Friday, July 01, 2022
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Advanced Heavy Air Crewing Technique

“We were slow upwind today in the breeze. My driver has to learn to steer in heavy air!”
I hate to say it, but I’ve used this excuse in the past. Well, as true as it may be, there are things the savvy crew can do about it. One of the more advanced crewing techniques has actually little to do with movements in the boat, and more with getting the boat properly tuned and trimmed for heavy weather sailing. On the wire, the crew has a very good vantage point from which to observe many different indicators (or “cues” as sailing coach Rod Haegebols likes to say). Using these cues, the crew can guide the driver on such critical trim parameters such as heel, fore/aft trim, rake, shroud tension, Cunningham, outhaul, and the vang/sheet combination. The goal should be to create a tune and trim condition whereby the driver can focus on the basic elements of helmsmanship without the distraction of deciding which strings to pull and when to pull them.

The biggest speed differentials between boats occur in heavy air. The physical demands of sailing in strong winds detract from the driver’s ability to make timely and accurate changes to the boat. Upwind, the goal should be to make the boat “easy to sail” such that you can go at 95% speed 100% of the time. Never having a slow moment is critical. Making the boat easy to sail simply means that the team is not overworking itself, causing premature fatigue that can lead to a loss of speed or a boathandling mistake. A poorly tuned boat will require additional trimming and forceful tiller movements resulting in poor speed and/or VMG. 

The characteristics of a boat that is easy to sail is one in which the team can seamlessly change between point and foot modes without dramatically slowing. On a 505, you need the ability to push the bow up and down depending on the wind and wave conditions. As the sea state increases, this ability becomes even more important. Going into foot mode, the objective is to accelerate quickly without undo weather helm or the boat wanting to tip over. Transitioning into point mode, the objective is to either punch through a nasty wave set without a dramatic loss in speed, or to secure a proper lane without losing VMG. There’s a groove that must be established to realize these things, and here’s how the crew can help in getting into it:

1) On my boat, I generally get the rig setup before the race starts, and optimally we’ve already sailed a bit upwind to test the settings. I have found that we are generally raking more and earlier in the wind spectrum. With a light guy like Chris Behm driving for me, we might be back at 25’0” in a steady 18 knots of wind. As it gets up over 22, we might be back at 24’9 or further. The first reef goes in at 25’2”, especially if there are waves. I’ll also get the cunno and outhaul on, and get the board set, with gybe stopper in when we are planing hard upwind. Make sure you get the ram on the right number before trimming the vang because the ram has a dramatic effect on leech tension. Finally, I’ll then make sure my jib lead is set correctly and barber on as necessary. I have recently found that more barber really helps you put the bow down in heavy air and waves, and opens the slot in the main while it’s off centerline. I use a standard US jib lead track system, but it seems to me that lead position is really important as you increase rake. On my boat, the lead is effectively pulled forward as the barber tension is increased.

2) Once you are sailing upwind, observe the heel angle and the fore/aft trim. Is the boat flat or nearly so? If the driver isn’t hiking hard enough, make a suitably derogatory comment. Make the necessary adjustments to sail the boat nearly flat and move your weight back a bit to keep the bow out (thus reducing wetted surface and reducing the bow-up force created by water on the lee side). Make sure you adjust the trapeze such that you don’t get pegged by waves while the boat is sailed flat. Trapezing too low in heavy air might force the helm to sail with more heel, and that’s not good.

3) Now take a look at the end of the boom relative to the transom corner. This is a major cue. Is the average position well inside or outside the corner? If so, you either have the rake set incorrectly, or perhaps the vang is not right. Your goal should be to keep the average position of the boom at the transom corner in overpowered conditions. If the boom is constantly inside the corner and the leech seems too open, have the driver pull on some vang. Conversely, if the boom is way outside the corner and puffs cause the main to wash out completely, you may have too much vang or not enough rake. Having said this, it’s critical that you don’t allow the mainsail to wash out because it’s the power coming off the lower portion of the sail and the leech that balances the boat and allows it to track correctly upwind. If your main is constantly flogging, this is a big cue that you’ve got something wrong!

4) Next take a look at how the driver is moving the tiller and trimming the mainsheet. Some very fast drivers use quite a bit of tiller movement in heavy air, but as Mike Holt says, that movement is merely what is necessary to find equilibrium in the helm, and is actually not dramatically steering the boat. The mainsheet should be generally moving one full arm length in and out unless a big puff or lull causes additional trimming. If the driver consistently has a large range of motion in the sheet, it’s usually indicative of large changes in course (first they start pinching and have to trim in hard to keep the boat balanced, then they foot too much and have to ease dramatically). Extremes on vang can cause these large course corrections, and the end result is poor VMG. It also could be that the mast is not raked enough or the board is too far down for the conditions.

