Author Topic: MRA Recap 6-14-2014  (Read 2967 times)

Justin Scott

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MRA Recap 6-14-2014
« on: June 16, 2014, 11:51:39 AM »
It was great to be racing in Marblehead again after a long absence. I had forgotten how beautiful it is to just leave the harbor, turn right and be racing in the Atlantic with stunning views across the islands of Salem Sound in one direction and the open ocean in the other, all accompanied by long Atlantic rollers.  In case any of you are getting blasé, you are all blessed to have such interesting racing and beautiful scenery right on your doorstep. It was interesting racing. Here is one perspective of what was happening on Saturday:

The day started out with a very light gradient Northerly fighting an equally light sea breeze that was trying to form about a mile offshore. As the MRA fleet left Marblehead rock, we all sailed into the hole between the two desultory breezes and there we sat with the Vipers coasting up and down the line and around the committee boat, while the other classes sat firmly glued to the surface by their weight. At around 2.15 pm, the sea breeze finally won out, but with cloud cover over the land and most of the race area it was never going to fill to anything more than 4-8 knots.  This was a day when tide turned out to be paramount!

The Vipers started out first. The course was very asymmetric with the windward mark well to the right of the wind creating a long port tack and a short starboard tack. This was compounded by the tide which was running from right to left looking upwind. Normally in these situations, the strategy is to sail part of the longer port tack early in the beat. There is a lot less leverage to be gained on the left, and any headers while heading right on port can be tacked on to pick up nice gainers.  Saturday was proof that there is an exception to every rule. The exception was created by the tide which was a lot stronger at the top of the course than it was by the committee boat.  Since the current was running from right to left, port tack would feel more pressure than starboard tack. On starboard tack, the tide was under our boats making the light winds seem even lighter and on port tack the effect was reversed. Since the tide was stronger further up the course and this effect would be magnified by a slight tide induced lift, we wanted to avoid coming into the top of the course on starboard. The plan on Nick Custer’s boat was to own the left but at the same time avoid at all costs over standing the port lay line.

The fleet made an even start on a slightly pin biased line. Nick set up his start by tacking to leeward of the fleet and kept his bow down to set up for the pin. Fletcher, Olaf and Kristen on #52  looked to see if they could poke their bow underneath Nick but were given no air to breathe there so settled for starting on Nicks weather hip.  Dan, Josh and Pam , Cole and the ladies were further towards the committee boat .    Purplexed and Cole tacked first to play the longer port tack.  Fletch held on and eventually tacked for clear air. Nick worked further out to the left and then tacked onto port. It looked like Nick was safely under the port tack lay line but it turned out to be closer than we thought.  The fleet then was all lined up for the long port tack upwind. Two boats were on the right. Nick and Fletch were on the left. Each boat was fully concentrating on light air upwind boat speed with one crew to leeward.

My feeling on light air upwind sailing in the Viper is that the rig should be well eased but the helmsman needs a bit more mainsheet tension than feels natural. On Nick’s boat in the first race we probably had about 20 on the uppers. We had started the day with 15 but the slight sea breeze encouraged us to put another 2 full turns on the rig. Sighting up the front of the mast we were looking for a slight leeward sag in the middle of the mast (powers up the main), minimal pre-bend (before mainsheet) and plenty of sag in the head stay (powers up the jib). Both upper and lower were floppy on the leeward side when sailing, with slightly more flop in the lower. Beware, that if the breeze comes up when the rig is this eased , or if there is very flat water… will not have good pointing ability with these settings. With big rollers from offshore and light breeze, we didn’t think there was going to be any priority on pointing today.  We also loosened the top battens before hoisting the main so that the battens were tight enough to push all the crinkles out of the main and give the top of the sail a slight curve but not so tight that they had any difficulty in “popping” thru the gybes and not giving too much shape to the sail up high cause the flow to stall on the upper tell tales. I also loosen my battens when I put my mainsail away after a weekend racing because Ched Proctor once told me that it was not good for the sail to leave the battens “tight”.   On the jib, we sailed out without a top batten in the jib but the sea breeze when it arrived was just enough to use a batten. Interestingly, Nick’s sail was delivered with a softer top batten than I have seen in previous generations of my jibs. It is ideal for Marblehead conditions and it made the jib really easy to tune on Saturday. If Nick is willing, I recommend y’all take a look at Nick’s jib top batten and see how it compares to your own. Maybe it was my imagination, but if it is softer, perhaps a few battens could be ordered. We sailed with a light touch on the jib fine tune so the luff was soft but not scalloped. Bob trimmed jib and this was clearly not his first rodeo and he set up jib cars and sheet tension beautifully. I can’t report on the settings because whatever it was, it was working so I left it to Bob. The jib looked great all day.   

