Saturday, 26 January 2013

300ing with Steve Cockerill and Claire Coussens

Mrs R could hardly contain her excitement.  After a sustained campaign of text messages and emails, Steve Cockerill had finally relented and agreed to step back into a 300 after a 5 year absence and come for a sail in Chichester Harbour.  "Come for a sail" perhaps doesn't capture the essence of the session, "sustained boat on boat racing" is probably more like it.  So on Friday morning at 0900, we put on the winter kit and set out to brave the 3 degree air temperature and 4 degree water temperature.  Not a day to capsize. Oh dear.

The sailing was exclusively upwind/downwind in a deep water channel, using the empty moorings as marks.  The wind was F3-5 SSE, gusty and perfect for practice.  Claire was also out in her 4.7, and looking good in challenging conditions.

So my observations for the day:

1.  Boatspeed upwind was surprisingly comparable, which is heartening. 
2.  Boatspeed downwind was comparable, but getting the right angles and associated VMG wasn't - Steve was better at this.  In one of our mini-races I thought I had taken 10+ boat lengths out of Steve downwind, but on looking at the video I see that he was fiddling with his toestraps!
3.  Boat handling was in a different league.  Several areas that Steve can execute that I can't:
   - Tacking facing backwards upwind.  Looking at the video, the tacks look much smoother.
   - The ability to gybe in accordance with tactical needs and wind strength.  For example, tight radius gybes round a mark (mark room but give way boat) still coming out tight and fast.  I can't do that, all of my gybing practice has been broad reach to broad reach with the intention of maintaining speed (something to do with a windsurfing background I think, BR->BR with a smooth large radius makes for easy carve gybes).
4.  Steve was using a lot more kicker downwind than me, and seemed to be more stable especially on the transition from BTL to a broad reach.  Something to think about, I'm not sure more kicker is quicker as my fastest BTL sailing appears to be with a flicky leech.
5.  Bear away.  I always try and sort the controls before the windward mark prior to the bear away, but its a real pain - if you have the sheet and tiller in one hand and release the vang, the rig powers up and you heel without having the controls to deal with it.  Steve appears to bear away and sort the vang after the bear away, which makes sense.
6.   Boat on boat practice in close quarters is very different to solo practice!  For example, when sailing angles downwind, if you are alongside another boat you can't just bear away at will for fear of infringement - its like having only half the course available and demands better technique!
7.  Steve insists that he doesn't understand the phase "lets have a breather".

Regular readers will be pleased to learn that the day was not capsize free, for both Steve (1) and myself (2).  We both had a capsize where we missed the straps and broke tiller extensions.  My tiller extension fix consisted of lots of tape.  Steve didnt bother with all that and decided to tie the end of the mainsheet to the tiller as a 'one way' extension, with no discernable difference in upwind speed.

So the summary of the session is that whilst I thought boat handling was improving, there is a very long way to go, but thats fine.  Many thanks to Steve for giving pointers for improvement, there is also talk of a Rooster blog post in the near future on his return to the 3, with video from his boat that I'm interested in seeing.

I've lots of video from my boat, but will get to it later. We are meeting with the RYA at the club this morning to try and sort some funding for adult training at Slipper later in the season!

Monday, 21 January 2013

More coaching input, this time from Mark Rushall

When I started capturing video in the H&H series,  I sent the YouTube output to Mark Rushall.  Mark coached Mike and I in the ISO in 2010 prior to the Europeans at Garda, and also helped us construct an analysis of a nationals venue.  Mark was also RYA Coach of the Year in 2006, and has coached at Olympic level.

In the early 90's, I can remember Liz and Mark winning the Lark nationals when we were doing the open circuit - they won't remember our boat as it was never troubling them at the front! (But might remember our final Lark - 1929, composite, originally owned by Richard Garry).

Anyway, Mark has been away coaching for some weeks, but was kind enough to critique the videos I posted on Youtube.  This gives yet more input into the improvement plan, all I need now is some reasonable weather to get out continue practicing at TISC!

Here is the feedback from Mark, note the identification of the Rule 42 infringement, confirmation of a view long held by many members of our handicap fleet!

