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…”

So, what the hell’s going on?

14 10 2010

[tweetmeme source= “RyanV49er” only_single=false]
Right, I’ve been absent without leave for sometime now, so I thought I’d write an update on what’s going on with the blog, sailing, and everything else.

I’ve just spent the last 2 months recovering from shoulder surgery. I learnt a long time ago that Rugby and Sailing are a pretty bad mix, but I have kept going back to the game for years after all manner of injuries: Torn hip flexor, dislocated left shoulder (thanks to a prop from Swindon RFC), broken back (thanks to another prop, this time from Didcot RFC) and the odd smattering of bruises, cuts, burns (yes, burns) and everything else in between. The longest gap from sailing, up until now, was after I smashed a vertabrae when a 16 stone prop fell on my shoulders. Whilst 3 months of rest was prescribed, I still managed to get back on the water within 2 (partly due to the fact that I’d bought a new boat on the weekend that I was injured. A brand spanking new dinghy sitting in the boat park, still in its wrapping, is a great motivator for a quick recovery).

Anyway, I recently had to go into surgery to reattach a bicep tendon into my shoulder, meaning that I’ll be out of all high impact sports for 6 months. Fine, no problem, I can avoid Rugby for another year without missing it much. The problem is, this includes sailing too..

So, we’re out of sailing until February at the earliest. However, this lack of boat time is driving me mad, so I’ll be writing a lot more on the blog to keep myself sane. So yeah, um, sorry about that.

Whilst I’m out Justin is currently looking for a crew for the 800 over the winter. If you’re keen on a few training sessions and the odd event, leave a comment.

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…

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.

The joys of freezing fingers

12 01 2009

Winter is always a bad time for sailing.  Ok, not bad as in “wasn’t the new Indy film bad?”, but bad as in “I’m cold, the wind has died, we’re being washed out to see and I didn’t give any money to the RNLI this year so I’m pretty sure they’re ignoring us” bad.   We’ve had a few training sessions were we’ve had ice literally form on the boat whilst we’re sailing, or we’ve decided to wrap up the session at around 3pm, started sailing in from mid-Solent only for the wind to drop.  2 hours later, the sun is down and I’m lying on the foredeck front-crawl paddling to get us home.

Unlike most people sailing on the Solent in mid-winter, I don’t usually have a problem keeping warm, so I have sailed many times wearing a short sleeved summer 3mm wetsuit with a rashy over the top.  This is great for windy days when I’m working so hard that I can keep warm without a wetsuit at all, however, it’s when we capsize or have a breakage that I really suffer.  Thankfully, after 3 months in the 800 we are still yet to capsize, even though we’ve sailed in up to 25 knots, so that’s not been an issue.  It does become an in issue when the wind dies though, and we’ve had a few horrendous trips home sitting in wet sailing kit paddling home.  It’s not fun.

Anyway, the point to this post is that, although sailing is tough in winter, and not always that much fun, it’s a hell of a lot more fun than sitting at home watching TV.  Just because your wetsuit has frozen solid and the ropes in your boat won’t bend around the blocks, you can still sail.  Ok, it sucks rigging up in the cold, it’s painful to walk into the water for the first time, yes your hands hurt, your ears are numb and you can’t figure out why no one else is on the water.  But isn’t it the best feeling in the world when you pop the kite and have the entire solent/lake/river (does anyone actually sail on rivers these days?) to your self?  We’ve sailed on New Years day many times before.  With horrendous hangovers, a distinct lack of balance or finesse, and wearing about ten hats, we had the entire Solent to ourselves and blasted down-wind for hours without seeing another pleasure boat (or, thank god, a sodding Jet Ski).  Yes, I threw up about 3 times and nearly got hypothermia, but it still goes down as one of the best sails of my life.  Totally worth it.

I don’t know about you, but winter sailing IS worthwhile, you just need to focus on the positives.  And give generously to the RNLI..


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:



49er result from the Court of Arbitration (Sport)

23 08 2008

So after the amazing 49er medal race, and 19 hours of protests lodged against the Danish from the Race Committee and the Spanish and Italian Olympic teams, the medals were finally agreed upon (once all of the protests were thrown out).  However, the Italian and Spanish Olympic Committees decided to try to drag it out even further (this 49er result has had more drag than a Dame Edna look-a-like contest) by taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for sport.  Now, I’m no Lawyer (nothing to do with a lack of intelligence, motivation, study skills, ability to communicate effectively or any knowledge of actual law, I just don’t look good in a wig..) so I can’t really comment on why this has gone further.  Surely after the protest committee threw out the cases filed by the countries and the RC, it couldn’t have been taken further?

