Republished from Speed and Smarts
During the past twenty-five years, Dave Curtis may have won more major one-design championships than any other sailor. He has captured world titles in Etchells, Solings and J/24s, plus national and/or North American championships in those classes and Lightnings, 110s, 210s and Interclub Dinghies.
How do you judge if it’s better to sail higher and a little slower or lower and a little faster?
The answer to that depends somewhat on your sailing style. I have sailed a lot against Judd Smith in Etchells during the past ten years or so. We are both very fast in the class, but we definitely sail our boats very differently. Judd is always higher and slower while I’m faster and lower. But our overall speed comes out amazingly similar.
The higher you try to sail, the harder it is to maintain your speed. So if you are unsure about what angle to pick, a high angle is more dangerous because it’s more critical and less forgiving. It’s usually better to pick a slightly lower course where you will be assured of better speed all the time.
Remember that when you want to point better, the first thing you need is speed. So make sure your boat is going fast first. Once you have good speed, then you can start playing a balancing game between speed and height.
This is difficult in heavier boats like Etchells because they decelerate at such a slow rate. By the time you realize you’re going slow, it will take you 30 or 40 seconds to get back up to speed because they accelerate slowly as well. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security because you can point high and look good for a little while!
How should the telltales on the front of the jib be moving? How about the telltales on the main?
In light air, almost every boat wants to have the jib telltales streaming straight back on both sides. The lighter the wind, the more important it is just to get the boat going fast, and you almost don’t even think about pointing. This might hold true up to 5 or 6 knots. If the wind increases just another three knots, however, most boats will go from a non-pointing condition to a high-pointing condition.
When the wind is blowing 8 or 9, now your boat is at (or nearly at) hull speed, and you can start using your speed to make the boat point high. The jib telltales, which were flowing straight back almost all the time at 5 knots, should now be lifting up (parallel to the luff) almost all the time, especially in flat water.
The leech telltale on the top batten of the main is similar. In light air (up to about four knots), you want that top telltale flowing straight back almost all the time. To realize this, you must ease your mainsheet to get a lot of twist in the sail, and you may actually have to make the sail flatter (e.g. with more pre-bend). If it’s too full, the sail will stall sooner, and the telltale is a good guide for this.
When you have 10 knots of wind and flat water, you can trim the main the hardest and be in maximum pointing mode. On most boats I trim the main until the top telltale is stalled (curled around the back of the leech) for all but a few seconds out of each minute. It’s important, however, that the telltale flows straight back at least once in a while; otherwise, the sail may be overtrimmed. If in doubt, try easing the sheet a tiny bit since this will make it easier to keep the boat going fast and in the groove.
In general, as the water gets choppier, you want to have the upper telltale stalled less of the time. And, of course, your mainsail trim depends to a certain extent on the type of boat you’re sailing. An Etchells and a J/24, for example, like a mainsail that is trimmed harder (i.e. with the telltale stalled more of the time) than other boats.
When you are setting up the trim of your jib, what do you look for?
The first thing I do is set up the jib leads so the telltales break as evenly as possible up and down the luff. It’s important to mark the holes in your jib track (and all other sail controls) so you can reproduce the fast settings from race to race.
Another guide I find helpful is a telltale on the top batten of the jib. My rule of thumb is that I don’t ever want to see this leech telltale do anything but flow smoothly straight back. Once your jib trim is in the ballpark, then you just have to sail against someone else before the start and see how you’re going.
What’s the most common reason why people go slow upwind, and what can they do to fix this?
I think the most common reason why boats don’t perform well upwind is that their sails are not trimmed hard enough, especially the main. I’m guessing that people see the telltale on the main’s upper leech and think it should be flowing all the time. But we know if the top telltale is flowing in anything but the lightest air, the main is too far out. So you can’t be afraid to make the top telltale stall. If you don’t trim the main, you won’t point.
