Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 Thistle Mid Winters East: Thoughts on Transitions

by Mike Ingham

We just sailed the 44 boat Thistle Midwinters on Tampa Bay. Tom Hubble hosted his extensive coaching program. As part of the coaching, he paired us up with one of enrolled teams for one­-on-one on the water coaching. After racing on a nice day, I went sailing with the team I was paired with and was impressed how well they did once they locked into a condition. 

But then the conditions would change a little and it took them a few boat lengths to settled into the new mode sailing great again. We did well in the regatta, and it got me thinking that we were not really any faster than some of the other teams, but perhaps we recognized and adapted to changing conditions quicker.

Craig Smith, Jared Ridder, and Molly Dexter - photo by Tina Deptula

We need to recognize there is a change: 
  • Sarah Paisley (our forward) is our "wind spotter" looking upwind for changes in wind pressure. She is always saying something like: "Looks like a lot of wind filling in soon", "Lots of waves coming", "Big Lull in 5 boat lengths". She communicate a change she sees handful of boat lengths away giving us with enough time to make our best guess and preset our sheets and controls. 
  • Dan Fien (our middle), Sarah and I briefly discuss the impending changed and what we need to adjust and to lock in as it hits. 
  • She is looking for a bigger trend than the very near puffs and lulls. She still makes short term calls like "puff in 3, 2, 1, puff" and we can prepare to hike harder, ease sheets, or whatever else we need to do just as the immediate change takes place. 

To increase performance and results, we need to settle into the new quickly.  Here are some rules of thumb: 
  • If we are in lighter winds, balance the boat with body weight, so the team moves in and out to keep the boat at the right amount of heel. 
  • In lighter winds, spend a lot of time looking at both the main and jib leeches. They seem to open even in small puffs so they need to be trimmed, and close in lulls requiring an ease. We are constantly looking at and adjusting the jib so it is around 11 1/2" away from the mast (1" off the 10 1/2" zip tie on the middle spreader) and the main so the leech telltale is flowing about 50% of the time. 
  • In heavy wind, balance the boat and change gears mostly with the main sheet and vang. I am not looking at the leeches as I do in lighter wind, and instead I am comparing the horizon front horizontal grating of my boat. I play the main a lot to keep the boat flat and ripping. 
  • In both heavy and light winds, when there is a lull, I will put my bow down just a little just before it arrives, and if there is a puff, I will pinch up just before a puff. The change of course is only a degree or two, but it makes a big difference. 
Brad Russell, Douglas Toney, & Nicole Shedden - photo by Tina Deptula

Perhaps the biggest mistake I saw with changing gears is when teams leaned in to keep the boat from healing to weather even though the main was not trimmed in all the way. Suppose it is blowing 12kts and everyone is hiked full with the main eased 6" to keep the boat flat, then a lull decreases the wind to 10kts. 

Often I see teams start to lean in, yet their main is still out. Instead, the driver should remind the team that they are still in "full hike mode" and trim in. Not until the main is fully trimmed should the driver say "balance boat mode" releasing the team to move instead of hiking full. 

We are headed next to the second leg of the Winter Circuit, the Orange Peel where there is a Friday clinic. Hope to see many of you there!


  1. Thanks for the write-up. In the case of puffy winds, or puffy + windy, do you worry about closing the slot? Is the middle trimming the jib or setting to 11.5"?

    Also there is some debate in our fleet about vang-sheeting vs just sheeting out. Better to depower or dump some wind? Thanks!

  2. Alex, our responses to your great questions are below. Feel free to continue asking more questions. Sail fast!

  3. Thanks for the reply and congrats on the Orange Peel win! Reposted to the NorCal fleet email list. :)