Blast from the past: 29er XX crash and burn sailing

21 10 2010

I thought I’d repost an old report that I wrote a few years ago. Why? Just because, ok?
Now apart from the rubbish name, and horrendous multicoloured “XX” graphic on the sail, I have to say I was extremely impressed with the boat. I was sailing at a Hayling Island event 2 years ago. We pitched up on Saturday, with a borrowed 49er (thanks to Steve Hopper for that), to be greeted by 25 – 30 knots in Hayling bay. The event was obviously, very quickly postponed, leaving us with nothing to do. Dave Hall was at the event, showing off the new 29er rig, so we thought we’d badger him for a go. We borrowed a 29er, stuck Dave Hall’s XX rig on it, and 30 minutes later we hit the water.

Now this isn’t a Yachts and Yachting style report. We didn’t exactly have decent sailing conditions to get a good handle on how the boat sails. As we headed upwind, both flat wiring (all 150 kg’s of us) and tracked all the way to the back, we quickly discovered that, even with the jib fully eased, we had no way of holding the main. The breeze was so high that we could barely get upwind without getting blown flat. After knocking the jib right off and nearly completely dropping the main, we began to figure out how to make the thing go. After 5 minutes of getting battered up-wind, we decided to make a smart decision.

Me: “I’m bored, lets get this kite up”.

Ed: “Do it”

Ed pulled the stick, I dumped the main and we spun the boat into a 30 knot bear away, pulled the kite up and then hit the straps as we took off. The 29er flew through the Hayling chop. We weighed so much that all it took was a flick of the shoulders to drive her down the next wave or to flatten her out in the gusts. As each gust rolled in, I popped the kite with Edd tweaking the stick to steer us through. 200 metres later we called the gybe, pulled the stick and stepped across the boat. The 29er XX is so thin compared to the 49er that you can throw her into gybes and cross the boat in half the time.

As we hit the straps, Ed called a big gust rolling in. We both hit the knots and flattened out as the breeze kicked up. In front of us, two International 14’s pitchpoled in unison, leaving the crew flying through the air. Huge grins on our faces, Edd heated the boat up to sail over the top of the upturned skiffs. Everything from here on in goes into slow motion. With the boat sailing a hotter angle, we are sailing about as fast as the 29er xx can ever go. As we launch ourselves past the guys in the water, my heart stops. We are sailing someone elses £6000 29er, with a brand new XX rig attached, and we’ve just sailed about two metres away, at 20 plus knots with spray everywhere, past a guy standing in thigh deep water. Oh crap…

The skiff slams into the sandbank, and we take off. The centreboard is driven back into the fibre glass 29er hull, finishing at a 45 degree angle. The Carbon fibre spinnaker pole slams into the sand and breaks in two. I land in the water in front of the kite and surface just in time to see Edd descending from the sky, landing on my chest.

As the spray settles, and we walk back to the very broken looking boat, Ed sums the situation up with one word.

Ed: “Balls”

29er XX

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…”

