Heavy Air Tips



Wild Ride – [reply to inquiry by Alex on Carrera after the March 2000 Possession Point race in Seattle]


Great story! Sometimes I think all Olson 30 people are not only crazy, but too blase about the way the boat sails — this was a day that, for us, gave the most fun I can imagine out of racing a sailboat. You can’t get more fun out of sailing than racing an Olson 30 in heavy air.

You did very well in this nasty situation. The last time we crashed, Feb 98, the roundup put the mast under water almost to the top spreaders, and the torque threw 4 people into the air over the lifelines (I threw the mainsheet to one trimmer in midair) and bent the stanchion I grabbed on high side to a 75 degree angle. The beer flew out of the cooler and smashed against the underside of the deck. Fortunately, we had just crossed the finish line and were near home.

A few comments — others who are better at this sort of sailing will have better advice.


  1. Aliens tends to leave the #3 up downwind in very heavy air. I think it helps stabilize the flow, and prevents wraps, and especially on short courses one doesn’t have to deal with the weight forward to hoist it again. (We did take our #3 down this race, though.)
  2. When the boat is way overpowered in big waves, the way I chicken out is to sail higher (maybe 160). The pole is overtrimmed when we sail high and undertrimmed when we sail low. The higher angle stabilizes the rolling from the waves. The chute is twinged down both sides to minimize oscillations (from waves and from the Karman vortex trails). Then when we get planing at the higher angle I can bear off into the wave faces ahead with apparent wind more forward for the compass course than if we were not planing. I will be faster when I learn to sail more DDW in these conditions. Slightly by the lee can be fast but is scary. Weight trim on the boat is key. We had constant lee helm problems this race which kept making me sail high when the pole tip headed for the water to keep the boat upright. We had one or two crew on the transom hiking the high corners but this was not enough; the helm improved only when we put another 200lber on the lee rail midships, plus trimmed in the main a bit for more mainsail power. For the lee helm, I should have powered up the main more. This race, I learned that pumping the main when the boom points skyward helps lever the boat back flat.
  3. Driving the wave faces in front of the boat is also key; we did ok at this — trying to head up just enough to bump over the wave ahead so we could go over it and surf it down. If you can get it planing, the waves are just obstacles.
  4. The driver is at the mercy of the trimmers. At the first sign of a roundup crank the pole back, ease the sheet; at the first sign of a round-down, ease the pole quickly about 2 feet forward. This rotates the chute so the forces tend to flatten the boat. The rudder is not enough. Another easy rule we use: “wet side eases.” The trimmer who is heading for the water eases.
  5. Once again, we learned to foot upwind in heavy air. Crime Scene remembered this late in the final beat and powered over us, sheets well eased and sails well twisted. The slot opens, the main works, the boat levels, and it speeds. I saw their trim, I thought, “Duh!”, imitated them and sped after them. Having the main flat and travelled down to the stopper is not enough, you have to ease the jib sheets or put the lead way back or put the lead outboard or some combination of these for the conditions.

John Rahn
Aliens Ate My Buick 005