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…”

RS part exchange

12 04 2010

Hey guys,

I just thought I’d write a quick post to share some info about something RS are doing with the RS800.  They are offering a part exchange for a spanking new 800 to anyone with a raceable boat.  Give them a call to find out a little more, but it seems to be a good time to upgrade so it could be worth a shot.  Sure, it’ll cost you some cash for the exchange, but compared to buying a new suit of sails and a new mast it would make sense.

Secondly, be on the look out for some second hand boats hitting the market over the next few weeks.  If you’re interested in getting involved in the class the now’s the time to make your move.

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..

49er Fail

3 09 2009

A quick depth check? Looking to see if the foils are aligned or free of weed? Maybe it’s a case of “my head is hot..”. Either way, I’m not sure this is the fastest technique I’ve ever seen…

Giving the foils a quick weed check

Giving the foils a quick weed check

Downwind laylines – Winning and losing places at the gybe point

10 02 2009

The downwind slide in the 49er and other high performance machines (in over 15 knots) is a section of the race course that is far more complex then people first think.  Everything you do, from the bear away at the top mark, hoist, pre-gybe setup, gybe point and final run into the mark are all inherently linked together, much like a an elastic band stretched between the marks.  For you to maintain your position at the bottom mark, or to have the opportunity to sneak a few extra places, you’ll need to get the whole process right, starting at the top mark.  Like the elastic band stretched between the marks, if you pull one part of the band, everything else changes position.  If you delay your gybe point, even by several seconds, your entire downwind leg can be ruined.

Sail Melbourne 2008

Want to drop in the right position? Get planning early..

I’ll just explain.  When it’s breezy, the downwind leg lasts only a few minutes.  With such high boat speed, you want to get to the favoured side of the course as efficiently as possible.  There’s absolutely no time to put in an extra couple of gybes if you gybe too early, and it’s death if you get below the layline and are forced to drop the kite early.  However, it’s easy for me to stress the importance of the gybe point, but in a race if you get your processes wrong further up the course, you won’t have the choice where you gybe as it’s up to the other boats around you, and they don’t play nice.

49er-hoist1If you round the top mark and hoist slightly high, a boat can sneak onto your hip and, if they are worth their salt, will be able to live there to the gybe point, force you over it, gybe late and roll you.  There’s no worse feeling in the world (except for that brief moment when you realise the recipient of that dirty text message you just sent was, in fact, your mother..) than hitting the gybe point at 20 knots and not being able to gybe.  You know that, at this very point, your race is ruined.  If only you planned your run a little better.

Ok, how about if you gybe set to get away from the pack?  Sure, it makes sense to go looking for fresh breeze and a clear gybe point, but you need to think ahead.  If you gybe early, you know there’s going to be a boat gybing with you at some point, so rather than just concentrating on the gybe and hoist, the helm has to be looking around.

What I’m trying to say is that, if you are going to get into a good position at the leeward mark, you need to think about it before you even think about hoisting.  Look at it this way, if you get it wrong at the top mark and a boat looks like pinning you out to a corner, you only have a few hundred metres to get some space to gybe.  You never want to sail downwind defending your position and taking risks, you should be looking to extend, so getting clear water around you is key.

Now, when do you start thinking about this?  From my experience, helm’s have an easy job.  They lie back and hold on to a stick.  But hey, it’s not ANY stick, it’s carbon fibre so it doesn’t weigh too much for them…  Anyway, when you tack onto the layline before the top mark, helm’s have a good few seconds to see where the boats are stacking up on them.  Helms need to answer a few questions before we round the mark (and in my experience, if things are going crazy, it’s best to not discuss it with the crew, any hesitation can cost you.  Two minds are better than one, unless a quick decision is needed):

1: Where’s the wind?  Do I want to go left or right? (basically, do I straight set or gybe)

2: Am I going to have a guy on my hip when we hoist?

3: Am I going to be in a position to roll someone or jump onto their hip?


When you’ve answered these questions, you have a firm basis for the set up.  If you’re straight setting, the helm should be looking backwards for a few seconds to keep in line with the attacking boats behind. If they go low, stay down with them, if they go high, then push the stick.  All you need to do is stay in a position to gybe away when you want to. If you are gybe setting, check to see if other boats are gybing behind you or if the layline is stacked up with sails, ready to cut your wind and ruin your well practiced gybe set.

The moral of the story?  It’s important to realise how important the start of the run is for the end result.  If you plan ahead and give yourself room to pick your key points of maneuver then you’ll get to the bottom mark with room to sail and attack the other guys who have been pressurised into making mistakes.  And always remember, don’t be too aggressive mid run.  If a guy looks like he’ll gybe on you then try to wave him through.  Try to be a nice guy as it will come back to you in another race.  But at the bottom mark, don’t take any hassle, stand your ground, and don’t worry if you ruin someone’s race by making them mess up.  It’s there fault for not planning ahead.


Kit for sale

9 01 2009

We’ve recently looked through or kit store and have found many bits of kit and sailing clothing that we’d like to sell.  Over the next few days I’ll put up some pictures of what we have, but for now I’ll quickly list it all:

– Firstly, we have an almost new, pristine 49er kite in light blue.  This kite was used for Kiel Week, and that’s it.  Very good condition.  We’re selling it for £780, which is a bargain considering the price of Ovington kites is now up to £1075, and is set to rise again, so it may be a good idea to buy a nearly new kite for a much lower price.

– 2 very good condition (nearly new) Gul Breathable Drysuits.  Size medium and large adult

– Bouyancy aids, ranging from brand new to well used, all sizes.

