Check Me On This, Please?
Last Saturday's race, 15-25 knot winds, 25-30 knot gusts (depending on who you believe): The Admiral had to point up high enough to cause the sails to be on the verge of luffing to keep her on her feet. Otherwise the rail would've been in the water all the time.
We had a reef in the main (only one reef point) and were flying only a #3.
Causes (I think): The #3 is old. 31 years old. I suspect it's a bit blown. (Tho not as badly as the old main and the old #1.) The backstay adjuster is toast, and the backstay tension is currently more suitable for anything from a beam reach to a run, rather than close-hauled. I had trouble convincing the guy on the mainsheet to trim the sheet in hard, and use the traveler to adjust the boom position. The main's top batten was missing.
Solutions (I think): A proper #3. (Actually, I suspect we could've benefitted from a #2, if all else was right.) Tighten-down on the backstay. This would've flattened both the jib and the main, depowering both a bit. Mainsheet trimmed all the way in, and the traveler let off to leeward. And, of course, all the battens in the mainsail :p. Oh, and more meat on the rail. (Tho human ballast presents its own issues--like the time, on another boat, where one such crew-member wasn't fast enough, chose his hand-holds poorly, and came this >< far from ending-up in the drink.)
Right? Wrong? Anything else?
Something else, perhaps. I don't know your mainsail area, boat performance. Could you get hull speed and point high enough to make the mark on just the main (unreefed)? What were similar boats (the ones that were ahead of you, going faster, hint, hint) doing?
During that same race: Were doing well over 7 kts, a couple of times hitting 8, on a beam reach.
Hard to say without being there but generally, when you are racing in heavy weather you want a big crew - think five or six people on a 27 footer. You're going to need to let the mainsheet fly somewhat during the gusts and sheet her in quickly, but smoothly, hence that's one crew person's job, and if they're not in really great shape - you're going to have to swap them out every half hour or so.
Ditto the jib if you're flying a big one - although you're not going to be playing it as much. General rule of thumb. Set your lay line (course) to the mark and then trim the sails to get max speed on your course. When you get gusts you fly (loosen the sheets of) the main and the genny enough so that the boat does not veer off course, but maintains her heading. Every time you move that rudder away from the centreline of the boat, you are exerting a slight braking force on the forward motion. Avoid it. It has a much greater effect on your speed than you might think.
Use lots of crew and balance the boat with the sails (smooth and steady movements - not jerking the boom in and out)so that you can maintain course without the boat over on her ear. Better to let the main out a bit further than might seem optimal if it means you're going to sail flatter. You lose a lot of speed heeling excessively.
Also - if you are racing reefed, spend a lot of time wrapping up the reefed portion of the sail. Tuck it snugly along the boom, nice and smooth so that it's not catching wind or flapping. It plays havoc with your airflow over the sail.
Good Luck !
More sheet/vang on the main and the traveller eased off would likely have helped quite a bit... you could well be right that the #3 is in rough shape, too round an entry and therefore quick to luff as the boat is pinched up (try the jib car a hole or two aft to flatten the foot and let some upper leech twist away to depower.)
Finding that "groove" where you have drive without excessive heeling is a challenge in the heavier going, and especially so if the wind is shifty as well.
The good news is that if you are alert and ready for the gusts, the heading up that you do can chew up some distance to weather up the course and give you an overall better VMG. (we used to call this "survival pinching" - keep the boat on its feet, and after a few puffs find yourself an extra boatlength to weather on your nearest competitor)
The danger is pinching too hard, slowing down and possibly getting caught backwinded on the next shift (and/or doing an "autotack" - hove-to). Like everything about sailing, it's all about compromise and balance.
I'm a believer in keeping two sails up on a sloop rig, if you're trying to get above a reach. Small jib, small main keeps things balanced. Large main, no jib, won't give you enough power, and jib alone won't point and gives you lee helm. Beam reach or lower, one sail's okay.
Also, with just main alone in a screecher, it's too easy to get in irons and much harder to get out. That's when you're grateful for the jib.