On the other hand, trimming too tight is probably the worst thing you can do for boatspeed. As the saying goes, “If in doubt, let it out.” Don’t get carried away, though. The most common complaint I hear from sailors is that they are not pointing as high as other boats. The best way to point higher is usually to trim your mainsail a little harder. However, you must be going fast first. The trick is finding a middle ground where you are trimmed tight enough for good pointing, but not so tight that your sails stall and make you go slow.
No matter how well you know any boat, there will be times when you get completely mixed up on the sail trim. You’re out of sync and slow. This is why I’m a firm believer in using lots of reference marks. I mark my jib halyard, jib leads, outhaul, mainsheet and backstay. I figure if we can get all these in the ballpark, we should be OK.
When we’re going slow, we let everything out an inch or two so we’re in an undertrimmed, bow down, fast mode. The goal is simply to get our speed up so we are sailing faster, although lower, than the boats around us. Then we’ll just start slowly trimming back in again and work on height.
How much do you “change gears” when you are racing upwind and how do you do this?
Once you've got your boat set up so you are pretty fast in general, the ability to change gears is incredibly important – you won’t be competitive without it. When conditions are variable, the ability to change gears will make more of a difference than not having your boat set up right in the first place.
The hardest thing for most people is changing gears when the wind pressure decreases. If you’re sailing along and you get a puff, that’s pretty obvious. People have to scramble up to the rail, the sails tend to wrinkle up, you get more helm and so on. But it’s harder to recognize when the wind dies because you don’t see all the visual signs that occurred with the puff. For example, the sails still look the same without any new wrinkles.
The ability to change gears in a lull is probably more critical than changing gears in a puff. That’s because when you get a puff the boat will accelerate even if you do nothing. Though your sails will be undertrimmed, this is almost always better than being over-trimmed. If you don’t respond in a lull, however, everything will be too tight and that will hurt a lot more.
One of the first clues you’ll get about a lull is having to move crew off the rail. When this happens, you should also start making other adjustments, like easing your main or jib sheet. If the wind changes in small increments (i.e. a knot or two), the first thing I do is adjust mainsheet trim, and that may be all that’s necessary. Sometimes I also adjust the jib trim slightly, and if the wind increases a little more, I might pull a tad on the backstay to match the mainsheet.
I like to keep things as simple as possible, so we don’t make a bunch of adjustments every time the wind changes. I generally don’t touch the cunningham, outhaul or jib lead position. Instead, I focus on the mainsheet, jib sheet, backstay and jib luff, in that order. This keeps us going fast, but still lets us focus mainly on where we’re going.
Why does it often seem fast to race with “speed wrinkles” along the luff of the jib and main?
A lot of people like to trim their sails so they are smooth and wrinkle-free. But that does not necessarily give you the fastest shape. Because sails get fuller and more draft-aft as they age, new sails must initially be flatter and more draft-forward than what is ideal, so they will last longer.
This means that if your sails are relatively new, you must use your controls to make them fuller and more draft-aft. One way to do this is to keep the luff of the sail pretty loose so you have wrinkles along the headstay or mast. This introduces a little more vertical camber in the sail and moves the draft aft. In essence, you are trying to create the ideal shape that will eventually stetch into the sail. As the sail ages, you can reduce the size of wrinkles in the sail.
Other speed-related wrinkles are the longer diagonal wrinkles that appear in your mainsail when you bend the mast a certain amount. We often like to see a hint of these wrinkles to know we have the correct amount of mast bend. If you don’t see these wrinkles, you may not be bending the mast enough to match the mainsail’s shape. The sail is not designed to have these wrinkles, but when you just start to see them, you know you are in the right ballpark.
Where do you put your weight in the fore-and-aft direction?
An Etchells is one boat where you want your weight forward. Since an Etchells is long and skinny, its widest part extends fore and aft quite a bit, so you don’t really gain much by keeping weight in the middle. I put my heaviest crew well forward to keep the bow in the water. This works on an Etchells but not a Soling because the Etchells bow is much more bouyant. That makes it painful to hit waves, so you want to keep the bow immersed.
