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 (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 essay 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 Shift 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. 

What Next With My Sailing Part III

My last little excursion into where I am at with sailing can be summed up pretty much as understanding your fears, appreciating where you are on the learning curve and then sailing races as if you are only competing against yourself, with other boats just being obstacles if you like.                                                          

Where am I personally in reality, actually if I was to sail tommorrow?

Mental preparation is key to over coming my nerves on the start especially, and that means indeed race my own race, use burn time plus a couple of seconds and some caution on boat speed and ‘lane’ management to get out on time or luff and let the first rack go anyway. The race is going to be then a test of my skills with the hardest part being first. It is therefore also a learning experience from 5 minutes out.
Boat and Rig Prep
Reeling back the tape a little here- boat prep is king in fact for the conditions you see in front of you, and this is often something which either I don’t have time to do, or to be honest with myself, nerves and wondering about the burn time calculation, mean that I just forget about getting anywhere near perfect. Crewing Melges I am often on the shrouds with spanners and helping with the adjustable forestay (not fitted to all boats, some have a clip on and play forestay, others have a bottle screw under the deck with a quick release handle which will remove digits if not take off gingerly!) Rig settings are something to get right on the dock or mooring. Some boats, like the Beneteau 25 Platu, can have a kind of mid to soft rig which can then be made up on the running rigging if the wind blows more. Next is to maybe set out with a reef or a smaller headsail than your compatriots are doing. I can judge wind to within a few knots, good Beaufort training plus just years of looking at dials versus signs and feel of the wind. Are we actually at a reef ? Are we light crewed? DO we want to have a very controlled race where we are powered up in the squalls and a little dull in the lulls?
Boat Handling

I then have the two big issues to look at in terms of boat handling. Firstly getting up to ‘foil’ speed and then pointing. Secondly, coming out of tacks.

The first is not just learning a new boat, it is also learning the style and protocol for the conditions. So for example in our local classic 12.5m sq, (mini 12 meter trainers at 21 feet long) These boats seem very much to suit a fairly freed off mainsail nowhere near the centre line, in order to keep them powering to windward. Certainly we had much better boat speed and good pointing once up to speed in force 4 last week with adults in the sail school. The kicker usually bends the wooden boom alarmingly so it isnt a boat to blade out, it is more to twist off and back and even flogg when the wind is really up pergaps. Or maybe to just feather with a centred boom in more wind ? You see, there are two or three little experiments to be done off the start line with mainsail setting versus pointing and boat speed.

Tacks are another thing to just learn for the boat. I have practiced and practiced in Lasers, the Tasar, the RS400 and the Impala and they do get better with reptition and trial and error. I do feel that it is a leap of faith once we are head to wind to how we will carry way and come out at the right angle and have not perfected ‘sighting’ as a means to do good tacks yet. I do like to use the top tell tale on the mainsail, which is a very good proxy if you are running a genoa and the crew are a little slow, or if it is light winds and the top of the main is in much more wind than the luff of the jib. I slip the main sail out a little once at head to wind, cleat it and then fall off until the top tell tale breaks round the back, I then choose to either steer up to get a flying tell tale if the boat feels lively, or to let out some sheet and allow the boat to power on that generally quite low angle.

Getting into the ‘groove’ after this point means pointing at max VMG for the conditions. This means that the keel must be flying and on weather helm tuned hulls, the rudder should start lifting. I can then learn to work up on the wind and take a final trim. Grooving necessitates an understanding of the boat in the given conditions of the day. More chop and slop, a lower angle with a deeper sail setting for example.

My other manoevres just need more finesse and coordination with the crew. My weakest has been the leeward rounding in years gone by, but once again this is about preparation and knowing your route, and patience if you are in a rack of boats rounding. Wide in means just that, being careful to call other port rounders and watch the hell out for starboard bargers even if they are right, they are annoying!

Crew Management

This is an area I am pretty good at, and like training a dog it is actually about 50-50 changing your own attittudes and behaviour as much as training up a crew. Firstly manage your own expectations, and perhaps yes, do a late hoist yourself once you round letting the crew steer. Go do foredeck with the new guy there, A good hoist or gybe or take down even if it is terribly slow, is better than an hour glass or going fishing with all the crew on the leeward rail as you harden up at the mark.

