In 2013, I was fortunate enough to be on the crew of Larchmont Yacht Club’s entry in the New York Yacht Club’s Invitational Cup. We were the “young” team (OK, my age was the outlier); largely a bunch of dinghy sailors with tremendous small boat skills; and, while some of us had solid big-boat chops, we had largely sailed against and not with each other. Developing a crew rhythm didn’t come naturally.
We found ourselves in a NYYC Swan 42—thank you Roger Widmann for loaning LYC QUINTESSENCE—and we naively thought we were all set when we got to Newport. Fortunately, we have two weekends of practice on Narraganset Bay to come.
LYC’s Chad Corning had arranged to have Moose McClintock coach us on practice day 1 and Ed Adams for the balance. Sure, they showed us how to make the boat go fast, taught us how to execute the Sambuca spinnaker set (look it up...it’s a killer move), and more. All that tech stuff was great, but there was one lesson we learned that continues to resonate.
The backstory: My job on the boat was Pit Assist; not a very involved role. At one point when not on task, I started to coil a jib sheet in the cockpit. Ed stopped me. “Put that down,” he commanded. I gave him a bewildered look as he continued. “Andy is trimming the jib. Clearing the jib sheets is HIS job...it’s in his ‘box.’ He should do it because it’s his hide if it’s not right. Your job is to worry about these lines over here. That’s your box. If everyone stays in their own boxes and focuses on performing their role, and not someone else’s, your boat handling and maneuvers will work more efficiently. It’s a recipe for success!” (I paraphrase.)
At first, I saw that as a bit dogmatic; but after a few moments I realized that he was spot on. The first weekend when we matched-up with the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (the eventual winner), they handled us easily as we stumbled around on the boat. However, after our four days of training... with everyone now staying in their respective boxes...this “young” team came out of the gates fast; out-maneuvered the competition, and almost won the regatta.
Today, I coach junior big boat programs and college teams during the LYC/Storm Trysail Foundation Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta. The first briefing we have is “who is doing what?” Right then and there I drive home the need to stay in your box and do your job. The others will take of the rest.
And, when sailing myself, one of the most valuable contributions I make is understanding the parameters of my box and not to try and do someone else’s job. Here’s one time when “thinking outside the box” is NOT a good thing.
Editor’s Note and An Owner’s Confession by Adam Loory:
Here goes...I’ve been sailing all my life and am a sailmaker who races my own 40-footer. I have to admit that I don’t always stay in my box—mentally and physically—and I have been told over the years to stop reaching for lines and just drive. My former long-time tactician made the point that not only does my driving suffer when I reach out to pull a line or grind a winch, but it keeps crewmembers from growing better in their jobs. It has been a hard lesson to learn, and it has cost me some crewmembers, but I think I’m getting the message. Adam, just drive.
Quintessence photo courtesy Daniel Forster/NYYC
Top-10 Reasons To Do Weeknight Racing
10 – You can practice your tactics and maneuvers in a low-pressure environment.
9 – You can bring along and train your B Team so they are ready to step-in when your weekend warriors can’t make it.
8 – It forces you to get out of the office earlier than usual – bring a co-worker so they can finally appreciate and understand all those odd things they overhear you saying on the phone to crewmates.
7 – It’s a great way to get your kids or other juniors out in big boats.
6 – Chances are you’ll see a great sunset.
5 – You can rotate your crew through different positions, which helps crewmembers understand maneuvers better.
4 – You can sharpen your starting skills.
3 – There often is a social element apres sailing.
2 – You just can’t get enough time on the water.
And the #1 reason to do weeknight club racing:
1 – They don’t call it “beer can racing” for nothing!
If you ever wanted to see X-Drive sails in action, check out this video. It shows the X302 XEBEC with with X-Drive Carbon sails sailing out of Howth Yacht Club in Dublin, Ireland. The both the main and genoa have a strip of reinforcing taffeta on their leeches. The leech of a sail gets more abuse than any other part of the sail. When the sail luffs, the Dacron leech tape snaps back and forth which, over time, breaks down the fibers in the sail at the inside edge of the leach tape. The sailmaker’s term for this damage is called “hinging.” The reinforcing strip moves the hinging point forward into the sail where the sail doesn't flutter as much. Notice that the inboard edge of the taffeta reinforcing strip has a wavy pattern instead of straight edge to reduce the chance of hinging.
