Writers wanted

14 03 2011

Hi guys,

So, I’m on the look out for new writers for the blog. Currently we average over 10k visits per month without even trying, so it’s about time that I put some more effort into it.

If you’d like to write articles for V49R, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. Anything from kit reviews, racing reports, news updates from your sailing team, tips and advice, or anything else relevant to a sailing audience will be welcome.



10 tips for helping your helm: 29er and 49er

18 10 2010

Sailing 49ers and 29ers at the best of times isn’t easy. Once it becomes more of a second nature after a few years in the boat, it becomes difficult to remeber the struggle we all went through in the first few months of starting out. As a crew, I’ve often taken it for granted where my role starts and finishes and where the helm takes over. It can be easy to get set in your ways and always focus on improving the big things (boat speed, tactics, etc) and ignore a lot of little things that can make every one’s life easier. Therefore, I thought I’d start a series of posts that look at ways of making your partner’s life easier (and therfore the boat faster). Today, I’ll look at it from the crew point of view.

What is it that crews can do to make their helm’s job that little bit easier?


1: Food: Eating properly is essential between races to keep the team focussed and alert. However, helming a 49er in big breezes whilst trying to peel a banana, open a drink or unwrap a powerbar can be tough. Therefore, do your mate a favour and unwrap it for him. Sometimes a few little things can make all the difference.

2: Timing: Simple really. Even if the helm does his own time keeping, having a watch counting down will enable you to call out the time to the start when your driver gets into a flap.

3: Balance: When trhowing the boat around on the start line, it can be surprisingly easy as a crew to just let the helm get on with it and to keep your head down. However, this is rarely helpful. Keep your head up, call out boats moving into your blind spot (depending on how your helm stands this can vary. For us, it’s on the stern leeward quarter as justin faces forward) and help to keep the boat flat. For example, when we throw it into reverse (backing the main and stuffing the bow into the breeze) the boat will always heel heavily to windward. sure, the helm would normally have to keep this flat, but it makes so much sense for the crew to throw their weight around to flatten it off.

4: Standing up: I see far too many crews sitting down and taking it easy pre start whilst the helm fights to keep the boat flat. Whilst you need to get your weight as far forward as possible when you’re parked, you should never stay static when you are manouvering. Therefore, always stay on your feet, ready to react when the boat needs to be flatter. However, be sure to get back to your crouching by the mast position when you park up again.

During the race:

5: Communication: Be sure to give as much feedback as the helm needs. It’s easy to go quiet and to lose focus on those long upwind legs in light winds, but this is never going to be fast. Whilst your helm is driving the boat and focussing on the telltales, be sure to keep your head up to spot the breeze and to track the rest of the fleet.

6: Safety gybes: In the breeze, gybing a 49er or 29er is tough for the helm so be sure to make it easy for them. Always try to be obvious with your movements, don’t rush and try not to change your routine. You need to keep as many things the same as possible, as suddenly changing the speed you cross the boat or your routine is a total nightmare for the helm who is already trying to work out how he’s going to keep his hair dry. When it’s really windy, the number one reason for capsizing is from the power coming on too quickly after the boom comes across. If the spinnaker blows forward of the luff you know you have issues, so a safety gybe (pinning the old spinnaker sheet in until the boom has crossed) is a great way to give your helm some time to find his feet on the new side and to prevent the power from piling on too early.

7: High hoists: When it’s breezy, try to help the helm out by keeping one foot on the wing (especially if he;s only a little lad). Doing this helps to keep the boat flat and allows him to maintain enough control to steer around the waves

8: Being a spare pair of hands: I know it sounds simple, but you see a lot of helms struggling to untangle ropes, hook on, uncleat the jib if it’s locked in, or do anything else that’s tricky with one hand. Always keep an eye on him, as his number one role is steering in a straight line so fiddling with ropes in counter-intuative. If he looks like he has an issue, help him out.

