Judging by the near record number of entries at Queensland’s recent trifecta of race weeks, taking your cruiser to a regatta has rarely been more popular.
I have sailed in big fleets at many regattas across Australia with mixed results. Sometimes luck is on your side, most of the time the handicapper isn’t, but it’s all great fun.
Despite so many variables out of your control, it is possible to improve your yacht’s racing capabilities and the way it gets sailed. Here’s few key points that I think should be considered to boost any yacht’s performance.
Pretty simple this one… but an easy one to forget if having the “bottom done” is usually more of an annual event. A smooth bottom reduces the water friction around the hull and foils. If you don’t do anything else to prepare your boat, then make sure you do this.
We love our floating home away from home comforts and the safety of a big anchor chain but getting the weight out of the boat, especially the ends, will make the yacht livelier to sail. Removing weight will also help to reduce pitching when sailing upwind. Pitching affects the flow of air across the sails. Reducing weight where you can will have a positive impact across the entire wind range. Start with the anchor and chain, empty the water tanks, and take off cruising or delivery sails. Think about what you can do without (within the rules), to lighten the boat.
The rigs in most cruising boats are tensioned very tight. This can make it hard to adjust the shape of the sails according to the conditions on the day. Before you leave your home club ask your rigger or sailmaker to have a look at the rig to ensure it is straight side to side, and how the mainsail sits on the mast in both light and windy conditions. Ideally, the mast can be adjusted to allow the sail shape to be altered with the sail and rig controls as required on the day. Some small adjustments to mast trim and mainsail luff curve can make massive improvements to your performance and make the sails easier to trim.
Not all yachts come standard with an adjustable backstay, but if you have one or can upgrade to one, you will benefit from proper adjustment. The ability to tighten or loosen the backstay has a positive effect on the jib/genoa and mainsail at the same time. Tighten to de-power for a flatter main and jib when the wind is up; loosen when you want power in lighter breeze. A straighter mast and sagged forestay will power up the sails. Have your sailmaker make up a easy calibration stick or marks for repeatability.
Code Zero & Gennaker
A good running sail and a Code Zero for the “round the island” style racing are must haves.
Non-rating rule racing allows the use of a unrestricted mid-girth gennaker, more like a big genoa which is a very efficient sail that has a wide wind range. From light airs upwind to medium air reaching, the Code Zero is best set on a furler as far in front of the forestay as you can get; ideally on the bowsprit, or strong point on the anchor roller.
If you don’t have a spinnaker pole a running oriented G2 or A2 gennaker is your other downwind sail. A well-designed A2 gennaker can have you sailing low angles close to those of a symmetrical spinnaker without the hassle of a pole. Some boats don’t quite have the winches needed to handle the sheets and guys for a pole anyway, so the running gennaker is a perfect fit. For a bigger boat, you might also consider having a snuffer fitted to the sail to make the hoist and drop safer and easier. You can also snuff and gybe if you are not confident to gybe when the breeze is up.
Downwind sail Cross-Over Chart
Knowing when the Code Zero is faster than the jib or what true wind angles you can carry the A2 to, is an easy way to save trial and error decision-making while racing. Ask your sailmaker to help you create a simple X-Y chart that shows True Wind Speed and True Wind Angle across the top and side of the page, then it’s as simple as matching TWA and TWS against the sail you need.
Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Your local sailmaker is always there to bounce ideas off and offer tips on how to get the most from your boat, regardless of how many coffee machines it might have onboard.