2005 29er Worlds, San Francisco, Part 2

20 11 2007

So we pick up the story after the first day of racing; Si and I are in 44th position overall, counting a first position and a last, after our mast came down due to the strong conditions. We were pretty angry and annoyed that this had happened to us of all people, knowing that we had done everything to prepare for this event and it was a piece of equipment (a brand new 3mm shroud pin) that had let us down. However, fixing our boat (the mast had sheared off at the deck and we had to refit a whole new mast step, with the invaluable help of my Dad) late into the night gave us some thinking time, and I guess we decided to just pick up where we had left off. We knew what we needed to know, that we were the quickest boat out there and were sailing beautifully! All we needed was a few more races in the series and a discard and we’d be right back up there at the top of the leader board. However, we absolutely could not afford any more bad races, or any more discards, and had to now sail right on the edge to gain back those lost points. To win we basically had to sail the perfect series from here on.Day two dawned just as the others had, a little bit foggy and with a light breeze, which stayed for slightly longer than it normally does. We were racing first this time and so got ready much earlier. As you can expect, we checked the boat and the pins about three times! We set the boat up with light wind settings as we expected the breeze not to get up above 10 knots for the morning session. We would then come in after two races, let the other fleet sail their share of races, and go back out for two races in the big stuff. Sailing out to the course for the first session was easy, and the first race was an absolute cracker. It was about 10 knots, with a heavy flood tide, so we started mid line and sailed with height to the shore. At this point it should be noted that Si and I were one of the heaviest teams in the regatta (one of the reasons we were pretty quick in the heavy wind, along with knowing how to make the boat go fast!), and so we really weren’t supposed to go that fast in ten knots. But we were rapid and extended our lead to around half a leg by the finish. We then sailed a carbon copy in the next race and won by the same distance! I can probably say that these two races were the most rewarding of my life; after what had happened the day before, people may have thought we would have gone into our shells, but we wiped the floor in winds that were apparently not suited to. We went back pretty darn happy.As expected, the winds for the afternoon had picked up a lot. We changed settings and sailed out, and started the third race of the day. To our disbelief, and increasing giggles, we were again at the front! However, we were racing a good group and couldn’t quite extend, and so finished third. Still, a great race and we were getting back in there. The last race of the day was the same as the first race of the competition, and we won by quite a distance. We were excelling in the conditions and not making mistakes, and I hope that the other competitors were thinking what they had to do to beat us. It was a pretty good feeling getting back in to slaps on the back and lots of congratulations.The second day of racing was just amazing, and it put us from 44th on the leaderboard to 1st in one big jump. On top at last! We just needed a few more solid days and we could actually win, but there was a long way to go and anything could still happen, from capsizes to disqualifications… Ah yes, disqualifications…Day three wasn’t great by any means. A fickle wind blowing meant a truly dodgy race first thing, and somehow we managed to capsize upwind whilst in a big pack of boats, due to the wind hitting us from all directions off the land and the clubhouse. We finished around twelfth, an OK result but not great. Race two turned out to be even worse, even though we finished a very good second. Our attitude through most of our sailing was to be slightly risky and to push the starts quite hard, to get the most advantage. It seems like in this race we pushed it a little far. Coming through the finished line, where normally you get a finishing ‘beep’, we were greeted with silence. Whoops is an understatement. Obviously disqualified from starting prematurely on a black flag, we went back to shore to find out the bad news in writing. After these two bad races, we were 11th overall, but one race off getting another discard (which would move us back up to 2nd). Two races were left in the qualifying series, to be held that day, so we thought we’d be fine (boats take their finishing position in the qualifying series into the final series as a race score, so it’s vital to qualify well). However, to our astonishment the race committee canned the rest of the racing, one race shy of the discard, due to “heavy winds”. You have to be joking! Heavy winds the reason for not sailing in San Fran?! They didn’t seem too heavy, nothing that we haven’t previously sailed in. We were stunned, needing another discard to take two points into the final series rather than 15th. But nothing changed and we stayed 15th. Annoyed at ourselves for being disqualified, where all we needed to do was get a solid last two races, we now had to fight back again (something we were again confident to do). Maybe all it would have taken was a calming word into our ears before that first race of the day, and we would have sailed a modest race. Live and learn. (However, due to the way San Fran has to be sailed, with strong tides, you either get a cracking start and reach the shore first, or you get screwed and finish near the back, a risky tactic we had employed from the beginning to good effect).So, we went into the Final Series in the Gold fleet (for the third consecutive time in the 29er) in 15th position, needing to sail the remaining seven or so races brilliantly to win the title. It was becoming harder and harder, but we were still confident we could do it.Final part follows soon!

29er Worlds 2005

29er World Championships, San Francisco 2005, Part 1

7 11 2007

So as the first article in this new series, I thought I’d write about the 2005 29er Worlds, held in San Francisco Bay. This was to be the culmination of about 3 years hard work and the most important event I had ever competed in. Firstly then, the background to the story.

I was sailing with Simon (Wheeler) at this point, and had been for about three or four years, pretty successfully. We had done well in the 29er, having World Championship results previously of 14th (2003) and 5th (2004), and had recently come 2nd in the Youth Nationals back in the UK by one point. We always knew of the infamous San Francisco conditions; heavy wind, big waves, strong tide, extremely challenging – right up our street. Si and I had been right up there in the tough conditions for a while, always having great boat handling and more importantly great speed. However, we didn’t win the Youth Nationals in these conditions, losing out fairly to Ed Chapman and Tom Peel. Because of this, we knew we had to sail the best we’ve ever sailed to take the World Title, but had been working up to this one event for a long time. Every event we did before San Fran was just a training event, we took different aspects out of each event and built on them. We knew they were training events and just aimed to peak at the right time, just before that first big race of the Worlds. It was a strange feeling and one that I’ve never had since: total confidence and absolute focus. It still makes me quite nervous thinking about it!

