Y&Y Monthly Magazine - Waves
BEN SAXTON guides us through the dark art of wave sailing. He explains how to get the best speed out of your boat, and how they affect manoeuvres. The skill of wave sailing is transferable across most dimensions of our sport, with many of the same principles applying from small keelboats to most dinghy classes. Mastering the basic theories of wave sailing enables you not just to stay in control but also to sail fast. Think about power: boats are affected by the power of waves as well as the wind, so fundamentally we want to use the positive power of waves, and limit the damage from their negative power. Using waves for speedThere are two types of waves: large long wavelength ocean swell, and short sharp chop. Compared with flat water, both create the need to think more about getting your boat to accelerate. Swell can also affect the power you feel in the boat, because surfing or merely being pushed by a wave can increase the apparent wind felt on your boat and move the direction of the wind forward. Most obviously, waves can be surfed downwind. Working within the rules, pump hard in order to catch these waves to accelerate and then try to stay on them for as long as possible. In choppy conditions a pump can help you to pop over the wave crests in order to surf down the back. Upwind in choppy water in a dinghy or small keelboat, try moving your weight aft a little in order to let the bow skip over the waves. Sometimes helm and crew can keep their body weight close together to allow the boat to pitch easily over the waves, but sometimes it’s best to try and minimise pitching – spend some time experimenting and work out what’smost effective for your type of boat. Upwind in swell, generally steer up the wave when going uphill, and bear away to accelerate down the back of wave. Partly this helps to keep your boat flat by pinching and then footing, as there is more wind at the top of a wave and less at the bottom. I often think about trying to keep the mast still. It is vital to speed and means that you are keeping good control of your heel angle. In a keelboat you can mainly use steering to achieve this, but in dinghies you can combine this with sail trim and bodyweight movements. In extreme conditions heading up over large waves also prevents you from allowing a large wave to push the side of your boat downwind. It is much more efficient to show the wave the side of your bow not your beam; however be sure to accelerate quickly over the top of the wave. When you surge forward on swell upwind or downwind your apparent wind angle moves forward. Downwind,sheet your sails on to keep them full. In traditional boats use this to head deeper downwind. In high performance boats use this to increase your speed, therefore apparent wind, and keep accelerating. Upwind if you are surging forward on a wave it means the swell is behindyou. You cannot sheet any harder so simply allow the jib to luff a little and keep your height. It’s free speed and height; don’t worry if you feel underpowered because your boat will feel fully powered again once the wave has gone. To reach maximum speeds downwind in fast boats aim for the flat spots in waves and avoid ‘walls’ in front of you. In slow boats find the biggest downhills. It all depends on whetheryou or the waves are going faster – sometimes it can be a mixture. The power of waves is most noticeable in light winds. Don’t get confused by them, and it’s most important to harness their power for your benefit in these conditions. If you need to regain speed at anystage, try to sail in a wide lane, especially with a bit of space to leeward of you. It is impossible to avoid some bad sets of waves, even if you are being a pro and trying to steer around the worst ones. Give yourself some contingency to bear off and get going again where possible. Overall a mixture of constant sail trim and steering will make you fast in wavy conditions. Set up and sail trimCompared to sailing in flat water there are a few set up tricks that will help you in waves. You need to sail with more power, so as wind speed increases, depower slightly later than usual, and keep your sails full. Also because steering is harder in waves, in boats with a jib, set the jib up slightly deeper by either moving the cars forward, using more barberhauler, or loosening the jib luff. If you can’t move the jib cars forward, your only option is to raise the jib in order to deepen it, but this isn’t ideal because this reduces the opportunity to set the sails up with lots of twist.Allow your mainsail leech tell tails to fly 90 per cent of the time rather than 75 per cent. This set up gives you more tolerance and will help with the continual need to accelerate. Sail withthe mainsail deep and twisty too. In lighter winds in yachts you can sail with the boom slightly above centerline to help create a twisted leech profile. After a bad wave ease sheetseven more in order to accelerate by inducing twist