Mcnay Racing

Performance Sailing

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Big Waves and Big Breeze – Lessons from the Ocean


Photo Credit to Romain Bonnaud

At the 2012 Olympics, Weymouth, England put us to the test with ocean waves and big breeze. There were two exposed courses where a side swell wrapped around Portland and wind driven chop had a few miles of fetch to build up. In our three years training in Weymouth and three years in the ocean off Miami Beach, we learned a lot about how to make a boat go fast in chaotic (and big!) seas.

Technique is the most important variable. Bad tuning will make your life much more difficult, but the biggest difference in speed comes from how you steer, use your sails, and your weight.

Stable is fast. Keep the boat at the same angle of heel. Usually, a couple of degrees to leeward is good. At the crest of each wave you can be a touch flatter so the extra pressure does not round you up. Avoid too much ‘S-curve’ steering over the wave as this can slow the boat. Mostly, use  an ease on the mainsail and extra hike to handle the power on the wave tops.

Boat balance is key. The boat will be loading and unloading a lot. When the pressure comes on, it needs to transfer to forward force and not to heading up and stalling (from too much heel and too tight mainsail). The boat should want to point a little, but not round up.

Steering and sail trim need to work together. When you bear away you must ease the main and when you head up you must trim. This is one of the single most important techniques to master as you change course in waves.

Hope this helps. Please comment if you have any thoughts or questions.

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Battling the Pack at the Etchells Piana Cup

Photo Credit to Marco Oquendo/imagesbymarco

Photo Credit to Marco Oquendo/imagesbymarco

Last weekend, I raced in a light wind series on the Etchells at the first event of the 2013 Jaguar Series in Miami, Fl. This was our first Etchells regatta together as a team. I was calling tactics and trimming main. The regatta turned out to be excellent practice for racing in the middle of the fleet.

All day, the starting was reasonably square with 5-8 knots of wind. We chose to start boat third, which also allowed for an easy exit in case the start did not go well.

One of our best beats came after a start where a boat fouled us and left us head to wind. Immediately after the start, our goal was to find clear air, so we tacked to port early and waited until we could have a long clear starboard tack lane through the middle. We knew we needed to tack at a time when others were not thinking to tack and also hopefully on a lift, so we had a window of time within which we could tack. We got a very small right shift – not big enough for the boats in front of us to want it – and we tacked to starboard. We were able to sail all way through the middle of the course in clear air. Then we tacked onto port to leeward of the early group (2nd row) coming from the left, and then we tacked two more times at the top before a short starboard mark approach. We had passed 20 boats by the first mark.

When in the pack, you often have to make a compromise between sailing in the favored region of the course (shift or pressure) and sailing in clear air. In light air, the Etchells tacks are very slowly and does not do well with a boat on its leebow, so we made most first beat decisions based on having long lasting clear air lanes. With this in mind, we were able to work back from some challenging early race positions.

These are some lessons on first beats from the weekend:

1)   In fairly steady wind, prioritize clear lanes over wind shifts, though if you can have both that is best.

2)   Minimize tacks. Anticipate what the boats in front of you will do, so you can maximize time between your tacks. Do not take a perfect lane if a boat in front of you will also want it.

3)   To sail in clear air when mid-fleet, you will usually have to choose whether you sail on the inside or outside of your pack – sometimes it’s necessary to find a thin lane in the middle of the pack, but in this case, often your mode will be dictated, so you would not want to spend too long here. Early in the beat being outside of your pack is OK, but towards the middle of the beat you will have to cross over to the inside (middle of course), or you will forever be tacked on and forced to a corner in dirty air.

Once the fleet opens up on the 2nd beat, there will be freedom to sail where you want, so you should prioritize wind shifts and the favored side of the beat.

Full results here.

Our next Jaguar series event is Jan 5-6. Stay tuned for more lessons from racing in the Etchells fleet.