Posted by Director of Education on May 14, 2011 under Crew, Skipper | Be the First to Comment

Yesterday we were out racing in our local sailing regatta. At the end of any regatta race we always have a debriefing on what we could have done better. Turns out this one works especially well in our work lives as well and so that was the topic of conversation over a few beers afterward.

We were approaching a downwind mark and setting up the strategy for a reach to the next mark. Unfortunately we were not leading the pack but at least we could see what every one else was doing. They were all dowsing their spinakers and reaching with their genoas for the outer mark. One lone boat however kept up their spinaker but things were starting to get busy as we closed in on the mark and so we didn’t see him. (Turns out the skipper on that boat was the 80 yr old father of the famous Chris Dickson – one of New Zealand’s top sailors having skippered in 5 America’s cup challenges).

So up went the genoa, down came the spinaker and round the mark we went. Once around the mark we just couldn’t keep up speed with the pack. And as we were seeing, the wind had shifted a little so that keeping up the spinaker for the reach would have been advantageous. The order came to get the spinaker back up.

Thus starts the lesson:

Getting the spinaker back up again immediately after a take down is out of the ordinary. It was quickly packed in the launch bag and passed upstairs and set into place on the bow pulpit. The spinaker sheets were quickly re run. The pole was clipped into the port guy and raised with the topping lift to clip onto the mast. The halyard was bought forward to be clipped onto the head of the spinaker (top grommet of the spinaker). BUT the spinaker head was no where to be found. Luke, who was working the foredeck was yelling back to the spinaker packer that he couldn’t find the spinaker head. All eyes fell on Luke as he frantically dug through the launch bag to find the top of the sail.

Now if if you’ve ever worked with a spinaker, you’ll know that it must be packed perfectly like a parachute in order for it to launch properly. Each edge of the chute must be “chased” from one point to the next as it is packed. The clew, tack and head must all be positioned in the launch bag properly. It not the results can be disastrous.

As eyes  stayed on Luke hoping and willing him to find the spinaker head, focus was lost. The helms person was watching Luke, The mainsail trimmer was watching Luke. The headsail trimmer was watching Luke. Everyone was wanting to help Luke.

It was the skipper who pulled it all back together and called an end to the kafloffle that was going on. Spinaker efforts were abandoned and focus was back to everyone doing their jobs. By that time we’d lost incredibly valuable distance to the main part of the pack.

In reality, it only required one person to sort out the mess and the rest to just keep doing their jobs – trim and steer trim and steer. On a sailboat – you’re job is to race the race doing YOUR job. As a skipper your job is to keep everyone focused on their jobs and keep the big picture in play. Getting the spinaker up was not the big picture. Making the boat go fast was the big picture.

How can we make our business’s go fast?  What’s the big picture of your job? I know this – for a sail trimmer – the big picture is to keep all the tell tales flying – that’s it. And it’s not an insignificant task!

I recently experienced this myself again in the Rolex Regatta in St. Thomas last March. NauticEd and its adventure Partner Safe Passage sailing chartered an 80 ft Maxi race sailboat to compete in the series. For much of the race series I was working the mainsail. A dozen other NauticEd students joined us. The boat was awesome, huge, and the biggest I’d raced on. I found it incredibly hard to focus on my job. There was only one thing I could do when all hell was breaking lose at the bow of the boat. That job was to sail the mainsail.

At the start of one race, we had a 90 ft boat right next to us forcing us up to the start line. The job was to sail the mainsail not look at the paint job on the multimillion dollar boat 10 feet away and fear a crash. Just sail the mainsail!

NauticEd Students Racing in the Rolex Regatta

NauticEd Students Racing in the Rolex Regatta

One more example which we talk about in our bareboat charter bvi course. We were coming out of North Sound on Virgin Gorda in the BVI’s. Another catamaran had already exited and had turned back towards Virgin Gorda to head to wind to get the main sail up. As you may know, getting the mainsail up on a big cat is not an easy job and it was taking some time. All eyes were on the sail going up. No eyes were on Prickly Pear reef towards which the Catamaran was immanently going to hit. Had it not been for our horn blast and pointing, they surely would have grounded on a breaking nasty reef.

In this case the helms persons job was to keep the boat into wind and watch out for traffic.

So many analogies can be made between sailing and the corp world. What I’ve found is that through out a race (which takes about 2 hours) almost all the same issues come up in a 10 month project. You can see a very subtle secondary analogy in the example above. The 80 year veteran kept up his spinaker whist every one was taking theirs down. We had the advantage of observing that – but we didn’t because “things were getting too busy”. Hmmm, how’s that for a lesson in watching the competitive field.

It would be of incredible value if we could take our project team and run them through a sailboat race first before we start a project. Quick side note:  I’ve got 32 different exercises to be done on a sailboat depending on the required developmental strengths that a team needs. If anyone needs a experiential training program for their team let me know.

Regardless – next time you’re leading a team in a race regatta – make sure your team keeps focus on their own personal job.


Reef un reef reef unreef

Posted by Grant Headifen on January 3, 2009 under Skipper | Be the First to Comment

When you’re racing you need to get the most out of your rig and that’s exactly what we had to do in the Austin Yacht Club Red Eye January 1st Race event. While one weather channel was predicting 6-8 knots another was saying 15-20. In the last sailing blog I’d mentioned that we were going light wind sailing – not true. Biggest gust was to 25 knots and mostly the wind was around 17 knots. That’s reefing time. Ahh that’s for the weak at heart might say some – but reefing increases your performance.

Reefing reduces the size of the sail. When reefing a roller furling sail the sail is rolled up a little. The first reefing point for a roller furler is about 15%. Thus is the foot of your sail is 12 ft long then roll the sail up about 18 inches.

They way that the sails performance is increased is it helps the wind stay attached to the lee side of the sail. Slow moving air can bend around the curve of the sail and stay attached. Fast moving air has more momentum and can not stay attached. Thus it swirls off creating turbulence in its wake which vastly upsets the balance of low pressure on the lee side of the sail and high pressure on the windward side. The art of sailing is all about the even flow of wind over the sail and allowing this turbulence to happen is one way to loose a race.
The image below is taken from Module 7 of the Skipper course and from the Sail Trim Clinic. It shows wind swirling inefficiently off the sails.

The other part to reefing is that the height of the center of force acting on the sail is reduced. This reduces the heeling force. IE the boat tips over less. Most boat hulls operate with the least amount of drag either flat or slightly tilted. Tilting over too far will increase the hull drag in the water. With high winds and an unreefed rig, you’re certainly going to be tipped over beyond the most efficient point.

So reef that sail.

Downwind is a slightly different story. As long as it is safe – ie the winds aren’t too high – you can let the reef out to capture more wind against the sail area. Remember the apparent wind against the sail going downwind is reduced because your speed subtracts from the true wind speed when going down wind. However you have to be a wee bit cautious with this. At one point we needed to steer up wind a little to miss a shoal, a gust came through at the exact same time and also a boat flying a spinnaker came past us. Our boat began to round up into the wind but also into the other boat. To save the day we let all the sails fly so that the rudder could overpower any turning effect the sails had against us. This allowed us to turn back down wind with out loosing much of our speed or heading.

About 2 hundred yards short of the mark on the down wind leg I had the crew re-reef the main sail so that we were prepared to come back up onto a close haul for the next upwind leg. Always make sure you do this is plenty of time. Being 50 yards early is better than being past the mark and still messing with the reefing where you’ll loose valuable time.

We had two downwind legs and 3 upwind legs so we had to reef – unreef – reef – unreef – then reef again. Good practise for the crew and the barking captain – right? Wrong Captains never bark!

In our sailboat race on new years day, we elected to reef the main sail about 25% (2 reefing points) to reduce the rounding up effect. See last blog on rounding up. But we left the head sail fully out. The reason for not reefing the head sail was because a reefed roller furling head sail never really behaves efficiently due to the disturbance on the sail created by a bunched luff. IE the rolled sail on the leading edge doesn’t allow for smooth wind flow over the sail. Also the sail shape is always not quite how you want it. Even tho you move the cars forward, the shape is never how you’d want it. But if the wind conditions had gotten any worse then we’d be forced to reef the head sail as well.

Admittedly we didn’t do too well in the race but at least we all did our best and had a great start to the new year.


Happy New Year – learn to sail in light winds

Posted by Director of Education on January 1, 2009 under Skipper, weather | Be the First to Comment

What better way for NauticEd online sailing classes to start off the year by going sailing. The NauticEd crew will be racing their Beneteau 373 on lake Travis in the Red eye regatta today. Winds are predicted to be light at 6-10mph. So it’s going to be a light wind sailing day. Light wind sailing raises a few issues that many new sailors have a hard time picking up on at first but with a little experience you can learn to sail in light winds.

The trick is to understand that the rudder when turned adds drag to the boat which slows it down. When we have plenty of wind this is usually insignificant – but at slow wind speeds the drag becomes a significant force. In addition, the slower the boat moves the slower it turns and so turning the wheel doesn’ seem to turn the boat as fast. This results in the inexperienced sailor turning the wheel more to get the same rate of turning that they are used to. And as we discovered above – more turning creates more drag which slows the boat even more.

So the big trick is patience. Turn the wheel and wait – it will turn but slowly. And when turning the wheel just make small turns. This is a really hard one to master but with practise , you’ll get it. Many cruisers just turn on the engine when winds drop this low but racers have to deal with all wind conditions. It’s one of the reasons that racers typically become much better technical sailors than cruisers. But they do miss out on all the trips to the Caribbean that the cruisers take right?

So… race and cruise – that’s the real answer. Become crew on the many undercrewed sailboats. Just show up at the club house before a race and almost guarnteed you’ll be asked to crew.

Have a great learn to sail year!