Heavy Air Sailing at the Cascade Locks S20 Nationals Revisited

By Andrew Kerr

For those of us lucky enough to be able to compete in the S20 Nationals this year at Cascade Locks, our memories include the incredible scenery on both sides of the river and the spectacular heavy air conditions that we raced in. As it is unusual to sail an entire 8 race series in consistently breezy conditions, it is worth taking a look back at some of the elements that worked well in the when it was 15 to 25 knots (28 knots was apparently reported):

Upwind Notes:

- If in doubt about which headsail to use (jib v.s. genoa), the improved jib shapes being offered, inboard tracks, and the ease tacking the jib make it a great choice when the wind is on the cusp. Having the jib lead one hole aft of normal position was fast as it twisted the upper leech of the sail off and helped the boat track straight.

- Use a two to one purchase on the jib sheet with using two bullet blocks attached to the clew of the sail. This offered good fine tuning of the jib in heavy air.

-If you need to slow down, such as when burning off time or holding position on the starting line, ease the vang. This stops the boat from going sideways and forward by dumping the wind off the leech of the mainsail.

- Start going full speed at least 20 seconds before the start so the boat is moving at top speed with crew on the rail when the gun goes off. If you sheet in later (i.e. you start accelerating to the line with less than 20 seconds), the boat will heel over and go sideways.

- Tack, instead of gybe, in pre-start maneuvers. It is a much less hazardous maneuver and easier on the gear and helps keep the boat closer to the line.

- When very windy – remember to ease the headsail out to reduce the back-winding in the mainsail – the more the back wind the more the ease – particularly with the Genoa at the top range.

- Move rail weight aft slightly weight aft slightly to stop the bow digging in. This also helps keep the rudder in the water and reduces weather helm.

- Keeping tacks to a minimum and being very selective about when you tack. Every tack in heavy air was a big loss as the boat went sideway’s first and then forward. Keep a mental track of how many tacks and trying to keep the number down.

- Seeing the starboard tacker (s) very early and ducking very early. Easing the vang helped de-power the main and allowed the boat to bear away more quickly. Easing the genoa a lot to also was important to help the boat bear away.

- In the very heavy air – avoiding lee bowing competitors. The boat would stop coming out of the tack. The only effective lee bow opportunities, when blowing 25 knots, was when you could clearly cross the oncoming boat.

- Playing the mainsail and genoa sheet and jib sheet together in the very big gusts to keep the sail slot consistent.

- Consider sailing with four people in heavy air events. Bruce Golison’s team did this and it worked well. It requires that the fourth person is athletic and can move around the boat well.


Downwind Notes:

- Easing the vang slightly (one to two inches) before the weather mark rounding to twist the leech off the mainsail off helped the boat turn downwind at the rounding.

- Delaying the spinnaker set – taking a deep breath, make sure the boat is flat, tough out the big gust, make sure the boat is on the correct jibe & the crew is in the correct position – and then hoist. Ted Turner had a great saying about heavy air spinnaker sailing – “you put the spinnaker up and Mother Nature brings it down!”

- On the hoist – having the skipper and middle sitting on the leeward side to counteract the roll to weather worked very well – an excellent suggestion from Lance Purdy in a prior downwind article.

- Making sure both twings were at deck level on the hoist and the spinnaker sheet was over trimmed by two feet until the team was ready. Then slowly easing the sheet out as the boat became more and more stable.

- Leaving the jib up when going downwind – one less thing to worry about. This also retained a tight jib halyard for the next upwind leg and helped prevent hour glassing of the spinnaker around the forestay.

- Keeping the spinnaker over trimmed in the big gusts to keep the sail behind the mainsail and then easing out the spinnaker sheet slowly in the lull or when the boat stopped rolling.

- Leaving the aft lowers engaged downwind when it was very windy or easing them slowly in a lull in conjunction with a slow ease on the backstay to keep the mast in column.

- When jibing – waiting for a good lull, when the boat was planing, or the stern was lifting on the top of a wave. These were the best time as the load was off the sails.

- Jibing the mainsail first then jibing the pole after the mainsail was over. Releasing what is now the leeward twing line so that the pole could be taken off the mast, keeping the sail very over trimmed and progressively bringing the windward twing line down as the pole was pushed forward and out. The skipper would steer to keep the bow of the boat right under the center seam of the spinnaker – if the seam yawed to the right, the bow was steered to the right to keep the boat right under the sail. The advantage of jibing the main first was to get the jibe over with, the boat steady, and then deal with the pole.

- Perform a very early spinnaker takedown when approaching the leeward mark so the entire team could be on the high side when rounding the mark. If the takedown was late, the boat would be heeled over and going side ways.

- The mantra of getting around the course for the 8 races with no gear failure or dramatic happenings. This worked well for a number of teams and gave them a solid result overall.

- Big Kudos go to Lance Purdy’s team on Sea Bear – I believe they were the only team not to broach downwind over the course of the 8 race series - no mean feat. That Delta Ditch run sailing and experience proved invaluable practice!

These are just some of the elements that worked in heavy air, there are many more. This past Nationals was a great experience for the class, I encourage everyone who participated at Cascade Locks to impart the knowledge gained of sailing the boat in these conditions to there fellow fleet & class members either through word of mouth or articles for the class website and newsletter.