into your sails. In dinghies it is a bad habit to do this before the bad set of waves as it just causes the sails to bounce around. If it feels wavier on one tack, the set up should be different tack to tack.Just one example of this is if on one tack you have side swell. Here, it is paramount that you do not allow the boat to become underpowered when you are on the windward downhill slope of the wave otherwise its too easy to lose height and chase the bow down to leeward. Try sailing with more power on this tack. In all boats you can sit further forward and put the foils slightly more down if possible on this tack. Boat handlingImagine a spinning top – it balances on a point. Using this logic, you want to tack over the top of the wave, also using the downhill to accelerate on the exit. In choppy conditions tack a little faster than you would in flat water because the boat does not glide to windward through the middle of the tack in the same way. Additionally, you will need to use more rudder in order to get the bow up to head to wind in waves.The golden rule of gybing is to manoeuvre when the boat is fastest and unloaded. In swell if you can carve the boat around and still be on the downhill slope then perfect. The same applies on the bear away: use the wave. Keep your weight aft for longer though as you may soon be charging into the wave in front of you. If you have a jib make sure you ease it a bit as this helps the bow lift and stops the bow from getting caught in the wave in front. With good timing bearing away and gybing can be easier in waves than in flat water.At the bottom of a downwind leg in swell drop the kite early, but make sure that you are surfing a wave. You will not lose any speed once you are surfing, but be sure to make it onto a wave before preparing for the leeward marks or you will bog down for what feels like an eternity. Overall, beware because often waves are bigger at the bottom of the course. Adjusting your tacticsSailing in waves will feed into your tactics around the racecourse. Wavy conditions will certainly affect your starting strategy. Assuming the wind and waves are aligned, it will take longer to accelerate so be careful to trigger early enough. Typically, your top speed will be slower, so accelerate early – especially if you are used to using a GPS to count you into the start line. Finally, you will drift forward less when holding station so be aware of line sag, especially in big fleets and because in ocean venues sometimes transits are harder to find.Build in a safety margin to your sailing. On upwind and starting laylines be aware that in waves it is harder to pinch, although the opposite is true downwind. Additionally, marks can move around a bit and precise boat positioning is harder, therefore whether you are lee bow tacking or rounding a mark do not be too aggressive.Changes in wave patterns around the course offer tactical opportunities. Often it is flatter on one side of the course than the other due to close windward or leeward shores, and varying depths. Upwind, boats go faster in flat water, downwind work out if the waves are speeding you up – or in foiling boats, avoid them!Finally, waves are rarely exactly from the same direction as the wind. Downwind in particular this means spinnaker boats have one faster gybe and one slower one. It seems obvious but most sailors miss this trick. Sail a lower mode downwind on the fast gybe, and a higher mode on the slower gybe. This improves your overall speed (VMG). This is still true of a boat that hardly sails any angles downwind, though admittedly less so. How to improve How do you improve wave technique andensure you race well when it comes to it? IN TRAINING:Head out and practice sailing fast in waves. I grew up sailing on a lake but now have a reputation for being good in waves – I didn’t get this from training inland!When I was younger I used to head out training against my twin brother Tim. Having another boat with you is great as you can see the relative impact of the waves more clearly. Also, if you’re sailing a dinghy, a training partner provides good safety cover. ON RACE DAY:Launch early! Leave time to work out how the waves are affecting you on each tack, upwind and downwind, in different areas of the course. Think about set up and technique differences. Prepare well. Start thinking about the points mentioned here, and imagine your way around the course. Because sailing in waves is often more difficult than sailing on flat water, this preparation is vital as it helps to simplify things during the race – particularly key for fast boats when you don’t have much time to think. Ben’s top tips:Think about how to steer to thewaves – upwind and downwind.Set your sails up withmore depth and twist.Use the downhill accelerationto help gybes and markroundings. Upwind, try andtack on the top of a wave.Add more of a safety marginwhen racing close to other boats.Know how the rules affectwhat you can do when racing.