Downwind in Light Air



I have been asked to write about this so here are a few observations which you probably all know about already.

Go for pressure. Then stay on favored gybe and in better current.

Sail as low as you can while keeping the clew flying; but also feel out the boatspeed and don’t let it get too sticky. Good trimming is essential, but if there is any chop at all, or if there is enough pressure to bring the pole back some, the driver should not be looking at the chute or at the masthead fly, but rather at the water ahead for puffs and waves. You can feel a puff coming on the side of your neck or ear, before it hits. Always anticipate gently so the boat is right when the puff or lull arrives.

Drive the hull and not the chute (this in all conditions). Sense the shifts in time to gybe on them; in superlight wind don’t gybe. Don’t overstand but in very light air edges and corners are good. Keep the crew weight as much as possible on each side by the shrouds, not in the cockpit. In superlight a little heel helps the chute fly, otherwise flat.

The main thing is to turn smoothly and with some appreciable angular velocity so that you can use the wind of rotation to keep the chute filled. This will cause a vortex which will require the main to be trimmed to a close reach (apparently overtrimmed) during the gybe and shortly afterwards. Advanced crew can also roll-gybe the boat effectively, but this is secondary to the turn.

To roll gybe, mid-boat crews should move quickly to throw their weight to the upwind side – when I do midboat I will crash into the lifelines there for extra oomph. This will kick the boat into an appreciable heel which turns it downwind while pumping the main and chute. Hold the heel through the turn until the boat reaches the new course on the other gybe and just as this is reached – hopefully the pole is just being made to the mast but if not, bow crew has to muscle it through this – de-hike smoothly to flatten the boat mast straight up, abruptly, which will pump the sails again on the new gybe. Do not pump the boat past straight up on the new gybe, both for rules reasons and because it is slow. Trimmers will know how to blow the old sheet almost to the forestay while trimming the old guy=new sheet back during the gybe so it is trimmed perfectly by the time the turn stops. Really good trimmers (like Bev and Hans and Doug on Aliens) will fly it perfectly through the entire maneuver, powered up all the way even in very light air. Bow crew needs to make sure the pole is pushed forward to the new tack immediately after hooking on – the karate move here actually helps trim the sail, just before the pole is made to the mast: hook, rotate torso to push it to tack, make it to mast. Next time you pass Aliens in light air you can buy me a beer!

John Rahn
Aliens Ate My Buick 005