Monthly Archives: August 2017

Bad Starts, Good Starts in Sailing Sport.

I was interested to read another of Y&Y’s articles on getting out of a bad start but what constitutes a good start, and how do you get yourself into that position on the gun?

The secret to me is that a good start is actually not so much about the half second it takes for the gun to  blast into your stream of consciousness. It is about what happens in the run up, the last minute , of course, but also what happens in the following thirty seconds. In the gamete of 5 minutes and the subsequent thirty seconds you have what constitutes a good start. 

The article above talks about bad starts and that is a good place to start so we black to white so to speak. A bad start can be late and behind other boats, stuck with other boats luffing and not moving, rolled over by other boats to windward, or starting at the wrong end of the line for either a line bias, or the predictable, big first shift to come, or in respect of the tide or current. Take our weekend warrior antics in the Melges this weekend. The line was often biased on the first day, but short enough for us to come in a little behind other boats who would then struggle to cross the line on the gun without being beyond the pin, or stalling up. Day two featured a very well laids start line with a slighty offset windward mark, giving a slight left bias. But we sail with the Otra’ rivers big current flowing out mid race course right to left, and lesser tidal water (sometimes more though) coming out of Toplandsfjord through the narrows at Varod. So going right is favoured due to the large lee bow for around a third or more of the beat. That means getting over to port quickly and even with only five boats out, that means getting a clean start and being at the boat.

The trouble here is that we got what looked to be ‘great starts’ but did not seem to do well out of them. It was infact not the case that we got great starts. We got a great initial position perhaps but a little at the wrong tim and then trimming on speed a little late. We got to the start line on time and in a good position but got rolled to windward once at least and burried in turbulence of leeboats once too. We lacked speed, clean air and the ability to tack port in that extra thirty seconds which is part of the start. 

The thirty seconds after determines if you can as above, do a controlling tack over to port, or stand on with your bow proud of the next man, and covering the guys to port of youu. Necking out like a horse  on the finish line of the grand national. Those determining seconds are built on the preceeding 30 seconds given that  you have the line bias or strategic position roughly right at 1 minute, or more in light winds.

Text books say boldly that the aim of the helm and crew is to hit the line at maximum speed just as the gun goes, but when ever you have a strategy of going for an end or using if you dare, the fleet ‘sagging’ back more along the mid line, you have to commiit to a position along the line. At a minute out the ‘shooting alleys’or slots you will ride out on once you sheet in are usually established. In the big sigma 33 fleets of the 90s, these were often at 2 minutes I remember, it seemed an eternity until we sheeted on.  However if you are in at the favoured end, often the boat end for a reason we will come back to, then your own position at a minute and thirty seconds can nicely mess things up for your immediate slot companions too. 

So very often I find that boats do not start at full speed on the line, and in fact I think I could probably count on one hand the number of races where I have been on a fully close hauled boat sailing its polar target on the start line. 

However having said that top speed is not that often achieved, you do need to have relatively high speed to your competitors near on each side, or you will fall back and be buried unless those folk are rotten sailors or are being hampered by early starters ‘above’ then to windward. 

This was our mistake this weekend. Our helm is a raw-ass at getting into a great and quite dominating position on the start, in fact it is his trade mark, but then he doesnt capitalise on it. We hit the line slower than other boats or squeezed up more than we want to be before we are near close hauled. That is a little puzzling, having been the top dog at 30 seconds out with a fleet dominating position just to throw it away.

A bit of background and we can understand why. Our helm is a former laser sailor and dinghy instructor. So the alarm bells sound here about ‘sheet in and go’ . Despite the Melges being a big dinghy, it still takes  about two boat lengths to get to a reasonable speed you may be lucky to compete with on the line. You need more space to reach into then, so you need to ‘block at the boat’ longer to the right hand side which risks people who have spotted the bias or strategy tacking under you from a port approach and stealing your good start, which I thiink may have happened once, but then we had a very good slot on the boat end. 

‘Boat Speed Makes Me A Tactical Genius’ said Dennis Conor or someone anyway, and that is very true with starts because once you get your eventual slot, you need boat speed to capitalise on it. Here you need to know about your fleet behaviour and if there is a flag I, Z and Black Flag flying after any total recalls etc. The fleet gets more docile and holds back, while often also becoming more tightly packed. In the last minute then you can establish where the CoG ie biggest numbers are lining up for, and if this matches your fleets behaviour – do they line up and sheet in like a stereotypical nationals or worlds? Or do they like to fall off and end up a big frieght train reaching down the line all feeling they are early? 

Why Right Hand Side Starts Are So Fought Over

Boat end start are very popular. First and foremost when you do need to tack onto port, it is much more likely given even boat speed to the fleet, that you will cross fewer boats on a standard port mark rounding circuit, as you take your first and often decisive tack over to port. Also if you do get rolled over or start a little late, there are very few boats sterns to sail away from by tacking over to port, and a high likelyhood that only one boat is free to tack, and they may well want to pin the others out until a sizeable windshift comes. However if you know there are a lot of late comers crashing the boat end party, then you are not free in fact to tack on port. Understanding your fleet’s behaviour and checking for late boats on the RHS then is essential. 

Another reason people like RHS is the use of rules regarding water for the comittee boat and overlap denial there, and using the IDM pocket to hide  in. These are covered in other texts and the rules with explanations by the late Paul Elvestrom for example. Bit beyond here in a way, but yes we used it twice on sunday and failed to make good out of it. Responsible boats in a big fleet will not try and even use the overlap if it is there becauuse they can quickly land on boats they have not seen or whcih are coming on port, with no where to go as they have to reach down to pass the committee boat. I dare say this tactic of ours , pinning the fleet and booking a high place RHS, while a guy rolls over with overlap, is the cause for major insurance claims world over, and if they just eliminated the boat as an obstruction with right to water for those overlapped, they would have a lot fewer. 

