Bill Brangiforte WOW: From the 2011-2012 Frostbite Series

Posted May 01, 2012

We had an interesting series this year. While the fleet size was down a bit, we had really good racing, and personally, I think I learned more this year than ever before. I like to take things I read about or know that I need work on, and put them into play while frostbiting. Here are a few things I picked up this season and am looking forward to trying out this summer.

1. Andy Horton wrote a great article in Sailing World about lessons he has learned over the years and are helpful in any boat. My favorite was the one about anticipating gusts and reacting before they hit. He says that preparing for a gust is like hitting a tennis ball. You don’t swing when the ball is right at you; you start swinging early and use momentum to hit it. Dealing with an incoming puff is the same thing. When you see a gust is about to hit you, start hiking early and pre- flatten the boat. The day I decided to try this was perfect- It was a puffy 8-12 knot southerly, and we had some fairly long beats. I found The Sunfish loves this technique because the swept back rudder creates a lot of weather helm and the boat can be sailed bolt up-right without the helm going mushy! So, in these conditions- the right form is Hike- ease – trim. However, once the breeze gets over about 13 knots, the right technique is the classic EaseHike- Trim.

2. It was finally drilled into my head, this season, that in light air you must pick a side and play that side upwind! This is true in big fleets, on lakes and on the Warren River when sailing against the tide. The reason is that that puffs come in from the sides, and the boats in the middle only get the remnants, while the boats on the sides make gains. You can easily lose out to the boats on both sides, if you play the middle in light air. On the river,you need all the pressure you can get to fight the tide. If you are playing aside and a gust comes in , you make strong gains against the boats with less pressure. Often, you see one side pay off big, then the other side pay off, while the boats in the middle are getting clobbered.

3. Next to starts, more gains and losses occur at the leeward mark than any other place on the course. If we were to video tape roundings (not a bad idea), we would see that most sailors are under sheeted and too far away from the mark. If you are rounding by yourself, (no overlaps) think about these things.

  1. Start your rounding much wider than you think – in breeze, 4-5 boat lengths below the mark.
  2. Don’t jibe or head up until you are perpendicular to the mark. Jibe when your boom is pointing at the mark.
  3. Over sheet slightly before jibing- this will help you head up faster after the jibe.
  4. Think of the jibe and rounding as one maneuver.
  5. Use two hands to sheet in. (this takes some practice)
  6. Don’t tighten your Cunningham until you are going back upwind.
  7. If you get a chance to get some time practicing, work on leeward mark roundings. In a big fleet, good roundings make a huge difference, since holding your lane after the rounding can be the key to having a good upwind leg.

4. As you approach the weather mark, scan for puffs before bearing off. If there is a puff coming from the left (looking upwind) reach up a little to get into it sooner. If there is more pressure on the right (looking upwind) jibe immediately.

5. In gusty offshore conditions (such as we had Sunday), be careful as you get closer to shore. In the third race, I had a big lead and was getting lifted 20 degrees on port tack, in a big gust. I was straight leg hiking (out on my toes), when I got auto-tacked. There was no warning of this. The next thing I knew was that I was upside down! Andy had a good point on this. Sail the lifted tack, but reach off a little, so you have some cushion, to prevent a capsize. Also, as you get closer to the shore, don’t hike as hard, so you can get back in the boat if needed. Heeling may be slow, but in these conditions, it is better than being upside down!

6. My general racing philosophy is to avoid other boats and get around the course as fast as possible. I have had my best success when I focus on speed and shifts upwind and speed and pressure downwind. However, boat to boat tactics do play a role, and we had some interesting cases in the last few weeks. The first one occurred while we were heading upwind, in a breezy southerly, against a strong incoming tide. Doris was to leeward of me as we approached the weather mark layline on port. She tacked a little too early (not allowing enough for the strong tide). I could not cross her, but the duck would have been huge, so I decided to tack on her lee bow and hope for the best. I did not work out well for us! I had to jibe around and she hit the mark. What I should have done was to use the old Buddy Melges trick of slowing down (luffing) as Doris approached.

This way, she would cross me, and I could tack when I was sure I could make the mark. By slowing down and passing astern, you avoid that huge duck (that takes you farther away from the mark) and prevents that awful 130 degree tack that is soooooo slow! The next one occurred Sunday. In the fifth race I rounded the leeward mark right behind Eric. The breeze had gone hard left, making it a one tack beat to the finish. (Remember, when the breeze goes left, the right side of the finish line is favored). If the tide had not been so strong, Eric would have easily beat Me.; but the tide pushed us just beyond the committee boat. Eric could not tack without fouling me, so he had to wait for me to tack first. I tacked right at the boat and crossed ahead. Eric delayed his tack for a second, and ended up unable to clear the boat (Because of the strong tide). He had to jibe around and lost several places. I am not sure, but I think Eric’s only defense would have been to pinch me off (maybe even luffing head to wind) and force me to tack before we got to the committee boat. We should talk to Amanda about this, and see if there was another possible defense for Eric in this situation. This is the best part of frostbiting.  We get to deal with all kinds of situations and discuss them later; so when we go to championships, we feel right at home!

7. I want to thank Frank for running the series for us this year. Frank is a really nice guy and I speak for everyone when say how much we appreciate him! I also want to thank Leo, Sally, Joel, Teresa and the rest of the Crew at Barrington Y.C. for their hard work and hospitality! See everyone at the Regionals.



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