For the first half of the windward leg, there was nothing in it.  Then as we reached the two thirds way up the beat, looking under Nick’s boom, I could see Fletcher’s mainsail start to go forward on the boats underneath him until finally I could see Cole and Dan behind Fletchers mainsail. This meant that the left was starting to work. I could just visualize myself on those rightmost boats starting to pray for a right hand shift in the sea breeze – a sort of vicarious and guilty pleasure at their plight.  We’ve all been there!  However it was not entirely obvious because everyone seemed to have the same pressure and the advantage was not marked. On Nick’s boat, as the tide carried us from right to left, it became clearer that we were closer to the port lay line than we realized or intended. Then when the boats on the right tacked onto starboard to come back towards us, all the pennies dropped. It was like the port and starboard boats were in two different pressures as the boats on starboard had noticeably less apparent breeze.

Nick rounded in first followed by Fletch and then Dan and Cole.  Downwind there was an equally long starboard gybe to match the upwind port tack.  Cole sails a very high angle downwind in the light stuff and that caused the other boats immediately in front of him to sail a defensive mode… which allowed the rich to get richer at the front. Somehow on the downhill Dan passed Fletch, so the order at the bottom mark was Nick followed by Dan followed by Fletch.  Nick had held on port until Dan rounded and the tacked onto starboard to protect the left again.  Dan decided to split to see if he could get any leverage on the right (This didn’t work at all in this race but finally paid off in the second race). Fletch split from Dan by going left. The same thing happened as on the first beat and Fletch passed Dan again.

Dan and Fletch exchanged positions at least two more times but the end result was Nick, Fletch, Dan and then Cole.

The other classes were still plodding around the race course, so the RC was kind enough to give us a second start.  The course was still asymmetric. The start line was a lot shorter and heavily pin biased.  The breeze had picked up a bit more so we put another full turn on our rig. Tide was still the overall consideration but perhaps a little less so.   Nick wanted the pin but so did everyone else, except Dan.  At the time, I quite liked Dan’s starting plan with a small fleet, short line, heavy pin bias, in leftie phase. As the small fleet stacked up near the pin, he came in on port, took the transoms, headed up and hit the line with full speed on port tack only about 1/3rd down the line from the pin.  This would be asking for a repair bill in a bigger fleet.  An aggressive and creative strategy that I have seen work in a bigger fleet in a similar situation was at Chichester Race Week  last year when in a heavily pin biased start with five seconds to go a port tack RS 400 came out from the pin crossing in “front” of the starboard boats before they headed up to cross the line, screaming “HOLD YOUR COURSE” to all the starboard boats. Under Rule 16, a starboard boat cannot alter course to prevent a port tack boat from keeping clear, so the starting boats could not head up at the gun and the port tack boat took off in clear air on the lifted tack! The conditions had to be just right for that. We digress.  On Nick’s boat we attacked the pin by sailing past the pin on port at 70 seconds and then tacking back to starboard at 35 seconds. From this we could see that Cole and Fletch were going to be early and struggle to hold the line to the pin.  Nick got a clean start at the pin and immediately tacked onto port as we crossed the line because the breeze was in left phase. We were inside the lift and above Dan, so in theory, Nick had won the start. Theories in boat racing are notoriously fragile!

