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Performance Tips from the Top

Robson, center, in his customary position leading his FD friends around the racecourse.
Earlier this summer Lin Robson traveled to Newport, RI from his home in St. Petersburg, FL to participate in the Flying Dutchman National Championships. Robson, the sales manager of AirForce Sails, has been sailing in this two-person trapeze class for five years, and has been the National Champ three times before. Sailing with crew Serge Jorgensen, Robson didn't just win the event, he was dominant, with bullets in all but one of the six races at the event.

Though this former Olympic class has seen its population decline in the US during the last decade, it remains a very competitive class. For the National Championships in Newport, there were 10 entries, some of them made up of young collegiate sailors moving over from other classes like the more contemporary 49er. We caught up with Robson after the event to see if we could learn from his success at the Nationals.

SailNet: How do you prepare for an event like the nationals? Is it a long-term focus for you, or do you just begin to get tuned up a few weeks before the event?
Lin Robson: Like most sports today, on varying levels you are training year-round. I am blessed to live in an area where sailing is great nearly year-round. Except for the summer here in Florida, we've got excellent conditions for sailing. During the summer, we travel to regattas in other parts of the country, and hopefully overseas when possible.

SN: How much time on the water did you log in the month before the regatta?
LR: We try to sail once every two weeks, with a higher frequency prior to an important regatta. We try to concentrate on the "blocking and tackling" aspects—the fundamentals like roll-tacking, pole-to-pole jibes, and making sure at mark roundings that we are moving at top speed. The latter means trimming the sails in concert with one another, and picking a turning line that allows the crew to be out on the trapeze as the boat gets just abeam of the mark.

Taking proper care of your equipment, like tuning your rig appropriately, is just the first phase of regatta preparation.

SN: What about your equipment? How do you go about getting it ready and ensuring that you've got the sails you want to use and that all your other gear will survive a multi-day event with multiple races each day?
LR: Equipment for this class is extremely important since tuning and the adjustment of the rakeable rig, centerboard, sails, etc. is a key component in how well you do. I use a Mader boat, which is a very well-engineered product, proven over a long period of Olympic development. Other than that, it is just a matter of keeping very current on maintenance and taking along a few spare parts in case something fails at the regatta.

SN: Do you and your crew engage in any physical training with an event like the Nationals in mind?
LR: I have always been somewhat of a gym rat, and train physically year-round. My crew, Serge Jorgensen, trains almost all the time as well. When we're not sailing we try to focus on a combination of aerobic and strength conditioning.

SN: OK, what about techniques on the water? What does it take to plane upwind on a Flying Dutchman?
LR: First, you need enough wind pressure to get the crew on the wire, and almost enough so that you start to be a little overpowered. This happens about 10 to 12 knots. Keeping the boat really flat, with the right amount of centerboard and mast rake is key. In the FD, the rig is so adjustable, tailoring the available horsepower in a balanced way is essential to promoting planing. Above 12 knots, the centerboard rake becomes more important, since it is not only a question of helm balance, but also of form drag. In other words, the faster you go, the less foil you need to provide a necessary level of lift with less drag. In heavy air, if you watch a fleet of FDs, you'll see the rigs raked pretty well aft, almost resembling a fleet of windsurfers.

"On board keel boats, I think one thing that happens is that not everyone tunes into what the correct angle of attack for the keel should be, and that's key."

SN: We realize that planing upwind like that is only possible on skiff-like boats, a few light keel boats, and some multihulls, but are there aspects to the techniques that can help sailors aboard more displacement-style craft get more out of their boats?
LR: It's a little difficult to say because all boats are different, but I think aboard keel boats, not everyone tunes into what the correct angle of attack for the keel should be, and that's key. It may mean sailing a course lower than where the sails could be trimmed quite flat. For every boat, if the foils are afforded the best opportunity to keep flow attached as much as possible, the better the VMG [velocity made good] will be. Speed generally equals height. You also have to keep in mind what is the best angle of heel for the boat. Typically, the flatter a boat can be, the more efficient the foils can be under water, but that's not true for boats like E-Scows. With enough time on any boat, you'll develop a sense about where she is relative to her lines, and how balanced the boat is once you've gotten the lift-to-drag ratios of the sails set correctly. In the absence of all other factors, it's that state that we strive for.

SN: OK, so that puts the emphasis on sail trim. On the FD, you've got a relatively large overlapping genoa, which translates pretty directly to a lot of PHRF boats whose designs were popular before 1995. Are there elements of rig tune and sail trim on the FD that you can adopt on these keel boats?
LR: That is a good question. Most good sailors rightfully pay attention to the leading edge of the headsail, and the trailing edge of the main, making sure the sails have the correct amount of twist for the boat and the conditions. That's good, but you can take the science a little further though and consider the relationship between the aft edge of the genoa and the area of the main where they overlap. That has a lot to do with the vertical distribution of depth on a sail, genoa sheet angle, and the amount of sheet trim on both sails.

Getting his crew out on the wire and getting his FD up on a plane are the central performance concerns for Robson when competing.
SN: What about sails? Have you learned things from sailing this boat that apply to your sailmaking for other boats?
LR: What makes sailing and the science of sails so interesting to me is that the medium in which you exist is dynamic, and the shapes for sails that are developed hinge on so many different factors. A person's sailing style or degree of attention for example determines partly how flat the headsail entry can be. Rounder is easier to steer to. The degree to which a rig can be changed under way affects the shape we can put in. At the end of the day, you are trying to induce a sail shape that yields the best lift-to-drag ratio for the situation.

For our cruising clients, it really means we must build sails that are effective over a wide wind range, and offer the kind of structural integrity that ensures years of safe, reliable operation.

In planing boats, the speed potential between boats is such that getting the boat handling and speed producing techniques under control as much as possible is paramount. This allows attention to the strategy and tactical parts of the race. Keeping a constant angle of heel upwind is a sign of anticipation and attention. Acting in advance of, vs. reacting to changes.

Note how far aft Robson's crew is in anticipation of the transitional phase of going from upwind to reaching around the top mark.
SN: Lin, thanks for your time. When can we expect to see your name in the headlines again? Are you going to be racing this winter in the FD Class?
LR: I don't know about headlines, but we go out to San Diego shortly for our North American Championships. San Diego is a great place to sail, and it affords us the opportunity to get together with our friends from Mexico and Canada, as well as the California group and the fanatics from the East Coast. In February, we meet at home in St. Petersburg for the FD, 505 and International Canoe Midwinters Championships, which is always a great regatta. And my team is also working toward going to the World Championships next summer in Portugal.

Suggested Reading:

Adjustable Sheet Leads by Brian Hancock

A Different Kind of Cross Training by Dan Dickison

Performance Priorities—How to Coach Yourself by Zack Leonard


Buying Guide: AirForce Sails

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