"First video:

1 Good use of sculling to bear away without accelerating on the start line: you are allowed to scull to turn away from the wind to close hauled, not to hold station: what you are doing here is good practice and gives you control of a nice spot on the start line.

2 Nice use of gust to accelerate: bouncing the boat flat then sheeting on to close the leech and accelerate the boat quickly to hull speed: the rest of the gust keeps the boat at hull speed for its whole duration instead of being wasted in acceleration. See if you can work on looking upwind to preempt rather than reacting to the gusts.

3 Cant see from this video but remember to steer (ideally without the rudder!) to maximise the time in the gust on this type of patchy off wind leg. Sail 15 deg below the rhumb line once the boats up to speed to maximise time in the gust, this gives the opportunity  as the gust tails off to sail above the rhumb line,  keeping the apparent wind forward: sailing at max speed toward the next gust.

4 See how the boat is upright or heeling to windward all the time upwind: that's great. Leeward heel reduces projected sail area, causes drag through increased weather helm, and drives the hull into the water wasting all that effort building a nice light hull! If you want to heel to leeward get a keelboat!

5 Nice leeward heel to increase weather helm and steer the the boat into the tack. You could ease more mainsheet during the tack so you bounce the boat upright more quickly and get some impulse. Once the boat is upright you can then get a second bite by sheeting back on rapidly.

6 When the gusts get bigger upwind, anticipate the gusts, ease early, and get the boat over upright just as the gust hits. Then gust will accelerate you (see 4.)

Second video:

7 Again, nice use of body weight to steer the boat rather than the rudder.

8 Could you get more out of the end of the tack: letting the boat come fully onto close hauled then crossing straight into a hike to pump the sail? Theres a good example of this on my Smart RS100 dvd:  though I admit the 100 is considerably more stable than the 300!

9 See that the boat is rolled to windward to initiate the bear away: there is no dragging load on the rudder. That works in all wind strengths.

10 In an umpired race you would get a rule 42 yellow flag for rocking on this reach as you are initiating it. You are fine on the run: its permitted to set the boat so that it is naturally unstable so long as you don't initiate the rolling yourself with body sheet or rudder.

Many thanks Mark, the feedback is much appreciated.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

300 log : Chiller 1 at TISC

Date: 13th January
Venue : TISC
Race : 45 minute handicap
Tide : 1 hr after the start
Conditions : NE f4-5 (maybe 6 in the gusts?).  Lots of wind-over-tide chop
Result : 5th 300 of 6, 11th of 22 boats.

First race in the Chiller series at TISC.  The nice thing about TISC is the contrast in conditions to Slipper - the race course is far more tidal, the fetch for the wind is much longer, and this leads to interesting wind-over-tide chop.  I spoke with Dave after the race and he observed that these are probably close to the conditions that we may have in the nationals in September in Stokes Bay, so excellent training.

- Downwind was great.  We had a long run into the tide from Stanbury to Snowhill, and chop that was slightly slower than the boat.  Dave and Andy rounded far ahead at Stanbury, I'm not sure but I would say I took 150m out of them downwind.   There were times where I was catching waves both BTL and BRing, and putting an extra 4 knots on boat speed.  Still lots to do though, I've no doubt there is another 15-20% of speed available with the right technique.
- Good gybe in difficult conditions at Snowhill.  Lots of chop around the buoy at Snowhill, and I decided to gybe early in flat water and come into the buoy BTL.  Andy and Dave both capsized at the mark, so a good decision.  At that point in the race we rounded onto a broad reach to Copyhold, I was leading the 3s and thought I was home and dry - not the case!
- Upwind was good.  F5, 70 kgs and 10m2 of sail aren't usually a recipe for upwind speed, but it seemed to be working well, thought I was catching Hugh, Andy and Mark.  Was trying the whole windward heel thing, but it is really hard work in those conditions.  Did seem to be pointing though.
- Didn't feel tired at any point in the race, and could fully hike throughout and keep working the boat through the waves.