I like also the idea of taking crew out on some little tours billed as booze cruises, where we consider maybe passage racing and take the spinnaker up for a laugh. Lull them into a false sense of security! And then also letting each and every crew helm round a triangle on white sails early season, and under kite once the team is gelled more. This will inform them of how the boat feels it wants to be manoerved and what expectations the helm actually may have.

Going at the pace of the slowest but also whipping them a bit and being prepared to step up, or get a teacher on board especially for foredeck, or relegate someone to rail meat. Personally I was very lucky to be second foredeck and mast man to Steve Taylor when we sailed on Defiance II because I had a good teacher, very experienced offshore too, who would talk me through everything at the front of the 37 footer, nicely out of earshot to the board of directors at the stern.

Ego Management

This is the last little thing I need to address as do many sailors indeed, Little horns that grow out of your forehead as someone once said to me when I was trying to sail around a few boats at a sailing school 20 years ago!

Ego runs to emotions in the peri conscious which lead to mistakes. Eagerness, frustration, anger and tripping out on a good tactic. All lead to mistakes. The stiff upper lip is needed more on the race course than in the echelons of city investment firms.

I think this is just a small personal battle which can be cured by just getting round the course as the first goal, and then being able to sit infront of dog boats while clearning my air from those better sailors ahead of me. You see , ego management, know your place.

But also manage other egos and that means calling people, holding your course to near collision as you dare and protesting the chancers and big egos who intimidate their lessers on the course, A couple of non discardable DSQs in a series and they will keep well clear of you, Ideally team up with some similar placing boats to have witnesses and double protest mark infringements especially,

What Next WIth Sailing Prt II

A lot of what I need is about feelings and about time invested versus expectations. Emotions need to be conquered more often and the fist stage of that process is to understand race course gut feelings. Time is about boat and conditions preparation and training with crew, as per the expectations return on that investment being right sized to the input.

Feel the Fear

For an experienced racer the main fear is actually that you get the start wrong or that other boats cause you dammage or impede you enough to make your blood boil. Further down the list of fearful things are topics which can be eliminated. Firstly, gear failure. This shouldn’t be an issue for a well prepared boat where the skipper has been through all the gear, and sails and everything works. One fear then in this topic is the fear of ripping or flogging sails, and this is just a factor of reading the true wind and not following the gung-ho over canvassed brigade. It is easier to flake out a reef and take up a bigger foresail if the wind dies than vice versa in rising conditions. 

Crew should not be a fear factor for you either. If you are worried about their skills or potential to stretch themselves then reflect on perhaps more training sessions or damping expectations for the race ahead. Usually the real tests of the relationship twixt skipper and crew is at the take down and leeward mark rounding. Manage expectations and start a good number of boat lengths out. As soon as you think ‘ early drop to avoid hassle’ bear away and do it! The next most pressurised situation is the previous two manoevres – the bear away hoist and the first gybe. Here it is the same principle, yes there are more places to lose but that the crew get a positive learning experience in ‘slow motion’ through these two points. The spoils of the day were most liklely not going to be a podium placing, rather another solid block laid in the team building foundations.

That is kind of near to what my own fear is – I am afraid of making a fool of myself in a new type of boat, or not having prepared enough, or being distracted and stressed by factors in the sport and around job and family. Perhaps I will have communication problems with the crew and internalise too much.Maybe my crew have had a bad day? 

Sail The Course 

A very good bit of advice relates to Uffa Fox’s philosophy of ‘ three mistakes offer you a third place, two a second and only one mistake and you earn a first place’. A race is a test of sailing skills around a prescribed course which the RO and committee have decided is suitable and varied enough to offer such a challenge. Then the other boats are there to get in your bloody way! 

