The more you lean out, the faster your boat goes.
Simple! Unfortunately hiking can be pretty painful. Therefore to me it is all about efficiency. How do we get the maximum speed out of our boat for the level of hiking we can achieve?
If you hike harder then you can handle more of the power in your sails, which in turn gives more speed. Only hike to a level that you can sustain for the current period. There is no point in doing a maximum effort hike for a second or two, then sitting up or shuffling in, and going again. Boats go faster when they are flat (or their rate of heel is constant). In broad terms you can think of this as keeping the mast still. If you are moving around a lot then your mast will not be still, and you will be wasting energy. Remember to not fidget – it can disturb the flow around both your sails and your foils alike.
IMPROVING YOUR TECHNIQUE
Hiking has the greatest effect on speed when your feet are ‘locked in’ to the toe straps. You should feel connected to the boat, so when your shoulders move out or backwards, the boat is moved, and your feet do not just wobble. Your toes and thighs should be stationary. This will help you lift the bow over the waves and also will help you keep the boat flat when you lean out an extra little bit as the gust or wave hits. If you cannot decide how tight to have your toe straps, then vary them from one side of your boat to the other, and find out which is comfiest. Share the load between your arms and your legs; use the mainsheet or jib sheet to help take some of the load. The easiest way to be one step ahead is to hold good technique when tired. Aim to keep your position on the widest part of the boat. Don’t cross your legs in an attempt to get a little rest; it’s very bad for your knees.
Hiking is not just for windy days. In medium winds you can make huge gains by hiking properly. Often people ease the sails or steer too much in order to keep the boat under control. Instead, try to be really agile; think of it as ‘power generating’ whilst being in control of the heel and angle. Rocking your shoulders makes you go faster in waves. Be careful on the rules (see box), but if you rock your shoulders back as you’re sailing up the face of the wave you can lift the bow and therefore get over the wave more efficiently. Lean out to the max over the tip of the wave where it is windiest; this will also offset the wave from knocking your boat into some leeward heel. Raising your hands from your waist up to your diaphragm enables you rock much more easily and is the sign of an experienced hiker. I often hold my tiller and mainsheet hands very close as if they were two boxers touching gloves before a fight. The final technique to help you rock is to sail with a slightly raised front elbow.
You may need a different set up for downwind. In some boats you need to change the length of you toestraps. Downwind is a much more dynamic mode than upwind and requires a lot more movement fore and aft whilst hiking. I hike slightly less intensely downwind in order to be very manoeuvrable in-out; fore and aft.
HIKING AS A TEAM
In doublehanded dinghies, hike extra hard if the other person has had to sit up to adjust something. Often sitting close together is good as it allows the boat to pitch around you both; in choppy or wavy conditions sitting together is very fast. And remember, hiking hard is still important when your crew is trapezing.
There are some crucial points at which hiking hard will really make a difference:
1) When accelerating out of boat handling manoeuvres – use elastics to hold the toestraps up tightly so that it is quick and easy to get your feet under
2) Up the first beat - getting to the first windward mark in good shape consistently is so important to building good regatta series.
3) Off the startline – hike hard for the minute after the start but also on
the acceleration manoeuvre too. I never try and save myself for a later race unless I have a huge lead: no excuses! Make sure you fuel yourself well. Have a good breakfast, stay hydrated and keep nibbling on good snacks and energy gels between races.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Beyond being efficient and having good technique, how else can you improve your hiking? Ultimately there is no substitution for fitness and time spent hiking. Ensure you train your core. You will be amazed how much of a difference some proper food and drink can make.
Three signs of perfect position
1) Have your legs almost straight so your waist and knees are as far outboard as possible. Avoid ‘drop hiking’ (when your bottom falls much lower than the side of the deck); your weight is not as far out and you can hit the waves, or end up heeled to leeward.
2) Lean your upper body outboard. For this you need to train your stomach and leg muscles.
3) Shoulders back. This encourages you to lean your upper body over, but also it helps to avoid curving your back, which is really bad for you. Think about ‘sitting tall’ in the boat.
The racing rule in question regarding the kinetics associated with hiking is Rule 42 Propulsion.
42.1 states that a boat’s crew ‘shall not otherwise move their bodies to propel the boat’…
Rule 42.2 gives more detail describing the prohibited actions. These include repeated rocking or body movement, plus ‘ooching: sudden forward body movement stopped abruptly’.
My interpretation is that if you are knocking the sails or boat around by rocking, then this is
clearly not okay. Neither is it okay to repeatedly flick your shoulders in and out. A singular movement is fine, though. However, in waves it is legal to rock your shoulders from neutral position backwards in order to lift the bow. But be careful of rocking backwards and then
forwards towards the bow as that is sometimes judged to be illegal.
BEN’S TOP TIPS
Hike steady to avoid disturbing the boat
Share the load with your arms and your legs if you can
Knees outboard, shoulders out too!
Build in legal kinetics