Harder Hiking for Better Results
Harder Hiking for Better Results
What's the most effective way to hike? John Loe examines the effectiveness of different techniques. "From the Experts" in our October 2009 issue
The experiment tested the legs-outboard style with three different methods of hiking: A relaxed, feet-out hike, likely used in a casual weeknight race; a "normal" hike, which is hiking as hard as would be sustainable for a standard one-hour buoy race, and a maximum-effort hike, which can only be held for 2 minutes, to simulate hiking off the starting line.
For the legs-in hiking technique, the participants used five different styles: we calculated a relaxed, hard, and short-burst maximum, with the caveat that the sailors bottom must be in contact with the rail. This delineation is used in some classes (i.e., the J/22) to limit hiking. Next, we measured a soft and hard hike, with no limit to how far outboard a sailor's bottom could be (a technique most common in match-racing.)
All of the participants performed the eight different hiking styles at three angles of heel common on keelboats. This measured how the effectiveness of each hike changes over variations in heel angle. Many people overlook the importance of hiking when a boat is almost flat; however, this, we discovered, is when the hiking action is most effective. As heel increases, a smaller percentage of a sailor's weight is directed perpendicular to the lever arm, which decreases the sailor's effect on the boat's righting moment. In other words, it may be more effective to depower the sails to flatten the boat than to have the entire crew exhausting themselves.
Reviewing the data revealed a few interesting conclusions. A sailor hiking legs-out with a normal intensity exerts more torque than any of the legs-in positions. For example, I produced 4.26 pounds of torque in the legs-out, normal position whereas even in the maximum-effort, legs-out unrestricted position I only produced 4.04 pounds of torque. Thus, hiking legs-out is more effective, and it's more effective than legs in with additional effort. However, hiking legs out is not always the best option. In a race where frequent tacks or other maneuvers occur, it may not be feasible to hike legs-out. Also, if sail trim suffers as a consequence of hiking legs out, then consider another option.
Our findings, explained in the tables at the end of this article, shows how effectiveness was measured and also the ratio of bodyweight to torque produced. This ratio is the key measurement in how effective one's hiking is. Note how it's higher when the subject is feet out as compared to feet in, yet how the difference decreases when the heel angle increases. Also, the difference between the relaxed modes and the more aggressive types are quite noticeable. In other words, the skipper who is always yelling, "Hike harder," isn't just torturing you.
But next time you're racing on a boat where different hiking styles are allowed, don't just hike so it hurts; use the mode that helps keep the boat flat while letting you work the sails and keep your eyes on the racecourse.
John Loe is a sailing coach and Val Smith is an engineer with Viking Systems. To view the full results of the authors' study, www.sailingworld.com/0910hike