A detail like this is just one more reason that X-Drive sails last as long as they do. For more information about our X-Drive carbon racing sails click here.
Well-designed, fast and durable sails that last and won’t break the bank!
Steve Gordon’s Alden 50 ELENA needed a new headsail but he was asking for a lot — He asked for a good light-weight reaching genoa that would power the boat in this summer’s Marion to Bermuda Race; but this sail couldn’t be a “One Trick Pony.” After the race he wanted the sail to be used as the genoa on his furler that would be used all summer for daysailing and cruising. Plus the cost of this lightweight, racing-winning durable cruising sail couldn’t break the bank since there were many other boat details that required his financial attention. That’s a lot to ask from one genoa, so he asked UK Sailmakers for a solution...a magic bullet, as it were.
UK created a custom designed, high-clewed X-Drive® genoa for ELENA with more camber than a traditional Light No. 1 for power and better reaching. The high-clew sail sheets better when reaching and X-Drive gave Steve a fast, durable, and light sail that left something in the bank. After ELENA returns from the Marion-to-Bermuda Race, UK will add UV protective covers on the leech and foot for roller furling.
So, you may ask, how did this new sail turn out? Well, Steve used it for the first time in Larchmont Yacht Club Edlu Race – a 32-miler on Long Island Sound. The leg out and back were close reaches and ELENA’s performance excelled using the sail. Here’s what Steve had to say, “I love the new sail. I’m able to point higher than expected and it works great off the wind, too. But I thought it came with a guarantee of wind for the entire race...forty-five more minutes and we’d have won the whole thing!”
Ron Weiss, who is Steve’s co-skipper said, “I just wanted to send you a personal note of thanks for the fantastic job you and the loft did with our new "secret weapon." The Edlu provided perfect test conditions with AWS of 15 knots or more and at a 60-70 Apparent wind angle. We found the sail provided a tremendous amount of drive, minimal heel, and the perfect amount of twist in almost all settings. We often sheeted it to the rail, and I'm very impressed with both the sweet spot of the sail, and its sailing ability close to the wind. While ELENA will never be an upwind machine, the sail performed upwind better than the old Dacron sail did, so I think it will be Steve's go-to, daily-use sail; which is exactly the brief we gave you and you delivered on it in spades. We can't wait to see the new staysail and how she performs in a double headsail configuration.”
Photos courtesy of Howard McMichael
Last Thursday night during our evening racing series, I got pushed over the line early and had to restart. There were only three boats in our class—it’s still early in the season—but it was still good competition. We worked the shifts and the current on the first leg of a windward/leeward race and, by the time we got to the top mark we were two lengths behind the second boat and probably 14 lengths behind the leader. The challenge we faced was how to making gains two leading boats on the downwind leg.
Spoiler Alert: we did pass the second-place boat and almost nipped the leader on elapsed time – but we did win on a corrected basis. But what are the things we did that made the difference? Here’s a list:
In the lulls, we heated up our course and burned down in the puffs. Sure, that’s not rocket science; however, we know enough not to get greedy in either direction. If we went too high or too low, we’d be sailing a poor VMG and could have hurt ourselves.
The trimmer, tactician, and I (on helm) shared a steady conversation of data inputs. The tactician called puffs, the trimmer indicated increases and decreases in pressure on the sail/sheet, and I let them know if I was heating up the course or soaking to leeward.
We didn’t let ourselves become mesmerized by the instruments. Sure, they help; but they provide data...not decisions. And, their readings lag behind the actual boat changes. We gained by “seat-of-the-pants” sailing. Feeling the boat slightly heel or flatten. Listening to the volume level of the water rushing past the transom. Getting our heads out of the boat...watching how we were doing versus the competition. If you only watch the instruments, you end up over steering. Most of the times if you sail by the speedo, the speed will crash and you’ll have to turn up a lot to get your speed back. But if you can hear or feel the speed going down, you can correct when you have only lost a few tenths.
Soaking down promptly when our speed increased allowed us to pull even and three lengths below the second-place boat. When it was time to gybe we were ahead.
We avoided small boat traffic when we could. With the smaller boats starting first, you end up having to wind your way through a crowd sometimes. We picked our holes better than our competition.