Burn Time

The concept of burn-time is really kind of turning the traditional start psychology on its head a little. Here you ‘start’ when the time it takes to sail to the line and assume close hauled is reached. You are then dependent on having a long lane to shoot into, and that is a luxury in some races. In essence though what we could learn is that a little further back and to the right of the boat could be just as good, because in fact we can then force boats to sit around us  to windward at 30 seconds. By lying where we are, we natually block a lot of boats who are coming in on starboard (while of course opening up a little playing field for anyone on port to come into or for boats falling back from the line, to gybe round in.  But given we dont have a rack of port handers at 30 seconds, we have options to bear off and reach round a couple of sterns or to just sail a little free and stick our nose in the boat at speed. Note here, an IDM does not consititute a mark-of-the-course, it is the start line, and you do not have rights to water on it. If you are forced up onto it, the comittee will have a  perfect view and if you go between it and the boat, you are also out. 

Burn time then ok, it is a function of your own boat, crew abillity and the wind and any tidal effects there and then. You can think of it being a line  which you must be on in order to go, way back from the real start line. Here you want an orderly fleet, where either other folk are doing the same, or you have everyone on starboard and y ou have a lane to push up into. It is sheet in and go for keel boats if you like, you are further back from the line and creeping up to close hauled , or using a reach to build speed and come up into a hole as planned, with a knowledge of what this burn time is.

Sucker Punch

Now following up from the end of the last paragraphy, you can pull out a sucker punch when you do see a gap. Usually a gap is caused by one boat holding up several RHS boats by being obstinate, or a little burried in their windshadow by say a third of a boat length. It can be that boats to the LHS are too close and have reached off to get speed early. In any case, you spot it or know it is going to happen due to fleet history and how they are lying at ‘T minus’ one minute or there about. You have yourself in position for either a lane on a gradually built beat, or a reach and turn hard up. Here you can pull a sucker punch on the last boat in the rack who is making the gap by sailing behind and to the RHS of him kidding on that you are trying to put your nose into windward, and waiting for that space. He weill then tend to squeeze up more snuggly to the boat to his windward RHS, closing what he thinks is the gap, but then at T minus X seconds, you drop your bow, reach round the back of him and come up on his quarter. Alternatively the next boat over the gap is the one you sucker punch by rolling over them at speed before, during or after the start. it is a lovely tactic, but perhaps best for bigger fleets who have long rafts and many more suckers!
Boat Dynamics

If you have used burn time or just are following the gist of the fleet and sheeting on, usually when the rack to your left has reached off a little, then you need to understand your boat dynamics for the  weight of breeze you experience before and after the start. The crux of the matter is getting enough flow over the keel and rudder so that they ‘fly’ and then getting the boat up to close hauled and the polar target for that wind. Getting the foils to fly is essential because otherwise you will only draw more leeway if you sheet in and luff up abruptly without having achieved keel speed. This takes you closer to the LHS boat and if he is at keel speed, he will draw forward from you,. It is a really common problem. Keel ‘fly’ speed is determined by the legnth and thckness profile of the keel. It also relates to the angle or attitude to the wind, being more apparent on the beat, but without the speed and flow you will not generate optimal lift on the beat. In many boats you will feel an obvious heel come on near or just after the start because you will find that you edge forward into fresher wind with other bows being equal to you, the keel suddenly flies, or ‘bites’ as some call it, and this generates lift which actually rotates the boat in the same direction as the pressure  from the sails. A lot of boats who experience this have been a bit too close to the line or slow to sheet in, and are greedy with their mainsail settings for the true  wind which will soon hit them. A big heel will knock a lot of the lift off the keel again, and you will draw sideways, risking collision in some designs,. 

A short ‘chord’ keel like a Melges  24 I sail on, or a dinghy will fly at a lower water speed than a spade type keel or an old fashioned long keel. However it will also stall more readily because it flies in a smaller band of angles the boat has to the wind. It is important not to sail a Melges with heavy handed steering or sheeting, and also important not to ‘pinch’ very much. 

An understanding on your boats dynamics on the beat and the tight reach then are key, and understanding what the eventual ‘groove’ is in terms of boat speed and angle to wind (relative wind angle is just as good as TWA) are important and that takes us back to firstly burn time – how long it will take  to get up to the line and be close hauled, and also that in fact 30 seconds after you are likely to be fully in the groove for the true  wind speed you now experience with the bows champing at the bit so to speak.
If considering burn time, then it is good to pracitce away from the ‘stramash’ of a biased end. In a good proper punch up there by the boat, there will be perhaps no boats at all with a good crossing relative to polar target and the start signal. Some crews master burn time, and  use techniques like the sucker punch or lying a back wiith space to their left and ahead in an orderly fleet, pinning the boat RHS up on their quarter, and then daring to use burn time to sheet on and go, while that boat is paying more attention to his windward colleagues and boats further down the line. This is especially truw when you know line sag, often caused by adverse tide, is a feauture of a regatta.  Then you can punch out and have not only speed on the line but also so big a windward advantage that you are free to tack onto port soon after the start. 

Dropping Your Shoulders

The start is the sprint, it is the converse final furlong, where many a race is decided. However by relaxing a bit more and realising that you have rights on idiots or have water to avoid them in, and a protest  flag not in the least, you want to take it a little more scientifically and think of burn time relative to your distance from the line and how you are going to assume close hauled with the right initial speed for the foils and get to polar target speed ASAP. 

It is well and truly worth a few OCS and back round in judging burn time, and worth noting in the log, remembering the wind speed and boat speed at the time you started. It can be that you let someone else play the tough guy on the boat end, blocking the fleet while you cosey in on his lee quater, thus making a bigger pocket ahead and to leeward. It can be as above that you con a boat at the end of a little rack to luff up to defend an approach from behind only to then reach around hime 

Finally – Crazy Stuff!

We have touched on some bold starts, but what about some crazy stuff, without always being dangerous?

