HWS Day 2 Report from With Alacrity – 17th October 2010
Must admit, the light, gusty and shifty wind we saw on Sunday I find the most difficult to race in, but in sailboat racing it’s pointless yearning for what you think provides the most ideal sailing – you just need to get on and sail as well as you can whatever the conditions you are faced with.
On With Alacrity we tend to be quite anal-ytical about racing the boat and try to break down the gains and losses by the most easily estimated on-water measure – the boatlength (BL). Frequently Sigma 38 one design races are won or lost by just a few BLs or even fractions of a BL and it is a good exercise to look back in a race and see all the moments you lost precious BLs that could have been critical at the finish – but more importantly work out how to avoid making the same losses next time.
Being not only anal-ytical in approach but also a fan of Excel, I think it is interesting to do some maths to convert stuff that happens in a Sigma 38 into boatlengths. So, if my Excel formulae are right:
· At 5.5 knots a Sigma 38 will travel just under 15 BLs in a minute.
· At the same speed a 10 degree windshift will gain you 5 BLs per minute over a competitor who is sailing headed on the other tack - yes, that is one third distance travelled gain from a 10 degree shift!
· The difference between sailing at 4 knots boatspeed in a 5 knot lull and at 6 knots in a 10 knot gust is also around 5 BLs each minute
· Depending on how good at tacking you are (and this is getting away from maths to human judgement), I reckon tacking a Sigma 38 in 10 knots of wind loses 2 BLs, in 5 knots of wind it can easily lose 5BLs or more and take over 30 seconds from starting the tack to being up to speed on the new course.
OK, so this tells us that sailing on a 10 degree lift is good, that sailing in more breeze when it is light and flakey is just as good as a shift and having both is great. No surprises there, though curious to remind ourselves quite how big the benefit is. You can spend a lot of money at a sailmaker for a miniscule fraction of this in gained boatspeed! The really tricky question, which causes much debate on With Alacrity, is how to judge whether it is worth tacking on a heading shift. Obviously a whole range of outcomes depending on boat speed etc but here is one way of looking at it, be interested to hear if anyone disagrees:
· In 9 knots of breeze where it takes 15 seconds to tack and get up to speed losing 2 BLs ,then a 10 degree shift has to stay for at least 51 secs for you to get a BL net gain (15 secs to tack + 24 secs to get back the lost 2 BLs + 12 secs to have 1 BL net gain).
· In 5 knots of breeze where it takes 30 secs to tack and get up to speed losing 5 BLs then a 10 degree shift has to stay for 128 seconds for a BL net gain (30 secs to tack + 82 secs to get back the lost 5 BLs at a slower speed + 16 secs to have 1 BL net gain).
Sailing for 1 or 2 minutes before gaining from a tack may not sound like much – until you remember we cover 15 BLs in a minute at 5.5 knots so you need to believe the 10 degree shift or gust is still going to be there 570+ feet ahead to be worth tacking......which in light and shifty Northerly winds in the Solent it frequently isn’t.....which is why we end up tacking too often.....and why I find these conditions so difficult, but also quite fascinating and absorbing.
True to our winter series resolutions from week 1, we had someone dedicated to calling times and distance at the start and went for clear air a third of the way down the line rather than mix it with the crowd at the favoured committee boat end of the line. In the end, boats were spread quite well down the line and Light came off the start best, narrowly ahead of the consistent Nuance (the only boat not to score a result out of the top 4 so far in HWS). We were quite happy to have space to be able to concentrate on boatspeed without having other boats nearby. There were some big 20 degree shifts coming down the course, especially nearer the windward mark and we worked a few of these for some marginal gain. The biggest call came half way up the beat when we spotted more wind to the left and headed that way, Light went right and slowed horribly whilst we held the breeze up to the windward mark to round in 2nd place behind Festina Lente. Our hoist was quicker and we were soon on their transom down the first run with a big decision to make, go to windward and spend the rest of the leg in the inevitable luffing match or play the long game by sailing to leeward to be on the outside at the leeward mark and look for chance to overtake later in the race. As this was the first run we opted for the latter in the hope we could stretch a little further from the pack so that if we did end up in a tactical battle we would not risk losing 2nd place.
On the 2nd beat the wind was getting light and flakey for the first part of the leg but we kept the boat going well by sailing free and managed to slip past Festina. Again the left paid and we were comfortably ahead at the next windward mark. On the final beat to the finish, again the wind went very light and we were struggling to keep the boatspeed up – suddenly Zanzara were the nearest boat having passed Festina and were gaining fast, where did they come from? We did too many tacks up this last beat but kept ourselves between Zanzara and the finish to make certain of the result. Without doing anything spectacular we were very happy to have avoided the many potential pitfalls in this race.
Whilst in race 1 we had been able to get some useful information from watching the fleets ahead, the 15 minutes before the start of race 2 had our tactical committee unable to agree about which way to go (we try to have as many people as possible talking through tactics in the hope that a healthy debate will come to better conclusions – not often we have irreconcilable opposing views on where to start and which way to go up the first beat). The left had paid on every beat in race 1 but now we could see some huge 30 degree right hand shifts coming down the race track but not lasting long enough to be able to pick a good route through them. In the absence of a better idea we decided to sail up the middle and play the shifts as they came. With 2 minutes to go the wind went right so we abandoned the idea of a mid-line start and headed over to the committee boat, but Kindred Spirit had the same idea and got there first to leeward of us. We were shut out for a slow, late start whilst Kindred Spirit aced it. Shortly after the start the wind went left so we tacked rather than cross behind the fleet and soon were confronted with the big moored ship and the decision whether to go left or right of it. We wanted to go left but the left shift stayed, the boats 100m ahead were on a starboard lift so we waited patiently before tacking - but it never got down to us as the wind died and we watched everyone sail away from us. The funny thing was, the boats on the left found wind and a lift and Kindred Spirit nailed it best to lead at the first mark but did anyone notice the IRC 3 boats that went right (to the East of the moored ship) who also found wind and gained loads lead by Scarlet Jester who won IRC 3 – it suddenly felt quite lonely in the middle!
We eventually got into the breeze and just managed to hold off Gallant & Gambit at the windward mark but the wind had clocked left turning the downwind leg into quite a tight reach and the upwind leg almost a port fetch – probably not a bad thing as the wind also died away and this was about the only way we could get around the course in a reasonable time. We overtook Vitesse on the first downwind leg by staying high in clearer breeze and spent the rest of the race battling with Zanzara. It is always worth keeping the concentration up in light wind as big leads can evaporate very quickly if the boats ahead sail into a hole, but It was not to be in this race and Kindred Spirit won in emphatic style followed by Light a close 2nd. Light have spent most of the winter series sailing around in the top 3, before dropping places in the last few legs, so good to see them post a well overdue 2nd place on the scoreboard.
We managed to hold off Zanzara for 5th place, about a mile behind the leaders ....oh dear - that is about 160 lost BLs to analyse away for next time!
It was lovely to be out sailing though wasn’t it?