Well, last night Race Committee tested how many people had lifejackets on board. The infamous “Y” flag signaled that all crew must wear a lifejacket. A race committee may require this for a multitude of reasons; but typically early in the season when the wind is up and puffy, I will fly the flag. I feel that people should be able to make this decision on their own, but it seems many don’t.
With these races being in close quarters, it may be a good idea to have a designated person, other than the driver, be familiar with the courses and be identified as navigator. Over the last few weeks, we have noticed a few people sailing the wrong course making mistakes. Having a designated navigator can take a lot of stress off the driver and get more people involved.
When it comes to sail and boat handling, be sure to know how your boat handles in different winds. Many times, shortening sail by reef is a more efficient method than fighting a boat with full sail. Typically, the light race boat (J-22, J-24, etc.) can be handled decently with full sail, but a heavier masthead rig boat usually does better with a reef in the mainsail and full genoa. Many people have asked about the efficiency of just furling the genoa. I highly disagree with this method unless absolutely necessary. Think about what it does; when rolled up 30% or even 50%, you are now having the part of the sail with the most shape as your leading edge. This is something that every boat will respond differently with. If you are trying to point upwind, just keep in mind the front third of your jib will not fly well and become useless. What sail combination that works best on your boat is something you will need to experiment with. I suggest using a calibrated masthead unit with boat speed to compare VMG (Velocity Made Good). With VMG, I refer this as Velocity Made Good to windward. VMG is a great tool when learning any boat. I recommend VMG using wind angles rather than a fixed point (windward mark). There are two factors to consider when sailing upwind, how well are you sailing into the wind, and how well are you sailing towards your mark. Ultimately, you want the fastest course to the fixed mark. If you only consider the CMG to the mark (or some refer to it as Course Made Good), then the closer you get to the mark, your numbers will have you constantly tacking up the middle of the course. Considering wind VMG will tell you the best angle to the wind to sail the boat to get to windward the fastest possible route. There are some boats that sail very close to the wind and it does not benefit them at all to foot off; while other boat (some catamarans or dinghies) can increase their boat speed enough to counter the additional distance sailed. Let’s say a J-22 is sailing upwind at 5.2 knots. They may bear off 5-8 degrees and increase their speed to 5.3 or 5.4, but their additional speed does not make up for the extra distance sailed. This becomes a pretty simple physics problem with angles and vectors. There are a lot of instruments that can easily calculate this data and instantly give the result. What kind of boat should sail tight and what kind should foot for speed? Typically a deeper keel boat will not benefit from footing off for speed. Some of the newer designs with standard rigs and shoal keels should be sailed at a looser angle to the wind. Much of it comes down to the efficiency of the “underneath”; the hull shape and foils. And this leads into knowing the performance of the boats around you. If you have a boat that does not sail upwind very well, do not start above a boat that points very well to windward. I learned this lesson many years ago when racing catamarans. My cat pointed pretty well, but there were only one or two boats that pointed better than I did. Several times there would be a large hole next to the committee boat and I had decided to grab it. I later learned that the hole was left there on purpose. The one boat that pointed better than I did sat just under the hole and waited – like a shark or barracuda. As soon as some sucker (me) jumped in the hole, the gun would go off and he would out point me be 5-10 degrees easily. A couple of times, I think I heard giggling just before the start. Of course, I would be forced to tack over earlier than I planned to and began a snowball of issues. Some of the more experienced racers knew this trap and just waited for him to start and take off. After this, I’ve been very aware of boat’s performance differences. This doesn’t only apply to mixed handicap racing, it can apply to one-design as well. There are people out there that can really make a boat sail to windward and they outpoint everyone in the fleet. Know who they are and stay clear to windward of them also. I think the Portsmouth class has the largest variety of boat designs on the course. The C-Scow, or any multihull, should not start to windward of a Laser or Finn.
Speaking of Portsmouth class and boat differences. It was brought to my attention that there has been some discrepancy about the shoal as an obstruction or not. It has been asked to remove the requirement in the SI’s for Portsmouth Class to avoid the shoal. The shoal will remain an obstruction for the very reason it was deemed an obstruction; boat differences and unfair advantages. Having the shoal open can become a huge advantage for a boat that draws 18” versus the boat that draws 4’7” in a low or normal tide. If everyone has to avoid it, there is no issue; but, even if one boat cannot cross it safely and gain the same tactical benefit as everyone else, it becomes unfair part of the course.