When I moved back to Adelaide
about 5 years ago I decided to get back into Dinghy Racing.
have sailed most types of Dinghies raced in Australia at some time or
another but have spent most of my time in Australian Lightweight
Sharpies and NS14s.
the time I decided to get involved in the simple Sabre Class
singlehanded dinghy. These great little boats are still
built in plywood and that ready supply of home built boats keeps the
price down. The fleet size is quite large with one of the major
Adelaide dinghy racing clubs fielding a fleet of 30 plus for their
regular Saturday race.
I ended up picking up an elderly
boat for $375 including a trailer. It needed some work, but I
knew how to do it all.
bought a new sail and made a new centreboard and rudder and found
myself performing quite nicely - finishing in the top 10 in most
conditions, except for light winds where I just couldn't get the the
boat going. This was particularly annoying as Light Winds
always been a strength of mine.
Anyway, my racing career was cut
short by a nasty bicycle accident which has limited my flexibility and
I wrote the following for the
Sabre Newsletter to share what I had discovered after the first few
It applies to most other sorts of
also gives a bit of a rundown on my theory about why many people fail
to improve quickly when they start racing. The theory is
the idea that most people worry about the most about the least
The main culprit in this case is
some SUPERFAST/PERFECT boat setup in terms of equipment and layout.
My experience is that most good sailors can jump into a boat
is less than perfect and still do very well in racing.
SKILLS make the difference - the boat makes a more modest contribution
- its job is to keep the skills afloat!
I exaggerate - but maybe you can buy a not so good boat and in a couple
of weekends work get it to the point where it won't slow the skills
down too badly!
the Sabre (What? Me Worry?)
I decided to start racing Sabres for four main
handed boat, so no crew hassles.
are class that still allows (encourages) amateur building so there is a
supply of good second hand boats at reasonable prices.
Australia has very good fleet sizes.
level of sailing at the top and middle of the fleet is excellent.
then I have found an additional reason. Sabre sailors are
friendly and prepared to share information with newcomers.
a philosophic idea, the willingness to share information and the size
of our fleet provides the conditions to develop one’s sailing
skills to a high level quickly.
The group of sailors
done this most effectively are the 505 sailors from Lake Macquarie in
NSW - by sharing information and working on improving the performance
of the WHOLE fleet they dominated the world titles for pretty well a
As my part of a potential “fleet
program” I want to write down my thought processes during my
somewhat interrupted introduction to the class (crushed fingers) to
assist others who may be struggling, plus providing food for thought
for the stars.
Top level sailors know that the
development of skills contributes the most to success.
skills are 80% of the battle. They break up into two main
areas. a. How to go ( I know something about this) b.
Where to go - (I am sure there are others that can advise better than
me - SA is new territory for me and tactics/strategy are a
current weak point. Rule 1 - keep an eye on the good guys).
set up is the remaining 20% - very much secondary - providing the main
things are approximately right.
take the easy one first.
set up. My
philosophy is of the “no worries” school.
I have to
do just enough work on my boat to not worry when racing. Then
can concentrate on the game at hand. My list is relatively
as I know that set up is only 20% of the battle. Everyone
have a different list of what worries them - the following is mine.
big worries are the sail and foils (the wing in the air and the wings
in the water) and the set up of the control systems so I can adjust
things easily from a hiking position. A further worry is
reliability - not falling apart (talking boat here, not the skipper) -
a fairly fast way to lose races.
When I bought my
boat it had
crap foils (like fence palings), a sail of unknown quantity, control
lines that were single ended and terminated at the mast base and
didn’t really work well, some flaking paint on the bottom and
traveler. It was also cosmetically pretty tatty (But what do
expect for $375 on trailer?).
I made new foils out
red cedar, epoxy and ‘glass, shaped using
Templates are ESSENTIAL to good home made foils so that leading and
trailing edges are consistent along the span of the foil.
is a lot of guff talked about profiles - but to allay any potential
worries, and to avoid a time wasting debate with myself, I
the shapes developed by Melbourne aerodynamicist Neil
Pollock. He developed them 10 years ago for classes that only
allow shaping at the leading and trailing edge with a flat section
between. If anyone wants templates I can print them out for a
modest cost. If you have manufactured foils from YMS or
you have something which is just as good - so don’t panic or
think I have something special (Panic - worrying combined with both
positive and negative feedback loops).
I bought a
new sail from
KA sails (I worked in the chandlery downstairs) built on the
“deep sail” thinking that has been current for
years. On measurement night at Brighton/Seacliff it was clear
that this sail was also “big” compared to all other
measured. A nice new sail - no worries there.
set up is pretty standard - I found the class rules and instructions
both vague and inconsistent. I ended up fitting cleats to
sidedeck about 200mm behind the main bulkhead. 4mm spectra
the highly loaded vang. 4mm prestretch (excel pro) for the
- it’s cheap and comes in a variety of colours. I
metal clamcleat (CL211 mkII) for the vang and am trying the plastic
Ronstan vee cleats for the others - rumour is that they wear pretty
quickly, but the outhaul and cunningham don’t get worked
near as hard so probably OK. I generally can’t be
with ball bearing blocks - use some in the vang where the mechanical
advantage leads to a bit of friction, not much mechanical advantage
anywhere else, so not much friction, so use cheaper blocks.