How much heel do you want for going fast in different conditions?
I don’t like to heel any boat just for the purpose of getting more weather helm. I prefer to sail the boat fairly upright unless it’s really, really light. Then I think extra heel is good to steady the sails (due to gravity) as well as for generating some additional windward helm.
I think the general practice in most boats recently has been to sail more upright. While this may be faster, it is also a much less comfortable way to sail the boat. The boat usually feels better when you have more heel because it seems like you have a little more wind and the boat is easier to steer. When you have less heel, the helm is more neutral, but most good sailors seem to be able to get the boat to go faster. It’s definitely something that takes practice to make it work.
When you have more wind, the optimal amount of heel depends a lot on your boat’s characteristics. An Etchells, for example, will sail fast even with its rail in the water. You don’t usually need to depower the boat just to reduce heel because it is narrow and has a large, forgiving keel shape.
This is the first in a series of THREE THINGS to remember for various aspects of racing. It seems appropriate to begin with starting.
pick your spot
The key is to decide on a spot to aim at before the 5 minute gun. You are allowed to change your mind, but don't procrastinate. Your preferred position will depend upon a number of factors, including tide, line bias, the conditions and the nature of the fleet. Some fleets (including the Etchells) have a tendency to crowd the committee boat and this can create a chaotic hairball that will quickly undo the best-laid plans.
Even if the line is biased, a boat-end start (i.e. right at the boat) is a high-risk strategy: stuff it up and you have nowhere to go but backwards. Until you are confident of your set up and acceleration (of which more below) you should try to avoid crowds and concentrate on your own start.
Having picked a spot (let's say, three-quarters to the boat), aim to be some way to the right of that spot, on starboard tack, early enough to set up and protect your patch. Some prefer to cruise below the line on port tack, identify a suitable hole in approximately the right place - and tack into it. Others prefer to set up well back from the line and drift forward.
In either case, make sure that the hole you end up with is, on the one hand, big enough to allow you to bear away for acceleration, but, on the other hand, not too big to protect...
protect your patch
You want to create a hole to leeward into which you will bear away for speed just before the start. You create and protect this hole by luffing (or threatening to luff) boats to windward. However, don't be greedy: if that hole is too big, you will tempt others to take it. Deter poachers by 'using your elbows' and taking up space: rotate your boat to face the pin, but without accelerating down the line (i.e. trim the jib, but not the main, then let them both flap).
Use sail trim to maintain and protect your position relative to the boats on either side and don't be squeezed out the back like a bar of soap.
Acceleration is the key to capitalizing on the viable position that you have worked to create. inside the last 30 seconds or so, try to keep the boat at or below the close-hauled angle, so that you all you need to do is trim-on to accelerate. Using the rudder is slow.
Just as soon as you can (based on your assessment of time and distance to the line), trim-on, hit the rail and go for it. This is one technique that is critically important to a great start and yet easy to practice any time, anywhere.
First of all, congratulations to all the New Zealand crews who took part in the Etchells Worlds in New York. What follows are some reflections on sail trim and performance, courtesy of the One Design team at North Sails
What a wonderful adventure! It has been great to have the support of my family and friends, the support of my new teammates Taylor Canfield, Stephanie Roble, and Marcus Eagan.
Our approach was similar to years past: sail as many big fleet regattas as possible, look at all new sail possibilities, research the hell out of the Worlds venue, and try to have fun regardless of how the racing is going. It doesn't come without some stress. We felt we were defending the World Championship title since we hadn't raced an Etchells Worlds since our successful bid in 2011.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Flat sails go faster in the flat water of Miami, where we struggled with our San Diego open water setup. It took us a long time to get the tuning right for flat water. Moving the mast butt aft and a longer headstay seemed to be an improvement, but it still wasn't easy. The fleet had progressed yet we were at the same level where we had stepped out in 2011. We had to work harder.
