Saturday was a beautiful day. It wasn't great for sailing, but the beauty of clear air and light breezes was spectacular. Did I mention the light breezes? From almost flat calm to about 5 kt was all the wind we had.
I (finally) started moving the cars for the yankee to change the sheeting angle of the sail. I've known about this for years (years!) but I've never really tackled the problem very seriously. I think I know two foundational changes to our sailing.
I have gathered advice from experts. I've boiled the advice down to a few key points which I — still! — can't totally remember.
Top telltale lifting: move car forward.
Bottom telltale lifting: move car aft.
Downwind: Move car forward. [I'm not sure of this, I've taken to removing the sheets from the cars: effectively moving them aft to the turning blocks, a lot like spinnaker.]
Reef sail: Move car forward to follow the clew forward.
Heavy air: Well aft to flatten the bottom and allow the top to twist off uselessly. (4 stops in front of winch stanchion.)
Light air: Well forward to make the whole sail work. (Mid entrance gate.)
I need to make a laminated card and put this in the cockpit until I manage to internalize the expert's advice.
Partly, my problem with remembering these simple rules is lack of practice. But there's a little more to it than that. One element is hand-on experience, and seeing the results. But there are two foundations that need to be in place for hands-on practice to make sense.
One trick is this: sail trim is visual. I can slowly reason out how the sheeting angle twists the sail to recover a proper aerodynamic shape. I can continue to try to memorize the rules. But it's a lot easier to see the improperly-shaped sail, move the car, and see the properly-shaped sail. This is helpful because it requires the least thinking and the most doing.
When I finally learned to steer on a beat while racing, it was a super-simple visual thing. If I was pinching up, the windward tell-tales would lift: steer away from them. If I was falling off, the leeward tell-tales would lift: steer away from them. Simply driving the boat away from the lifting tell-tales made it possible to drive and start to think about higher-order tactical questions like when to tack and who else was tacking. I was never good at it, but I was able to perform.
In Red Ranger, the tell-tales are invisible from the cockpit, so beating like we're racing isn't really a thing. However, shifting the cars to adjust the twist, that's something I can do. And should do more of.
I think there are two foundational concerns, however. These must be in place for any learning at all to happen.
Foundation 1: Proper Boat Setup
It may be the previous owner didn't sail much, or didn't sail well. I have one tiny scrap of evidence for this claim.
The sheets for the big winches were routed directly from the movable cars to the winch, leading to some right awkward angles between sheet and winch. The sailmaker who built our new headsails suggested we add a turning block. There were a bunch of reasons: (1) the entry to the big winch was always the same, coming from aft (opposite the small winch), (2) along the long axis of the box on which it was mounted.
After he said that, I examined the loops on the toe rail and realized there were loops likely intended for this. The had been pushed well aft, and jammed in place by layers of old Cetol. Interestingly there was an extra loop on the port side and a missing loop on the starboard side.
Putting in proper turning blocks for the winches was in spring 2012. Then in August of 2013, I realized the self-tailing stripper rings (the top piece on the winch) on two of the winches were facing the wrong way.
They all need to route line so it would go through the top and drop down to the cleat. The pair of cleats are between the winches. This means one is fed from forward and the other is fed from aft. It took me 18 months and 2,000 sea miles to figure this out.
Before trying to get a lot of hands-on, the boat has to be setup correctly in the first place. This isn't easy, because boats tend to get customized. The presence of full cockpit enclosures makes comparisons among Whitby's particularly difficult.
Foundation 2: Isolate the Problems
Which brings us to this weekend. After being so dense and slow about this, what lead to inspiration?
The crew of Red Ranger may have (finally) started to figure out mains'l and mizzen trim. Now that we have a rudder position indicator, CA has taken to positively stating how much I need to ease to trim the main. It's no longer a vague "things aren't right." Or worse, "I'm having trouble steering."
We've graduated to "Don't you think you're work is done and you can sit in the cockpit and stare at the water: ease the damn main!"
"I need more lift to counter the yankee, put up the mizzen and use your shabby traveler to lift it to windward."
(The mizzen's traveler technique is to unpin one side of the bridle; sheeting it hard will lift it above amidships.)
Since we had super light air, I could put my foot on the yankee's sheet and see the effect. It was super easy to try different positions. And I wound up moving the car several feet forward.
Several. Feet. Forward.
On our old Chrysler Buccaneer, there was — I think — 18ʺ of track. Each hole was profound. You moved the car inches, if at all.
On Red Ranger, the stays'l track is about six feet long. Moving the stays'l car a few holes fore or aft changes things pretty dramatically.
The relevant portion of the toerail track (the portion used by the yankee) is about 15 feet. Pragmatically, it seems more like the aft-most 12 feet, but I'm still looking at it.
When we reef the yankee, we take in almost five feet of sail. This means the car has to move forward five feet. Not a few holes, but Five Feet. At 3 holes per foot, that's 15 of the positions, 30% of the track.
This is a dramatic change, something I've never tried before. Not in all the years of owning Red Ranger.
Pin holes in the track are — generally — 4ʺ apart. Fine-tuning the sail means choosing from any of the 36 (to as many as 45) distinct positions along the rail. Sheesh. That's a lot.
There are two degrees of freedom: wind speed (TWS) and wind angle (TWA). Between 3 and 22 kt of TWS, we can round off to 20 distinct integer values. From 45° to 150° of TWA we can (allowing for sloppy ±5° steering) round off to 22 steps.
This means, I have to map the 440 combinations of independent variables to somewhere between 36 and 45 values of the dependent variable, car position.
(Rubbing hands with glee) This will be fun.
While I contemplated, CA did something useful. She washed everything in the galley.
Since our AIS works, we can see our Saturday trip on MarineTraffic. You'll need to create an account to see us there. Follow Red Ranger on Marine Traffic. The details show us motoring out, drop the anchor right at 16:00 UTC (Noon locally.) Then we motored a bit and sailed at speeds no more than 3.9 kt. The speed drops to nearly zero at 19:38 (15:38 locally) as we stowed the sails. Then we motored back at a pretty big speed.
That's REALLY cool.