TECHnic Thirds in regatta, some say no


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In the first episodes we talked to you about how to have a proper approach to try to make a good
. In the second we touched on a crucial topic, the
onboarding. Now, in this third in-depth look at racing technique, you may be thinking that it will finally be time to address upwind tactics. But no. Before ascending back to the windward buoy, we need to address another problem that I would call “setting”: the issue of the hand(s) of reefers in regatta. There are those who oppose it on principle, and there are those who, invoking improbable common sense recommendations, have made terzarols their best friends. The truth, as always, probably lies neither on one side nor the other. But then, when is it right, in racing, to give one or more hands of reefing and when is it not? Let’s go in order.


Let’s start with a premise: when a sail sails reefed it is subjected to forces and loads that place it under significant stress. In fact, it will be only a portion of its surface area that will work and take on the full intensity of the wind and propulsion of the boat. This will ensure that, once we hoist the full mainsail again, we will probably notice, with a close look, a difference between the portion of the sail that sailed reefed and the portion that was at rest.


To understand and solve this problem we must then talk about the types of mainsail, the types of races, and the boat’s equipment. The first major discriminator is the difference between buoy racing and offshore racing. Let’s start with the latter. In the case of an offshore regatta, the use of the reefing hand(s) is a must if the weather conditions dictate, with wind intensity above 25 knots, below this intensity the progressive change of headsails will allow us to sail in control with a full mainsail. Be careful, however, this assumes that the mainsail we have is designed for offshore and therefore is capable of sailing for long hours reefed, which means being subjected as we said to pulls and loads markedly different than when, even in high winds, the sail works across its entire surface. Thirded the sail will have a less natural type of work with loads very concentrated in precise areas, the luff and leech reefing attachments, which are not normally so stressed. If the sail is not designed to have extra material in these areas, the result will be to lose the original shape almost irreparably. The need to sail terzarolato in an offshore regatta also stems from the fact that we may face edges as long as hundreds of miles, with the crew unable to stay in perfectly trimmed hawsers for days. Therefore, depowering the mainsail also means making up for the lack of weight in the gunwale and making the boat sail better. Also, even a mainsail designed for offshore racing if left to flapping for very long hours would eventually take the hit, better to reef it and not have it flapping left behind. Ultimately, therefore, the hand on the high seas must always be ready, but better to give it on a suitable mainsail if we do not want to “throw” our sail once the wind has passed. Normally a good offshore sail will have 2 or 3 coats of reefing.


The subject changes, and almost radically, if we talk about buoy racing. Here, if we are on a boat equipped to race at a good level, we will have a mainsail where there will be no excess reinforcements but only essential ones. Normally on mainsails designed for inshore racing there is at most one coat of reefing or sometimes none at all. To take a hand on such a mainsail is to risk marking its shape irreparably, and it is advisable to do so only in a real emergency. Also because sometimes in the excitement little attention is paid to how to take a reefing hand, perhaps cocking the hand with the halyard too tight and subjecting the sail to brutal tugs.

After all, in a trial between buoys we will rarely face more than 27-28 knots, and if it happens it will only be for a limited time. We will then have the full weight of the crew actively present in the hawser who will give us a decisive hand in keeping the boat in an acceptable trim at all times, we will have already changed the orua sail to a high wind one, the rest of the work will fall to a good mainsailer who is quick at the sheet. But there is more. Is not ruining the sail the only reason not to take the reefing hand during a race between the buoys? No. When we sail aft under spinnaker in fact the mainsail will be important to protect the spi. With a lot of wind, in fact, we are not going to sail with the spi excessively square, but we are going to bring it a little more stay and in protection under the mainsail, to let it take a little less air and prevent the sail from dragging us into strapoggia by excessive upwind exposure. Having a full mainsail will definitely help us in this work, not to mention that the larger surface area will allow us to hold the boat faster, thus with a low apparent wind and with less load on the rigging and mast. The rule is simple: in the stern the faster you are the more apparent on the sails decreases. If there are 25 knots of real and we sail at 9-10 the apparent on the sails will be more or less 15 knots, so being fast also serves to preserve the boat’s equipment. Sailing with little canvas, rolling and suffering the waves, is a good way to get some breakage. Ultimately in a race between the buoys it is worth holding out, putting a wind sail on the bow, and trying to focus on good boat handling. Which also includes making the best use of rigging and adjustments: halyard, cunningham, vang, backstay, everything will be subjected to significant stresses because the goal will be to thin the sails as much as possible.


And here we also get to touch on the type of boat and its equipment. The discussion we have just addressed subintends that we are aboard a boat with good quality halyards, strictly dyneema, and rigging. If, on the other hand, we are aboard an aging boat with soft, heavily used halyards, we are unlikely to be able to stay upright with the full mainsail above 20-25 knots of wind. It will be impossible to weed it out properly because the halyards will fail irreparably, we will have a sail and boat out of trim and a crew in tension. In that case perhaps, rather than taking a hand of reefing, one can objectively consider not taking part in the regatta to avoid probable damage to equipment and sails and reserve participation for days when conditions are more suitable for our craft.


A final clarification should be made about the type of sail plan. For 1980s IOR-style plans, the mainsails are often so small that they are really the least of the problems in high winds. In fact, the first thing to do will be to drastically reduce the overlap of the headsail by quickly switching to small jibs that will allow us to carry the mainsail down without excessive rejection on it given by the jib. A small jib in a strong wind then allows us a better upwind angle, although, in case of a wave, we will give up some extra horsepower that could be useful in the ascent to the ridges. It is therefore difficult to find a perfect balance in all conditions; it will also be up to the sensitivity of the crew to figure out what is best for their boat.

Mauro Giuffrè


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