Alan Field: Y-Flyer, Farr 40, Martin 242

Farr 40 and Martin 242 sailor Alan Field quickly adapted to the unfamiliar Y-Flyer to win the 2006 US SAILING Championship of Champions

Janet Warlick

Alan Field, a 48-year-old real estate developer and Farr 40 owner from Los Angeles, never imagined he'd find himself competing on Lake Maumelle, a man-made reservoir west of Little Rock, Ark. Ditto for doing so in the hard-chine, 18-foot Y-Flyer scow. At the suggestion of his crew Steve Hunt, after winning the 2005 Martin 242 North Americans, they applied for a slot in US SAILING's invitational Championship of Champions, hosted by the Grand Maumelle SC in October. As it turns out, their trip to Arkansas was a good idea: after two days and 13 races in all sorts of conditions, Field and Hunt topped 20 national and North American one-design champions.What was the allure of this event for you guys?There was the challenge of an unfamiliar boat and venue, and the interest to go and get on an even platform and see who really is the best sailor. With this event the learning curve is steep, and that's exciting. I've spent a lot of time on the Farr 40 learning curve, and this is a one-shot deal where you can't take your time trying to figure it out.What sort of preparation did you focus on beforehand?My biggest concern before the regatta was that the Y-Flyer champion [Will Hankel] would be there. But a bit of research showed that, historically, the class representative hasn't won the regatta. They take some of the "knowledge" away from the class representative by pinning the shrouds at one setting, and not allowing you to adjust anything, which makes the boats more equal. It comes down to sailing skills, not to having the rig tuned to specific conditions. In one way the class rep is actually at a disadvantage because they're used to being able to skin the cat the other way.OK, but how'd you figure out how to sail the boat?We tapped into our dinghy experience as a resource [Field grew up racing dinghies, and Hunt campaigned a 470 for several years], and we explored the Internet looking for Y-Flyer information and tuning guides. We sent e-mails to Y-Flyer sailors asking about the boat and the tricks, but once we got to the regatta we quickly learned that the tuning guide was useless and that the tricks were mainly associated with rig tune. We went out a few hours before the regatta and really practiced tacking the boat. We found that most of the boats had the ends of the traveler line all nicely tucked away, but we ended up taking the knots out and running it so we had a system where I adjusted the traveler in the first part of the tack, and Steve handled it in the second part. We really focused on being smooth and getting the boom up on centerline faster than most people tended to.I've never sailed a boat with so much lee helm in a breeze. It was counter intuitive-when [in most boats] you get a puff, you want to release the mainsheet and push through. But with the Y-Flyer, the mainsheet controls your headstay tension, so you end up with a fuller jib when you dump the main. It took us a while to figure it out, and that's where August Barkow [C Scow national champion] really blew our doors off in the breeze. He knew to overtrim the main and move back in the boat to get more leverage on the tiller. With the limited time you had, what did you focus on once you got to the venue?The first thing was boathandling-tacks, jibes, and keeping the boat underneath us. From there it was getting used to sailing the boat with heel and finding where we had to sit to get it right. There are so many things you can do, and while we were experimenting we noticed a lot of the other teams were focused on straight-line speed testing. We figured that with 20 races planned, and with boat rotations, that the races would be short collegiate-style. In that type of racing, boatspeed is less important; boathandling is critical.How did you approach the fleet, given the variety of backgrounds?Our game plan was straightforward from Day One: make good use of our practice, glean as much information as we can from people in the class, and get comfortable with the conditions on the lake. With so many races, we were conservative: clean starts, no tangle ups, and no boat-for-boat duels. Our first day went exactly to plan. We started midline and stuck to the same goal I always have when racing in the Farr 40-be in the top 5 at the weather mark. In a 20-boat fleet with so many races, that's all we needed in order to be in the hunt on the last day, which is where we ended up.On the last day we won back-to-back races, and after that it was all about fleet management. Steve did a great job of keeping track of where people finished. Our priority after each race was to not switch boats right away, but rather hang out by the finish line and take notes on where other people finished. Then we'd do the math to determine whom we needed to stay with. We started the last day 6 points out of first and finished the day 6 points up, and that's because we had two wins and kept score to make sure no one could get enough points on us in the last couple of races. We always kept ourselves in contact with the players. How did you make good use of time between rotations?On the first day we made sure we were one of the first to change and quickly went through what we learned in the previous boat, i.e., untie the traveler, take the halyard coils off the mast and tape them below deck so they wouldn't foul the jib sheets, check the whisker pole setup. Then we'd sail on both tacks, write down our compass numbers, check the jib leads, get to the line, check in, and start looking up the course.How about at the end of the day?Steve and I debriefed at the end of the day like we do on the Farr 40, and sometimes at the end of a particular race. Each day we got up early, and over breakfast Steve would read our notes from the day before, and as we were getting to the club, he'd re-read our bullet-point notes, and review what we learned and what we should focus on for the day.Lightning champ Matt Burridge, with crew Paul Hanson, was second overall at the Championship of Champions. Third through fifth, respectively, were Barkow and Jeff Niedziela, Paul Abdullah and Nick Turney (Interlake national champion), and Joe Kutschenreuter and Colin Smith (X-boat national champion). For complete results,