5) Once you are certain that the driver has the sheet/vang combination correct and the boat is reasonably easy to sail, the crew can concentrate on jib trim, which becomes especially crucial in very heavy air. In normal heavy air conditions when simply luffing the main will keep the boat on its feet, the range of jib trim is smaller – perhaps an inch or two depending on your mode. I personally like to correlate my jib sheet trim setting (numbered settings on the tank) with how the upper leech trims relative to the shroud. For instance, my point mode might have the jib leech just outboard of the shroud while my foot mode will allow the upper leech to twist off more and be a few inches off the shroud. However, once the puffs start hitting the mid-20’s, it may become necessary to “burp” the jib momentarily by quickly easing a few inches in the puffs, and in some extreme cases, momentarily flogging the jib altogether for that crucial nanosecond. I can only emphasize here that the jib sheet must be easy to uncleat quickly to make these reflex changes. My advice is to not use a riser under the jib cleat, and to try using your back hand for the release. There is no question that this is a difficult skill to master.

6) Once you’ve got all of the above working, you need to decide how you’re going to pick your way through the wave sets. In other words, you need to decide when to go into “point” mode, and when to put the bow down and let ‘er rip. In my experience, when confronted with some large and steep waves, it’s usually best to point into them more to keep the bow from being shoved around, and to keep a nasty wave from toppling the crew. Often, these steep waves come in sets, and once you drill through them, a flatter section appears allowing you to put the bow down and light the boat up. Going fast has the net effect of creating better flow over the foils, which in-turn, helps you point. So, it’s always best to go into that next big wave set blazing as you turn up slightly. The crew can really help call wave sets and guide the driver on where to point the bow. I find that doing so also keeps the team engaged and working together, and the chances of a rogue wave hurting you diminish greatly.

So, now you can put that excuse about your driver being slow in breeze to bed – at least upwind. You have all the information you need to get your driver pointed in the right direction and going warp speed. Next time you’re out on the wire in breeze, don’t just stand there like a vegetable thinking what a great lever you are – do something that will help your team get to the weather mark faster. Similar principles apply on the run and we’ll look at that next.

Ten Technique Tips for New 505 Crews

Having crewed a 505 continuously for 15 years and 9 world championships gives one a very good perspective on proper technique. Being a student in the evolving art of crewing, and now moving part-time to the back of the bus, I am in a unique position to see how a new 505 crew approaches the craft, and moreover, to give these people useful instruction. As Mike Martin has shown, a helmsman knowledgeable about crewing technique can quickly develop a new crew, and make experienced crews better.

A major goal in the 505 class is not only to attract the best sailors to 505 crewing, but to keep them motivated, and ultimately, to share in the dream of winning at the highest levels in our class. The best way to keep someone motivated is through continual improvement, and it is with that premise that I offer the following tips and also an accounting of the most common technique mistakes made by new 505 crews.

As a card-carrying member of the Crew’s Union, I can’t go back on the #1 rule –“It’s always the skipper’s fault”. In fact, this article could just as well be a treatise on the most common technique mistakes made by new 505 drivers, and highlight my antics holding the tiller in several regattas. However, this would be too easy, because we all know it’s harder to crew the 505, and this subject matter is best saved for a separate article. But, be certain that one will follow! I’m still waiting for an experienced helm to write a technique article, but in all the time I’ve sailed the 505, not a single driver has ever stepped up to the plate to do so despite my prodding. Will I become so lazy as a driver?

I have made nearly every conceivable mistake in the front of the 505, and some that seem inconceivable, so I will restrict this piece to basic techniques, which are the most important for rapid improvement. I have omitted any discussion on jibing with a single pole for now because it seems that the double pole phenomenon has taken hold and has made OBE many technique-related issues. Jibing a 505 from the front now seems too easy in breeze. I will have to wait until I actually have experience using the double pole before I make the necessary mistakes to comment accurately! 

I would also recommend reading the many other articles I and others have written on crewing technique which are available in previous issues of Tank Talk online. Also, Drew Buttner’s recent interview with Mike Martin in Sailing World ( has some special insights into his approach and how experience in both positions is extremely valuable.

Crews should remember that their largest asset and driving force is the desire to get better, and to approach learning with an open mind. While there may be more than one technique that works in a maneuver, there will be only one that works best for a team. Even if you’ve been crewing for a long time, and have become relatively set in your ways, it may be that another technique, once perfected, will work better. Be open to change.

