Welcome ECSC Sailors, The following is a guest article Written by our own Sailor/Racer Rich Fox.
Improving Blue/White Fleet Boat Racing Performance
By Rich Fox
Many ECSC members purchase their boats to enjoy day sailing with family and friends. If you race, or want to race your boat in the Blue/White Fleet, and have not been exposed to racing in your one-design class at the national level, then the tips below may be a good starting point to help you improve your boat’s’ performance.
Tuning Guide – several sailboat classes and sailmakers publish Tuning Guides. You can do a search on the Internet to find them, if available for your boat. Applying the techniques in a Tuning Guide provide insight into setting the mast-rake and shroud tension for the boat.
Sail Trim Guide – in addition to a Tuning Guide, a Sail Trim Guide provides good information to help the new sailor better understand how to set many of the controls on their boat, depending on wind conditions. North-U publishes a good book (“TRIM”) on this topic. Better yet, taking a North-U “TRIM” course when one is offered in the area, or watch their videos.
Balanced Helm – what do I mean by a balanced helm? A sailboat will achieve its best performance when the position and trim of the sails are aligned with the position and shape of the keel and rudder. I always think of my boat’s sails and keel as one continuous airplane wing. When everything is in alignment and working together (balanced), then my boat will achieve its optimal level of performance. This takes years of experimenting to tweak. To get started, go out sailing in in 8-12 mph wind and look at the position of your tiller. Is the tiller in the center of the cockpit? Or, do you have a lot of weather-helm where the boat has a tendency to round-up and you have to fight with the tiller? Is your rudder creating a lot of drag? There are no quick answers or easy numbers to provide, although a Tuning Guide will help provide a very good starting point. You will need to experiment and adjust the mast rake, rigging tension, and sail trim to find the best combination of settings where the touch of tiller feels light in 8-12 mph wind. Finding the “sweet spot” (a balanced helm) where the rudder has minimal resistance will greatly reduce rudder drag. The result will be an immediate improvement in your boat’s racing performance.
Whisker Pole – unless you are using a spinnaker, you will want to use a whisker pole for the downwind leg, which is half the race course. If you are not using a whisker pole, you will often struggle to finish in the top half of the Blue/White Fleet. If you have a whisker pole, work with your crew on developing a consistent and coordinated set-up/take-down technique.
Sit Forward Downwind – many Blue/White Fleet boats will perform better sailing downwind when the bottom of the transom is not submerged below the surface of the water. When sailing downwind, the crew should sit on the foredeck and any crew in the cockpit should also be sitting forward. When the wind is light to medium, I almost always sit on the leeward side of the boat. This allows gravity to help induce the curved shape (draft) of the sails and keep the sails full…improving boat speed. It also makes it easy to watch the telltales.
Telltales (Don’t Pinch) – when coming out of a tack, allow the boat to build up some speed before pointing higher. Building up speed after a tack will allow for improved air around the sails and improved water flow around the keel (resulting in lift) and get the boat quickly “into the groove”. As boat speed increases, you will then find yourself able to point higher. Don’t point too high or you will quickly decrease your boat speed. Check the telltales along the luff of your Genoa for information. If the telltales are flickering up, you are pointing too high. If the telltales are streaming aft with some flickering up, you are doing great. If the telltales are drooping down you have room to point higher or pull in your Genoa. The wind is never steady on Eagle Creek Reservoir. Learn to read your Genoa’s telltales, and your performance will quickly improve. That wind indicator at the top of the mast is great to see wind condition when sailing downwind. But if you are watching the wind indicator, and not the telltales, you need to break that habit and focus on watching telltales. Your performance will greatly improve.
Good Sails – when racing a Blue/White Fleet boat, the use of good sails with good shape will have the greatest impact on your finishing position at a Club race. If you are using blown out sails, or sails that originally came with your 30-year old boat, consider making an investment in new sails.
Racing Rules – learning, understanding and applying the Racing Rules of Sailing will greatly increase your confidence on the race course and will also improve your finishing positions at races and regattas. How can this be? If you know the Rules, you will be able to identify the best locations to be on the race course to avoid possible penalty situations requiring 360 and 720 degree turns, competitor protests, or disqualification. You will also reduce any confusion about what the Race Committee is doing at any given time during a regatta. If you are relatively new to sailboat racing, the North-U “Racing Tactics” book is an excellent starting point.
Tiller Time – the best way to improve your boat’s performance is more tiller time and regular participation on the Club’s racing and regatta program. More tiller time, combined with the above eight tips, will greatly improve your performance in the Blue/White Fleet at ECSC.