Author Topic: Sailing 4-up  (Read 1388 times)

Ed "Buttons" Padin, Class Administrator

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Sailing 4-up
« on: June 10, 2016, 10:16:43 AM »
The Double Date: Sailing Four-Up in a Viper 640

By Peter Beardsley, with contributions from Rachel Beardsley, Jay Rhame, Rachel Daugherty, Cole Constantineau, and others

The Viper is an excellent 3-person boat – plenty of good jobs to go around, plenty of space, and no need for a fourth set of hands for any maneuver.  But at 2016 Charleston Race Week, five of the top six teams sailed with four crew.  This was more of a coincidence than a trend, but it’s worth noting some differences in how to sail a Viper when you decide to add a friend.

The only reason to sail 4-up is weight, or a lack thereof.  While we’ve seen teams do well in various conditions sailing as light as 450 pounds combined and as heavy as almost 700 pounds combined, the sweet spot in a Viper seems to be between 520 and 580 pounds.  So if you need to find a fourth person to hit that weight, consider doing so.   If adding a fourth person takes you a little bit over 600 pounds, that’s ok, but if you’re not in planing conditions, you will want to minimize boathandling, since you will need to sail a bit lower out of every tack to accelerate, and a bit higher out of every gybe.  Unfortunately, there can be a big penalty for sailing above 600 pounds combined in “marginal planing conditions” where lighter teams are able to get on the step more quickly.  If you find yourself in those conditions, sail the boat as flat and powered up as you can upwind, since you’ll need all the lead you can get at the windward mark! 

A common question is “what does the fourth person do?”  While most teams consider them to be ballast, you do have the opportunity to divvy up roles more finely.  For purposes of this article, we will assume that the fourth person is added to the front of the boat, as “a new forward crew,” seated forward of the jib trimmer.  Note that it is very unusual for the person seated most forward to trim the jib – this is because the angle of that person to the jib sheet cleat is poor – it is easiest to cleat and uncleat the jib from the middle of the boat, and almost impossible to do reliably if seated forward of the shrouds. 

The most important thing when sailing with four is to have excellent communication between the two crew seated most forward.  Sailing with a fourth makes the front of the boat more crowded, and the two most forward crew will need to function as a single body with four arms.  At any given time roles may change quickly as bodies move around the boat to adjust for wind and waves.  Responsibilities may change tack to tack, or leg to leg in order to minimize body movements.  The tips below are suggestions, but as personnel and conditions change, feel free to adjust responsibilities among the crew positions in a way that makes the most sense for the team on the boat that day.

Upwind, with four crew, you potentially have two upwind strategists where one focuses on course management issues, and the other keeps a closer eye on the compass than you might otherwise do with three people.  Downwind, the fourth person focuses on traffic and keeping an eye out under the kite and behind for bad air as the other person focuses on shifts and puffs.  On sets, you can pass the fourth person the spin sheet so that you can trim the kite a half second earlier (as the other crew are occupied with the spin halyard and sprit, respectively), and on douses the two forward crew can split the responsibilities of halyard, sprit and jib sheet.  With a fourth set of hands, there’s never an excuse for the jib to be luffing around a leeward mark or for the jib sheet or outhaul to be too tight downwind. 

When sailing four-up, the biggest challenge is staying out of each other’s way during maneuvers.  Tacks are a bit like bumper-to-bumper traffic when all of the cars are going 50 miles per hour – everything works as long as you stay in your own “lane” and cross the boat in the narrow space directly across from your prior position without flailing your arms or tripping a teammate.  The most forward crew can and should consider crossing in front of the shrouds and may also want to be the last person to cross the boat.  The first person to cross of the three forward crew should be the jib trimmer, who is trimming the new jib sheet as he or she crosses the cockpit.  Once everyone is in the straps, you can move aft to ensure enough space for the forward crew behind the shrouds to maximize hiking leverage.  While there’s enough room for three people in between the mainsheet bridle and the shrouds while hiking, it’s definitely cozy.  If you’re not in hiking conditions, move the fourth person forward of the shrouds upwind. 

The act of “cockpit line maintenance” becomes even more important with a fourth set of feet that can step on halyards and sheets during tacks, sets, gybes and douses.  For teams who do not run continuous jib and/or spin sheets, the fourth person should ensure prior to any tack that the jib sheet is clear to run, and both jib and spin sheets should be kept on their respective sides of the boat, forward and away from each other and the spin halyard.  After the hoist, consider having the fourth person stand on the foredeck holding onto the mast to improve visibility for puff calls and also to clear out the cockpit for other teammates and avoid having extra feet step on a spin sheet.  The fourth person can gybe while standing on the foredeck too – just watch out for getting whipped in the face by the lazy spin sheet on a blow-through gybe.
Ed "Buttons" Padin
Viper 640 Class Administrator
erpadin [at] padesta [dot] com