Sailing Fast In Light Air

 

Although light air sailing is far from most sailors favourite conditions, it does provide the greatest number of opportunities to make the biggest gains.

A well-sailed boat can develop a great speed advantage and at times it can go literally twice as fast as its competitors – so it is not unusual to see the largest race-winning leads developed in the lightest of conditions.

Boat preparation can also play a much more significant role in the improvement in position on the race track, things like removing any extraneous weight, cleaning and polishing the bottom, taking unneeded purchases out of sheeting systems and using the lightest possible sheets to enable sails to set in the smallest puffs of breeze.

UPWIND

Good telltales are essential to enable you to set draught and twist plus an effective masthead wind indicator, wool tufts on the shrouds work well and I have even seen boats that have taped incense sticks to the shrouds, they burn very slowly and provide a smoke trail to show wind direction.

In most cases in light air, a flatter sail performs best because it allows the airflow to remain attached to the sail. In the case of the mainsail, a firm outhaul will flatten the lower section of the main whilst allowing the leech to be more open. Prebend the mast to flatten out the entry to the mainsail and the Cunningham and vang should be completely slack.

At no time should the leech of the main be angled farther to weather than parallel to the centreline of the boat. In drifting conditions, the technique of trimming the upper batten parallel to the boom is dropped, and the upper batten is set parallel to the centreline.

The traveller is sometimes pulled all the way to weather in super light conditions so that the slightest puff will allow the boom to lift easily, but as the breeze picks up, drop the traveller down again so the boom stays at or below the centreline while you are trimming the upper batten parallel to the boom. 

There isn’t anything slower in light air than having backwind at the luff of the main. With the main angled far off the centreline, the slot is in danger of being closed so to avoid this, flatten the mainsail, this lets you ease the main until the upper batten is parallel to the centreline without backwind. 

In light conditions, the jib should become increasingly full in its forward sections. If you are sailing a one-design that uses the same jib in 0 to 30 knots of breeze, light air is the condition where the jib should be set up with the greatest amount of luff sag.  A full entry is more powerful, and also helps widen out the “groove” so the boat is less critical to steer, mast prebend also contributes to luff sag.

DOWNWIND

Off the wind, the mainsail doesn’t require as much flow across it, so a full shape will make it more forgiving. Ease the outhaul, and mast bend should be eliminated.

On a reach, if the spinnaker is drooping, in many cases it is quicker to sail with the jib and douse the kite.

With a symmetrical spinnaker adjust the pole height so that the clews are level and make sure that the sheet is light enough not to weigh the corner down and that the sheet is well eased.  

BOAT HANDLING

Crew movements must be slow and weight forward to lift the large flat aft area of the boat to reduce drag. To make the boat head up heel to leeward slightly, once turned to the heading you want, flatten the boat to its sailing lines. Rudder movement acts as a brake so keep it to a minimum and use weight to turn the boat.

Avoid pinching because the boat relies on forward movement to create flow over the foils, once flow detaches from the foils the boat will start to slide sideways so foot off get the flow going and as you accelerate steer up slightly by moving your weight to leeward. This is an ongoing procedure and, in a lull, move weight to weather to steer down to accelerate and then repeat.

Keep the crew out of the slot and keep the boat flat unless using weight to steer.

If you have good boat speed, standard tactical situations should be approached aggressively in most conditions, but light-air tactics demand more conservatism and greater anticipation.

In many instances, you can actually gain distance when you dip a starboard tacker because of the speed you generate when bearing off. On the other tack, don’t be afraid to wave an approaching port tacker across if it looks like they might tack on your lee bow to avoid you. 

If a new wind comes in with more velocity, always sail to it as soon as possible, even if this requires sailing a headed tack for a short period to get to it. Since maximum boat speed is extremely important, always aim to get in the position to increase speed through the water. 

Obviously, a massive shift would be an exception to this rule if the shift were to last a substantial length of time.

Anticipation in Sailing Races

In every sailing race, to enhance your chance of success you must keep a constant watch ahead and around the course to see what’s coming and have a plan on how to deal with it before you get there.

Before you leave the beach and before every race, you need to develop a plan to deal with the anticipated activity of the wind, waves, current, and other boats. Follow your game plan as closely as possible and avoid spur-of-the-moment decisions that are made without regard for the big picture.

It’s hard to anticipate when you’re staring at the seaweed in the bilge, you have to keep your eyes looking up the course and all around for signs of things to come.

The helmsperson should concentrate on steering, so the crew really needs to be his eyes. Make sure one person on the boat has the responsibility for watching around the course and is watching for two things: changes in the wind or waves and the movement of other boats.

This person’s goal is not only to watch for puffs, lulls, waves but to warn of approaching starboard tackers or boats on converging courses and to anticipate potential confrontations and to let the helmsman know of possible scenarios.


As an example the crew member who is assigned the task of looking up the course at the wind direction in relation to the marks needs to anticipate that when you come around the windward mark, will you want to do a normal bear away set, or a jibe-set and this needs to be communicated well ahead of time so you are set up at the mark to carry out that maneuver. 

So that the helmsman can be informed about situations before they arise, they should call out in a voice loud enough to be heard by everyone aboard that there’s a puff coming, there is a crossing situation where you may need to duck or tack or the tactic needed at the next mark rounding and why.

In sailboat racing, things are always changing. It would be easy if we could plan ahead for every move on the race course but unfortunately, this is impossible because you can’t always predict what the wind will do or how the other boats are going to react.

What you can do is anticipate a  number of possibilities that might happen then make a plan for each one. 

By giving you time to consider decisions ahead of time, contingency plans help you stay in control of your race.



 

 

5 Steps to Winning a Regatta

 Step 1. Work on your weaknesses.

 We all have different strengths and weaknesses, for some, it is light air and flat water,  for others they are faster in a big breeze and boisterous seas. It is fun to practice in your favourite conditions but you need to get out of your comfort zone and spend more practice time sailing in the conditions that you are slower in.

Keep the boat flat

Step 2. Preparation.

Leading up to an event focus on reducing distractions, cross off all the items on your boat work list and let all work clients, colleagues and friends know that you will not be available during the event. When a regatta begins you need to be rested and ready, and your first and only priority is going sailing.

Complete all tasks prior to leaving home

Step3. Go to a regatta with someone you have spent a lot of time sailing with.

If you are sailing in a multi-crewed boat resist the temptation to link up with a hot shot in your class for a big event. In a crew-driven boat, the helmsperson only does about thirty per cent of the work. If you compete with someone that you have spent many hours in the boat with, you know each other’s weaknesses but also know each other’s strengths, and in tough situations, you remind each other to focus on those and let the rest sort itself out.

Step4. Nutrition and Hydration.

Proper nutrition and hydration could make or break your results. Carry adequate food, snacks and water during the race especially if you are competing in two or three races in one day. Don’t neglect off the water fuel and hydration and resist the partying until the event is finished. Supply your own food rather than what the regatta organizers or canteen provide and don’t neglect to get plenty of sleep during the event.

 

Step5. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be better than the rest.

It’s easy to give up, but instead, focus on the opportunities that an event presents and sail hard, remember everybody else is hurting too and wrestling with the same issues as you are. Fortunately, great boat speed, developed over the time of working together will allow you to move up through the fleet and this is where all your hard work pays off.