Wire-to-Wire Tacks in Medium and Heavy Air

Tip 1) Always uncleat with the back hand and unhook from the wire with the front hand before the boat is turned into the tack. This assures that a cleated jib or hooked crew won’t force a capsize during the tack.

You know you’ve done it right when you don’t have a mad scramble across the boat because your timing was destroyed by a cleated jib or unhooked ring.

Tip 2) Get across the boat quickly! Don’t wait for the driver to turn. Make the driver “tack around the crew”. Once the driver indicates they are about to tack, the crew should go. A good driver will regulate the speed of the turn to the speed of the crew.

You know you’ve done it right if the boat remains relatively flat through the tack, and the crew gets to the new side ahead of the driver.

Tip 2) Toss the uncleated jib sheet forward before crossing the boat so your feet don’t get tangled during the tack. Also, resist the temptation to hold the jib sheet too long causing the jib to backwind or the old sheet to wrap on fittings. This is especially important in heavy air when you want to get the bow through the wind quickly with a minimum of rudder movement and boat heel.

You know you’ve done it right when the rate of turn is measured and consistent and not extreme and abrupt. 

Tip 3) Rather than standing on the side of the hull during a wire-to-wire tack as you might in a skiff, un-weight your body by swinging in on the wire. I like to lift my back leg and point it to the opposite side as I swing in. This technique allows the crew to move more smoothly into the boat by promoting transverse movement rather than vertical. It also allows the crew to place his back foot completely over the trunk and onto the new weather side, which is crucial for a smooth tack. Lead with the back foot through a tack rather than your head. No bunny hopping over the trunk! It’s slow and clumsy.

You know you’ve done it right when your tacks feel smooth with less effort.

Tip 4) Grab the new jib sheet at the cleat with the goal of getting it trimmed and cleated as quickly as possible. The trimming motion is a combination of spinning and pulling with your new back hand as you come to the weather side and sit. Mechanically, it may help to pull with your hand skimming along the top of the new weather tank rather than up in space. This allows for the trimming and cleating in one motion with no need to take extra time to get the sheet in the cleat. It also assures that the sheet won’t blow out of the cleat when loaded.

You know you’ve done it right when the jib is trimmed fully while the boat is flat or even heeled slightly to weather on the new tack, and just as the driver is about to sit on the new tank.

Note: Some crews are very good at just taking the sheet with them on the wire and trimming from there. Personally, I have not been successful with this technique. As a driver, I know how crucial it is to have the jib trimmed ASAP after a tack to put the bow down for acceleration. If it’s not trimmed, or only partially trimmed when the crew jumps wire, the driver must sheet the main to maintain balance. In doing so, the boat wants to round up and large rudder angles are required that can ultimately lead to stall.

Tip 5) Get out on the wire before the boat heels up. It took me a few years to convert to the “Hook and Go” tack, but I can tell you that done properly, it’s better in every respect. I believe the trick is to grab the trapeze ring with your new front hand and place it in the hook. The best crews can do this without looking, and they are then free to throw their torso over the side and get their feet on the rail. Watch Peter Alarie do it because he’s the best in the business.

You know you’ve done it right when you pop out on the wire with ease just as the driver is ready to trim the main. You have expended far less energy during the tack, the boat immediately accelerates, and you have that “I’m a rock star” feeling as you roll over some chump with poor technique!

Trapeze Technique

Tip 6) Don’t allow yourself to get pushed around by waves, boat motions, and inertial forces during a hard turn. Recognize that there’s extraordinary strength in your legs to counter these things, and that being alert at all times will allow you to anticipate them. Be careful of being too low on the wire in heavy seas, and in extreme conditions, you may need to stabilize your body by spreading your legs slightly and holding the jib sheet more tightly to create a “tripod” stability effect.

You know you’ve done it right when you remain aft of the shrouds and forward of the driver!

Tip 7) Optimize your leverage for the conditions. The goal is to ring as much driving force from the rig as possible at all times. When the breeze is on and the crew is in a relatively static position on the wire, focus on getting your weight as far out as possible by going low on the wire, straightening your legs and torso, placing one or both hands behind your head, and pointing your toes. Don’t over-adjust your height. Find the sweet spot for the conditions, and if you’re low on the wire, consider bending at the torso slightly to reduce leverage if necessary rather than making a height adjustment. When sailing on a tight spinnaker reach with the boat heeled and riding on the leeward quarter, get very low on the wire to counter the heel.

You know that you’ve done it right when you are focused more on trim and tactics and less on ring height. Also, you are able to sense when more leverage is required, especially when the driver needs to trim the main harder. 

