Don't fight the boat
Over the years, we have seen people struggling to control their boat. They have to use brute force to overcome friction, they leave dock with a reef even on a fine day because changing gear is so difficult, they bust their back steering against massive weather helm, they fight the boat tooth and nail. The end result is a bunch of exhausted, unhappy people, wondering what it is all about!
If you are going cruising, you want to relax and have a good time. If you are racing you want to concentrate on performance. In neither case do you want to fight the boat. The following articles are full of useful tips and relevant to all sailors, be you a gunk hole potterer or a gung ho racer.
Optimise your Cruiser/Racer, The HARKEN Checklist
When optimising cruiser/racer for race-winning performance it is essential to think in detail about the role each crewmember does on the boat, and when. This will allow you to work out who is free at any moment in a set manoeuvre to do that little job that makes someone else’s job that little bit easier or faster. This will gain you vital seconds at mark roundings and will enable you to make places at every turn. Making each crewmembers job easier, by ensuring the controls are as efficient as possible, will allow your crew more time to concentrate on making the boat go fast in the right direction, rather than fighting it round the course.
* Most standard cruiser/racers come with a mainsheet system that does not give sufficient power to close the leech. Adding a fine tune is an easy and effective way of gaining power without having to change the entire system. For example, a standard 6:1 system can be made into a 6:1/24:1 system by adding an additional 4:1 purchase.
* Consider fitting ratchet blocks to the mainsheet to give the trimmer more control over the line.
* Ensure that you have free running ball bearing blocks in the system. Plain bearing blocks are very poor in this application as they add a lot of friction with the large angle of deflections around the sheaves.
* Consider upgrading the mainsheet traveller to a windward sheeting car and make sure that it is big enough. At the least, make sure it is flushed regularly and consider getting a spare set of ball bearings to change in when the car starts to ‘stick’.
* Ensure that all the control systems work correctly, allowing ease of use. Pay particular attention to headsail car pullers, checking that the cars are ball bearing cars, to allow adjustment under load. Adding an additional 3:1 purchase to an existing 2:1 control, for example, is quite easy and will make your trimmers life much easier!
* Look at the purchase systems on the backstay, vang and outhaul. Upgrade these by adding extra cascades to allow them to be used as effective tuning tools.
* Consider fitting a ball bearing pole car system to the mast, allowing the inboard end height to be adjusted easily at all times. Upgrade the standard aluminium pole to a carbon fibre one to save weight at the bow and make the bowman’s job easier!
* Put a cam cleat on the mast so that the mastman can hoist the pole as you approach the mark. This will allow the pitman to stay on the rail longer and will mean the he can get straight into the spinnaker hoist resulting in a cleaner, faster set.
* Move the cunningham to the mast and set the vang up so that a number of positions can control it.
* Fit crossover blocks behind the clutches to route any line to the opposite winch.
* Check and upgrade the standard genoa and main halyards to Spectra minimise stretch. As a consequence you should also look to upgrade the mastbase blocks, masthead sheaves and clutches to ensure that they can all take the increased loadings. Spinlock are recognised as the market leaders with a great range of clutches currently available.
* Fit effective lightweight spinnaker sheet tweekers and ensure that they are long enough and in the correct place. For smaller yachts up to about 35′ that sail without guys, you should get these quite far forward to give a good angle to control the pole and prevent damage to the stanchions.
* Fit spinnaker sheet deflector blocks to lead the sheet forward and then to the winch. On smaller boats to 35′, use ratchet blocks to help in the sets, gybes and drops when you may not have a sheet winch free. This will also stop the helmsman sitting on it at that vital moment!
* Add cam cleats to lock off lazy sheets to stop them dragging out of the boat. Putting rope tail bags around the cockpit will make organising the ropes much easier.
* Upgrade all of the headsail and spinnaker sheets and guys to Spectra and strip the cover off where not handled. This saves a lot of weight, minimises stretch and often removes the need for a set of light air spinnaker sheets.
* Ensure that you use very good snapshackles for all of the halyards, sheets and guys. Tylaska are particularly well known for their quality and reliability.
* Fit a Harken Carbo Foil to the headstay for fast and smooth headsail hoists and drops.
Production cruiser/racers are now generally coming with the appropriate size winches as standard. There are still areas to look at gaining a small but significant advantage.
* Consider upgrading the halyard winches to the Quattro style with the wide base drum to give faster spinnaker sheet trimming, while retaining the power for halyard tension.
* If you can, upgrading to 3-speed or wide-body primary winches will make your trimmers and grinders jobs easier.
* Purchase some Harken ball bearing winch handles, preferably the SpeedGrip style. These will put more of your effort into the winch, rather than into turning the handle grip.
* Ensure that the winches are fully serviced before and at least once or twice during the season. Carry some spare pawls and springs, winch grease and oil in the tool box.
Finally……. sail fast, sail smart and have fun!
Two-time Sigma 33 National Champion, Sam Bourne, Technical Sales Manager at hardware experts Harken UK Ltd, has been involved with upgrading cruiser/racers for many years. His sailing CV extends from Scottish Series winner to the British Admirals Cup Team.