The first truly lunatic start, which can be quite beautiful, is the port tack start. Here you are in one of three situations. 1) You are mid to end of fleet LHS, decide on a RHS strategy and get passed the whole fleet on their transoms to then have a really good start at the boat or IDM. This is possible as a good start only when there are no late comers at the boat, and when you start so soon after the first starboard boat at the right hand end, that they cannot possibly tack right ontop of you. If you are a little late or they obviously choose to tack to port, then you have a get our of jail by tacking into the gap they then leave anyway. The second situatioin is where you are at the pin and early enough to maybe think of going once around if no Z flag is up, but then see a big sag in the line. You tack over and get up there, sailing just under the start line at some speed until the gun goes. Then you can either tack back immediately the gun goes or just when you get close to the first STB boat if you want to go left strategically. Lastly when you are near the line and spot a major windshift, where by boats might not even stand the line on STB. Here you can edge out ahead, let the boats sail behind you and tack over for potentially the best of your life if you spotted it first. You will be slow, but terribly well positioned to put speed on if the shift holds, and get ahead of the fleet who will all have to tack to port anyway.

Another crazy is dipping the line when no Z is in rule. A few smart alecs on day one of the sigma nationals in Cork in 96 did this, there being initailly no Z. It was odd to look up and see boats running down towards you 1 minute out, but there was a sag on day one due to the line being a mile long. However everyone had a transit pretty soon after that and they decided on flag z so they could send out spotter ribs for we naughty ones with a transit and boats around us who maybe were over early. But it was one the smoke you know dear boy, not the gun fire!  It can be a get out of jail start from a general recall when you have sailed too far, but it is a craxy one completely dependent on either a big fleet sag, or gaps big enough to gybe in

lastly not so crazy, but the late at the end start. Here you have a decided strategy of going that way, and you choose to follow other boats out rather than attempting a faster start further along the line. THis is useful in handicap fleets where a really big boat controls a perfect start and you follow out on their transom, being smaller, they will soon escape you and on the RHS you are free to tack no matter what. {in end lates are more risky but you can do a corrective port tack if there is a new gap a little further along the line if you start a little burried behind a proper gaggle of boats who want to go that way too. If they get a really good start on a biased line,they will be keen to cover the fleet on the first shift by crossing them on STB in case RHS gets a big advantage and LHS loses its start line advantage, so the air may free ahead of you quicker than you feel, or you can even reach off a little if there is some mental current and tide or a new wind coming from the LHS, such that a craxzy way out to left, way behind suddenly pays. THis can be the case when a dominant, major sea breeze establishes itself over the local coastline sea breezes, or if a front comes in. 

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Landfall Kristiansand 

Many sailors venturing across the North Sea choose the southern tip of the country as first landfall, often choosing either Mandal or the regional capital, Kristiansand. ​

Gronningen Lighthouse, at the Mouth of the Fjord in sailing to Kristiansand, Norway

After 60 hours in the featureless and often harsh North Sea, sailors will be glad to find the shelter of the ‘island-curtain’ and harbours of Kristiansand. They will most often find to their surprise how much warmer it is in the South of Norway compared to the east of Scotland and England if they travel during the summer months. Much of the sea borne rain weather has been squeezed dry by its general passage over Stavanger and the western mountains, so the Agder coast enjoys clement weather with isobaric breeze in low pressure weather, while sea breezes develop readily in the early afternoons in high pressure conditions. The coast line is not the classic deep Fjords with high, snow capped hills you get in the west and north, it is a hummocky landscape rising to the mountain massive long inland.

That which Agder’s coast lacks from our stereotyped image of Norway, it more than makes up for in charming islands, sounds and small towns speckled with white wooden houses. Having come to Norway after three days in the sea, in fact the Agder coast is a worthy destination in itself, with a week of cruising and relaxing in sheltered anchorages and exploring paths, villages and in land attractions. A good sized rubber dinghy with an outboard expands your possibilities to reach into wonderful narrow sounds between islands and shortcuts to the shops. It is a place you will find many Norwegians just chilling out, bow moored with a slide hammer wedge into the rock, stern anchored out in the many very sheltered bays and lagoons on the inside of the island belt. In fact there are few places you actually need to venture over the open sea in your passage west or east from K’sand as it is often shortened to.

The city itself is about the size of Dundee and in common with nearly all coastal towns in Norway, it has a guest harbour right in the middle of town. Last time I checked, the berthing fee was 100 NOK (about a tenner) a night for this handy harbour, with excellent draught. In fact this weekend a super yacht of around 100 feet was moored in the new outer marina, and the tall ships visit the main harbour on the other side of the Odderoy peninsula which further shelters the area. 
The town is built on a grid pattern, so it is pretty easy to find  your way around. It has galleries, cool hipster cafes, pubs with good grub and ordinary supermarkets. The town has at least two sail lofts and sailing clothes are available at most sports shops. A short trip in land there is a steam railway , Setesdalbanen, which should be booked ahead. If the weather turns inclement and the kids need a day of warmth, then there is a large swimming complex right on the edge of town called Aquarama, which is a little pricey but top marks. In fine weather a wander along the Otra river just to the east of the guest harbouur, takes you to the old town, Posebyen, with its tiny terraced houses which are all ‘listed’ buildings and it is a source of pride for Kristiansanders to live here if they can afford it and squeeze themselves in to accomodation from the 1600s.

 Turning right towards town you are met with cafes and the art gallery (kunst museum) with wonderful Norwegian art, including Edvard Munch, and a childrens art workshop and play area. Then you come to the main thoroughfair, Markens Gate, which is pedestrianised, and leads eastwards right back towards the guest harbour. Here there are pubs and more cafes and interesting shops and restaurants. Just off the street is the micro brewery gastro pub ‘Christiansand Bryggeriet’ which is a personal favourite. Oh beer is dear here in pubs, and about three quid a can in the shops. The reputation is true! 