Cheapest way to reduce friction in general is to use smaller diameter
I revarnished the deck where the coating was
glassed any doubtful seams - water had sprayed out when I had
hosed the inside of the tanks to get rid of the salt (hosing is
recommended a couple of times each season).
finish was pretty crappy - I didn’t want to spend weeks
it out, so decided to repaint below the chine only (Remember - only
20%). I gave it a good grind with a random orbit sander to
flatten the surface, trying to not go through to wood, ground down any
suspect seams and laid light (1.2oz, 40gsm) glass in them,
bogged (with epoxy and lightweight filler) up to the original paint
level. Did a little bit of
bogging and fairing and then spot undercoated and went over the lot
with gloss (2 coats).
reliability I replaced the stays (I had no idea how old they were and
standard stainless wire is a cheap investment compared to having the
mast fall down.. I also replace the gooseneck plug of the
which was showing some deformation, checked spar and rudder fittings,
replaced tiller extension (a very flexible piece of plastic conduit)
with aluminium tube - mainsheet was replaced with one of smaller
diameter for lower friction. Also fitted a traveler (in the
class it is a simple Laser style bridle which may have its tension
I spent an hour at home setting up the
mast position from Buster Hooper’s measurements - they are a
few years old, but, 1) Buster is a good sailor and
wouldn’t be too far out. 2) There was a handy copy
of these measurements at work.
did have a three measurements for mast rake - for light medium and
heavy air. I decided to ignore the light wind position as
you don’t want to be changing the rake for every 7
breeze or WORRYING about having the rake set wrong for the
breeze. If in doubt use medium weather rake. Mast
step position - back of mast is 8ft 8 inches from transom Medium
weather rake - middle of transom to top black band on mast is 18ft 8in Heavy
weather rake - middle of transom to top black band on mast is 18ft 4in For
those who really need something extra to worry about the light weather
rake was 18ft 11ins Sailing
have sailed most types of boats at some time or another, sometimes with
quite good results - so I have confidence in my general sailing ability.
bibles have always been Eric Twiname’s books. They
have the message that anyone can do well at a National level and that
improvement comes from changing the way you think. They are
possibly out of print but I see them not infrequently in second hand
bookstores. “Start to Win” - goes through
the techniques required to handle a boat efficiently. “Sail,
Race and Win” gives examples on how to make the techniques
overarching principle is, to improve, spend time on the water
practicing. The practice has to be task oriented.
can get time aside from racing to practice, well and good. If
only ever race it is worthwhile moving the priority from finishing
well, to focus on some aspect to improve during the race (eg, one or
two of: roll tacking, roll gybing, pumping sail downwind, surfing,
sailing boat flat (or windward heeling), sailing in the right direction
when looking elsewhere etc).
Most important in order of
Keeping boat flat -the biggest difference between the sailors in the
top third of the fleet vs the bottom third. A bit of heel in
very light stuff is OK, but as soon as the boat is moving reliably -
flat. Practice by sailing a medium wind race keeping the boat
heeling a few degrees to windward upwind and on the reaches and a bit
more when running. There are no excuses for not being able to
keep the boat dead flat through use of steering and sheeting.
Keeping sail moving - sheet in and out - steer in concert - wind is
never static - know how to use the tufts on the sails - they should be
flying almost all the time (though they won’t fly on a run).
Being able to set up sail adjustments quickly for changes in wind or
point of sail. Texta (permanent marker) marks on boom, mast
control lines when you feel you have been going particularly
well. Is it worthwhile to stop just past the windward mark to
draw texta lines on your boat when it has been moving well?
BET! If concerned about the appearance, put some clear
film on any areas that you may need to mark beforehand. Sail
Adjustment in General. I
should presage this section to say that I am really crap at sailing a
Sabre in a light wind - so have no detailed advice - perhaps someone
can fill in the gaps. Light wind is usually one of my
but the wily Sabre has me spooked - Hell, I can’t
a reasonable place to sit.
Rule One of sail adjustment (and
everything else) is watch what the fast guys are doing
- how loose is their traveler, outhaul, luff tension, where are they
sitting? As I am learning “Sabre Specific
I spend the time before the start following the good guys, copying
their settings then setting off upwind myself to see if I need more
power or pointing.
Rule Two is
that if you can’t adjust it quickly during the race without
losing speed or direction it is better to not adjust.
the adjustments for the beginning of each downwind leg and before the
beginning of each upwind leg. If in the bottom
to mainsheet and tiller otherwise unless badly underpowerd/overpowered
and concentrate on keeping the boat flat. As this becomes
automatic you will have additional time to optimise settings for
variations in windstrength Specific Sail Adjustment Light wind Winds
where getting boat moving is unreliable (see paragraph above,
Wind less than 3 or 4
knots. In principle, sail
should be relatively flat and quite twisted. Crew weight
be well forward and a bit of leeward heel. Perhaps pull a bit
rudder up to reduce wetted surface. If in doubt, ease
and get speed up, then think about pointing. No point in
adjusting sail controls for reaching and running (all points require a
flattened sail with reasonable twist), though I would use a little more
vang on the run.
