Bill Draheim and crew Mary Anne Hopper recently won the MC Masters National Championship at Lake Fenton Sailing Club. RCYC’s resident ‘Old Salt’ Jack Kern asked a couple of questions about the regatta that were of interest to the RCYC MC fleet; they were also topics of conversation around the Gus Sails beer cooler at the regatta. Here are Bill’s answers…
How and where did you choose to start and how early did you set up?
The first day the wind was across the short direction of the lake with velocity between 6 and 15 and very shifty. We always chose to start where the best velocity was and it varied every race. A lot of people like to approach on port tack but we always set up early on starboard tack, creeping along to where we wanted to be at the start.
The last day of racing, the breeze was consistently stronger than the first day but not as shifty and from the long direction of the lake. Unlike the first day, we did not necessarily choose to start in the dark water because the shifts and velocity were not changing as rapidly. Because it was easier to see the dark water lasting for longer duration, we tried to start in a position that put us in darker water for a longer period of time. One anomaly of the long beat was the position of the yacht club and how it affected the bottom end of course. A pin start meant the need to tack very soon onto port so we tried to avoid that. Once or twice boats on the line were pinching high and going very slow so we made the decision to give up our favorite position on the line and sail below them looking for a better spot where we could come off the line with speed.
Did you have trouble holding your lane off the starting line and if so discuss your technique.
One thing we do to help keep our lane on the starting line is to keep the weather board down until 20ish seconds to the start. It is important to stay farther away from the boat to leeward and closer to the boat to weather. We also work to be behind the boats to weather and leeward so we can ‘hit the accelerator’ with a few seconds before the start and be moving faster. If you are able to dig closer to the weather boat and go faster at the start, you shouldn’t have any problem holding your lane. Being farther away from boat to leeward gives you the ability to fall off and go faster if you need to. If you can do those two things, you will know 5 seconds after the start that you can hold your lane (forever) and if you don’t you will know 5 seconds after the start that you can’t. Remember that sometimes to hold your lane, you might not be able to sail the upwind style that you want to. For example, if the boat to leeward is pinching you might need to as well until your bow gets in front of him. This change of normal upwind technique should only last until the fleet settles in off the starting line. Lastly, the only time we sail with traveler right on center line is right at the start.
Discuss your management of the first weather leg as to sailing to shifts, dark water, side of the course, etc.
The beats on the first day were very short because we sailed across short side of lake which meant we were never very far from the next dark water even if it was on the other side of the race course. The number one consideration was sailing towards the dark water (puffs) and looking well upwind (2 – 3 puffs ahead). We were not afraid to chase breeze across the race course because the legs were so short. One race we started near the left end of line and missed the first puff on the right and could see the next puff to the right beyond that one. It was so important to get to the dark water that we sailed thru the fleet, taking a lot of transoms. But, we got to the next velocity and rounded top mark in 18th (as opposed to 28th).
The day was a great day of puffs on both sides of the course making it easy to work upwind ‘connecting the dots’ (puffs being the dots). Some people made the mistake of getting into a lull/header combo and tacking. We only tacked if we were in a puff or attempting to get to one but never in a lull that was a header. Velocity can be a much more important factor than the compass heading when deciding where to tack.
It was still shifty sailing the third day but the long beats made the course much more predictable. It was easier to plan to get to and stay in the dark water for longer periods of time. It was not quite as nerve racking as the first day!
Discuss decision making after rounding leeward gate for 2nd and 3rd upwind legs, if sailing in mid fleet as opposed to having clear air in front of you.
We almost always made big gains at the gates. The first thing we try to do when evaluating where to go upwind is to start looking at the boats sailing downwind to gauge their angles and pressure. They are a good telltale for what will be happening on the upwind beat.
With shifty conditions like what we saw in this regatta, big gains can be made by rounding the proper leeward gate. Those gains can be made in different areas. If there is a simple wind direction change relative to the two marks and for a reasonable time in future, round the mark that is more upwind to get further up the course. For example, if the wind is lifted on port tack upwind, round the starboard gate going downwind. Sometimes wind velocity makes the biggest impact on the decision and rounding the gate that gets you to the new wind the quickest is most important.
Some sailors will let themselves get stuck because they are afraid to sail back thru the downwind fleet. Remember that it is the velocity or wind angle that dictates the tack, not the traffic. In addition, the fleet wasn’t that big to begin with so we did not experience big losses when we found it necessary to sail back thru the downwind sailors for velocity or wind.
It did happen one race that we were mid-fleet and all of the little tactical decisions remain. In very large fleets, you might have to wait longer for your spot to tack but in a 30ish boat fleet you should still be able to work the shifts (connect the dots) upwind. If you do that, you will be surprised how quickly you can move up thru the fleet. A lot of sailors aren’t disciplined enough to tack when they should and end up sailing longer on tacks (and out on the corners). Be patient. When the wind is very, very steady it becomes more important to not sail in other people’s bad air. But when it is shiftier and puffier, always take advantage of the velocity and shifts, even if you sail in dirty air.
Assuming neutral direction wind, how soon did you jibe to port and go left on the downwind.
It’s not break time. Huge gains can be made downwind because many sailors aren’t as disciplined about sailing proper (good) angles as they are on the upwind legs. Remember that you need to sail downwind in the puffs. The top guys will typically extend when they round ahead because they sail lower in the puffs.
If the wind is steady, you don’t typically want to jibe right away at the offset mark because there is a big pack of upwind boats coming your way – a lot of dirty air. When you’re down the course a little bit, jibing to port generally works because boats that haven’t jibed also aren’t sailing down. It’s best to put yourself in a position to be able take the puffs down. This part of the sport is interesting because people tend to sail higher angles. It might feel faster but you’re sailing farther than the guys that are sailing down in the puffs. The best thing to remember is ‘think discipline when sailing downwind.
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