I decided to get the boat back to San Diego where I could do the long overdue maintenance and we could do some sail testing. North Sails and our tuning partners had been working on a few things and we wanted to give them a try. When our sailing finished in San Diego we concluded that the details are important but it is the big lines that make the biggest difference. I got better at driving but the crew made my life easier by keeping the boat going fast.
Inhauling the jib sheet was a big discussion. We tried various inhauling techniques in different conditions and sometimes we went faster but mostly we went the same. It was hard to consistently measure the amount of inhaul so we eventually put it out of our minds. We had a jib with a longer and stiffer bottom batten option. This way we could inhaul without closing the bottom of the jib. For better or worse, we never felt fast with the stiff bottom batten except when at the upper end of the wind range.
Then there was the jib's top batten. We started with three choices! Wow, too many choices. We simplified! Short batten for light air and medium wind with bumpy water and the stiff top full length batten was very fast in flat water or higher wind speeds. What really makes a difference is not what batten you select, how much rig tension you use, or even how much rake you have; it comes down to identifying when you are fast and repeating those settings.
TWO DRILLS WE USED TO IMPROVE OUR RACING
Acceleration Drill - Ease the sails and slow the boat like in a pre-start, put the bow down, let the boat accelerate, pull the sheets to the marks, and hike. Everything needs to be pre-set, backstay, traveller, etc. You get one chance to hit the rail and be ready for full speed. This drill will help improve starting, exiting the leeward mark, and anytime the boats get close.
Hiking Drill - Clearly define what lines will be used for hiking. I know it sucks but it's a reality. Now see how long you can hold 100% hiking posture. We found the front two positions, using both hands to hike, could hold for two minutes or more. The helm and middle could only hike for about two minutes maximum. Anytime we needed a little extra speed we would take turns counting to 15. After two cycles through the crew (two minutes) we were always in a better position.
Spinnaker choice was easy. But it took us a long time to figure it out. The VMG (smaller) spinnaker is almost always better. The only time we would use the FR runner spinnaker was if the wind was strong and the waves were flat. Always lean towards the VMG and make sure if the runner is plugged in that it is clearly a runner condition.
Break your sails in! We used the main for 12-15 days before the Worlds. John Bertrand also had a well broken in main, but most others I saw had brand new sails. Use the jibs a few days, but not too much. Also, avoid using new sails in heavy wind or anytime they will be flogging.
Look for North Sails to have a very fast new radial jib and main hitting the market soon. We did some testing with a radial jib and had great success. It was just too close to the regatta to make a change that wasn't 100% proven and regatta tested.
The Etchells class is stronger than I have ever seen. I want to close by saying thank you to everyone who competed in the World Championship. These events would be nothing without the great sailors involved and the serious campaigns they represent.
Until next time,
Bill Hardesty - USA 979
There were 2 distinctive trimming styles we used with success in Newport. They were determined primarily by the sea state.
SMOOTH WATER TRIM
Our "Smooth water trim" focused on having a slightly tighter mainsail leech through mainsheet and sometimes a touch of extra backstay to remove depth. This allowed the boat to be fully loaded, but however it did give a narrower groove. The traveler car was always ¼ - ¾ of the distance up from centerline. Even though we wanted a flatter profile, it was important to not over trim the jib. We never trimmed the jib to where there was a crease in the foot of the jib. Using the spreader marks allowed us to consistently trim for the look we wanted. I call this more of a Biscayne Bay set-up.
ROUGH WATER TRIM
The "Rough water trim" focused on depth in the bottom of the mainsail, but utilized more twist through mainsheet with sometimes slightly less backstay. The upper leech section of the mainsail was more open giving the boat a much larger groove to steer to. Again, the traveler car was always ¼ - ¾ of the distance up from centerline. Working on the more forgiving, powerful mode, we would move the leads slightly forward and ease the jib a touch while still trying to achieve the same leech tension/profile as the smooth water setup. This really worked well for us especially when the seaway became noticeably turbulent for the given wind strength.
