I have an O'Day 302 and I do some racing with it, but I always seem to experience a strong case of the slows in light winds. I have a three-bladed propeller on the boat; do you think that's the source of my performance woes? And if so, should I get a folding prop?
Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your question. I should start by explaining that the O'Day 302 has a designed displacement of 7,200 pounds (including 2,400 pounds of ballast), so it's a relatively heavy boat by contemporary standards. Consider that some boats of equal length have roughly half the displacement and ballast. An Olson 30 scales in at 3,600 pounds displacement with 1,800 pounds of ballast. With almost the same amount of working sail area (374 square feet for your boat and 380 square feet for the Olson), it's not difficult to guess which one of you would accelerate faster in the light winds that have been troubling you.
I'll admit that the Olson is a bit of an extreme example, but I'm simply trying to make the point that reducing weight will help you improve performance. Yes, moving from a three-bladed prop to a folding prop would also be a strong step toward improving your sailing performance, particularly in light air, and I recommend you consider that if it's within your budget. There are also other less expensive measures that you could and should take to gain some speed.
First of all, if you're talking about day races, I'd recommend that you remove all the extraneous items you can—extra anchors and rodes, cooking equipment, spare dock lines, and just about anything that you anticipate will go unused during that day's race or won't be needed in an emergency. Everything else that you keep on board should be moved to a central location just above the keel. I realize that this might seem like a lot of bother, but it really will translate into improved boat speed. Think of it as moving your boat from cruising mode to racing mode, and you'll get yourself into the proper mindset.
I was once in charge of a project where we converted a 25-foot sloop from a cruising/daysailing vessel into a boat that could perform well on the racecourse. It was an Albin Express 25, which has pretty good legs to begin with, but the first thing I did was conduct an inventory and remove roughly 425 pounds of unused, extraneous gear from the boat. Ultimately we upgraded the sail handling equipment, bought new sails, and put a good racing bottom on it instead of the rolled-on cruising paint that had heretofore been used. Anyway, we had the occasion to quantify what each improvement was worth in terms of dollars spent for speed, and one of the most cost-effective changes was simply removing all that weight.
So, yes, get the folding prop because that will be a boon to you even when you're not racing, but also concentrate on getting the weight off for those occasions when you do race.
The other thing to do in light air is to make sure that you're shifting gears appropriately to keep the sail plan powered up. For more on that, see some of the excellent sail trim articles we've published here at SailNet, particularly those by Pete Colby (Basic Mainsail Trim for Racer) and Rich Bowen (Shifting Gears in Light and Variable Wind). All the best of luck to you.