We didn’t get tense. OK, a Thursday night beer can race isn’t the America’s Cup...but you can still get worked-up if you’re not careful. After we restarted, we left that faux pas behind us and returned to our game plan which was to tack to port soon after the start.
Finally, we were sailing with friends...so we had a great time and, in the end, when we corrected out to win our division, we rediscovered why it’s called a beer can race.
See you next Thursday night???
This video shows two sprit boats gybing their asymmetrical spinnakers and is a good compare and contrast exercise to learn about the best way to gybe an asymmetrical spinnaker. Watch the video and listen to the commentary. The video ran on UK Sailmakers Facebook page on April 23rd and one of our Facebook followers, Long Island Sound Sailor Wes Bemus, added a lengthy but very informative and instructional comment to that post. Here’s what Wes had to share making us all a little smarter about gybing an asym.
It may be worth cautioning your readers that a premature spike can make a gybe worse if the mid-girth of the kite is not pulled most of the way through before the spike. CHECKMATE and JOSS’ bow crews were both pulling from too far forward on the boat. Once the clew reaches the midbow position on the foredeck, they’re spiking the sail before the majority of it has rotated through. This makes the gybe slower by powering up the sail area above the middle of the sail that is still on the old gybe. You’re also slowing down the overall rotation of the sail around the boat by pulling the sail down and not aft before spiking.
Good rule of thumb: anyone overhauling the sheet from ahead of the shrouds on a gybe is not improving that gybe.
What would also improve this gybe and overall sail trim would be a tighter tackline. You can see the sail falling to leeward with 6” of tack eased up in those conditions. After coming through the gybe, the sail will fall to leeward further into the mainsail’s lee and then take longer to power up and pop through with a saggy tackline slacking luff tension. If the sail wants to rotate to windward after the gybe, then it’s okay to ease it back out once the boat is at speed at its VMG angle. Another rule of thumb: even if it was working for you before the gybe, bone down the tackline before a gybe.
Also, CHECKMATE’s helm did not follow the kite through the end of the Gybe appropriately for the windspeed they were experiencing. The boat and main gybed before the kite came through and blanketed the spinnaker from filling on the new gybe. Furthermore, as the kite was loading up on port at 0:44, you see the helmsman turn down just prior to the “spike” from the female crew. Turning down depowers the sail and makes her spike take longer to have an effect on the sail. This S-turn driving is good for the traditionally windy conditions in Fremantle, but with no whitecaps and three crew on the low side, they should have been more comfortable using the wind angle pressure to pop the kite through and accelerate the boat out of the gybe. Any heel angle generated from doing so can be flattened out for more acceleration by a nice roll from the crew.
Finally, there’s nobody grinding on the new spinnaker sheet for the trimmer, which would help him get those last 3-4 feet in quicker as the helmsman turned up out of the Gybe to flip the luff through without needing a spike. Investing in an 8” handle does wonders.
Thanks, Wes. Good points made and lots to be absorbed. And, as we’ve said in previous posts, practice makes perfect and articulating boat handling best practices in this manner help us all become better sailors.
Before heading to Australia in December 2017 for their first Sydney-to-Hobart Race, the crew of Andrew Weiss’ CHRISTOPHER DRAGON had a briefing session with renowned ocean racer Richard duMoulin. Rich has over 25 Bermuda Races, a couple of Trans-Atlantic races, a few Fastnets, and at least one Hobart Race in his past...plus breaking the 100+ year-old Tea Route record sailing with Rich Wilson on a trimaran from Hong Kong to New York nonstop. In short, Moulie knows what he’s talking about. With a good deal of the Hobart Race expected to be downwind, duMoulin explained how to recover quickly and safely from the three most common types of spinnaker failures one could encounter at sea. Spoiler Alert: all three recoveries involve being set-up for a letterbox takedown.
If the halyard breaks or halyard shackle opens—The most immediate danger in this scenario is the sail falling into the water in front of the boat with you sailing over it. Immediately the helm should steer closer to the wind to get sail alongside the boat rather than in front and underneath it. If done quickly, the sail will float on top of the water avoiding damage.