Medium Wind Boat
moves reliably and can be held flat without easing sail. Wind
5 to 13 knots.
- foot outhaul adjusted so about 75mm (3ins) between sail foot and
boom, vang adjusted so windward tufts at each level of the sail stall
at the same time when you point up a little too much. Leach
should all be flying No or very slight luff
Traveler loose. Outer end of boom above inside face of
tank. Legs behind thwart, body leaning slightly forward so
midpoint of shoulders is in line or slightly ahead of thwart.
- if sail is eased and tufts still flying, that’s
If you can’t ease sail enough to make tufts fly, you are
- so see below. From beam reach to broad reach ease foot
outhaul to give 1 in 7 curve to bottom of sail - fit a stop
that it can’t go past this. Vang readjusted so lee
stall at same time at all heights. No or slight luff
tension. Mainsheet can be adjusted so leech tufts flick
the sail briefly from time to time. Centreboard raised a foot
- No tufts will fly. Foot tight so that only a tiny amount of
curve remains. Vang firm so leach does not twist. Traveler
irrelevant - Centreboard as high as you can manage without death rolls
(There are toothmarks in the stbd side deck where I got carried away
with this in my third race). Move weight forward a foot or
heel boat to windward approx 5 to 10 degrees (brings helm back into
centre to reduce rudder drag and moves middle of sail up higher).
wind Sails are having to be eased frequently to
keep boat upright. 13+ knots.
big trick to sailing in strong breezes is to pre-empt the effect of the
breeze - see a gust approaching, get boat double extra flat (if not
actually heeled to windward a bit) and ready to ease a bit more
mainsheet and point up (if going upwind) or bear away with big ease of
main (if going down(wind)).
Wind is never even in
there are times when the wind is stronger on average (ie wind is
stronger in BOTH gusts and lulls) and lighter on average (ie wind is
lighter in BOTH gusts and lulls). These cycles last
to 15 minutes, the trick is to set up the boat for the current
cycle. The vang is the most important adjustment
- the objective is to flatten the top of the sail to prevent heeling,
but have enough fullness in the bottom to give adequate power and to
make the boat point - if foot is flattened excessively it is hard to
make a Sabre point. Same if the traveler is too
is quite different from most boats I have sailed. Vang is the
most important adjustment and will be adjusted frequently and hard -
the trick is to set it up so that boat can be kept flat 90% of the time
for each wind cycle. If you see a big gust approaching, pull
heaps of vang before it hits, then ease it back out after the gust has
passed as you become underpowered. Luff tension can be medium
pulled out to the black band if vang is not adequate to keep the boat
flat. If really blowing the crabs out of the sand pull up
(six inches) of centreboard. If you can’t avoid a
wave face ease the mainsheet a little, bear off a few degrees and hike
HARD (flat boat) - you will still hit the wave - but speed will
reappear quickly - then point again while pulling main back in and go
back into your normal hiking position.
tension is excessive on the reach so you can afford to ease it from the
tight upwind setting. - if you don’t you will notice the mast
bending strongly to windward in the middle from the boom
compression. So vang firm rather than hard.
Downhaul as per
upwind - doesn’t make much difference in these
If you feel underpowered ease out main foot toward the one in seven
position, if still underpowered ease downhaul. Centreboard
up. Sit behind thwart and lean body aft if nose is digging in.
- as per medium breeze but weight should be as far back as necessary to
prevent nose diving but keep trying to move forward - sitting in the
stern when it is unnecessary is dead slow. Centreboard 1/3 to
up. When surfing down the faces steer for the low point of
wave in front To
thing is not to get too caught up in the search for the perfect
boat. Rather, spend time working on specific aspects of your
skills, try to identify weaknesses and work out practice strategies to
For example my weaknesses are: Light
starting, strategy under the simplified rules, not using body weight
actively enough to maximise advantages from waves and small
fluctuations in wind (a legacy of sailing larger boats -
Sharpie/Yachts) and not pushing the boat hard enough downwind
medium to strong conditions. I am prepared to blow race
to improve these areas by practicing on the race course. Fleet Improvement So
this is my attempt to accelerate the information sharing among the SA
Sabres. The advice may not be perfect (can anyone help me
the light stuff?), but if you are generally in the bottom or middle
third there are fundamental ideas here that will improve your sailing.
you are in the top third you can improve your own sailing by sharing
information - if the fleet improves, you will too. The
improve is how you got into the top third in the first place!.
club fleets could look at formalising practice sessions of different
Boat swap days, assigning better sailors to mentor backrunners, having
several short races in one day, a day practicing starts, timed downwind
sprints - the imagination is the limit. Return
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