It was awesome to have 6 boats out on the water and to work on speed and boat handling in heavy wind conditions. I’m going to review the specific techniques we talked about to execute gybes in heavy air, and then I will switch focus to discuss some elements of speed. Please read both the skipper and crew sections so that you know what is going on in your sailing partner’s world.
For gybes both skipper and crew need to be extremely stable, and putting their bodies in a position where they can push themselves across the boat, against their momentum that wants to throw them out of the boat as it turns. If you do not provide a centripetal force (a “center seeking” force) in the form of pushing yourself off the windward rail towards the new windward side, then you will fall out or get stuck on the weather side of the boat (new leeward side).
Crews are especially susceptible to being thrown out of the boat in a gybe. Skippers should be aware of this and give a countdown so that the crew knows when to go in, and so that they know that the turn will not start before they are ready. When you are ready to go in, you should lead with your shoulders and end up standing with your feet, butt, and shoulders all lined up. If you do not do this one part of your body will be left behind! It is really good to be standing on the rail and leaning inwards. Your weight is still on the rail and you can push off with your feet at any moment. If you are perfectly vertical or leaning outwards, the turn could throw you off balance.
It is very important to make sure that the spinnaker sheet does not ease excessively as you come into the boat. This means that you will have to do something to trim in the sheet as you come in. Dane and I seemed to agree that the best way to do this is to keep the sheet in your back hand and raise it above your head and outward as you come in, then once you let go of the puck you can use your front hand to grab the sheet again and trim in even more if necessary. Once you are in the middle of the boat you will need to “check” the kite. The idea is to pull the old sheet in quickly just before pulling the spinnaker over so that the leach of the spinnaker is straight and under control before you pull it over. If you check too early in the turn the wind will immediately fill the spinnaker again and it will be useless. If you check too late the top half of the spinnaker has likely already twisted and crossed in front of the luff. The result of checking too early or too late is basically the same, the spinnaker will come out twisted.
Proper footwork for a crew in a gybe is front, back (optional shuffle step) new back, new front. Visualize the footwork as I describe it. Front foot slides forward and in, planting on the wing inside the rail but outside the outermost toe bar. Back foot steps across to the hiking strap area on the new side. After pulling the spinnaker across you can do a little shuffle so that you new front foot is on the outer toe bar, or you can just stay in the middle. Either way, as the boat loads up on the new side jump out onto the trapeze landing with your back foot just before the front on the rail.
Skippers have to get the tiller under the mainsheet before they cross the boat. There are a few different ways to do this, but I prefer to hold my tiller extension close to the end, get up, and as I move towards the center I push my mainsheet hand forward. This keeps the main from easing too far and gives me room to pass my tiller extension under/behind the mainsheet and under the boom. My mainsheet hand then goes on top of the boom and my tiller extension hand goes outward so that my tiller extension is pointing at the new rail. My feet are wide, I have full control of steering in both directions, and I have the main pinned in the center right above my hand. I often pull down a bit on the main to further support myself and too keep the leech tight so I can further depower the main. Once the spinnaker comes across I can let go of the boom, take a seat on the new rail, and switch my hands.
Footwork: Just before the gybe pull your back foot out of the hiking strap so that it is ready to step across. As you stand up push off of your front foot hard and step all the way across to just inboard of the hiking strap area with your back foot. Then do a small shuffle step, new back, new front, and hook that front foot under the new hiking strap. As you hit the rail you can hook your new back foot under the strap too.
I hope this helps you all think about gybes in a more detailed way. Always start with the big picture: flat boat, full speed, smooth turn, and then focus on how to achieve that with very specific details. Please try to go through this process with tacks and ask me if you have any questions. I look forward to working with you all at the next training opportunity.
- Coach Neil