There are some pursuit races at most clubs, often just one a year, and these are fun to race and you learn quickly about the stregnths and weaknesses of your boat speed and course navigation with the competition at an arms length. I sailed with a well known ‘also ran’ OD boat some time ago who were in the habit of being late for starts. Now the owner-driver hated starts and was most often down in the last two or three off the line when on time. He was nervous about collisions and wanted an easy life, and therefore never really won many races at all. When we were late though, he would often sail the boat up to a mid fleet placing having started perhaps two minutes after the gun! This seeming amazing ability was based on a few simple things. Good boat speed with only slight bad-wind from the fleet ahead, starting at the right end of the line on a beat, and lastly, being able to read the right way to go by seeing the fleet ahead and not being tempted there by, to take too many tacks in trying to gain position or avoid conflicts.

There in lies the lesson. Sail round the course as if there are no other boats there until you reach a rules based situation or a boat sits on  your wind.  As Nick Stratton, a stalwart of yacht racing on the clyde, said to a pal of mine on getting a good result ” Get off the start line and tack into space on the first shift” . Getting off the start line means being no later than a few seconds onto it and having a lane with free air to track out of, and no larger boats above you to sit on your wind and hold you back in the first two minutes of full boat speed (when HC racing that is) A really big boat nearing you pre -start in a wide HC field can be a god send because it will escape you quickly and tend to push rivals to windward out the way . It can be  worth following her transom out if she is really trucking and taking that pain to then have a nice lane, if there is a bias on the line and they start nice and sweetly near the biased end. 

Now back to my old ‘dog boat’ OD and the helm’s terrible start behaviour. The start is by my own words and many others the sprint of the race, after which there is usually only a few boat on boat tactics under way. In fact the sprint mentality is a bit wrong. Booking a lane and being confident of your ‘burn time’ before you power up and go is more important than stressing about luffing other boats and wondering about when to power on. ‘Burn Time’ means booking your lane or finding space, and then understanding the distance to the line and how long it will take to sail to it. You then declare the burn time up, usually about 30 seconds out, but it could be a minute with a long, slow beat to the line with tide against you. Your gun is then effect the end of burn time, not the start signal. If you get this wrong and have the odd OCS so be it, you will hone your timing. It necessitates taking runs at the line from different lanes. If you know then you want to start boat end on a bias, and that the fleet is going to bunch then it is a case of using a long burn time in the 5 minute sequence., and getting a lane early. You then need to decide to control the raft around you, edging it up or forward, or if you have space to lee to bear away into which is crucial to not undertake too early or with boats piling in under you. The focus here is on getting up to maximum boat speed from the point burn time is up and to-line time is ticking down. In a start as above, it may be that burn is only 15 seconds and you will not have boat speed until 30 seconds ie well over the line, but you will be in the same muck as everyone on the top quarter of the line, and gain the same benefit being long to windward of less daring boats further along the line. 

So that is where I am at, sailing my own race and picking lanes which are safe with the correct burn time, plus a few seconds perhaps The next thing is keeping cool and ensuring we are sailing the shortest course to the next mark (Locally these are round the nav’ marks and rarely true , unbiased starts. 

Where from Here With Sailing Skills?

It is just over two decades ago since I really immersed myself in sailing as a sport, and concentrated on regattas with the odd offshore once in a while. Cruising was really just a matter of deliveries or returns, while I did some more dinghy sailing with the full intention of honing my skills for bigger yachts. I wonder now how I should develop my sailing on a meagre budget it has to be said. Crewing in bigger boats or sailing my own small day boat or dinghy?

The latter is something I have wanted to get back to but locally here there are only a few kids racing dinghies and it would be over an hour to get somewhere with dinghy racing. I find that one hour in a dinghy is worth eight hours helming a forty footer. The experience is just so much more immediate and you are more aware of the wind and the ‘gear’ the boat is in all the time. I went forward from my 1995 RYA level II stint at Tighnabruiach sailing school ( the old one in the toon, before Derrick went onto run the school down the sound) and bought my own Tasar and got the role as rep for Scotland, which helped a couple of folk get interested in the boat, and despite my absence, there arose even a travellers series for the first time in over a decade. I crowned my experience off with the then rare RYA Level 4 racing dinghy out at Menorca sailing, racing an RS 400 most days and trying out the B14 and 29er. After winning a race by a country mile with an instructor on board as crew, I learnt that getting ahead of the pack was a matter of focus and determination, having had an ok start in a close fleet of sailors experienced in lots of other boats even like Dragons. 