Not so greats:
- Poor start.  I set up for the line too early, and was not close enough to the edge of the channel.  Also set up to leeward of the L4000 which was not a smart move, was it really realistic to expect to keep the L4000 from sailing over me?  I think not!
- A nasty capsize on the broad reach from Snowhill to Copyhold.  As we rounded Snowhill I thought the angle was perfect to get to Copyhold - tight enough to be sitting on the sidedeck, and fully powered through the chop.  I'm still not sure how the boat capsized to windward in this seemingly stable set up, maybe not enough vang ?  Anyway, a full on windward capsize and immediate turtle, took an age to recover.
- Must lengthen the toestraps, tacking was a nightmare!

In terms of 300ing, not a great result compared to my brethren.  But I take solace in the fact that the downwind practice is starting to pay dividends (now need to add stability on a BR to the Mr Cockerill list).

Really enjoyed the race, lets hope for similar conditions over the series!

Update : Guidance from  Steve C this morning re broad reaching in stronger winds.  Started with the view that some boats have points of sail that are just plain difficult, finished with some thoughts on rig set up.  Anyway, I'm looking at another low water session at TISC this weekend if anyone fancies it!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Slipper Training with Matt and Claire

Horrible weather today, raining and an Easterly F3-6, very gusty.  One of those occasions where you know you'll feel good after being out, but it is difficult to motivate to get out in the first place.  It seems my training partners for the day - Matt and Claire - were of a similar view.  A text message at 0900 from Claire was less than enthusiastic, and at 0930 Matt was still in bed suffering with a bout of Thorsby induced Jagerbomb hangover.  Anyway, I got to Slipper at 10:30, on the water by 10:45, with Matt and Claire joining me at 11:45 or so (that's 45 minutes after high water, tut tut).

The objective for the day was to try more downwind sailing using the 4th dimension technique.  So learning for the day:

- The rig is super sensitive to vang.  You need enough to keep the leech from going forward of the mast, but with the leech still 'breathing' by 12" or so, this range is surprisingly narrow.  More wind induces more twist at the top of the rig, so more vang is required (note to self: 5 for the F4, 6.5 for the F6 gusts).  Too much vang means you often gybe as you get BTL.
- The boat whisperer video talks about using both sheet and balance to steer the boat.  In the stronger winds I found that balance was enough to initiate a transition - using the sheet as well seemed less controlled, especially on the BTL->BR transition.  Sheet is still required to complete the transition, but maybe not so much to initiate.
- The transitions don't have to be fast, just so long as the boat is committed into the turn.  Fast turns need corrective body weight that I don't have!  The movements required are very subtle, even in stronger winds.

I had one capsize today, when I dropped too much sheet on a transition to BTL.  Despite applying full rudder, the twist at the top of the sail put me in to windward, when I was on a BTL beam reach.  At least I understand why it happened.

Things that need work:

- Not happy with bear-aways today, too much rudder and not enough hiking/sheet. 
- The short straps are still great in a straight line, but getting into them after a tack is a nightmare.
- Foot placement for a tack is still not great.  I tried to keep my weight forward through the tack by ensuring that my feet were always close to the mainsheet block, a good objective but not easy.
- I am sure that fully planing gybes are possible, and that it is a question of technique.  That I don't have.

All in all a good days training in difficult conditions.  Another 20 of those and I will have improved as a sailor, can't wait for the day when I look forward to downwind legs in a F6.

Matt and Claire looked to be having great fun, despite the Jagerbombs.  Claire described the session as the fastest she has been in a dinghy.  Matt described it as a partial hangover cure, and has asked to borrow the Inner Game of Tennis in an attempt to instill some positive mental attitude.

Racing at TISC tomorrow, hopefully the wind will hold up.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Yet more TISC training, with Dave, Andy, Hugh and Glen

So five 300s on the water yesterday for a training session out of TISC.  Tim Weedon was also thought to be joining us, but the threat of rain (and the lack of a 300) must have put him off!  This week is a low tide weekend, but the lightish winds and muddy slip didn't put us off and we were on the water by 13:00 or so.

In emails earlier in the week, Hugh had suggested that we organise ourselves better for the training, and try to understand what we are going to do before we got onto the water.  A great idea, and this session ended up being focused on starting and 'mini-races' with a gate start. 

Unfortunately my tiller extension separated from the tiller after sailing for 10 minutes - much to the amusement of my 300 colleagues ("I thought your boat was well maintained Mark ho ho ho") - and I had to return to shore to bodge it back together with gaffer tape.  The extension had been fixed to the tiller using stainless self tappers into aluminium, corrosion had inevitably rotted the aluminium and the screws pulled out.  Its all nicely bolted now.