-Trapeze harnesses, sized from kids up to large adults

-Thermals, medium adults

– Kids shorty wetsuit, light use

– Adults wetsuits

And a tonne of other stuff.  Due to our campaigns we have been given a load of kit from various sponsors that all get lightly used before the next load arrives, so if you have any requirements then please let me know.  I’m sure we have it!

Christmas training

29 12 2008

It’s always been just one of those things.  We’ve always wanted to train more but have always been restricted by pesky things that hold us back, namely University, Girlfriends, the need to not freeze to death, etc.  At the end of every month we have a meeting (well, a few beers in the pub, but I do bring a notepad so it looks official) to decide what we have done well and whatwe could have done better.  Every single month we look back and say “hell, I wish we could have sailed more”.  Weekend sailing just doesn’t cut it, but we rarely have the chance to sail more.  However, during the Christmas holidays we have always put the effort in to make a run for the door to get a few hours in each day on the water.  We bravely side step the mince pies, leap over the pile of presents, duck under the flying, erm, ham…. (I’m not sure where I’m going with this…) and drive over to Lymington for a sail.  The last two years it was in the 49er, this year we were in the 800.

Happily, our main sponsor, motivator, back-up driver, coach and biggest fan (out of the two fans we have, the other being my girlfriend.. who isn’t big..) managed to take time out of his job  (running the world) and jumped into a RIB to take some photos.  That’s right, our Dad was out braving the cold in the SMALLEST boat you’ve seen in 25 knots of breeze and waves to shoot some photos and provide some general coaching tips.

We sailed for 2 hours in 18 to 25 knots (Easterly, ish).  Considering this was our 4th sail in the boat (Jus has had a number of Uni commitments to attend… *cough* skiing *cough*), and first in more than 14 knots, I think we did pretty well.  We were throwing in gybes, downwind 360’s, gybe drops and s-curves without any issue and didn’t capsize or get anywhere near messing it up, even when the big breeze was rolling in.  I’m fairly confident we can handle the boat in all conditions so it’s just down to working on upwind boat speed before we’re ready for racing.

Here are a few pictures of the training:



New beginnings

4 11 2008

After 3 years in the 49er, Justin and I have realised that the amount of time we can dedicate to the 49er is not enough to make headway into the Gold fleet.  We’ve put the effort in, but with uni and work commitments it’s become obvious that 2 days a week sailing (generally only one day when the weather doesn’t behave) has limited the potential of our campaign. 

We were happy to keep going, until the price of the new rig was released.  Now, we all know how damn expensive the 49er is, but for the new mast, Main and now compulsory Jib (it’s slightly bigger) Ovington quoted us nearly £4,000 (which is a lot more than was originally suggested when we voted for the change).  When you consider that we would need training and racing equipment, it looked like we would have to spend 8k over 2009 just on rigging not including the other kit, travel, accomodation, entry, etc.  For two guys, one being a uni student and the other trying to build a business, we had no way of easily affording the costs for 2009, so have decided to put the campiagn on hold for a few years.

In the meantime, we have traded our 49ers for a brand spanking new RS800.  We wanted a boat similar to the 49er, without the huge expenses associated with it (the i14 is out, straight away).  The 800 seemed the perfect choice, and after unpacking her for the first time on Sunday we were sure about the decision.  You see, the new 800 is an absolute peach of a boat.  Every single aspect of the boat is superb, from build quality (which is unbelievable), to the top notch sail, full Harken kit and the fully carbon mast from Selden which is a sight for sore eyes (compared to the alloy bottom section of the 49er).

We’re both looking forward to campaigning the 800, and expect to be competitive fairly quickly (after any early teething problems).

Regarding the 49er campaign, we have both agreed to try to take up the campaign further down the line when we can afford it in terms of both time and money, but for the next few years (at least) we will be hitting the 800 pretty hard to see where we can get.

Images of our new 800





GBR 940 for sale

7 10 2008

Our competition 49er, GBR 940, is now for sale.  We’ve used her for only a few big events, and trained in GBR 653 for all of last year and some of this year.  she has been VERY lightly sailed from new.  Here is some more information:

Just over two years old but has been lightly used before we bought it (Dave Hall from Ovington owned it before from new and used it only a few times). It has only really been event sailed as we used our training but for non-tuning based practice for most of last year.  It’s hardly been used this year, only doing one week long regatta (Kiel Week) and the nationals (3 days).  Apart from that it has been trained in most weekends this year, but we’d be the first to admit we haven’t sailed it enough! Therefore, it’s still in excellent condition, and in much better condition than what we bought it in.  Compared to the other boats in this price range, (all squad boats and heavily used and abused), 940 is a peach of a boat and is very, very pacey when you lock in the right settings.
The asking price is £8200. For this price you get a boat absolutely race rigged and tuned with all the kit.  As we’re moving boats, we’ll throw in all our spare kit that we wouldn’t normally sell with the boat (compass bracket, spare tillers and loads more), and we have about two of everything! The sails that come with are two good sets of main, jib and spinnaker, the best set are very race worthy.  Also, our foils are brand new this year, used for one event and in great condition, and are of the new style.

There’s one mast and a spare new top section, and two booms. Carbon tiller extensions, under and over covers, launching trolley, boat breaker and mast bag included as well. Basically the whole shooting match, all ready to race and tuned.

Lastly, we’d happily include in the price a “starter kit” of tuning advice and rig settings, and a day of us coaching you to get you up to speed as soon as possible (on the south coast Southampton area)