9: Bear aways: During a windy bear away the helm has a lot on. Therefore, you need to make his life as easy as possible. By taking the mainsheet, you effectively have the hardest job during the turn; to manage the power to stop the bow driving in. When it’s properly sketchy, you’ll end up easing armfuls of mainsheet to completet the turn. However, far too many crews then just ditch the fully eased main onto their helm and run in to sort the kite out. This is a huge error, as your mate is now standing all by himself (billy no mates) trying to sort his life out. With only one hand (which is very often holding onto the handle), how is he supposed to pull 2 meters of mainsheet into the boat? To make his life easier, be sure to drag the mainshett back in again by about an armful before handing it across. It really does make a world of difference.

And the final tip –

10: Don’t be a jerk: Yes, crews get victimised all the time.  Yes, I’ve been shouted at for helms dropping their tillers, hitting marks or forgetting their starting watches (never by JV by the way..). Yet, the final and almost most important tip is to not be “that guy”. Everyone has sailed with “that guy”, the one who always points the finger, decides who was at fault or just generally takes it far too serious. Being a crew, I think it’s essential to never try to get back at the helm for a mistake.  Helms are under a hell of a lot of pressure, and ultimately will take the blame for a bad series, so they are naturally defensive.  If something goes wrong, always be the guy who puts forward positive ideas for gaining those places back, don’t get stressed when thigns go wrong, always look forward to the next opportunity rather than back at missed ones.  On the water is not the place to argue out your differences, so be positive and talked about it later.  this is one of the biggest improvements any crew can make to their game.

And finally:

On a side note, I once had a helm shouting at me up the beat for “being too helpful”. As the Guns ‘n Roses song goes, “some men, you just can’t reach…”

Pictures from RS800 open at Datchet

13 04 2010

[tweetmeme source= “RyanV49er” only_single=false]
So it wasn’t the windiest event in the world, but it was the shiftiest. Anyway, here are a few pictures from the recent RS800 open meeting at Datchet:

Thanks to Barry Peters for taking the shots. More can be found here.

Sometimes, it’s just better to swear

12 04 2010

[tweetmeme source= “RyanV49er” only_single=false]
Just prior to the second race of the RS800 Datchet open meeting, we were sitting above the line waiting for the RS200s to finally get their act together.  Essentially, they were busy trying to work out how to start a race with at least a few boats behind the line at the gun, and furiously debating which 40 boats should have the privilege of starting with a minute still on the clock.  With us sitting around slowly getting sunburn, they finally decided how to do it (“if we are ALL over, then the race officer will just give up and let us carry on”) and managed to cross the startline cleanly (to a given factor of “clean”) to get on with their race.

It was during their start sequence that I heard what was possibly the worst worded comment from one of the 200 sailors. After a particularly bad trigger followed by the entire fleet rolling over the top of them, a 200 helm loudly proclaimed to his crew, in an accent that would get him into Eton:

“That was NOT conducive to our success!”

Sometimes, no matter how posh you are, no matter how much hell your wife/crew is going to give you, no matter how religious or “well brought up” you are, it really can be better to just swear. This IS sailing after all..

Anyway, I’ll leave you with this thought. When the clock gets down to one minute, you still need to be behind the line, no matter how innocent you look.

Anyone who points out that we were OCS on Saturday can just shut up…

Photos from the Nationals

20 10 2009

I’m STILL to finish the report for the 2009 nationals, but I thought I’d upload a few photos taken by Fotoboat.com

These were taken on the 1st day, in relatively flat water and around 20 knots of breeze.  On the Sunday the camera boats didn’t go out, so we have little record of the huge conditions that the fleet enjoyed.  Anyway, thanks to Fotoboat for the great coverage of the event. If you haven’t checked them out yet, jump over and see if they have a photo of you.

