Handling The Racing Yacht In General
( Originally Published 1911 )
IN handling the racing yacht the skipper or manager of the craft must be sure that she is in the best possible condition for a hard race. This should be done early in the morning, so that when the crew come aboard just before the start they will not find a hundred and one little things to be attended to, such as hauling the sails out on the spars, setting up the turnbuckles, wreathing new sheets or halliards, mending a torn spinnaker, or replacing broken battens.
The boat should be sailed before the race in order to get the sails setting well, and to find out if anything is wrong and needs to be replaced.
This preparation saves a lot of valuable time and worry, and the crew is not hurried at the last minute, but can attend to the various duties of getting the sails properly hoisted, ropes coiled, light sails opened and arranged, boat pumped out dry, and a number of other small details that are always necessary just before the start. The helms-man then has time to read his circular, get his watch corrected with the guns or whistles, study his course, and decide what position at the start will be the most advantageous.
The preparatory gun is fired, and there is five minutes before the starting gun goes. The berthing of the boat then begins, and if the first leg is to windward, the skipper decides to go over on the starboard tack. Four minutes gone ; one more to come ; he begins to get near the line, filling and easing the sails, giving the boat headway, then killing her ; ten seconds more, sheets are trimmed and she passes the mark with a rush on the starboard tack, closehauled, and on gunfire.
Then comes a series of hitches, depending on how the boat is holding her own or defeating her rivals, and it is good policy to keep between the second boat and the mark. Remember, if the fleet splits into two divisions, to use your judgment as to how the wind is going to haul, and then go with that division, as you cannot cover two fleets.
Keep your weather eye on the boats nearest you in a general way, or have your mainsheet-man do it. Know at all times what is going on with the others. If you see the leader in the other division has a lucky streak of wind, and you are defeating your fleet, go for the other man, as he has become your nearest competitor. In crossing his bows put your boat slightly to windward of his course and ahead, in a position to hurt him as much as possible by breaking up his wind. He quickly sees this and comes about, you following suit on the instant, always keeping between him and the mark. Never let him go for an instant, as your advantage in position is very valuable, even if he is slightly faster.
On rounding the mark get your spinnaker out as quickly as possible, having decided on the last leg to windward on which side to carry your pole, so that there shall be no delay when once around, because your distance will be a great factor when running be-fore the wind, as it is the other boat which then breaks your wind and blankets you.
Take your time in setting the spinnaker, be-cause hurry sometimes spoils everything, and if the sail is set with a twist in it, or gets afoul of something half hoisted, it means loss. If the third boat is near enough to the second, the second will luff out to windward in order to keep her wind clear. Allow her to do this, but hold your course unless she is near enough to bother you, as a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. In an increasing wind the stern boats get it first and so gain, but in a dying wind your slight lead becomes greater in actual time. When you cross the finish line get your light sails off quickly, but do not allow any of the crew to walk around before you have finished, as the least movement hurts the sensitive racer.
In racing boats of the knockabout type, with possibly a crew of three, there is no great necessity of heavy men, except when it is blowing very hard ; then the weight counts a great deal, as the boat is longer on the water-line, keeps her way better through a sea, and is held a little more on her feet and at a proper sailing angle. In light weather, weight is usually a detriment. It is also a great advantage to have the same crew right along, because they finally get to work as one man. Every-body knows what to do without being told. The helmsman can usually steer the boat and either let go a jibsheet, preventer, or back-stay when tacking, leaving only a jibsheet and preventer to be taken in and cleated by the crew. And if the jibsheet-man is quick and gets his jib cleated on the turn or swing of the boat, you will be able to have the crew always on the rail where the weight tells, and is most needed in a breeze, instead of having one of the crew pulling at the sheet to leeward and fooling around in the water, retarding the boat and losing precious seconds, all of which should be saved in the modern racer, when perhaps ten boats will finish within the space of time of one minute.
In the skimming-dish racer, or the unballasted boat, flat bottomed, long flat over-hangs, the positions and actions of the crew are of very great importance. Then it is absolutely necessary for the crew to work from rail to rail, as the boat swings when tacking, attending to their special duties as they move across so as to be in position on the weather rail when the craft fills away. This type of boat is slow in stays compared with the ballasted knockabout, and the skipper can usually give the crew plenty of time if he is careful in the way he tacks. She is light, and consequently her momentum is slight and she loses her headway very quickly. But, on the other hand, her rudders, if she has two, are small, and you must not jamb them across her too quickly, as they will push sideways through the water and kill what headway you have. Feel that they have an effective turning grip on the water and let them go at that.
In the bilgeboard boats, in use for the Seawanhaka International Cup, it is necessary to house one board each time you come about, leaving only the leeward one down. The mainsheet-man can usually slip the one that is lowered, and the regular bilgeboard-man take up on the other. The jibsheet-man can take care of both sheets which are crossed, the leeward one leading to windward, and vice versa, and the helmsman can hold the main-sheet whip for the mainsheet-man as the boat swings, handing it back to him as she fills away. This was the practice on the successful Seawanhaka Cup Challenger "Manchester" in 1905.
These scow boats are designed to sail on a certain list to get the greatest benefit of the long straight side, and they should not be allowed to heel beyond their angle, because the windage of the side coming out to wind-ward is tremendous, and they are apt to slow up badly when knocked down in the hard puffs. It is much better to give them some mainsheet and sail them through the squall with a good full and going fast; then they are manageable, whereas if you allow them to stop they become unmanageable, and the rudders have no effect, comparatively speaking, as they are small and near the surface. The necessity of good handling shows up more in this type than in any other.