At that point I should have probably invested in an RS400 and sailed near edinburgh, but my mum’s health and the implosion of the internet bubble left me a carer for in fact about a year and set me back years financially. I then got  involved in the ’39er’ focus group formed by Frank Bethwaite, which culminated in the test sailings of the 59er as it became. Alas I emmigrated and the boat was not priced right nor marketed correctly, and was roundly seen as a threat by the consolidated B14 fleets who did their best to slag it on line and in the dinghy park apparently. It is a boat which requires a good deal of finesse to sail, but in fact you can sail it well with a fairly inexperienced crew and it goes like stink, being very rewarding for any dinghy sailor to hop into and blast around in, and of course it has light wind performance par excellence, beating the old 49er in sub trapeze light airs.

Going back to small boats is not just a matter of budget but also all about that hour by hour pay off in terms of learning. Our local classics then are looking more like an option and my last sail in them made me feel that they are not all that slow, being somewhere between a Piper and a Flying Fifteen in feel and handling. They are very pedestrian in light winds, but at the top of force 3 they are interesting enough and a tight enough fleet to practice my tactical skills in. I kind of was twice bitten four times shy with some look warm experiences with the fleet before, having last turned up and paid for a regatta when my supposed  crew didnt turn up and the boom was split on the track of the boat I was offered. I did a nationals and we only did any good when I raced up a nice cone and ignored the tide. I was left with a bad taste in my mouth after some visiting boats made real idiots of themselves on the start line when I did have a really good position. 

Now I have a pal who is interested in the boat type so I think I wil maybe roll out for the ‘home alone’ series and the autumn regattas. Next blog will be on what I expect or need to learn in general 

SNP Should Bide Their Time

No doubt Nicloa Strugeon is seeking PR spin to try and come out shining from either backing a hard indryref2 or backing down from it – for now. Both are kind of wrong in their own ways – the mandate is reduced by the first past the post system, and there is less than half support for a new referendum, with some of that being from No voters wanting to bury the SNP once and for all time.

The SNP and others who are keen on independence, would be better to bide their time. They need to make a far better case for an economically successful Scotland back in the EU. Time should be on their side, and they need to reflect on why this is so.

Firstly we do not know much about the shape of Brexit, and secondly, it means on ecomnomic policy that there will be some very arrogant decisions made if Theresa May manages to hang onto power. There will be headline disruptive media policy making, while behind the scenes more power will be taken away from workers and more money taken away from the weakest in society, while on the other hand, more public money will be going to profits in privatised sectors. That is the Neo (liberalist) Conservative way – feed the rich first and well, trickle down is a nice theory isn’t it?

Given that ‘trade deals’ are the great white hope and pretty much an empty policy in fact, then that should be a good number of remain voters north of the border, who had a larger majority than No, who will be prepared to vote YES. But that will take time for the deals to show how ‘assymetric’ they are or how little effect they will have on business growth, contra the inflationary pressures of being outside the EU.

The trouble is that the EU is our largest and nearest trading partner, and disruption to supply in both directions threatens businesses with inflation and reduced productivity from slower supply chains. Also if the UK think they are getting out of lots of ‘silly straight banana legislation’ then they are about to find out that the global market doesn’t care for also ran standards. Due to economies of scale, the UK will have to accept that the vast majority of products and many services will be ISO EN compliant. Only this time the UK will have little or no influence over the content of these standards. Jam makers rejoice, but in fact if they want to expand and export their high quality wares they will need to CE label and conform to EN. Or the US standards.

China is the sunrise hope for many conservatives who have been making overtures to them for years, ignoring not only their human rights- record but also their economic philosophy which is straight out of printing money, controlling prices, controlling supply keynsianism of the 1940s and 50s. The Chinese deal with Switzerland is illustratory – China gets access to Switzerland now, but cuckoo clocks, swatch watches and emental cheese must wait almost two decades to have tairff and quote free access to China. It is a market size thing. We big, you wait long time. UK schools are hardly geared up for Mandarin lessons either.  It will offer the supermarket chains access to cheap produce and despite all the talk of food security, China actually has plans and the force to be self sufficient.

