Light Airs

The problem

Compared with modern race boats the 38 is heavy and relatively underpowered. Upwind in 20 knots this is an advantage – but in 8 knots or less, acceleration is slow and life is a bit of a struggle.

The solutions

Starting – Normally go for the ideal starting position . BUT , if this involves a dogfight – and the ducking and diving kills speed , you will be left for dead by lighter boats accelerating away. Start in a low traffic area with a long build up on a fetch , winding up over the last 15 sec to cross the line at maximum speed. This is less critical  in a one design start – but I believe the principle still holds.

Sail shape – More shape in foot of both genoa ( sheet forward) and main  ( ease outhaul ). Draft of both sails relatively aft ( 50% in genoa – draft of the mylar main seems more dependant on mast curve than halyard tension) , and boom in centre line but travellor well up to windward . If however there is a slop  then you need to drop the boom , increase the twist in both the sails and possibly tighten the halyards to bring the draft forwards.

Mast – Modern practice is to wind off forestay tension in light airs to increase forestay sag – and tighten it up as the wind increases- a LOT ! But Sigmas have neutral helm so pretty much need max allowed forestay length ( see class rules) in all but a huge blow, which means the far more complex task of adjusting all 6 shrouds ! My conclusion is to set up the mast with quite soft forestay for light winds – use loadsa runner for medium winds – and wind on some forestay for 15 knots plus.

Crew – Flat on deck and forward in the boat . If it is cold “trimming the focsle” with the heater on becames popular – and fast – along with reading the papers on the cabin sole sipping hot chocolate.  Purists would have all but 3 crew inside  – especially in a slop.

Upwind – If in doubt don’t tack – it takes an age to get back up to speed.

Ease sheet and travellor to a lifting puff, and head up slowly , sheeting back in as you go  ( instead of keeping the sails pinned and putting helm down ). Try and distinguish between a true header and a velocity shift. The apparent wind will go ahead in both , but if you have just run in to a patch of no wind – don’t alter course  – wait for the wind to come back.

Downwind – Sail high angles with the pole well forward and the main surprisingly well in but with some twist. Look at the slot between the spinnaker and the main and keep it open . As long as the leech ribbons are flying , the main is not going to be overtrimmed.

Hoisting – When you first bear away , the apparent wind stays ahead – so don’t be in too much of a hurry to hoist until the speed bleeds off a bit.

Gybing –  Gybing on the wind shifts downwind is crucial . Do it slowly as otherwise the apparent wind stays ahead and the spinnaker collapses. Keep the pole low until you are through the gybe and accelerating again – the kite is far less likely to collapse.

Navigation – light winds and strong tides mean that course steered and course made good will differ markedly.  Work it out before the beginning of a leg and check it on a GPS as soon as you are on course.

Leeward mark – Where possible do your final gybes well before the leeward mark so as to enter the rounding at max speed with as little course change as possible. Enter wide, exit narrow using minimum helm.

Hull – If its foul, give up and go to the pub!

Tactics – At least one person should  be constantly thinking and looking around – in light airs opportunities to win a race  are there to be spotted more often than in any other conditions.