Sailing across Lake Michigan at night is one of my favorite things in life. Recently, I was able to do just that in near perfect sailing conditions. On June 29 I raced on the 40.7 Vayu in the 74th Queen’s Cup from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to South Haven, Michigan. We took first place by only 20 seconds after more than 76 miles in the Beneteau First 40.7 one-design section.
Distance: 76 NM Heading: 117°
10-15 south / southwest 180-230 degrees. Light south winds at the finish.
What We Learned
- Keep the boat sailing fast.
- Change gears early and often, especially during lulls / light spots.
- A close-reach slightly off course is faster than sailing close-hauled.
- Minimize duels with other boats.
- Have fun as a crew and stay focused
Keeping the boat sailing at its optimum takes hard work and focus. Rule #1 for us is to keep the boat moving. The best pre-race strategy is nothing without the ability to sail as fast or faster than your competition. Boat speed is not developed overnight but can be constantly improved upon. The more we focused and helped each other the faster we went and the more fun we had. Stay focused as team, be open-minded to changes, and allow your fellow crew the space to figure how things work best.
Every sailor loves a good puff. It’s exciting when the boat starts to heel and accelerate. The trimmers focus more and the crew hikes harder. Often times there are all sorts of adjustments made during a good puff – easing the traveler, tightening halyards, flattening the sails and so on, which are all vital. But the lulls often go unnoticed and under utilized. Being as aggressive in the lulls as in the puffs produces intimidating boat speed and can flat-out wins races.
Professional sailing coach, multiple J24 national champion, and crew-building expert Andrew Kerr emphasis spotting changes in the wind, particularly the lulls.
“Have a crew member talking about the lulls and puffs and keep an open mind with trim—try to remember that a stalled sail (trimmed too tight) takes twice as long to reattach airflow as a sail on the verge of luffing. Test the trim, particularly by easing the jib, which will enable the mainsail to be eased too as result of opening the slot.” Read in Andrew’s words here and here.
During the race, we were vigilant in easing the jib sheet to keep the leeward tell-tales streaming aft. Spotting lulls and adjusting to them kept our boat fast but also sharpened our awareness as a crew. The more we worked at it together the better we got at spotting and taking advantage of the changes in wind.
It is often said to win races you should sail the Rhumb line. However, It does not pay to intentionally sail slow to stay on it. We kept the boat on a close reach which was 10-15 degrees off course and gained nearly an extra knot of boat speed. The math works out, 10 percent more speed and less than 5 percent off course is a net gain. VMC (velocity made to course) trumps VMG (velocity made good) in long distance racing. The wind is always shifting in direction and velocity which usually negates any extra distance sailed. This technique also positioned us for a faster reaching angle when the wind lightened at the finish. That faster angle is how we eventually beat the other 40.7s. Perry Lewis from North Sails explains this in a great article in the NorthU Smart Course book. America’s Cup and Volvo race weather router / navigator Stan Honey shares his views on maximizing VMC in a Sailing World article, Taking Your Polars Offshore.
By far the most important ingredient is to enjoy the process of working together to sail the best you can. You can have fun and sail well, it is not a trade-off. Having fun while working together as team is how you win at everything. Even Vince Lombardi agrees
“People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.” VL
Sail fast and enjoy everything!
Please share your thoughts and perspective in the comments.
Photos courtesy of Vayu skipper Ron Buzil. See more at www.first407.com