I visited Gronningen Fyr at the weekend, which is a very photogenic little isle with loos and fresh water. I do not think it is a good anchorage though, best approached in clement weather in a dinghy. Be observant  if lieing on a dock anywhere on the outer reaches of the Fjord that the super fast ferries step on the gas pretty sharply and kick up a hefty wake, which adversely affects the wee harbour for the isle of Gronningen. ​


Norway uses the white light sea lane system, which can catch out unweary sailors who fail to pick up the next light and sail onto the rock the current light is mounted on! Areas outside this are often marked with  green/red poles and isolated dangers often just have a simple black perch with no light. So good pilotage is important, and you really need to know the dangers which lurk just outside the sea lanes and marked routes in the sounds to the east and west of K’sand. In sailing right up to the guest harbour is worry free though, although I did not notice if the guest entrance is marked with lights for a late approach. It is to the lhs (west) side of a fort with an odd, connical red roof and has a nasty ledge on the rhs at the point you need to turn. In light weather you can just pick up the first longsides pontoon and stop short of this danger. 

I would heartlyt recommend a week’s exploring with keel boat and dinghy with outboard in the sounds and island to the east as far as Lillesand, and to Mandal in the west, which has a marvellous bathing beach a short walk from the berths in the river. There are lovely walks to be had there in the low lying sandy area behind the beach, which was made a scots pine plantation by Lord Salvesen who took his ‘seat’ here in later years being of Norwegian descent. In K’sand itself, Odderoy peninsula, and the outer island of Flekkeroy offer great wandering. 

Many sailors now plan a Scandinavian oddyssey over several summers. To do this you need to ‘customs’ lock your boat over winter with the authorities to avoid being impounded and charged for VAT on the original value of the boat. K’sand and the other southern towns mentioned offer ice free overwintering, but with a lot of fouling in the sea. There may be a lift and overwintering on land, best with mast down! I would say that a delivery here with a weeks holiday as above would be an ideal introduction before the short bus trip to Kjevik international airport to fly back via Copenhagen or Amsterdam with regular daily flights available from three main companies. 

Groenningen Light House at the mouth of the Fjord in sailing to Kristiansand harbours.

Shifty Business – The Gains of Tacking on Wind Oscillations

It has to be said that I have sailed with some folk who give little if any real notice to wind shifts, or are even aware that there may be a pattern or some weather signs which they could take advantage of in their upwind progress (and off wind when gybing a lot say in an assymetric type boat) They tend to go along with the fleet or as they kind of feel they should tack over towards the layline rather than end up on a left hand flyer.  Other helms are a little dismissive of a 5 degree wind-shift and tend to only tack in bigger shifts, or panic and tack when they sail into an ‘apparent’ wind shift, ie a hole in the wind when the boat suddenly backs its sails under its’ own speed.

How much is there to gain by tacking on the shifts as little as 5 degrees and how can you plan for a wind ‘strategy’ to mix into your game play on the water?

In the first half of this blog we will look at typical oscillating wind conditions influenced by low pressure systems (in the Northern Hemisphere)

I was about to sit down of a wet sunday, brush up on my trigonometry and draw some geometric diagrams, but dear reader of course Googling is so much easier these days and hey presto, surprise surprise there are plenty people who have trodden this path and created nicer diagrams, and different ways of thinking about the gains to be made.

Big Gains!

I had seen plenty of diagrams and explained in sailing school to my pupils with a set square that windshifts on the beat are worth tacking on and you should use your compass or check your heading bow to land features to judge if you are being headed or lifted. However I never have qauntified the gains because well frankly the last time I used Trigonometry was thirty one years ago!

Others have and tacking even on a five degree windshift is well worth it – the gain is in fact 12% in terms of velocity made good versus a boat which continues to sail on what seems just a slight header. Another source quotes this as being equivalent of 1 knot of boat speed, which is even more maybe 20% but I am inclined to think that a 12% gain is about right looking at various diagrams which show  a la new americas cup ‘leading line’ how much further ahead you travel VMG wise upwind.

 

Let us quantify and qaulify this further – 12% means over a windward leg of a nautical mile when you make say 4 knts made good, if you tack on all the headers you will reach the windward mark a full minute ahead of your opposition, or in other words 200 to 400 meters ahead, or 20 to 40 boat lengths. Now of course a following boat may either tack a bit randomly up the recommended 60 cone towards the mark until they lay it on stb say, and get some advantage by sheer monkeys-with-type-writers chance, or they may spot a couple of shifts and tack or follow other boats who do so. If they do this then you have with all else being equal,  maybe ten boat lengths on them on the first beat given  you came off the start line even with them and were free to tack on the shifts.

Shift Patterns and Weather Signs

Wind shifts have quite complex reasons behind them, but here so far we are talking about wind ‘oscillations’ around a mean compass direction. Luckily we can use local weather signs to pick out the shifty nature and see if there is a timing to the pattern or if the signs are obvious

If you ever wondered which boats are out early and up at the windward mark while you are still organising sails and having a last coffee then you can be pretty sure that these are the boats who are going to beat you and get top placings. They have been up the beat trying to look for a timing pattern to shifts or signs that they are coming. Also they may be looking for the general trend of wind direction over the course, and stregnth/lifts from the land when Coreolis effects are happening. They will be noting the average course on the compass on each tack, and how big the shifts are and how loing they last.

In the northern hemisphere (reverse port/stb for antipodean climes down under) there tends to be a general wind stregnth related effect which drives an oscillating wind at the surface. Firstly when the wind lulls it tends to back, ie anticlockwise and this is a header on a starboard tack, lift on port. Often there is a larger lull after the stronger, right side wind pattern is shifting to a lighter and the same can be true of the reverse – in a gentle header for a few minutes the wind dies further on the left hand side and then suddenly you are confronted by what seem massively lifting gusts from the right if you are lieing on starb oard tack.

If you can’t really spot of timing in the pattern of shifts then you can usually spot at least ripples on the water. Wavelets over the wave train which appear to point from nearer the bow are a header while those which are nearer the beam are a lift. If you get an aerial view up a hill or by using a drone over your local race course during typical ‘gradient’ breeze ie low pressure isobar influenced wind, then you can see this effect when the water is fairly flat at least.