The quick crew response is to snug the retrieval line, blow the tack and sheet, and execute a letterbox. Pulling the sail up and over the boom drains the water off the sail making it easier to retrieve. Interestingly, during the Hobart Race, Weiss’ crew encountered this exact situation—the letterbox was pre-set, the sail was retrieved safely, and the same chute was used again later in the race.
Tack line breaks or the shackle opens—In this situation the helm bears off quickly to keep the sail in front of the boat while still aloft. If allowed to fly aft on the sheet, it can be difficult to control and ripped easily on the end of the boom. With the bow turned down, snug the retrieval line and do an immediate letterbox takedown.
Sheets disconnect or the clew blows out—This is the most difficult of the three because you’ve probably lost the retrieval line attached to the clew. Someone will need to quickly run a new retrieval line to the tack of the spinnaker, bring the new line aft and run that line over the boom, and use that line for your letterbox. The helm must quickly determine which way to steer, especially on a sprit boat, so that someone can safely reach the tack and attach the new retrieval line. This happened in the 2019 Voile de St. Barths on the Marten 49 SUMMER STORM. The tack shackle released unexpectedly and our bowman quickly rigged a take-down line to the tack and we used it to pull the chute down into the companion way. There was no time to get the line through the slot between the boom and the foot of the main.
While this is a post on retrieving problem spinnakers, it’s also a testimonial for always being set-up for a letterbox takedown while sailing offshore. Remember, with the letterbox you can avoid a forward hatch take down which risks getting water down the hatch. And, you don’t have to have anyone on the bow (except for the blown sheet situation). Note: when setting-up for a letterbox for an asym chute, make sure the tack line is long enough that it will allow the sail to be fully retrieved with the tack line still attached. Either that or have in-place a remote trip line for the tack such as a Martin Breaker.
If you’re going offshore to race or do a passage, always have a retrieval line on the clew led over the boom to a snatch block on the windward rail and back to a cockpit winch. By tailing the retriever line on a winch, you prevent the sail getting blown overboard if the crew loses control of the sail. To watch our video on letterbox takedowns, click HERE.
UK Sailmakers Fremantle’s Geoff Bishop, a life-long sailor and has numerous Sydney-Hobart Races under his belt. When asked to sail the race again with his customer Tim Stewart (Esperance, WA) and his crew who did not have a lot of offshore experience, Geoff was wary. Doing the fabled Hobart Race with a raw offshore crew seemed unwise until Geoff and the lads adopted a different approach.
Here’s Geoff’s report on the race:
Six months before the 2018 Hobart race, Tim Steward called me explained that he and eight mates wanted to tick off the Sydney to Hobart yacht race from their bucket list. I had sailed aboard Stewart’s Salona 44 ANGER MANAGEMENT at Hamilton Island the year before, they decided that they needed more UK Sailmakers’ sails and me to help them sail the race safely.
My thought was that we had a great bunch of blokes who lacked significant offshore experience—they'd never raced at night and never raced with a watch system. We managed to eliminate fire drills and high-stress situations, and they didn’t miss a beat!
Rather than risk crew or boat, heavy weather gybes where done by dropping spinnakers and re-hoisting. Headsail changes where bare-headed. We anticipated upcoming manoeuvres, we communicated effectively, and thus we succeeded. We got to the finish in a very respectable position; but, importantly, there were no breakdowns and the crew could hold their heads high.
On the first night, Anger Management was sailing downwind with the S4 in about 28 knots of wind, we where really doing well and at the front end of our fleet. Our helmsmen were steering well in the heavy air and the boat was recording its highest speeds, records were being broken. When it came time to gybe, the looks on everyone face changed from excited fun to absolute fear. I was reminded by the bowman that they had never had a spinnaker up in this wind speed plus many the crew had never ever sailed at these speeds and certainly had never gybed at night before. A quick reality check was needed; the headsail was hoisted, the spinnaker was dropped, the gybe completed, and then the spinnaker was packed and re-hoisted.
We found out that a lot of boats blew out sails that night, sails that would be needed later in the race.
It was awesome to see so many of the crew’s family members and supporters on the jetty to welcome them in. Memories made during the race and the following days in Hobart will last a lifetime. The speech from Tim and emotions from everyone on the dock after we arrived reminded me of how much of effort this dream had taken to make it possible not just from the sailor’s but the families and sponsors as well.