Anyway, I thought one of our mini-races may be of interest.  I've picked the one when I was the gate boat, so as to see all the others.

Points of interest in the video:

- At 0:33 I'm warning Andrew that I've put hours into the finish on my hull and please can he control the frothiness and give some tolerance to the back of my boat.  Suffice to say that you would have needed a micrometer to measure the distance between the starter and the gate boat!
- At 2:45 you can see Andrew stick a great covering tack on Dave, no respect for the long standing members of the fleet!
- At 4:00 is the bear away at the top mark.  Very poor rounding from me (loss of boat speed), but interesting that no one else choose to keep as far left.

And some reflections for my training:

- Moving the outhaul pulley as close as possible to the mast has really helped offwind, as there is no friction to stop the main going out 90 degrees.  No need to continually play with the outhaul setting either.
- Upwind speed in the F2/3 was very similar across all boats and weights (I didn't feel slow, and everyone was broadly the same speed).  Downwind I think my lighter weight probably gave me an edge.  Reaching in the F3 Dave took masses out of me, when it died to a F2 on the way back in I seemed to have the edge.
- The boat needs re-waxing (inside) and I need boots with more grip, kept slipping.
- Short straps are great, but take some getting into after tacks.  Needs a couple of hours tacking practice with attention to foot placement.

Great to see Glen on the water, its a hefty learning curve and time on the water training is the easiest way to get up it.  Andy's boat speed has got to the point of being disrespectful to the established fleet, and will be getting no more tips!  He is threatening to sail some of the Chiller races in the 3, this can only be good news for an already competitive fleet!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

More training with Dave, Hugh, Andy and Tim

The Xmas break this year hasn't been blessed with the best of weather.  Very strong winds, usually accompanied by rain (which means windsurfing isn't an option, windsurfing in rain is horrible).  But it all cleared up today with bright sunshine and a Force 3-5 in Chichester Harbour.  We arrived at TISC at 12:30 to find the ever keen Hugh and Tim already changed and itching to get out.  Dave Acres claimed he was jaded after New Years Eve, but that was just a ruse to give us false hope before he pasted us upwind!  Andy Gould is now a convert to the 300, sailing the boat for the first time in a Force 4, with equal boat speed to the rest of the fleet.  Tim was sailing his RS100, and looked to be having a lot of fun offwind (but clearly needs to buy a 300).

My objective for the day was to keep practicing the transitions between broad reach and by-the-lee, and vice versa.   2 minutes of video:

The learning for the day:

1.  By-the-lee is as quick as a broad reach in some conditions.  Dave and I sailed side by side on opposite tacks, me BTL and Dave broad reaching.  Speed was very similar.  That said, we didn't compare for long as have an out of control moment and came close to pole axing Dave.  At one point today I was fully planing BTL, being on the same side as the sail and planing is a bizarre sensation and doesn't feel quite right!

2.  There were periods downwind where the zigzaggy course felt quicker than a straight line.  This might have been when the wind got up a bit, and on the zigzaggy course you don't use the rudder as a brake.   I would say that it felt quicker for 30%  of the time, but I don't know what I was doing differently for that 30% (maybe wind strength ?).

3.  Dipping a wing is slow downwind, but being clinical with the amount of sheet and heel (to stop a wing dipping) is very hard.  The transitions that had a smooth turn with no wing-dipping resulted in much higher exit speeds. 

4.  The transition to a broad reach is actually quite technical, the end of the transition involves bringing the boat upright as you finish sheeting (note the careful absence of the word 'pump' there!).  But unless you get the timing and sheeting exactly right you either (i) have too much power in the main and can't flatten the boat, or (ii) don't have enough power in the main and go into a serious bear away.

I was slightly disappointed that there wasn't more wind today, I'd really like to practice in the sort of winds that can cause problems for the steer-the-boat-under-the-mast technique.  But that said it was a great day on the water.

We need to keep an eye on Andy Gould.  He is far too fast for his 3rd time out, and appears to be out-pointing the rest of the fleet!