Another weather sign which is  a key driver of wind stregnth and coreolis effects are clouds, cumulus typically which are present in low pressure weather before and after frontal systems which have more consolidated banks of cloud. In many sailing areas in the temperate areas of the world this is very typically good sailing weather wind winds between force 2 and force 5 or even more. Clouds are both cause and symptom of vertical wind, bringing down the true wind from above which is veered on the back edge of the cloud, while there is most often a lull and a backed wind on the leading edge. These puffy cumulus clouds may seem random and a bit down to lady luck as to weather you get a fortuitous set over you to tack on, but there is often a longer periodicity between skies peppered with clouds and clearer skies (in the cold sector often after two fronts have gone over) It obviously pays to tack onto starboard when you are under the trailing edge of a cloud, however many get fooled by the stronger wind giving them an apparent lift on port. Which brings us to –

The Lovely Lifts Phallacy and Wrong Side of the Course

Still sailing then in our oscillating shifts, we note already that shifts are very often both in direction and velocity as more or less of the true, higher altitude isobaric wind stretches down and across the race course. The trouble with this concurrent pair of factors is that the one can fool the helm into thinking they are on great lift or a terrible header due to the effect of apparent wind on a boats heading. (google it actually for good diagrams of youtube vids) As the wind stregnth suddenly increases in a shift, so does the boat’s ability to point which ever way you are oriented on the course. However you would in the northern hemisphere, be better placed to get both this apparent wind lift AND the real directional lift if you tacked on to starboard before the gust or band of stronger wind.

Another aspect here is line and Windward Leeward course bias. If the start line is not truly perpendicular to the wind and if the W-L course is not parallell to the mean wind direction then there is a favoured side to sail more of the time on and of course get off the start line on,  because you will sail less far to reach the mark. You will also in one or both events, be able to use shifts, but you will be  at a natural advantage sailing less far and holding more to the favoured tack ie the tack which your bow points most towards the windward mark.

Another little phallacy here is ‘lovely first beat off the start line, messed up the second by going the wrong way’ . This is due to bias and just to note it, the line bias can be different from the W-L: bias or the wind may have changed average direction in a more permanent shift in the course of your first two legs of the course. More on longer duration or  permanent shifts later

Wind Shifts Also Favour a Side

Even with a perfectly laid course for the average wind direction, wind shifts will favour one side or the other of the course from their commencement. This is because they are off centre from the aeverage, low oscialltion wind which is maybe plus or minus 2.5 degrees around a mean, or if the shift pattern is predictable then the committee have lain a course as a median wind direction.

So if there is a large cross course shift to a veered wind, then it will hit the whole course at a skewed angle from the rhs and therefore boats on that side of the course will get into the lift/header first and take advantage of it first. They then get a double advantage. Given no major shore interaction effects, then this is what many sailors talk about when they say going the right side of the course for a given beat.

How then could you judge this? Well wind stregnth is one method as noted above, a lull is very often associated with a backing wind, which favours the  left hand side first, where as stronger wind is veered and favours RHS. In weather where it is the cumulus clouds which influence shifts most, then sailing mostly on starboard on the side of the course with most clouds will pay, that is the right side given an even wind under blue skies.

Now this is all fine, but if you dash off to the LHS in a lull only for it to change back you may find yourself on a big header if the wind shifts back RHS as the new wind builds. So that is why you take a stop watch, to see if the pattern is likely to last a whole beat once established or if you will need to avoid ‘corner of the pitch fliers’ . Most sailors who know their salt will choose a side of the course to sail mostly on, but not go outside a 60 cone towards the winward mark. They can then dart back over to the other side of the course in order not to loose out too much if they wind shifts over. The 60 cone as a rule of thumb means tackign with the windward mark somewhere around your shrouds to beam as you look towards it, and less towards looking over your shoulder as it is only on when you sit on the lay line.

Longer Lasting Shifts

Some oscillating shift patterrns have a long periodicity that you may not even detect after a practice beat and first leg of the race. At other times the wind will make a permanent shift so to speak, for the rest of the race.

Here again we want to use the weather signs – waves, clouds, smoke and flags on the shoreline etc to then compare to the weather forecast. Many are influenced by frontal activity, some are solar modified in gradient breeze while in sea breeze driven by the sun, the wind can follow the route of the sun or move towards a large and warmest land mass as with the SE of England where it goes right, or in contrast with the first example, left on the coasts of Norway following the sun.

Some are influenced very much by topography near or even quite far from the race course. Sun warmed land can drastically alter wind direction over time and train an isobaric wind into a new direction. Major valleys and mountain ranges can also train a wind, and some can force the wind around them until the wind picks up velocity and surges down or between them, turning up on the race course quite suddenly from an unexpected direction.

As in ‘being on the right side’ of a predicted osciallting shift, we want to get on the right side of the course for the ‘permanent shift’ ideally before it hits, or be on our way as soon as we confirm that it is underway. Knowing when for example a front is coming through or a sea breeze is fully estbalished is a real race winner as even if you need to sit in an apparent doldrums for some minutes on that new side, the gain can be enormous and very often you stand the windward mark within a single tack or so even if you are only a third of the way up the course!

So wind shifts are not a complete mystery , we have many clear weather signs above and around us to consider and we can use the compass more often, and even engage a stop watch to experiment and discover if a typical days sailing does involve a periodic and therefore predictable oscillating shift pattern. 

Pointing to Problems With Pointing

There is one common topic which the followers down the fleet will most often bemoan. Pointing a sailing boat, or rather not being able to point as high as others. In handicap fleets it can get outright nasty this pointing at problems as if they were purely down to fortuiry of boat design and how much lard one helm attracts as his rail ballast.        

                                       In one design fleets it tends to be an issue for all and sundry, especially on the start line or coming off the leeward mark to the subsequent beat. Why  do you not get your boat sailing as high on the wind as a competitor?                                            
           We can divide the answer or rather ‘point you in the right directions’ to coin a pun, into several routes to understanding a shortcoming. Firstly there is rig set up and then there is boat trim and sheeting, finally there is technique. I will touch very briefly on the alternative mentioned above, that some boats do indeed point very much higher by virtue of design.                  