Trimming Technique

Tip 8) Be sensitive to changes in wind speed by adjusting your jib sheet tension accordingly. Changes in wind speed can dramatically alter the shape of the jib, especially at the leech. Making timely and accurate changes are a great way to improve performance. Try using the transverse distance from the leech at the telltale to the shroud as a reference. Keeping the leech just outside the shroud at all times may be a good starting point in most conditions. Learn to calibrate this distance depending on the conditions, using your jib sheet numbers as a guide for repeating fast settings quickly.

You know you’ve done it right when the driver doesn’t need to say “trim” or “ease” the jib.

Tip 9) In very windy conditions, the crew needs to be ready to blow the jib instantly and momentarily (very quick in-out) to keep boat on it's feet without losing speed through the waves. Personally, I do not like risers or angles on jib cleats in a Waterat or Rondar (jib cleat heights vary with thwart height for other boats). The risers and angles make it more difficult to get the jib blown in heavy air. In all likelihood, the crew should have a fairly tight grip on the jib sheet in heavy air anyway, and this should make it easier to effect a quick adjustment.

You know you’ve done it right after a big gust when the driver thanks you and recognizes that the team would’ve been swimming had you not been ready for the gust.

Tip 10) Rudder stall downwind is most commonly caused by an over-trimmed kite. Mike Martin says “Next Time you are driving on a tight reach in breeze, have the crew slightly overtrim the kite. You wont believe how much the helm loads up!” The crew has to retain focus on the kite when it’s critical, and let the driver worry about downwind tactics. If the rudder begins to stall, the only way to stop it is to immediately flog the kite. Easing it partially or too slowly will not save you!

Note: Experienced crews can sense when rudder is beginning to stall, and knows the motion the boat takes that can cause a rapid stall. This motion is caused by the leeward bow hitting the back of a wave suddenly, causing a pitch/heel coupling that forces the bow up. The driver instinctively pulls the rudder hard causing the stall.

You know you’ve done it right when boats around you are wiping out and you’re flying past them.

505 centerboard study

Few years ago the University of Palermo had contacted the 505 class with the intention of studing the 505 centerboard. The University had chosen the 505, because it is one of the few existing classes that has not significant size and shape restrictions on the centerboard.

Many class members provided datas and feedback and now finally the results have been published.

The report is a theoretical study on how to improve the 505 centerboard. Only one prototype was created and used on a 505 in Palermo  prior to the WC. Unfortunately the prototype broke during a high wind test, due too poor construction, and no other prototypes were subsequently built.

If you love technical readings, this publication might be of interest to you.

To download the report, click here icon 505 centerboard study (1.18 MB)

Marco Giraldi

Dousing Technique

I figured I'd pass along some dousing techniques to the fleet that Mike Martin had me attempting in San Fran last weekend. These steps have been refined by Team Tuesday. This technique works well for boats with spin socks where the skipper raises and lowers the kite (i.e. not Rondars or other boats where the crew can pull the kite down once it is started.

The principle around this maneuver is to be set for the upwind leg, with little or no adjustments necessary after rounding the leeward mark.

Here are the steps as I see them:

1) Skipper sets up for the douse by handing the crew the pole launcher line, which is then tossed overboard so it runs free (throw in front of trap shock cord)

2) Skipper heads down to balance boat, perhaps easing the main some.

3) Crew unhooks and swings in while skipper starts pulling kite down.

4) Crew sequence is as follows: Twings on (pull from middle or center handle), cunningham (if needed), outhaul, trap twings, centerboard (if not already down on run), blow pole (by this time the kite should be nearly in and the foot coming tight to the clew), grab vang on way out to wire.

The order really depends on how fast you are and how fast the kite goes down. You may need to move the pole up in the sequence if you are slow, or the skipper is fast on the douse. It will also depend on how your boat is set up and what you can reasonably reach quickly. Lastly, what you can pull on also depends on when you douse relative to the mark (a late douse might prevent you from doing everything).

Mike likes the twings on immediately to help prevent the sheets from going over the bow. I believe the bow launcher cover also helps this, although it adds some friction to the douse.

Also, for those of you constantly getting the sheets over the bow, you may want to try over trimming the kite just prior to swinging in and letting go of the sheet. Another key is not blowing the pole until the foot comes nearly tight, and then holding the guy for a second to keep it from blowing over the bow.

So, as you can see, a proper douse is a coordinated event that takes a lot of practice to get right! I started to get in the rythym, but it will take some time in the boat to get the moves burned in my brain.

Good luck, and starting getting ready for spring sailing!

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