How to Make the Most of the Least, Part I
How to Make the Most of the Least, Part I
Light air can be maddening, but Tony Rey has the advice to make the most of it. "Boatspeed" from our June 2008 issue.
Be careful of the middle
The traditional strategy for a windward/leeward racecourse says the sides of the course are risky and the middle is the safe place to be. From the middle of the course you can plot a conservative strategy, and minimize loss as the wind shifts, both upwind and downwind.
In light air, because we are a lot more concerned with pressure over direction, it's the other way around. In light air, new lines of pressure will usually come from one edge of the track, and quite often the middle gets the puffs last.
I am not advocating booking a table for one at the Corner Café every time you go downwind in 6 to 8 knots. But when it's really light, if you can work the edge with more pressure, without losing touch with the majority of the fleet, you will set yourself up for a good run. From the edges of the track, you should get the pressure first, and if you are on the long jibe, you can keep your maneuvers to a minimum.
Keep it fast
Similar to the windspeed example, the differences in boatspeed can be exponential downwind in light air. One-tenth of a knot can represent a significant percentage increase when you're only doing 3 or 4 knots over the ground, and turn into a big gain over the course of a leg. Being vigilant about sailing in maximum pressure will make you fast, but these tips may help as well:
When in doubt, heat it up. In light air with a symmetric spinnaker, you probably already have the pole forward to the headstay. This is the optimum light-air setting when sailing hotter angles (i.e. with a smaller true wind angle). If you are not sure what angle to sail downwind, compare your angle to that of other boats in your class. But when in doubt, err on keeping the boat fast, rather than trying to sail too low.
A common mistake in light air is to carry the pole tip too high. When in doubt, keep the pole tip low. Generally speaking, a low pole should help the boat accelerate in the puffs, and stabilize the spinnaker in any seaway.
Communicate. The trimmer should constantly talk to the driver about how much pressure he or she is carrying in the spinnaker. I try to avoid phrases like "up five" or "down five" because they may cause the helmsman to oversteer. Instead, I prefer that the trimmer set limits. For example, "The pressure is good, no higher than this," or "Don't sail lower than 140 (degrees true wind angle)." On a larger boat that has wind instruments, agreeing on a true wind angle range can be a good way to keep the boat sailing at optimum angle. Keep in mind that this TWA range will change in puffs and lulls, and with different spinnakers you use, but it can be a good starting point for communication.
Also, remember that in light air, wind instruments can be at their worst, due to wind shear and calibration anomalies. So be careful with the information on the displays.
Another interesting way to sail downwind in light air, if you have a decent instrument system, is to sail by heel angle. Think of angle of heel as another representation of how much power you are carrying in the sailplan, similar to the tug on the spinnaker sheet.
Most modern raceboats like to carry a bit of heel downwind to reduce wetted surface on the hull and to use gravity to help fill the kite. Every class of boat will be different, but when you are feeling like you are in a good mode downwind, note the angle of heel, and create a target range to sail (for example, between 4 to 7 degrees). This can be another way to check your own feel of the boat, and to duplicate settings if you don't have the same trimmers and driver throughout the season.
Keep the turns gradual and smooth to preserve your speed. When you accelerate in the big puff, don't scrub off all your speed in one sharp turn, do it slowly over 10 to 15 seconds. You want to avoid big spikes and drops in your speed.
We all know that when racing on a summer weekend, you will probably encounter heinous powerboat chop at some point during the day. When Rodney is making a pass, keep the crew weight as low as possible to reduce pitching.
Most keelboats will benefit by dropping a few crewmembers down below, also known as putting dogs in the house. This can be miserable for the designated crew, though an ample cookie supply and some interesting reading material can make it more enjoyable.
Keep the topping lift and foreguy snug in the waves, but keep a hand on the foreguy, in case the spinnaker guy requires adjustment.
Trim both sails. In sounds obvious, but I am amazed how often I see a perfectly trimmed spinnaker, and a luffing or overtrimed mainsail. Getting the main to set correctly in light air may mean easing the main halyard down a click to deepen the middle of the sail, adjusting the vang tension for the puffs, and constantly testing the sheet ease. A set of telltales near the luff of the main can help keep the trimmer honest.
Next month we'll focus on the boat-on-boat tactics downwind in light air, the effects of windshadows, how to manage the packs, and the light-air jibe.
For part II of this topic, click here.
To access the SW forums thread where Tony Rey will be answering your light-air sailing questions, click here.