Top mark, 1st lap 1st race. We rolled the guys in front of us here during the hoist:

RS800 Nationals @ Tenby SC Aug 09 visser 49er racing

Getting ready to gybe after the first mark rounding. Backs need to be straighter really, but we were looking for depth so we weren’t pushing it too hard:

RS800 Nationals @ Tenby SC Aug 09 visser 49er racing

Bottom mark, ready to drop.

RS800 Nationals @ Tenby SC Aug 09 Visser 49er racing

Making it tough for yourself: In search of height

19 10 2009

During a training session this weekend at Oxford (in preparation for next week’s inlands), we decided to use the flat water to work on our upwind height.  Whilst sailing in chop forces you to keep your bow down to some extent, flat waters are a great opportunity to test your boat’s boundaries, to see how high you can push it and to then put these tests into practice.

In the 49er we quickly learnt that the crew tends to move the mainsheet more than is needed, and the helm tends to steer to the jib telltails. So, when the gust comes in, the mainsheet is eased and the boat stays on the same heading. What we tried to do was to go half and half, by ditching 6 inches of mainsheet and pushing the stick a little bit to head her up.  This is a great way to sail, but it takes practice to get right (and also a really good rig set up..).

At Oxford sailing club, we decided to see how far we could push it. It was pretty gusty, and breezy enough to twin wire, so we started out aiming to ditch just 6 inches of sheet, and then moved onto just 4 inches, and then 2, constantly trying to find our limits.  It’s easy to say this before you hit the water, but in reality you always end up going back to your old methods without realising. Sometimes, making things extra difficult is a good way to learn more about your boat, so we decided to make this more difficult for ourselves by firstly marking the mainsheet (with tape) to the limit that Justin could ease the sheet, and then by giving him the very end of a shortened mainsheet (with a knot in) that would fully prevent him easing more than the allocated 6 inches. Sailing upwind in breezy conditions, Justin was holding the very end of the mainsheet tail, and was completely unable to let the sheet out more than a little bit, so was forced to keep us upright using steerage alone.

The effects were pretty interesting. Sure, everything was a bit more unstable when we hit variations in the wind, but once it stabilised we found we were sailing a good few degree higher through the gusts and using the tiller a lot more to alter our power.  We had to be quicker to bend our knees when the breeze dropped (due to our high angle, the boat was far more “on edge” so the slightest header would drop all power) but overall the exercise showed us how high we can push the boat before losing power and sailability.

Winter is definitely a time for testing new techniques, so why not get out there and try something a bit different?  Rake the rig right back, try a different gybing technique, get the crew to helm for a bit (a great way to learn more about each other’s roles), train with the rudder halfway up (teaches you to roll the boat more through tacks..), and just generally mix it up.

RS800 Nationals 2009 Day 1

16 09 2009

Tenby, South West Wales was the venue for the 2009 RS800 Nationals. With 4 days set aside for the competition, we hit the water on Saturday expecting a fairly long event and therefore aimed for consistency over the first day. An offshore, 18 knot breeze gave us a high paced blast out to the start line before we settled into our pre-start routine.

With clouds skidding across the sky, we sailed the beat twice to log some high and low numbers, before relaxing below the committee boat to watch the other sailors, trying to pick the guys who were looking fast and the guys who weren’t. Having decided on the boats we wanted to avoid on the line, we waited for the 5 minute gun before checking transits. With 3 minutes to go, we went for a final short beat to check numbers again, before dropping back to our midline starting position to line up. This is the same routine we always use, and we find that keeping it metronomic allows us to clear our heads pre-start and forget about any outside pressure.

We lined up for the first race mid-line, looking for a safe and consistent start. On 9 seconds, we sheeted in, hit the wire and got the bow down to roll the boat below and to punch ahead of the midline sag. With choppy waves rolling in, we shifted our weight back before working to take some height to allow us to attack the boat sitting to windward. 30 seconds later, we’ve squeezed up under their bow and have begun to lee bow them. Great, things are looking good. We sail the rest of the beat working the middle of the track, but lose out to the boats who started further right as they hook into more of a right shift. Rounding 6th, we pop the kite and roll the boat in 5th thanks to a quicker hoist. Twin wiring, we start working low in front of the boats trailing us, reach the gybe point and step across the boat to power on down to the leeward gate on port. Under pressure, we drop a little late around the left hand gate and have a bit of a poor rounding, forcing us to away from the right hand side back into the middle.

