The Truth Of Kinetics
The Truth Of Kinetics
Good kinetics will enhance the natural action of wind and waves, but only to a point. The essence of getting it right is to go for quality over quantity. "From the Experts" for our April 2010 issue
Kinetics is a hot-button topic. There's never been consensus about what is or should be legal, and more fundamentally, whether kinetics are a wholesome part of sailing or an unnatural act that should be banned outright. I won't engage the argument in this space; instead I offer a few observations as a coach who has witnessed 30 years of kinetic technique in collegiate and Olympic sailing.
Kinetics can be broken down into three categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good and bad are necessary complements in the competitive arena and I'll focus on them. The ugly appear often, and that's what on-the-water judging is for.
Good kinetic technique is essentially legal, it's sensual, fun, and is an extremely sophisticated component of a successful sailor's skill set. Bad kinetics are good kinetics done poorly. They are unsophisticated, mostly legal, feel terrible, and can be hugely frustrating. Ugly kinetics are illegal and are performed knowingly by sailors seeking an unfair advantage.
What separates the good from the bad? Let's use downwind wave riding as an example. Successful kinetics enhance the natural action of wind and waves on the rig, foils, and hull. They do not replace natural forces. For best results, the natural stuff must be optimized before adding any kinetics. This is the first, and most important part of good technique, which I call "setting the table." The second part is applying the kinetic force once the table is set properly. That's called "time to serve."
Setting the table
When it comes to wave riding, smooth, proactive steering is essential. If a boat is sailed downwind in waves with no steering, the boat's speed will vary a lot through the wave cycles. The boat will often surf or plane rapidly down a wave then slow dramatically in the troughs as the bow gets stuck. Pressure on the sails builds when the boat slows, and pressure drops when the boat zips down the wave. The helmsman's most important job is to smooth out the natural peaks and valleys with proactive steering. The challenge is to maintain a high average speed with the potential to boost the high average at the right moments to achieve launch speed. Once at launch speed, kinetics take over.
High average speed is roughly synonymous with maintaining stable pressure. The helmsman must be tuned into the pressure and steer to keep it stable, resisting the temptation to ride waves low too long with little pressure on the sails. Fast rides down the wave may be fun, but the boat often gets stuck at the bottom of the wave, loses speed, then feels a sudden pressure build on the sails. Boatspeed peaks down the face of the wave, and then plummets into a valley at the bottom. From this position the helmsman must either wait for the wave to pass or head up dramatically to get the boat going again. With proactive steering the helmsman is sensitive to the dropping pressure and is looking for a path of lower resistance so the boat does not slow excessively. The top speed may be lower, but the bottom speed, from which the boat can readily accelerate to launch speed with the next kinetic opportunity, remains much higher.
The team must work together to control the boat laterally. All extraneous lateral motion should be eliminated, but small changes in lateral trim should be associated with all of the steering. While a high average may be an adequate launch speed, usually a small power up is better and is achieved with a small course change, which should be initiated with a little leeward heel. Large power-up course changes are usually an indication of poor technique. Once powered up with slight leeward heel and at launch speed, the table is set and it's time to serve.
Time to serve
Before pumping, hike into the heeling force to bring the boat level and to resist the additional heeling force that will come with the pump. Much of the time, hiking alone is better than pumping.
As you hike into the pressure you need to update your read on the kinetic opportunity and determine how to respond. If you determine a pump is appropriate, you have to be smooth. Smooth may sound like an oxymoron with kinetics, but it's a perfect fit. While most kinetic actions happen quickly and include an intense application of force, it's essential that the forces integrate smoothly into the existing state of motion. You need embrace the concept of smooth intensity. These two words really say it all.