Stay on Target
Stay on Target
Sailing your boat at maximum efficiency starts with an understanding of your target boatspeed and then learning how to apply it across different conditions. "Boatspeed" from our June 2012 issue.
Nail the numbers
Straight-line sailing to target speed is an important skill, but one of the greatest gains you can make in a close fleet is to be more efficient through your turns. Each time you tack, jibe, or turn at a mark, the crew should be focused on getting the boat back to target speed. Knowing the number you’re aiming for and working together to trim the sails, roll, and hike the boat. Easing and then slowly increasing tension on the backstay, can make a difference to efficiently getting to speed. Losing a quarter of a boatlength less than your opponent in each tack means one length gained in a four-tack beat.
Another example is rounding the weather mark. Imagine you’re approaching, slightly overstood, in 10 knots of breeze. Your boatspeed is likely .3 to .5 knots over your upwind target. Your downwind target is likely similar to your upwind target in this windspeed. As you bear away, you’ll accelerate before reaching a downwind angle that needs the spinnaker or gennaker to maintain good speed. At that point, the boat will slow until the kite is flying. If the driver makes a smooth turn and the team hoists the downwind sail efficiently, you can fill the sail at a deep angle, before the speed has dipped below target. Then you head up slightly to sail your downwind course. Anyone who keeps reaching at the top mark may be faster, but they’re giving up lots of ground to the team that uses their momentum to get down the course. As long as you’re above the downwind target, sailing deep, below the target wind angle, should result in a gain.
Wallying: high and low modes
“Wallying” is the practice of sailing faster to the next shift, giving up slight VMG gains for the promise of greater leverage when the shift comes. Using target speed to get more out of shifts is an advanced subject, but lets cover the basics.
Upwind, if you know you’re on a lift and expect the wind to head you before layline, you can gain by sailing faster and lower toward the next shift. When the shift comes, the advantage to you will be greater than if you had sailed your normal, target-speed course. The trick is to know how much faster to go. For most boats and most shifts, something between .1 and .3 of a knot above target speed is best. The worst thing you can do is pinch to the next header.
Alternatively, there are times when your tactics require you to work the boat higher than normal, so learning your boat’s high mode is something to practice by squeezing a little more height out of the boat and learning where the speed crashes. For most boats, you can sail .2 to .4 of a knot slower to get a little better height before the mode gets too difficult to maintain and the speed crashes.
Wallying works downwind, too. When you’re sailing a header, but you’re sure you’ll get lifted before the layline, sailing slightly above target gets you to the new shift more quickly and you can use this leverage as a gain. As with a high mode upwind, a low mode is a good downwind tool. Use your target speed to see how low you can sail before the speed crashes.