). With the boat very flat turn smoothly into the gybe and as the boom STARTS to come over (it will come over very quickly) stop the turn and in fact turn a bit back the other way. As the boom stops on the new side it will want to jerk the boat round, if you are turning slightly back downwind the two cancel each other out. You mustn’t wait till after the boom hits the stops before trying to stop the turn.

Before the race Tim looked at my settings and I think added some rake – curious to know if he felt it improved the handling – I thought he looked to be going better in the stronger winds. Tim – let us know how it felt and we’ll add your comments next week (or probably the week after as I’m away next week)

See you all in a couple of weeks assuming I come back from the Alps in one piece…

Gareth