After sail racing for 10 years we (the core team of Siri, Preben and me) got tired of team building. I have an unlimited amount of crew available from my students where i always can get somebody who wants to join, but they are only stable for a season. After many of these experiences we realized that we were more happy sailing short with a small but coordinated crew than having to deal with inexperienced crew, train them and instruct them something that in the end was a big distraction when racing. After we won the district championship in 2010 with a half crew, sailing the Express double handed around the buoys winning four of seven races, we felt more confident in sailing short.
So this was the background for this concept that is focussing on short handed sailing, that is not extremely short handed but with crew that is shorter than ideal, in this case three to four. But we also opt for a few double handed regattas.
A second ingredient in the concept was realizing that when racing on our level the crucial factor is our own ability. In my mind i think 95% procent of the achievable improvement is down to our ability to sail the boat, the rest is gained by investing in technology, e.g. high performance sails, full set of sails, looking at boat weight, faring of hull etc. This is valid assuming that everything is in decent shape, sails are reasonable in range and condition, hull is ok etc. The conclusion from this is that we should put the effort into sailing rather than technology.
The same philosophy is applied to how the boat is equipped: With a slightly more emphasis on convenience and ease than normal. This follows from the short handed setup but also from the idea that sailing the boat should be more fun and less work. Therefore we do things slightly different than the others in our club. Our sail inventory is now built up to mach these ideas: The roller furling sail, an all round genua 2 that is quite big for a number two and that covers 80% of our sailing. The main sail is equipped with thin lacy jacks. The spin will be always rigged, stored in a bag on wires in the companion way. After racing it will remains sheeted and in the same bag and the bag is pushed forward and slided above the engine out of way, ready for the next race in seconds. Pull the bag back to the companion way, fix the halyard and up it goes.
This makes it possible to reduce rigging time from over half an hour, un-packing and mounting sails and sheets, to virtually nothing, meaning we can sail an additional half hour before every start remembering on our level, sailing time is the most crucial factor. This half hour will potentially be especially valuable since we tend to be late for starts because of work. Now we will be able to check the wind and warm up to get in shape for an hour instead of a half as normal, being much better prepared at the line.
A side effect of the way to quick store the spi is that the F..ups because of errors in rigging are eliminated. Once mounted correctly the sheets stay in place. (just admit it, this happens too often)
After the race we only need to bind and cover the main sail. Instead of half an hour of hard labour we spend five minutes on the main and the rest of the time before the results are announced for coffee waffles and valuable debriefing.
With all this in mind i consulted Christen With from With Marine and North Sails, Norway's most famous sail-maker and also a prominent sailor with many international and national achievements. I only told him briefly about the main ideas, our level of experience, age and crew size and he basically came up with the same concept for sail set and designed our new all-round genua 2 and the new max-sized spinnaker.
In addition they reduced the genua 3 to a heavy weather genua 4. We discussed two to three additional sails, a spi for heavy weather, an assym spi and a light weight genua 1. This might be two to three sails that might fill in the lower and upper wind ranges where the current basic three sails are not ideal. But this can be built up according to our experience of what we need and the conditions of my wallet.
Other details following from the concept are:
An advanced boom break that should eliminate the risks and dangers of jibing. Basically the main should jib unattended which frees a pair of hands, essential in short handed sailing.
A strategy for reefing: We only reef the main at over 20 knots. Around this point, which we have to find by experimenting, we reef the main down so that it runs free under the running backstays and fix both of them. Under this point the rig should be self supporting during jibs and not dependent on the running backstays. Reefing is done entirely from the cockpit with two reefing lines. This should allow for a very quick reef and little loss of speed. We can off course also reef the furling genua which is equipped with foam paddings to keep the shape. If conditions allow it or if we start with the heavy weather number 4 this is a different story. The setup is a bit special with two haliard in front that both are used for genua and spi. This allows for sail changes and spi changes but there is no dedicated spi haliard. Cool but could be confusing. For our first real season (2012) we will keep it simple with only three standard sails and the heavy weather 4 and do the best from this to see how this works and only add sails if we are totally convinced about the benefit.
Upgrading the autopilot to a Raymarine SPX 5 with remote control is also needed to have a more reliable steering in waves and harder winds, to free hands in jibes etc.
The spi we operate from the companyonway, keeping the crew more and longer in the cockpit. We experimented with the take downs we were used to from the Express, using the fore hach and having the boom stored on the deck. This did really not work. We changed to the main hatch and things went far better. Now we will also move the stored spi boom from the fore deck to the main boom. This solution leaves us with two to three points of attention: Avoiding the spi haliard to get cought behind the spreaders during the hoist. Getting the spi to the right side, the port side of the boat when racing around the bouys, and looking at how we can exploit our set-up strategically:
This means that we are going to test a jib hoist, setting the spi boom after the jib. Besides the benefit from avoiding crew on front deck before the rounding, preparing for the hoist and with reduced attention to tactics and boat speed, this will bring us into free air. Jibing after rounding the windward mark also has the potential of an approach of the lee mark at starboard tack, giving the right of way and theoretically the drop will result in the spi ending up on the port side. The tricky thing is how to do this quick enough to avoid sailing too far without spi. We need to test this and see if we are able to do this in the real world. It might turn out to be tricky but we will see.
This is the concept and the theory. It will be exciting to find out how much of this will work.