After clearing our lane, we go for a tack back, but pick the wrong patch of water and nail it into a wave. The wave knocks the tiller out of Justin’s hand, spinning us around and capsizing us through the tack. Damn. Anyway, we get the boat up and set off to catch some places up. With another good run we pull up to 16th by the finish.

Waiting in the line up for the second race, we noted the gusts rolling down over the course, and the large patches of light wind between them. This was going to be a race to keep your head out of the boat. Again, we decided that the quality of the fleet would make starting at the boat end a bit risky, so we lined up just under the main pack hoping to use or boat speed to get a good lane. This time we push the line a bit harder, and have to sheet in at around 4 seconds, but still manage to hold our lane and, after 30 seconds, start to impact on the boat below us. Similar to the first race, the waves are big aspects in upwind boats speed, and a number of times we pull ahead from reacting quickly to the steepest waves. With a clear lane, we tack onto port and start to attack the right hand side of the fleet. Crossing a few boats, we tack back on the right hand side of the course in a small header. A few boats have done well from starting from the boat end and heading out right. We end up rounding 8th, again roll the 7th boat as we hoist, and finish the run in 7th. With a nice final beat, we pull up a couple of places but lose out down the run to Spod and Filmour as they gybe early, hook into better pressure before beating us to the line.

So, after day 1 we finish in 8th position. Aside from the capsize we would have had a relatively good day, but we still have the feeling that we should have done a lot better..

Unlucky number 13

6 07 2009

I’m not a superstitious person and, contrary to expectations, I don’t have any stupid routines that I have to follow to avoid the world from ending.  I’ll happily sail around in a green boat in a green wetsuit, safe in the knowledge that bad luck is the least of my concerns (looking like Kermit the frog/Tin-Tin hybrid would be my primary concern…).  However, just prior to launching for the first race at the Lymington RS800 event, I admit to a quick mental doubl- take when we were handed tally number 13.  No, not in a “OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING TO DIE” way, but more in a “wouldn’t it be ironic if we have some sort of bad luck this weekend?” thought. I walked away  and dismissed the thought, safe in the knowledge that 13 is just a number.

Anyway, I won’t get into a full race report for this post, I’ll save that for my next one, but I’ll just give a quick summary of our event.

28 boats hit the water on Saturday morning and sailed out into 12 knots of South South Westerly breeze and strong flooding tide.  With bright sunshine, it was a day for sunglasses and sun screen, a good tidal understanding of the western Solent, and a couple of solid transits for the startline.  We got off to a good start, rounded the top mark second, but dropped one place in the last 50 meters of the last lap to finish 3rd, thanks to an inspired move by Spod and Guy.  In the second race we had a superb first beat, but with the wind dying down the run, we were caught by the boats chasing us and dropped 3 or 4 places, finishing 6th. Ok so far, not a bad start.  Everyone seemed to have an inconsistent few races, so we knew we were well in the running, joint second and one point off the lead.  We wanted to finish the day with another top 3, but with the wind almost completely dying we guessed that there were going to be a lot of points taken home for a few teams, so we had to make sure it wasn’t us.

I’ll write about the 3rd race in the next post.  We started well, put our nose in front of the fleet and were in contention for a top two rounding.  However, by the top mark we were in 12th spot thanks to a combination of forces that I’ll go into later.  However, we salvaged a 7th, and went home joint 3rd with two other boats.

On Sunday, we got off to another good solid start in 15 to 18 knots of breeze, finishing with a 3rd.  A big mainsheet wrap at the final top mark dropped us from an easy 2nd down to 6th, but we pulled back three spots on the last run to scramble a third place finish.