          All boats have a pivot point when their wetted areas are fully immersed to their maximum for each point of sail. In keel boats we find that on the beat, the heeled boat usually has a longer water line and the centre of longditundinal resistance or pivot point moves a little forward. Usually this point on the beat is somewhere between the base of the mast and the trailing tip of the keel. In some boats like the j24, it probably moves too far aft, because the keel is too far back in the design, but because this is quite a high pointing racing boat often sailed in OD fleets, no one really cared that much!

 A boat whose pivot point moves forward will tend to be pushed more by the leverage power of the mainsail along the boom and through the mast. In many 1960 and 70 RORC ‘ton’ designs the boats were built to fit the rule with a large genoa and a relatively small main, and many designs followed this, for example the Contessa 32 and her sister designs. The big genoa becomes an awkward factor as it reaches beyond its optimal wind and starts to fight with the optimal centre of resistance while also heeling the boat and making the waterline even longer and thus more prone to weather helm. This can be very pronounced with over canvassed ton designs fighting themselves out of the ‘groove’ upwind in a cycle of CLR displacement and rounding upon heeling. The answer is to strip down sail early so as to avoid this in gusts, because you cannot depower a genoa very much at all underway.                                          

        Here then we go right out of boat design and into what you do with the boat and how you react to different conditions of both wind and it has to be raised now, sea.  Lets face it, most boat designers know what they are up to and have to comply to safety rules and guidelines when developing a new boat. Ton designs and their Sadler and  David Thomas deriviatives do screw up into the wind when overpowered, but on the beat that is a bit of a safety factor. Impalas were known to tack themselves though after an upwind ‘broach’ so they had to have extra weight on the end of their keels. Even in this example, David Thomas had probably intended that folk should be on a number three and a reef, when in fact they were sailing with full sail in 20 knts wind. Modern designs with rounded hulls and ‘spade’ or bulb  keels and wide transoms tend to hold their waterline better upwind so within reason they are easier to sail however the high volume, flat stern can promote broaching in a boat which is overcanvassed on any point of sail. So correct canvassing is the first step in ‘getting into the groove’ and staying there.               

                       Then we come to rig tune. We happened upon a similar effect with poor pointing on our first trip out in the Melges this year in fact, just last week, and that is what inspired me to write tonight. Way back when about 1998 I sailed a Cumbraes regatta on the very tasty detuned Figaro I, T’jig II owned by the Dryborough brothers. This was a machine with planing potential under its mast head spinnaker,. but on the second start I think it was, we just could not point and ended  up sitting ducks squeezed in by the fleet near the IDM end. We actually won a subsequent race and the overall result gave us a class win or a second place, we collected silverware. They said then the boat just did not really point but in fact later on they had the rig tuned, quite possibly professionally, and the boat could point a lot better. What their issue quite likely was, and very likely what our issue was last wednesday was forestay length and tension.          

   The forestay is really a key measurement on any  standard, bermudan rigged sailing vessel. It controls the mast rake first and foremost, and then how much sag and power there is in the genoa or jib. Too long and you will find the boat develops lee helm, because the mast is going backwards too far and the mainn sails centre of effort goes back, pushing the boat round its pivot point to windward. Very often too long will also mean you are breaking a class measurement or agreed IRC one.  Too short and you will pull the mast too far forward and the boat will loose some ability to point as the centre of effort of the mainsail moves forward. This is a big deal even over the course of two inches on the Melges for example, because it can move the centre of effort far more than just a couple of inches. It messes up the balance. 

However  it is not as simple as that. In a boat like the M24 with swept back spreaders, the cap shrouds are also a major control over rake as they sweep the mast backwards with them as tension is applied through their bottle screws. The mast step limits the amount the mast can pivot as does the maxium bend and compression. Now as the cap shrouds come on even harder the mast compresses and bows forward. We can take some of that out with the inner lower diagonal shrouds,. but not all of it when we are set for mid to heavy weather. Then the forestay is suddenly lieing on a chord now to fixture point which has become shorter, hence the forestay and sail can sag in a leeward curve when close hauled. The net effect is that you cannot actually point as high, because the jib is powering the boat a lot up wind in 12 knots plus with the main being depowered after about 14 knts wind. Your telltales fly early. Now you can on our M24 adjust the forestay on a bottle screw down under the mast, because  it is lead over an axel or wheel in the mast and down to the keel of the boat. This means you can take out this sag and obtain optimal rake. In theory,. However this gets complicated and it is easy to end up either with an out of class illegal mast head to transom measurement, or a mainsail which is hard to trim correctly, or both of course. So later boats were fitted with a fixed legnth forestay, meaning you adjust only the shrouds and you maintain a good balance as the wind builds, while also keeping within your class rules measurement mast top to transom.

                  In many boats though, you can though experiment with legnthening the forestay by a few inches on the bottle screw or pin and rack adjuster. You want to maintain enough tread to have good holding on a bottle screw it has to be said!! 