Just before the event (we flew out while the boats came across in a container) we competed in the US Nationals, a warm-up event for the Worlds the following week. It was held in the best-named-place-ever, Treasure Island (although it turned out to be more like an Asda car park in Staines). We had some of the most crazy conditions I’ve raced in, about 25 knots every day and huge waves, and so as a team (all the British squad boats) we decided to only sail the first two and a half days, to save our bodies for the big one. Si and I coped well, winning a few races and generally being in the top three in the races we sailed. Again we took confidence from the event and got mentally prepared for our next race: the first race of the Worlds.

The time since the US Nationals finished and the first day of the Worlds flew, suddenly we were getting suited and booted and getting the boat ready. Basically, San Fran sailing goes like this: you wake up, it’s foggy, then the sun comes out when you’re getting ready and a light breeze builds. This breeze builds until it peaks at around 2pm, at about 22-25 knots. It then only dies when the day gets cooler. On the morning of our first race, we were set to race in the second group of boats (the fleet of 87 boats were split in two, one half racing first and the second racing last). The event was scheduled to have a qualification series of 3 days and a Finals series of 3 days, with three to four races every day. The top 25 boats would make the Gold Fleet and race out for the title. Because we were going second on the first day, we waited and watched the first fleet race and got the boat ready for the more extreme conditions of the afternoon. It was at this point that I put in the old headphones and whacked on ‘Eye of the Tiger’, cheesy I know but hell did it work! I was fired up and we launched for the first race.

Sailing out to the course was pretty fun, kite up, big waves, throwing in some gybes under the Golden Gate to get ourselves warm. We prepared as we always did; compass bearings, start line check, transits, got the watch ready, checked the windshifts. Everything felt good and the Race Committee went into start sequence. The next five minutes went according to plan, we got a good space on the line, held there, accelerated well and hit the line at speed as the start gun went, with another 40 or so 29ers mixing it up in the big waves of America. After about a minute of racing, it was obvious we were very quick, we were in the leading bunch and headed for our chosen side; the left side of the beat, right beneath the Yacht Club where everyone was watching and out of the tide. Photo opportunity I think… Throughout the first leg we extended our lead and rounded the top mark first by quite a margin. Winning the first race! The runs were where it got a little tricky, having to gybe out into the big waves offshore to get in the tide taking us down wind, but we were in complete control. We extended and extended and after two big laps we whipped through the finish line to be greeted by the sound of the finisher’s gun. A great start to the event.

The next race turned out to be the last of the day, and we picked up where we had left off; a massive lead all the way around the course. What were we doing?! You just don’t go to a World Championship and lead the first two races by this length. We were quietly excited but fully concentrated on now sensibly bringing the boat home to another race win, “just one more lap”. But on the final leg, with around 200 metres to the finish line and about a 2 minute lead, our world came crashing down around our ears: the mast had come down into the drink after a fitting had snapped, taking our World Championship hopes and dreams with it. We were stranded, there was nothing we could do without a mast and sails up. We sat and watched as boat after boat rushed past us and the winner took our gun. A few minutes earlier we had the prospect of sailing in with two wins and the lead of the competition, now our hopes were severely dented. We had to record a maximum score from that race and get towed in to shore. Absolutely gutted. The only way we could now win the regatta we had prepared for so long for, was if we sailed the regatta of our lives.

Part 2 follows soon!

29er Worlds 2005

29er Stories

5 11 2007

Ok guys,

We’re trying to get some interesting reading material here to keep you coming back for more. I’ve recently persuaded Justin to write a few stories from his 29er days.  The first report will be about the 29er Worlds 2005, which he managed to win his Youth World Champion title at.  This is a must read for any 29er sailor, and relevant for all skiff sailors.  Look out for it over the next few days.  We hope you enjoy it.