What Dan, Josh and Pam did right for the next 5 minutes was to put their bow down for speed. They were the leeward boat in left phase and they knew they wanted to get to the next shift first. This is classic case where its time to ignore pointing and go fast forward with bow out, find the header first and then come back on the lifted tack. They executed to perfection. Despite best efforts on Nick’s boat, when Dan hit the shift and tacked, they were going to cross Nick. Nick’s counter move is the to do the same to dan as was just done to him…..tack ahead and to leeward and find the next leftie. Except the next leftie wasn’t a leftie, it was more rightie as the sea breeze began to veer. Cole and Fletch had seen this and got to the right. Hero to zero, Nick’s team ably assisted by tactics from yours truly had gone from winning the start to last place.   Lesson learnt, and for the rest of the beat we played the right edge of the group of boats while staying in touch with the tidal benefits of the left part of the course and ground back closer to the group by taking little righties.  Fletch looked like he was going to round the top mark in first but handed out gifts to the poor by misjudging the lay line not once but twice. 5 tacks compared to 1 tack was all that Dan and Nick needed to sneak past at the windward mark.

I could bore you with the gybing duels that went on among all 4 boats on the final downwind. The bottom line was that Pam had a steely glint in here eye and Purplexed  stuck it to the Coast Guard like crap on a blanket, gybe for gybe in a perfect cover.  It was a well earned win for their team.  The Vipers were the only class to get in two races as we finished our second race just behind the Rhodes 19s on their first race. The sea breeze petered out and the race to be first back to the hoist turned into a strategic battle for tows from passing boats. Again, Fletch had an early lead but with two lieutenants from the US Coast Guard on our boat, the end result was a foregone conclusion.       

The fleet retired to Palmers Restaurant and bar for post mortem and World Cup. The less said about the Italy vs England game, the better.
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Dan Tucker

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Re: MRA Recap 6-14-2014
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2014, 03:26:02 PM »
Despite my whining about how light it was and that we shouldn't have bothered going out, it was GREAT to race in Marblehead. I do far too much traveling now. It's fun to race all over the place, but I too miss how easy & nice it is to race here. Thank You Pam and Josh for having me on Purplexed, and for letting me drive. That's another rare treat!

I must say Justin gives me credit for being smarter than I actually am. Second race I wanted to start at the pin, but everyone was stacked up, and I had misjudged the timing of my port approach. So "Screw it, we're close enough to the pin, going fast on port, let's just keep going on the long tack" was my thought process. There was simply no point in tacking to starboard, with no right of way boats to contend with, and port being the favored (long) tack. And as far as I was concerned, we won that start, because we could have tacked and crossed Nick about 1-2 minutes after the gun. But I stayed to his right to preserve our ability to foot.

I absolutely do agree that many people try too hard to point in under 6-8 knots. I always want to sail fast and loose when it's light -foot of the jib eased out to the edge of the foredeck and adjust the leads for twist as necessary. Again, to be honest, my focus was purely on boatspeed, I wasn't at all thinking about footing to a header. The old "foot to point" adage really works in the Viper in under 6-8 knots. The high aspect foils are starved for flow, so boatspeed is your friend upwind. Ability to foot is paramount.

On the runs, the inverse is a truism. Most people sail 5-8 degrees too high. The speed doesn't actually build, and the low road makes better VMG. We passed Fletch and Cole on the first run in Race 1 by sailing lower with equal boatspeed, making our gains in lateral gauge. We gave those passes away by failing to cover in Race 1, Run 2 (doh!), but got Cole back at the finish the same way (sorry Cole, but that was great fun!). Here's a hint -if your tackline isn't vertical, you're sailing too high. You should see at least 3-4 panels of the kite rotating out to weather of the forestay from seated on the tank forward of the bridle. It requires concentration and finesse from both the trimmer and the driver, but it can be devastatingly fast. Josh did a great job on the trimming and the light air floater gybes, even with the jib down. I really don't like to heel the boat much at all either.

Also, weight forward, weight forward, weight forward! Upwind and down. Downwind I was driving from just aft of the shrouds. The Viper has a fat ass, get it out of the water.
« Last Edit: June 16, 2014, 03:27:39 PM by Dan Tucker »
Race it like you stole it.