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Larking About

Tufts graduate Amelia Quinn shares her insider knowledge of a collegiate dinghy unique to Mystic Lake: the Lark.

May 21, 2013
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Sailing World

Light Air Sailing

Courtesy Amelia Quinn

While college sailors will spend the majority of their time in 420s and CJs, other dinghies, like Tufts’ Larks, should not be forgotten. Even in these relatively foreign boats, the top sailors will ultimately place well, but there are a few tips and tricks to make the transition into Tufts’ Rondar Larks easier. Until a uniform college sailing dinghy is developed, it’s worth taking a moment to go over how to hit the sweet spot in the fastest boats in college sailing.

With square-topped mains, Tufts’ Larks have a massive amount of sail area, allowing them to glide around in even the barest hint of breeze. This means you’ll be fully hiking and even overpowered in 10 knots, so be ready to go from the middle of the boat to fully extended quickly. The implications of the larger sail area go beyond weight placement; you’ll need to slow down your rolls in light air—for both gybes and tacks—in order to get sufficient power out of them. Flattens also have to be larger–to the point where it’s often worth throwing an arm. Be aggressive in your boathandling, but always keep an eye on the proximity of the boats around you. A classic freshman mistake in Larks is underestimating the massive sail area and mast height, and touching masts or sails in maneuvers. As Coach Ken Legler says, mast collisions are like teenagers making out and locking braces—sloppy.

Another key factor to speed in the Larks is playing the vang. The controls are rigged so both the skipper and crew can access them (except the outhaul, which is essentially not adjustable). Also, make sure you know them apart, because the colors and placement vary from boat to boat. A good strategy is to pre-tune the vang upwind to prevent being overpowered in the puffs, and then ease it off again in the lulls to prevent stalling out. You can do the same with the cunningham.

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Since the masts are carbon fiber, they are more responsive to controls. Adjusting the controls around the windward mark is essential for speed and and the structural integrity of your mast. Be aware: too much vang on in breeze and your mast will snap, too little and you may flip. Be cautious when sailing by the lee, as the boats are fairly unstable—as wide as 420s at the rail but almost as narrow as CJs at the waterline, with narrower and rounder bottoms than 420s—and the puffs on Mystic Lake can be directionally all over the place. As a rule, the controls in Larks are both easier and more important to play than in 420s and CJs, so be hyperaware of their settings and don’t forget to ease vang while running.

Once the breeze picks up to 12 knots and above, you’ll be dumping main and still heeling in puffs. If you can’t get the jib uncleated in the big blasts, you stand a pretty significant chance of rounding up and even capsizing, so it’s a good idea to use electrical tape to disable the jib cleats. Sure, it’s quite the arm workout to keep the jib in for the whole beat, but it’s worth it in the death puffs. You can tape the cleats much earlier in team racing, as you’ll have shorter legs, more tacks, and likely need to luff the jib to cover. In terms of main trim, everything is exaggerated; you must trim harder than in other college dinghies and ease-hike-trim more aggressively. Skippers have to ease the main enough during the tacks and flattens to keep from coming out overpowered. Crews can somewhat compensate for a miscalculated ease with a huge, prolonged flatten unique to the Lark. Because of the square-topped mains, the main ease during tacks is slightly exaggerated in order to trim the top of the sail better and prevent stalling out. The vang should be fairly eased during tacks, particularly in light air. In terms of jibing in big breeze, the crew should help the boom across by tugging or pushing the vang to keep jibing smooth and well-timed, and always be prepared to get your weight back to keep the bow knuckle out of the water, particularly on screaming reaches.

On the starting line, the Larks maintain their speed better than CJs and 420s, gliding steadily along even when luffing, so set up lower on the starting line, especially in nuking breeze. Their gliding power can be utilized around the windward mark as well, where you can almost point into the wind and use your momentum to carry you around the mark with ease. Uncleat the jib and let it luff a touch if necessary before hitting the windward rail to help bear off, always looking upwind for appropriate vang tuning.

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In the light air, you’ll need to pull off massive roll tacks without scooping in gallons of water from the back, with the classic low Lark freeboard. You can do this by keeping weight forward during the roll and flatten, with both skipper and crew leaning forward. The Lark jib in light and moderate breeze requires more finesse than a 420 jib, but not quite as much as a CJ jib. Ease sheet tension to round the jib earlier than in a 420, particularly after a downspeed tack, but then trim in tightly once you’re back up to speed for higher pointing. Keep just the slightest touch of heel under 4 knots, but sail the boat perfectly flat in anything above, and be quick to ease both sheets and controls to prevent stalling.

At a venue as variable and shifty as Mystic Lake, 420s would be unbearably lumbering and unresponsive. Even CJs would have a tough time coping with the conditions, but Larks flit across Mystic Lake on all but the glassiest days. Although unconventional compared with the majority of college sailing boats, they should not be written off. Come take one for a spin out of the soon-to-be completed sailing pavilion, and experience for yourself just how much fun they can be.

_Amelia Quinn is a recent graduate of Tufts University who studied a little bit of Arts and Sciences and a lot of sailing. Check out her blog Rolling Start for more on college sailing, and stay tuned for a few updates from College Sailing Nationals.
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