Tim Stewart commented, “As for the crew (Russell Bridge, Dylan Pinchin, Chris Ratliff, Mark Quinlivan, Robbie Johnston, Colin Maloney, Stuart McIntyre, Geoff Bishop, and Mark Wheeler), you couldn’t have asked for a better team. Not once did anyone whinge or complain about what was needed or being done, and when things weren’t going our way they just sucked it up and got in with it. Of course, this is all made easier by a constant stream of bad jokes and non-stop crap being talked about. I always knew when we put the crew together that we could rely on each and every one to play their part.”
When the sun rose the day after we finished, the team was excited to see a lot of racing yachts on the dock who had finished after us, they certainly loved their Hobart experience and where able to be proud that they didn’t just do the Hobart they raced all the way and finished way above where they thought they would.
For me, I was surprised and proud to see the amount of support this boat and crew had from their local community of Esperance. They had become one of the most supported boats in the fleet. In fact, a two-page spread in Yachting World Magazine featured Anger Management approaching the Organ Pipes. Their bucket list had another tick.
When you first learn about the Race to Alaska (R2AK), you quickly learn this really is not your grandfather’s yacht race. As the regatta’s website states: “No motor, no support, all the way to Alaska.
The physical endurance, saltwater know-how, and bulldog tenacity to navigate the 750 cold water miles from Port Townsend, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska.” What you have to understand, however, is that “no motor” doesn’t mean “no power.”
Power? What power?
Simply put, anything short of an engine or motor. These sailboats are (of course) rigged with sails; but many have oars. Some have paddle wheels or propellers...powered by humans! The race starts in June 3, in Port Townsend and goes north...largely taking the inside passage to Alaska as centuries of native Americans and gold miners did. This was the first and now is North America’s longest wind & human-powered race. And there’s a cash prize!
You, a boat, a starting gun. $10,000 if you finish first, a set of steak knives if you’re second. Cathartic elation if you can simply complete the course. R2AK is a self-supported race with no supply drops and no safety net. Any boat without an engine can enter. Last year 37 teams were accepted and 21 finished.
Teams...did you say teams?
There are currently 30 teams registered and their names are not to be believed! https://r2ak.com/2019-teams-full-race-participants/ One of the UK Sailmakers powered teams is Team Shut Up and Drive from San Francisco. Sailing a Beneteau Figaro 2 will be Nathalie Criou, Satchel Douglas, Neil Roberts, Tanguy De Lamottem, Justin van Emmerik, Robert Dieterich, and Jeremiah Edwards, Brett Bova. Seen in the photo below, Nathalie’s comments follow:
“We have entered Race to Alaska (and Oregon Offshore Week and the Swiftsure as primer races and to learn about the Pacific Northwest) and we are equipping our Figaro 2 with new sails and a twin pedal drive to compete in the event.”
Being ready – Anticipating
“Thanks to UK Sailmakers, we will be leaving with a pretty-full sail inventory for a Figaro 2 as we anticipate encountering pretty much every kind of condition: no wind at all (pedal drive, no sailing) to light air (UK Sailmakers’ genoa and mainsail, or a bowsprit with an asymmetrical spinnaker), to medium air (UK genoa and mainsail and large symmetrical spinnaker off a pole), to heavy air (reefed UK mainsail, jib, and perhaps even Storm Jib or a small symmetrical spinnaker). And, if the wheels really come off, we’re also looking into a Trysail.”
Why did you select UK Sailmakers’ sails?
"After a year of racing and four genoa failures, we were looking for a high-performance sail that would survive blustery San Francisco conditions and give us a balanced sail plan with our big mainsail. We needed a jib that can stay up into the 20- knot range, but still have shape in lighter air. We couldn't be happier with our new UK Sailmakers Titanium genoa."
"Oregon Offshore Week, Swiftsure and R2AK have significant upwind portions and given its size, the mainsail on a Figaro 2 has a huge influence on performance. Our challenge is that we need a sail that will be light, maintain its high-performance shape as long as possible, and still be solid enough to allow us to race in very heavy weather conditions. The compromise between performance and durability is one of the hardest to achieve in sailmaking, and the combination of carbon and Endumax is really exciting.”
Follow Team Shut Up and Drive at: