How Speedwagon Won the Nationals
In the 2014 VX One Nationals my crew & I were really quick in a breeze but when it became marginal planning conditions downwind in less than 13knots the boats with lighter crews made huge gains. For that regatta we weighed in at 230kg. The crews that weighed 200kg were putting 100 to 150 metres on us downwind.
I have done enough regattas in many different classes to know that when you have a small fleet like the ten boats we expected for our nationals that all else being equal, ‘the fastest boat will win’ and when you sail in a large fleet, ‘the smartest boat will win.’ In a small fleet there is enough clear air on the track for a fast boat to get enough of it and get truckin’ even if they do not get the best start.
Knowing this I spent a lot of time thinking about what would be the ideal crew weight to sail the 2015 Nationals at. I expected that we could get strong and medium to light conditions for the regatta again. While not wanting to be off the pace in the heavy I did not want to be run down like a sitting duck in the marginal conditions either. I decided that 215kg would be the right weight to sail at.
I was keen to sail the nationals with Anton, a school friend that I had done a lot of sailing with in the 80’s. We sailed the ASBA Midwinters together in Mooloolaba and it was a lot of fun! I weighed 85kg, he was 70kg so we needed a 60kg crew. I rang Cribby, a friend of mine who runs the youth program for Yachting NSW. He recommended Jordan Makin a Laser Radial 4.7 sailor who lived on Lake Macquarie. Cribby said that he could hike all day!
Although he lived on the Lake Jordan was down in Sydney quite often for Youth Squad training and when I contacted him, his parents were happy to bring him down to sail the VX One for our build up to the nationals. We had five weekends in the season where we worked on boat handling and trim. Probably the best practice he got on spinnaker trimming was the hour and a half run from Pittwater to Sydney that we did in November. In the ocean swells you can really see what the change in apparent wind angle does when you surf down waves. Jordan was a bit tired at the end but he trimmed the whole way!
I bought a new Mackay boat this season as it was a good opportunity to grow the Australian fleet and step into a new boat. When my crew came down to sail for the first time I had installed longer ropes on the leaning straps so that we could adjust them to the right length for comfortable and effective hiking for each of us. Being 15kg lighter than the team I had the year before I had worked out that we needed to hike 130mm further out to have the same righting moment as a 230kg crew.
Our sails for the regatta were Ullman, made by Bruce Hollis in Sydney. The main had done 5 regattas, including the ASBA Nationals in Freo in 20 to 25knots and the last VX One Nationals. It still looked great in fact Brian Bennett commented at the Midwinters last year that it looked really nice. The spinnaker was new for the last VX Nationals and had done three regattas. The jib was new and had been out of the bag once.
Before the races we set up the rig to make sure we had enough power. The leeward shroud would just go loose in the lighter air upwind. This meant that we could sail fully powered up in the light stuff and maintain our height. In the gusts we would need to pull on vang and ease mainsheet. If the pressure was staying up for a while we would pull the cunningham on.
The VX One is designed to sail upwind with six to eight degrees of heel. Every boat has their ideal angle of heel when sailing upwind. If you do not allow the boat to sail over its ideal angle of heel you will be fast! In the VX One I do not like to go any slower than 6.0knots upwind. If we are fast and flat the mainsheet must be fully on and the sails powered up as much as possible. If we are fast and the mainsheet is out we trim on I steer up to grab some more height. If we are slow and fully hiking the mainsheet is eased to get us up to speed.
In the gusts and greater pressure we sailed inside the luff of the jib. In any boat when you have more wind than you need it is most important the ‘keep the boat on its feet’ ie. sail it at the correct angle of heel. When you do the foils work and you don’t make the leeway you will see boats on their ear do. It is critically important that the mainsheet trimmer is aware of the correct angle of heel and works with the helmsperson to keep the speed and heel exactly right.
We set up our jib with the sheet in the standard middle hole on the clew board. This gave it a decent amount of foot round for power in the light end of the range. We have the jib track marked with a number 1 on the bolt hole 300mm from the centre of the boat. Then we have each of the next holes numbered 2, 3 and 4 as they go outboard. We had the jib car between 1.5 and 2 in the 12 to 18 knots on the first two days.
Jib sheet tension is a really critical control as a tiny change in it will change the position of the leech of the jib a lot. It is imperative that the trim of the jib is really consistent. I would go to leeward before the start and check the position of the leech and then tell Jordan that is the tightest trim we will want in the race. The jib halyard was set so the wrinkles just came out of the luff.
With the boat setup for the lighter air we expected on the beat the forestay will sag when there is more wind. This effectively narrows the angle of attack of the jib and closes the slot. This is bad and needs to be avoided. When this happens the jib sheet needs to be eased to open the leech and slot to restore the correct angle of attack through the middle of the sail. When the breeze was on I would call for an extra 5 or 10mm between the jib blocks. Do not over do it. Just as it is important to helm smoothly up wind it is also important to over react with trim changes as any over reacting will result in a loss of height. I think many of the boats could have had their jibs over-trimmed. If in doubt (slow) ease it out!
In the 2014 Nationals there were one or two race where we did not get a good start when we were in a bit of a bunch on the line. I figured that a higher percentage start with clear air and a lane would be much more beneficial than getting caught in a bunch and lowering the chance of getting off the line clean.
On the first two days when the breeze was 12 to 18 knots out of the south-east the pin end was favoured, the left hand side of the beat was a bit more promising and we nailed most of the starts at the pin. We had really good pace and after about three minutes could tack and cross the fleet by 20 to 30 metres.
Since I sailed the VX One North Americans in 2013 I have been thinking about the optimum twist in the mainsail downwind. Having done more one design VX sailing than I had the Americans were using less vang than me and it was fast! Mainsail setup with an assymetric spinnaker is a lot different to a symmetrical one on a lead mine. Originally I thought that a lot of mainsail twist was only needed on boats with massive masthead Assos like Melges and the other sportsboats we sail against. However the lesson was rammed home to me when we sailed down the coast from Pittwater to Sydney. At the beginning of the run we could not catch Iain Murray who was sailing Scott Lawson’s boat. His crew weight had to be at least 30kg heavier than us so we should have been at least able to match him. It was not until we matched the twist he had in his mainsail that we got up to speed.
It may not be what you are use to but the main should be twisted so that the slot with the kite is nice and open. The boom will then be around the leeward corner of your transom. It can be eased out by up to a metre in the gusts and in about halfway to centre line in the lulls. As a guide I like to sail with the apparent wind around 90 degrees. If it is light I will head up for pressure and if it is breezy I will go lower with it.
As the VX One lights up downwind it is critical to find and stay in the best pressure. If conditions are variable the boat can go 50% faster and 30 degrees lower in pressure so it is worth getting into it!
On the first two days when the pressure was variable we missed getting to one band big time and Scott and Fred closed right up on us from behind. If not for our trimming and lighter weight I am sure we would have been third at that bottom mark.
Scott’s crew weighed 235kg and Freddos 245kg. If we rounded the top mark in good pressure there was no difference in speed but when the pressure dropped a bit we would be able to extend our lead.
Freddo had good starts and sailed very consistently, usually around third or forth. Scott was fast all around, especially upwind when the breeze was on. We noticed that he was closing in on us upwind on more than a few occasions. Scott had a win and heaps of seconds. We won six of the eight races.
You may guess that I am pretty competitive and don’t like to leave anything to chance. You are right. I also love sailing the VX One and want to improve the competition so I am happy to share everything that I have learnt.