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Peter’s Blog: Perfecting Light Wind Sailing

The ladies of the Parkstone Yacht Club sailing session were greeted with a very glassy Poole Harbour and the enthusiasm to race, let alone go out, was low. 

“I need more excitement in my life” said one of the ladies, looking out at the harbour. In her defence, there wasn’t a lot of wind out there, but there was certainly more than last week.

“Any requests, ladies?” There were two quick responses about not wanting to race, onw response about it might be nice to do something before racing and there were two silences.  Looking at the two that were silent, they looked like someone had shot the cat, barely holding back the tears as the thought of going afloat without having a race AT ALL began to materialise. They were now both in their own private hell and they needed rescuing. So with a nod and a wink, “OK let’s get out there and see what transpires” - As they say, hope springs eternal and Liz and Yvonne went afloat with hope in their hearts.

As for the “non-racers”, well, one of them regretted their response later.

Out we went in a lovely gentle breeze, well that is what I would call it but in the Beaufort Scale it would have been referred to as a light breeze.  Although I have always found the Beaufort Scales description of wind slightly amusing with its use of the word Breeze.  Only the Beaufort Scale would refer to a Force six as a Strong Breeze and then go straight to a Force seven being described as Near Gale.  What happened to Quite Windy on the way??

Back to the session. So, we worked on Trim as one of the most forgotten of the five essentials of sailing and this involved getting the sailors to get their weight forward as much as they could and then finding a comfortable position whilst there.  In light winds you generally know that  you won’t have to do any fast manoeuvring so getting in front of the mainsheet isn’t such a concern whereas in windy conditions that would generally be a bit of a no-no.

So, what does getting your weight forward do to the boat and why only do it when the winds are light? It does two things which both have one effect. Reducing the Drag - and you only have to look at any foiling boat to see the effect that reducing the drag can have.  The reason that the America’s Cup Catamarans go so fast? Hugely reduced drag.  Now I’m not saying that we are going to have that much effect, but we can certainly increase our speed by 10%, although of course we weren’t racing. No, not at all.

Getting our weight forward gets the bow down which gets the stern up.  Now looking at the shape of the underside of a boat you can see that the back of the boat is relatively flat whereas the front of the boat has shape which displaces more water than the flat back.  A boat, when moving slowly, stays afloat by displacing the weight of water that equals the weight of the boat and its cargo (crew).  By using the shape of the front of the boat we can displace the same amount of water but by using less wetted surface area. Less wetted surface area = less drag = greater boat speed.

The second advantage is that the back of the boat is, generally, a right angle between the flat bottom and the stern. If this part of the boat is dug into the water then it creates turbulence = drag = less boat speed, so by getting our weight forward it lifts the transom out of the water and gives a smooth exit for the water going under the boat.

So that’s the technical bit out of the way.  We obviously were not racing around the three buoys but Mel (she of the "please can we not race” brigade) was clearly going consistently faster than the others, despite some blatant breaches of Rule 42 by the keen beans, although if we weren’t racing were they really breaking aby rules – discuss.

As you will see in the video, Mel suddenly had a great interest in where the finish line was, and if I was sitting in the boat like Mel was I would have a keen interest in where the nearest A and E was.  I pointed out that it was hard to have a finish line when we hadn’t had a start line but this didn’t go down well.  With Liz and Yvonne now creating major disturbances in the water from their rocking in their determination to catch up we called the race at the next mark.

But of course there is always the most important race to come.  The race in. Mel, it seemed, was now very comfortable, sat like a spatched chicken and luckily there were to be no gybing or tacking on the way in and despite Yvonne’s best efforts Mel, the non-racer, won both non-races.

Weight loss?  5kgs lost. And how did you achieve this, I hear you ask? Well, we took the dog to the vet and they had these very special scales built into the floor and it appears that I am 5 kgs lighter! Overnight!  But this does mean that the poor dog is going to have to go the vets every week now for me to maintain this loss.

And the Christmas Dinner? Well seeing two of my fellow volunteers dancing to “Everybody was Kung Foo Fighting” will make it a night to remember/forget depending on how close to the dance floor you were.

Peter

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