As in the Melges example, you will need in fact to adjust your shrouds as well because their tension will be altered by slackening the forestay and you want to maintain a tight forestay for poinint high. Your mainsail should still be easy to trim and not start maxing out in how far you can practically sheet in before it or the boom interfere with things, nor do you want too much weather helm. Note your settings in terms of thread screws left on the bottle screws or pin positions on the racks for both forestay and shrouds, and if the backstay has a wheel note there too, or even mark the point at which you tighten it with the rope purchase system if that is fitted. If it is a bad setting with weather helm, note it all the same so that you avoid that failed experiment again.     An example of a boat where experiment showed that an extreme mast rake was best for pointing is the Soling, where the boom meets the deck, very unusual for a boat with a jib and a mainsail and relating to the overall design of the keel and balance of the sails.         
   Getting this rake and sag balance  right before a race or fast passage in a known forecast is just as important for optimal performance as the better known final wee few inches in on the sheets when you want to point high as possible. In some boats you can get away with an average to soft rig setting, and then let the sheeting,kicker, jib track, halyards and cunningham. The modest little Farr Platu 25 could  be sailed like this, using the back stay to first stabilise the rig by tigthening the forestay, and thus achieving good pointing, like a runner in effect, before it and the kicker could be used to depower the sail in the gusts by bending the mast quickly. However given a more definiative blowy forecast, it was better to set things harder on, and reduce rake.              
            The Platu is a good place to move on from righ tuning for rake and discuss balance from sheeting the sails in order to achieve good pointing. Due to a very shord chord keel (fore aft distance) the boat pivots very easily so like in a sailing dinghy, you notice any imbalance between main and jib more than on a spade or long keel.  Too much weather helm and you need to sheet in on the jib a little if you can, or drop the main down the traveller. The Platu can though develop mild lee helm too, when the jib is oversheeted, which is destructive to pointing. Here more main should usually be applied, or the jib sheeted out or opened at the top by moving the cars back and the barber haulers out. A good balance and correct slot angle is key to not only helping pointing by controlling pivoting once the rig is tuned for the race from the above rake techniques, but also main and jib is 2+2=5 . It is more than the sum of its sail area and power alone due to various effects beyond the scope of this essay, just trust me! This nice amount of power leads to speed and that is the next point to raise.                      
             You will hear it said at some point from knowledgeable  sailors that you need speed before pointing, and in a general, non tactical beat this is absolutely critical indeed. There are two things to not here. We are talking about maximal overall boat speed, and the speed at which the keel and rudder, the foils, ‘fly’. A beneteau 25 Platu as mentioned has a very short chord keel of less than  2 feet, so it  flies ie attaches flow and creates lift, at a very low boat speed. That sounds good, you are resisting leeway very soon and able to sail the boat forward, and take the next piece of advice, work the boat smoothly up to close hauled. The trouble with such a short keel is that it  also shakes off attached flow very easily and has eventually quite a narrow groove when the boat is close hauled ie if you point too high or fall off too abruptly it will loose its ‘bite’ in the water, it will stall due  to turbulance. The converse is true of say sailing a Piper or a Loch Long or a 12mR rater. Here you have a need to get up to a higher speed before your keel is flying, because it is so much longer a chord and arc legnth. However  once  flying the flow remains attached as you manoevre up and down from optimal close hauled. In either case below foil flying speed or if the keel or rudder is stalled due  to abrupt movement, you will drift sideways, even if your bow points up towards the wind  more – you will pivot but not gain forward travel.          
           In modern short chord keels though, the flow detaches quickly in abrupt movement of the helm or boat, but reattaches very quickly, whereas if you do shake the flow off a long keel boat, it can take time for it to reattach and you are left with not only leeway, but an ineffective  rudder.      
            Given this foil fly speed and time to reattach if stalled too high on the wind or by abrupt rotational movement in heeling or pivoting towards or away from the wind direction, you can do some simple calculations to build  confidence that you have the keel flying and can  work the boat up to close hauled  in a smooth fashion, maintaining that attached flow and keeping above speed X ie the foil fly speed.                                 Now we can talk about the final luff to close  hauled and sailing the boat  ‘in the groove’. After we get the boat moving on say a beam reach, we understand from the log or the feel that the keel is  flying and the  rudder is  nice and responsive. Then we can work the tiller and sheet the sails in a smooth fashion such that we come up on the wind. *(alternatively you may want to stall the boat to buy time in approaching a start line by abruptly screwing up towards the eye of the wind and thus stalling forward progress)  Your foils are flying but you have now hull speed to think about. This can be roughly calculated by a long standing equation  based on the square root of the water line length but very often there are a sett of ‘target’ polar diagram or table figures available  for popular racing boats. Here we see what boat speed is ptimal for a given wind speed. So when you are close hauled in a modern 35 foot regatta machine your figure maybe between 6.9 and 7.9 knots. In most boats going slower than this is a sign that you are actually sailing too high from optimal close hauled, or of course your boat is not trimmed or rig tuned quite right. In small fast sports boats and dinghies you can actually start to sail a little quicker than hull speed as your boat is light enough to climb its own bow wave in a very early planing mode, even on the beat. However this is actually a sign that you are pointing too low to achieve optimal upwind velocity made good  -VMG , how beneficial the zig zag angle is relative to the  progress right into the  wind direction – until in a dinghy you can actually plane  upwind. The tell tale sign on this is that your stern wave detaches from the aft quarter of your boat. If you point a little higher, you can often see that it reattaches to the hull, and the bow and stern wave stream off in at a parallell angle.These boats tend to be best sailed with a neutral helm ie no weather and no lee, little pressure, just flow over the  rudder and adjustments made by steering to keep the  angle to the wind optimal. Hence this is one way of keeping a boat in the groove if it is a light weight performer.    
    Many of the ton designs and their deriviative mass produced boats have a very prominent weather helm when they are in the groove, this showing that the powerbalance is keeping the boat driving up to wind, and that the lift created  on the rudder itself is helping coutner act leeway. A major element of being in the groove  on what ever boat  is that in fact the boat feels quite settled, still and sometimes it feels slow because it ceases to accelerate and deccerleate. Very often experienced helms rely on the heel and the sensation of water past the leeward gunwhale more than their log and polar diagram as a good  handle as to them being in the groove. Being out of the groove or not maintaining it is the opposite. The boat heels too much, the helm gets imbalanced and loads up or loses influence, the speed is up and down.                 
       So we have learned so far that we need to get the rig set for the expected conditions, we need to balance our sail sheeting, we need to get our foils flying and we want to feel we are in the groove. Now  we are pointing. However we have  those  variable conditions to consider, with the wind being a fickle mistress and waves hindering peachy progress on the beat. Here we come to how we also trim the boat fore aft, to help maintain hull immersion and thus waterline related optimal speed while reducing drag from impact and exit of waves we sail against.
 As the wind builds too we need to discuss a sail change or reef, or try and use the running rigging to depower or power up. In rougher seas with nasty chop many light boats start to be a handful to keep in a high groove and tend to stall up. We need to foot off and steer around the waves, but this also means we never quite sail in the groove – our optimal VMG theory is out the window and we have to sail actively on helm and mainsheet to stop the waves hindering our progress and knocking our keel flow off.  Other heavier boats thrive as the wind builds and once fully powered up can even be pinched up on the wind to depower while still punching through a heavy chop, for example the Bashford Howison 36 and 40 designs.and many older ton and meter designs.
 So now you start to understand perhaps why old sea dogs and medal winners like Dennis Connor still talk about ‘we learned a lot out there today’ after decades of sailing. 

