By Andrew Kerr, North U. Coach, & guest writer for Airwaves
Your team is sailing upwind and all is well , good speed and height on the boats around you , suddenly the boats stands up and the speed drops quickly as does the ability to point – “ net loss to the boat to weather “ announces the performance evaluator on the rail – what has happened ? The boat has sailed into a lull and the team has been slow in anticipating the necessary sail trim and weight changes that are required to keep the boat going fast despite the drop in the wind.
Some of the most challenging days a team faces going upwind are those days when it is consistently puff on, followed by a lull , puff on – nonstop transitional sailing .
What I have noticed with observing teams is that generally they do a good job working with puffs – hiking harder and making the necessary steering and sail trim adjustments – but in lulls a lot of teams lose a lot of performance before they get the boat going again and there is a big opportunity for gains to be had by really systematically hitting on all cylinders when the wind speed drops.
To be faster than all the other boats in the fleet at powering the boat up in the lulls so that we net gain on them every time the wind drops for any period of time.
An additional goal would be to never heel to windward when going upwind which will detach the foils and cause the boat to bear off with lee helm tendency, by anticipating the lulls we will help avoid this, we will look at this in more detail later.
Anticipate – call the Lulls!
Like almost anything we do in life it is generally better to anticipate rather than react to something, in this instance we need our wind caller articulating the lull in the wind l that is coming – “big light spot coming – here it comes in 3, 2, 1 -now – last for 8 lengths “is great communication, if the light spot continues longer than anticipated then the wind caller adds “Light spot continues for another 4 lengths followed by a slow build “.
If you are developing a wind caller on your team look to really cultivate there observational and communication skills and encourage them to keep taking “at bats “with it even though they may initially be off a little, it will keep the whole team focused.
Look to stress to them the importance of calling the lulls as much as the puffs so that we keep our performance as consistent as possible and for the needs of the trimmers and Helm to be keyed in to this consistent communication.
What adjustments need to be made and in what order to get the boat speed back?
I wanted to pose this question as it does vary from boat to boat depending on the accessibility and fluidity of the sail controls and different boat set ups.
Each team should look at their set up and formulate an immediate response check list and then longer term response check list which we will look at.
Nature of the Lull – short lived or quite long?
Also what affects the response by the team will be the nature of the lull – a short one for a Boat length or two or a longer more sustained one.
Short lived Lull:
In the short lived lull the team will look to ease the backstay quickly for power ( if possible) & the Mainsheet and Genoa/ Jib sheet to prevent them stalling and to go into first gear mode , pull the Main traveler up if it was down some.
If possible they will also ease the vang if it was on hard so that the bottom part of the mainsail can power up, if it was on moderately then we look to check it to make sure it is not too tight – a good trick is to actually lean in and touch the vang to see the loading .
If the communication is that the lull is longer then we need to add to the above check list – ease vang , review Jib/ Genoa Halyard as it may be too tight and possibly ease the outhaul depending on how much was put on prior.
At the recent Key West Race week I was sailing on a J80 (J80 Midwinter Championships) and with a lot of transitional sailing upwind we found it critical in the lulls to ease the vang quickly to power up, to this end we had a crew member with the tail of the vang close to hand on the rail so they could play it.
Typically when the wind is transitioning up and down a lot and the backstay has to be played nonstop then we leave the Mainsail Cunningham loose.
Certainly if it was on and the boat hits a lull it is eased and left eased until the backstay is put on for a consistent amount of time in which case it may be applied if deemed necessary, If in doubt leave it off .
Know where the controls are without looking for them:
A great practice is to sit in the sailing position and play the controls with your eyes closed to train yourself to know where they are with the goal of not looking down at them which takes away from your sailing.
Coordinate the lean in’s and out’s on the Rail and practice them:
In tandem with the wind callers calls – take time to figure out with your team who leans in and who stays hiked on the rail and practice it.
In a slight decrease it may just need one or two bodies leaning in – determine who that is and designate a caller (could be the helm or tactician or a trimmer) to verbalize it.
In a big light spot we may need everyone to lean in and also weight to leeward – pre determine who that is and in what order– very often on bigger boats it is the people with the easiest paths to the leeward side – “John and Molly to leeward “would be a sample communication.
Like a lot of teams there is the challenge of incorporating some new crew in for the weekend, take time in your pre-race practice to go over with them when they lean in and when they move to leeward in a lull and to stay tuned to the wind caller.
Constant angle of heel:
The mantra here is for the team to maintain a consistent heel – not heeling to leeward and then heeling to windward, when coaching teams from a chase boat I pay particular notice and video the top of their mast to see how consistent it is, a common theme is the faster boats have a more consistent heel angle, strive for this as a team in all conditions.
Our pre-race practice, great wind caller and team effort give us a net gain on all boats around us in a lull and you hear “net gain us “from the crew. May every lull be a net gain for your team!
About Andrew Kerr: Andrew Kerr was born in Plymouth, Devon, England and graduated from the London School of Economics with a bachelor’s degree in Government and politics.
He is a resident of Olympia, Washington and his wife Stephanie, a former America’s cup sailor with the America 3 team, has a Doctorate from the University of Idaho in Sports Pedagogy. They have two children- Liam and Kellen and enjoy family sailing on their Santana 20 and Laser’s.
A full time coach, seminar speaker & North U instructor, Andrew has given seminars all over the world for a wide variety of groups, classes and yacht clubs.
By Andrew Kerr, North U. Coach, & guest writer for Airwaves