So come the actual time of Brexit and year or so after, the gloss of trade-deals and kicking foriegners out so youth can pick fruit and work on building sites, will have worn off. Also the little elephant in the living room is that immigration is fuelling the housing market on which so much of the English economy depends. UK ethnic women are not having kids, they are having careers and divorces. It is not only adult immigrants who boost demand in the housing market, the east europeans still have a culture for having more than one kid and starting a decade before educated UK women do.

So biding time for the real shape of Brexit will be good, and while the Labour party continues to hate its self, split between power hungry blairite Neo Conservative appeasers and ground swell from the actual left of centre behind Corbyn in the rank and file membership. You know the people who haven’t had a pay rise for a decade and have to have top up benefits and tax credits to try and make ends meet.

The other worthwhile factor in this is to see if EU nationals get the vote or not post Brexit. It is unlikely, in which case at least 100,000 Yes and Back-In voters north of the border are lost to Brexit. On the other hand if they retain their vote by residency or dual nationality say, then this is a powerful force given that BrexPolicy treats them as disposable and deportable if they for example, lose their jobs.

On time then too, the SNP would do well to let the war time generation and national service ‘in this together’ generation slowly die away. They are solid No voters. Baby boomers will start to see that all is not so shiny with the threat of inflation and possibly falling house prices post Brexit. So those in their 60s now will be looking at a retiral with less certainty offered by the union. We then have more youth becoming old enough to vote and having their naive hopes of course for something better than UK employment legislation in front of them.

For the SNP it is really a case of letting these factors run their course and being opportunistic only when there is an opporuntiy and a sea-change towards a solid Yes vote. Also that will give them time to address their bug-bear of education, and re-route investment into education. This is currently the stick all the pro unionists want to beat the SNP MSP base up with, and they are willing to ignore any positives and dig out any negatives on education to try and make it all stick. Would Labour have done a better job in managing the cuts in central funding and appeasing the teaching unions if they ran Holyrood? Or the conservatives, with their £7bn for purchasing new grounds for ‘free schools’ – a subsidy to tiger mummies and cricket snob daddies. Underfund public services and then replace them with over-funded private or independent solutions which look all shiny and attract the aspirant voters who managed to get their kids in or want to. What happened to good comprehensive education for all? Did it not quadruple the number of university graduates, and render Scotland (not that the BBC will say anything) the highest educated country in the EU ?

There will be a very clear choice for voters in future, between a weak and divided labour party and a bunch of charlatans in the conservatives looking to make a name for themselves by making it easier for landlords to exploit their tennants, or businesses to avoid health and safety or over time.

The choice isclear, between a society which is hell bent on following the neo conservative American model, which does so little for half of society, or the continuing success of the European / Scandinavian social democratic route to a meritocrical society rather than a silver-spoon baby wins society. Scotland has continued to diverge from this true-blue, sod-the-poor centre of gravity south of the border and will continue to so because of the egalitarian nature of life. England is a society in the throws of re-stratification, and where you are born and into how much wealth will increasingly determine your prospects in life due to differential access to qaulity education along class and geographical lines, the cost of higher and even further education and then the social circles in which you have grown up being more closed to “lower” classes.  For thirty years they Tories have been selling snobbery and one up man ship to a sector of society and it has been a success, only that other sectors of society see the result as negative for them.

Unfortunately for the Leavers and Conservatives in power, the EU is doing rather well with even the basket case economies turned round and growing more than the UK. Wages have kept up and outstripped inflation, and employers and the state have invested in productivity which goes hand in hand with higher wages. The UK has a productivity ‘puzzle’ to many, but there should be no surprise – so much of the English economy and that of Wales and Ulster are tied up with consumer services and consumer financial products that it is easy to see why productivity is in a long term hole.

Independence can offer a different route which also reflects the fact that Scotland has a highly diversified primary and secondary economy which outperforms the rUK economy when London is taken out of the picture it can be argued.

For now people are bored with politics and likely to punish the SNP as they did Theresa May for bringing more blah blah to their TV screens. Nicola would be best to think up a good PR strategy for now which is a step down not a climb down, and eat some humble pie in the face of the Tory revival north of the Border which has been fuelled by No /Leave voters.