With two more races to sail, we decided to aim for another solid result before going all out for the race win in the final race.  After the first race  we guessed we were in third, so another above average score would hopefully solidify that position, and if not, would give us a chance to fight for it in the last race.  However, and this is where the luck comes in, as we hoisted for the second lap in freshening  breeze, our kite snagged on the jib somehow, tearing a panel out. Within seconds the whole sail had given way, and we were forced to abandon the race.  With another two laps left to race, we thought we may have a chance to change kites and get back out, so we rushed back to the slipway, rigged the new kite, and headed back to the startline.  Yet, as we rounded the headland, we saw the other boats lining up for the final race start. We were 6 minutes late for the start, so had to sail back home counting two DNFs in the last two races.

I don’t for a second think the tally number had anything to do with the kite ripping, but I think it’s ironic that bad luck strikes when we have a supposedly unlucky tally number.  Still, the key learnings from this event are more obvious:  We decided to sail with our training kite which was getting pretty old, trying to avoid damaging or ageing our new kite before Carnac.  We didn’t mind the loss of pace downwind, although it was fairly evident when we were in the pack, but our focus at the moment is on Carnac and the Nationals so everything else is just preparation. Still, with a decent kite I’m sure we would not have snagged it on that hoist, and it would have been nice to finish strongly.  However, we learned a hell of a lot this weekend, made some sharp tactical calls upwind, were fast in a straight line and in maneuvers and made some big tactical gains downwind, so the end result was good enough for me.


Light wind racing in Stokes Bay

19 06 2009

Back in the 49er, we were always on the light side. Ok, weighing in at 148 kgs wasn’t massively light at all, but we never suffered from our weight when the wind was below 10 knots (unlike other teams).  We’ve always advocated positive thinking in all conditions, but it can be hard to do that when a light team has to fight it out in 20+knots of breeze.  However, when getting set up for a days racing in light winds, we always hit the water with confidence, know that many other teams disliked light breezes and that we had always performed well in them.  In the 800, things have reversed and we have found ourselves wishing for big winds to utilise our boat-handling skills, and not looking forward to the boring light wind races.  So, pulling up to Stokes bay on Saturday we couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed that we were in for a light wind event.

After checking out the conditions, we decided that a sea breeze was unlikely (wrong gradient, very stable conditions) and the breeze would be varying from around 5 knots to nothing as the land heated.  Not a fun day to sail, but at least the racing would be interesting. And, man, it was.

In the first race we rounded third and picked to stay in the middle of the course down the run. All was looking good, but thanks to the sea breeze trying to switch on, the prevailing breeze began to die. Boats on the right and left began to leap frog us and we rounded the leeward mark back in 20th. Ouch.  After sailing fast out to the right, we managed to round in 16th and then pull up to 14th by the finish. Not a great start, but we figured everyone would have bad luck in these conditions so it was about minimising any big knock backs.

After an hour break on shore, we launched for race two and three.  With a westerly breeze blowing and a strong tide starting to flood, it looked to be a one sided “head right and hit the shore” day. The startline for the first race of this session was heavily pin end biased, to try to get some of the boats away from the committee boat.  On the one minute gun, we were lined up mid line, away from the big pack of boats at the committee boat end. With good transits and a tide pushing us away from the line, we sheeted in early and hit the line at pace, tacking after 20 seconds to begin to cross the fleet that were struggling to cross the heavily biased line. Heading in shore, we had three boats further in wh started to pull slightly ahead in the slackening tide. With about 10 minutes of straight port tack sailing before the layline, we settled down to sailing fast and high.  We could have footed off to try to get out of the tide a bit quicker, but in the conditions it made sense to protect our height from the guys below us.

We seemed to have very good speed, and could climb away from most boats when needing too.  In the light stuff, I concentrate on watching the leech, fore and aft trim, gusts and waves, and Jus on tell-tales and heel. Constant feedback is key, and from my time in the 49er I have a pretty good idea what the leech needs to look like, so I was constantly giving updates on sail trim to keep the pace on.