In the "old days", a storm trysail and storm jib was sometimes called, "a tablecloth and a handkerchief". Not for racing with really, but comfortable and well-balanced. And back then lots of boats didn't have reefing, you'd sail with the jib sort of full, and forward half (or more) of the main luffing. The phrase was (is?), "sailing on jib and battens", or sometimes, "fisherman's reef".
You want your heavy-air sails to be pretty flat, and heavy sailcloth. You can't always achieve that by just roller furling a medium-air genny, nor reefing an everyday mainsail, though with jiffy-reefing you can get it pretty flat. Storm sails need to stand up to a lot of rough use when luffing.
You have it fairly right. A bit of backwinding the main is ok. If you keep the jib in tight that is your main source of power.
However the boat will sail better not heavily heeled.
Say the wind was actually 20 that gives you close to 25 upwind. Gusts usually add up to 50%.
Your sail plan in standard sails ie jib and full main is optimised for about 15-17 knots. The force is windspeed squared ie say 256/625 =.4. That is you need 40% of the sail area, assuming you cater for gusts in other ways.
Essentially you were overcanvassed made worse by sails that are probably blown out ie too full.
You are correct that main alone going to windward will give you weather helm. Although it is influenced by hull shape it is mainly due to the balance of sail area fore and aft of the centre of lateral resistance ie the turning point of the hull.
You may be able to get the sails recut but the cloth is probably stretched so at best they would be cruising spares.
You probably need a wind gauge so you know the windspeed fairly accurately.
A couple things no-one mentioned (I think)
Cunningham - if you don't mind ugly you can get a pretty good shaped main by attatching something to the second reef point near the mast and hauling down till the draft moves to the right place (forward/flat as possible to depower).
I prefer to work the traveller in gusts instead of the sheet, depends of course on how easy it is to work the traveller. IMHO the traveller is where it's all at in heavy weather after you get the main as flat and tight as possible ( sheet + vang + cunningham ).
Replying to everybody in one go...
Comments noted. Crew is ever a problem--particularly experienced crew. We did note a lot of the boats out there that day did have a lot of meat on the rail. Boats not much bigger than ours had 6-10 people out there.
We have two jib car tracks, both mounted on the toe rail: The one to aft is longer. I left the cars on that and moved them all the way forward. Even all the way forward, that car was way aft of the clew. I doubt moving it any further aft would have accomplished much. (But putting a car on the forward track and rigging a second, temporary sheet on the run might've improved that. Didn't think about that at the time. Oh well, next time :).)
The main is a new-ish Dacron main. (The experienced sailor who helped us bend it on the first time remarked "This sail looks like it's hardly been used.") I asked the PO, and he used to bend it on only for racing. Otherwise he'd put the old, original Dacron main back on. Same with the foresails. However, he never replaced/upgraded the #3 and he never obtained a #2. There is another set of sails for the boat, that one of his crew made for her. A main, #1 and #3. The main and #3 I think are Kevlar, IIRC, and the #3 Pentex. We're waiting to hear back on what the guy wants for them. (Around the club they're telling us we should be able to get 'em for a song, as there's a limited market for them.)
In addition to the new main, the boat came with new, or nearly new, light and heavy #1's. The light #1 is Mylar and the heavy #1 is Kevlar. The PO said the former is usable up to about 12 kts and to use the latter above that.
I'm kinda half thinking it might make sense to obtain the Pentex #3 and have the heavy #1 re-cut to a #2 (probably 135%).
Your comments, re: main alone, were what I was thinking of when I replied to CapnHand.
Would love to have a wind gauge. But: 1. They're expensive. 2. From the comments I've seen in the thread I started in Gear & Maintenance, Alas, poor Wind Indicator, it seems the electronic wind instruments aren't very reliable, and are often inaccurate.
Don't have a Cunningham yet. It's On The List :). We have a Harken windward traveler system for the main. It's only that we have to become more adept at getting the mainsheet and traveler right for each tack under different conditions.
Thanks for your comments, everybody.
When out sailing on a friends boat a few weekends back we used a sailtie as makeshift cunningham, just cleated it off at the mast, worked like a charm. Cunningham is the easiest sail control to rig usually, all you need is about 6+ feet of line and the ability to cleat it off.
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