Sailing Once More …Challenges ? 

I feel enthused, lucky and even a bit pampered to beyond the point of priveleged. Last week sailing a 9mR against HRH and this week out in near perfect conditions for the Melges 24 fleet in Kristiansand.

Torridon is now restored to full glory and wonderful sailing ability by Gustav Mortensen


Not only that of course, but three weeks ago it was photo-opportunity deluxe as the M32 Scandinavian road show hit town and did some modern high speed action right alongside the steam-boat-quay. Perhaps something is telling me not to attempt my two year project back in Scotland after all….

Despite feeling in my full glory, roaring forties an’ all, and a class ‘ win’ in the 9mR – sole entry vs the 8mRs – our performance on the Kristiansand ‘estuary’ left something to be desired. Our heavy weight all up with 4 men was admittedly a little handicap on the long reaching leg across the bay on the ’round the rocks’ format, but helped with our boatspeed up wind no end. We just went the wrong way a couple of times.

I was a bit surprised to hear the helm , a physicist by trade, refer to the misfortune as lady-lucks bad cards, and the wind pattern a little random out there, while in the middle of a conversation with some boys who suspected a lift in towards ‘Bragdoy’ followed by a spritely tack to fall short of the wind shadow. It seems wind over land meeting sea is something which has escaped our chap otherwise so learn-ned in fluid dynamics.

I felt a little irritated at this attitude and also that he is a busy chap and sometimes doesnt quite bend an ear to suggestion. Taking the good in and not throwing the baby out with the salty bath water of last nights annual baptism, we did have a quite good start, slowing much all of the fleet up on the reaching start by being bloody minded enough to come in pointing high at the pin end! Tally Ho, hunt on! A  mediocre first hoist put us back in our place – three rusty melges sailor and a man with jeans on first time out in the wee white blighter. 

We didnt cover ourselves in glory on our gybe angles, but up wind we went quite well, gaining on the first beat back to the western side round another ‘not that close!’ rock as mark of the course. Second reach was deeper and longer this time, crossing our first path back to the same smelly old rock with a nasty ledge on the Dvergsnes side. We lost out a little on speed to our three manned lighter competition and a little more on gybe angles before then picking up on a good last gybe and angle into the mark. We were within spitting distance of two of the other three melges. 

On the last  beat they elected to use the hefty river Otra current to lee bow them up, while we took our chances with more wind further out, which had paid a little on the previous beat. However this beat was a lot longer and with the wind dropping a bit far more critical to get the shifts and lifts right. The leebow effect or lack of us tacking on a header meant the other boats had taken a big chunk ahead and only had a small pain of that lee of Bragdoy I mentioned, to take as they churned back to the finish line on the clubhouse side. We took in again on a couple of short tacks, but were about 4 minutes behind the best melges and five boat lengths behind the next last to us as tail end charlie. 

Finish Line using obvious geography here! Boats head home after a sausage and a beer


Our only take out then, or rather mine, is that the helm needs to learn more about wind angles and effects like land -turns left *N.Hemisphere, to then go right again as the wind leaves, and convergence/divergence with a parallel wind to coast.  We can train up on manoevres of course, but getting the game plan right up and down ‘hill’ in a boat like the Melges in paricular is a must learn, which we seem to not quite have got over to the helm. 

One puzzeling issue was our lack of height on the beat. We had speed and could eat into the dirt of other melges, but so much lower that it became a windshadow not worth sailing through. Melges have a very sensitive rig which needs to be adjusted for every 4 knts or so change in wind from the last race. During a typical evening race you can expect that type of fall, so we went from low and fast setting to just low and poor VMG as it died off with the sun’s inexorable path. The tell tales on the jib flew and told us only that the car needed to go forward? Or did we have luff sag from an over tension mast Cap shrouds? We had too much backstay on too, but when let loose it did little it did very little. We are left then most likely with a need to take in on the forestay, being an old bottle screw at the foot of the mast installation, That in turn will bring the mast forward and entail that heavy Cap Shroud loading will induce sag once again. Alternatively we render ourselves out of class

We tend to do better on short courses on average because we are good at getting off the start line and covering the fleet tactically. With little chance to stretch your legs and find a favoured side, we are then soon on the windward mark on the typical short WL courses they set for us in OD competitions here. However we have seen the best boats find a pace really up a gear, and this is now I think of it, on either extreme of the course, or 60 degree sensible cone on the beat, where they are finding either less current or a region of convergence. Sometimes a divergent zone can get the boat back down to perfectly powered up and not flogging or bubbling her main. A newer boat will go a bit faster but it looked like Party Girl just clicked up a gear and sailed away from us on a few beats, once we had good speed they just found better. 

The foils on the boat ‘fly’ in virtually no time at all once you are moving so I wonder if you need to achieve full hull speed before you can take the final little pinch to best VMG on final close hauled trim?  I would expect a new boat like Party Girl to creep ahead nicely due to her stiffness, but to lift her wee skirt and fly off on the beat ?

One of several ergonomic problems with the boat is that the crew all hike, and the helm is left sheeting the main and doing most of the leeside tactics and tell tale watchin themselves. We have to lean round to call lee side boats or telltales on the jib and it is awkward to see what the main is up to. That seems to suit some helmspersons of course I dont want to mention, but in reality it limits the flow of useful, most salient information back to a chap or chapette who may be a tinsy bit overloaded and come out with some office politics in the back of their minds. 

We take the positives- first day out and we were by in large nearly on the pace! A lovely night with some planing and a spurt of maybe 12 or 14 knts boat speed.