As boats below us began to tack back onto starboard, we began to foot off to make the most of the lift that we were in before having to tack ourselves. Picking our spot, we rolled her back onto starboard (slight roll to leeward to initiate, crew crosses in front of the mast, helm pops battens before crew hits the wire to pull her flat. Very important not to over balance the boat and pull her over to windward) about 25 meters in front of the right hand boats.  We had a nice lead on the fleet out right, and had tacked to consolidate, but now the boats who started right on the pin end were looking better and better, hooking into a nice left hand shift and going bow high on port in the middle of the course.  The tide was obviously more even across the course than we first thought, and heading middle left was beginning to pay. Within 100 meters of the bouy, 3 boats flicked back onto starboard to round just in front of us, with the leader 60 meters ahead and number 3 right on our bow.

We had a fast hoist (the 800 kite is incredibly light compared to the 49er..) and managed to roll the 3rd placed boat immediately.  Down the run, middle looked light so we elected to ignore the leaders gybing off and stayed on starboard heading into the middle of the Solent. Using transits, Jus picked the gybe point and nailed the layline from what must have been half of the length of the course away.  Although we hadn’t pulled up any places, we had gained about 60 meters and rounded nose to tail with #1 and #2.

Starting the second lap, we rounded well and managed to have clear air from the other boats slightly below and in front of us. With the wind in a left phase, we elected to follow the leaders out right. After exchanging a few tacks under the shore, we tacked back with the other two boats and headed for the windward mark.  The vast majority of the fleet had followed us out right, but two boats elected to play the middle.  Within 100 meters of the mark, these boats began to pay, again hooking into a left shift whilst we were struggling to reach the mark in light breeze and a tide hitting us on the starboard beam.  In hindsight, we should have sailed for pace, but we got caught in a pointing mode in light breeze as we struggled to reach the mark, and lost out to two boats coming in from the port layline.  On the run, not much happened, everyone covered everyone else and we crossed the line in 5th.

It was an interesting race.  We had a great start and played it by the book up the beats.  Surprisingly, heading in shore to get out of the tide didn’t work as well as we would have thought, and we lost out to boats on the left on both beats.  Still, we had good boat speed and starts so we were pretty happy.

I’ll write more about the other races in a separate post. Any feedback from anyone, leave a comment.

Getting back on the horse (And training in Stokes Bay)

10 06 2009

Yeah I know, my blogging over the last few months has left much to be desired, so I’ve decided to make up for it with a concerted effort over the next few months.  With a number of events in the RS800, I hope to have a fair bit of content to talk about.  The last few months have pretty much just been training, and unlike in the 49er, the 800 doesn’t give you a whole load of stories to tell unless it is really blowing hard. So, to avoid boring you all to death I decided to leave the blogging until we had something to say.

Well, We were meant to race in Weymouth a few weekends ago, but the van decided to break down on the way there, so we retreated to Lymington (after packing the boat up at 11pm on Friday night) to unpack and get two days sailing in. But, with a bit of luck we will be in Stokes bay this weekend for racing so I’ll write an update then.

Training last weekend was good. We took part in Spod’s class association training day on Saturday and then fleet racing on Sunday. The highlight of Saturday was either trying to skewer Spod on the end of our pole when we went for a 20 knot gybe-pop-gybe-drop around his stationary RIB. We mis-judged the second gybe and left it a bit late. Still, we were awarded a score of 10/10 for the bail out, so that was nice. A close second to this was bearing-away in big breeze in the mouth of Portsmouth harbour, diving down a rather large wave (I admit to casually mentioning the F word about 3 times on the way down, it was that big a wave)  before slamming into the one in front. The whole boat stood on it’s nose, but crazily, popped back up without flipping over. Man, if that was the 49er we would have landed somewhere in Berkshire…