Anyway, this episode has taken far too long (and has been about as enjoyable as french kissing a toaster), so I’m glad to say that all further protests have been dismissed and the Danish can finally take their well deserved Gold medals home.  They were the best boat throughout the regatta and are deserving victors.

49er Nationals 2008

20 08 2008

We’re just getting ready for the 49er Nationals in Weymouth this weekend.  I personally think it’s a shame that it’s only a 3 day event, which is nothing compared to most other classes getting week long events for their National Championships.  Anyway, 3 days means that you really have to get the good results in early to do well, so it’s going to come down to who has the best start on Saturday.

We’ve worked hard on fitness over the last few months since Kiel.  We’ve both been riding 3 or 4 times a week for about an hour and a half each time.  We’ve been hitting the gym very hard, trying to get the extra weight needed (and have seen an increase of 3kg to bring us up to 150kg since Kiel) and have worked on flexibility and overall conditioning to reduce injury risks etc.  Although we were fast in the breeze in Kiel, with some good boat handling in the big stuff, the extra weight should help us out for the next windy event.  Lets hope it’s the Nationals.

I’ll keep you posted on how things go.

The greatest dinghy race ever?

19 08 2008

The sailing medal races have been a hotly contested subject over the years. After many trials of varying formats, they were finally introduced for the Beijing games to try to increase the television potential of the sport. Gone are the days of a team winning gold with a day to spare (the poor TV viewers couldn’t understand that..), and we have been dropped into a situation where a weeks work can be lost from one bad call.

The first idea for a “medal race” was brought in at the 2005 49er Europeans, where ten boats would sail on tiny courses in short (ten minute), knock-out races (the last boat being dropped after each race) until only one boat was left. this boat would take home the victory. Sounds great, but in Copenhagen in 2005 Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes had led the event from day one, taking a huge lead into the knock-out medal race. However, they ended up losing in the second race, with Chris Draper and Hiscocks taking overall honours. Was this fair?

So finally the medal race was introduced, 1 short race (30 minutes) with double points that have to be counted. Now, in the past it has been rare to see the winners lose the event on the day, but in the Olympics, you never quite know.

In the 49er medal race, the Danes were leading buy a fair few points as they sailed out to the startline. With big wind and waves, it looked like it would be a pretty exciting race, but they had no idea.

Sailing out to the start, their mast buckled (strangely in the same spot ours broke in Kiel.. build defect maybe?) and they were forced to limp home. Everyone watching assumed they were out of the medals, as they had no way of getting a new stick up in time. The race starts, to see boats flipping and capsizing everywhere. Heavywind specialists like the Spanish and Italian teams were falling over, and it looked like the winner would be the guy whio capsizes the least. Even though we had the best sailors in the world on the water, they just could not keep the boats upright the whole way round. Halfway up the first beat, 4minutes and 56 seconds after the start (the startline closes after 5 minutes), a Croatian 49er screams over the line to start the race. Yet, the Croats didn’t qualify… The cameras zoom in to the sailors…. It’s the Danes! They borrowed the Croatin boat, rigged up (with the help of about 20 other guys) and managed to make the start. All they have to do is finish the race in 7th, and hope the Aussies or Italians don’t win, and they take home the gold.

3 laps later, the race is being led by the Italians, followed closely by the Aussies. The Sibellos pull the stick around the windward mark and pop the kite, in big wind and increasing waves. The Aussies closely follower. After a few big troughs, the Italians plough into the back of a steep wave and take off, flipping the boat on its back.

The Aussies overtake, and just need to finish to win Olympic Gold. 500 metres to go. 200 metres to go. One two sail gybe for the finish line, but Nathan slips and they capsize too.

Finally, at the back of the fleet, the Danes are catching up. In 7th place, and with the Spanish winning the race, they just have to finish without losing any places and they have gold. But they too capsize just before the line, but manage to get upright again to finally finish in 7th, taking the Gold medal after a long and hard fought series.

However, it wasn’t over. The race commitee protested Denmark for sailing someone else’s boat. After a long Jury hearing, the protest was thrown out and Denmark were finally awarded Gold.

What an epic race. What a finish to the 49er racing. And what a great advert for the sport.