The Lights Go On
The Lights Go On
Not all light-air situations are created equal. Learning what separates one from another, and that each requires a unique approach, is the first step to success. From our July/Aug 2011 issue.
ROB: I know what you mean. Three weeks ago, we did a race that started in about 6 or 7 knots but faded to nothing.
Doc: How did you go?
ROB: Initially quite well. But when the breeze died, it was a lottery, and we got badly rolled.
Doc: What was your set up?
ROB: Just our best light-air settings, like I described before, but we didn’t sheet quite as hard, obviously. It was impossible to get the leech ribbons to fly.
Doc: … and those are called “flow” conditions. In that glassy stuff you are trying just about anything to get the breeze to flow around the sails at a time when the wind has almost no energy to do that. So you make it as easy as possible for the breeze to bend around the sail and get all the way to the leech. Compared to squeeze conditions, the sails are flat, particularly the main. The sheeting angles are really wide, and you’re trying to get the sails to sit quietly with a reasonable shape. The woollies are often completely lifeless, and you are tending to sail off the mast-top wind indicator.
ROB: Wouldn’t you also be trying to get lots of twist?
Doc: In those flow conditions the boom is weighing down the leeches, so the leeches won’t twist. That’s why the boom has to be so wide, so the upper leech isn’t so closed, despite the absence of twist. The conditions where you’re looking for twist are “nurse” conditions. You have a little bit of puff, but you have to nurse the boat to make sure that fragile flow doesn’t get broken by “squeezing” too hard.
ROB: Are the differences in the conditions that clear-cut? That explanation seems very simplistic.
Doc: Fair point. You can differentiate them in theory, but on the water you’re often flicking back and forth between the conditions and settings as puffs and lulls roll through. That’s why the adjustments have to change so much and so often.
ROB: So those different light-air settings revolve around three sorts of conditions: flow, when it’s glassy; nurse, when the flow is fragile; and squeeze, when the flow isn’t so fragile, and you’re trying to extract maximum power?
Doc: Exactly, and you set your rig accordingly.
ROB: Squeeze … nurse … flow … even I can remember that.