We used similar mast tune for both Smooth & Rough water. We set up with sag up until 12-13kts. (under 8kts - ¾", 9-12kts – ¼", over 13kts - straight). Our rake was between 47 5/8" and 48 ¼" for the entire event. A good rule of thumb for rig tension is to gauge the tension on the leeward vertical shrouds. I tried to set them up by just releasing w/ tension in the conditions we saw in Newport.
It's interesting to note there was a lot of talk about inhauling the jib before the event and I can say for sure we did not inhaul at all. Inhauling (non-North jibs) seems to work for a very short period where you need height, but over a long run the amount of height gained is far outweighed by the loss forward.
Reflecting back, I would have to say that we had one of the most open mainsail leeches throughout the range of conditions we saw in Newport. Trimming less seemed to give more! We always felt confident that we were going well and trimming was a large key to our success.
Chris Larson - HKG 1333
Training for the Worlds after the Jaguar Series in Miami, was in my opinion, the best time for us and the teams to come up with ideas, not only on how to improve our sails but also learn rig setups under different wind and sea conditions. Many of the incremental improvements to our sails came from this pre-Worlds sail testing.
We have been working on our main's broad seaming and luff curve for some time now, particularly the standard PC-F main, and I am glad to report that we have greatly improved its smoothness but even more importantly, its performance.
With the Worlds being held in a place that we could see a huge range of winds throughout the race, and I felt that it was extremely important to increase the working range of our jib models. To get this done, we worked on batten length and specs for both the top and lower jib battens.
During our many sail tests in San Diego, we learned that the difference in camber at the top of the jib changed by about 2% ( from 16% to 18% ) when using the long full length batten versus the short partial length one at the top, the result having a big impact on the power generated by the sail. Now, to increase the range of our jibs,the new standard full length top batten is a bit stiffer than before and we now are also including a softer full length version for light winds.
We also tested straightening the lower jib leech, which proved fast at the top range of the jib. To make this possible, we made the lower batten removable, being able to not only change the stiffness but also the length, with the upper range batten being stiffer and max class legal length. This made the lower leech more open decreasing the drag, and greatly improving the jib performance at the top end of the wind range. This straighter lower leech also proven fast when inhaul was used.
Our experience was that the inhaul was only efficient only on flat water conditions and winds between 8 to 12 kts TWS, which explain why a few teams successfully used this system during the Jaguar series and at other flat water events.
Since the VMG is only used in relatively light winds, Bill Hardesty asked us to make a lighter clew so that the sail flew easier. We made his sail with a 30% lighter clew patch and it was clear that this not only made the sail easier to fly but also greatly helped the light winds performance. Look for this to be incorporated in our new 2015 model VMG spinnaker.
ONGOING RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT
At our loft in San Diego, we have been working on a medium wind range "radial" jib and it appears that we are very close to having the product ready. To make sure we have all the details sorted and tuning figured out, I plan to sail with one of these jibs on local events and get the shape and finishing details completed. Our North Sails colleagues over in Australia are also working on a similar sail, and hopefully by year end we should have this development completed. This new jib will feature a new cloth developed by North Sails called "Radian", which was designed specifically for radial constructed sails.
There is also a main that is being developed by NS Australia (with the cooperation of 2012 Etchells World Champion Tom King), and they are also close with the last few tweaks being done and the product performing extremely well.
Why am I bringing up sails that are still in the development stages, when we have sails that just dominated the 2014 Worlds? So that you are well informed on what our future goals are for the Etchells and what steps we are taking to get there. We believe that radial sails produced with NS proprietary "Radian" fabric will create longer lasting sails, which is especially important to a class that has sail purchase limitation. Below are trimmer eye view of the latest test sails.
I wish you and your team a very successful sailing season. If I or any member of our Etchells team can help with information on our sail models selection or how to make your boat go faster do not hesitate to contact us.
Alex Webster is Auckland Fleet Captain and runs this website, so blame him.