LightAirsIt is now June, and Winter has finally arrived in earnest with the first real cold snap of the year sweeping across the State earlier in the week.

As we all know though, June can be a mixed bag of biting cold fronts, and pleasant highs, with light airs.

This year for the first time, we have chosen to open our Winter Series ahead of the Mt. Buller ski lifts, and as luck would have it, conditions are shaping up to once again deliver light, challenging conditions, to test the patience and seldom-used light air sailing skills of our new-look winter fleet of 21 competitors.

Having had the opportunity to compete in the ORCV Double-Handed bay race in early May, in what proved to be extremely light and (barely) variable conditions which challenged most of the fleet, it has prompted me to look a little harder to find some tips to help us avoid the pitfalls of sailing into the proverbial “hole” in the breeze, as our rival competitors somehow ghost away for no apparent reason.

Or is it?

When you go looking for some tips, you find that a lot of the sound advice has been gathered from years of sailing in European or other Northern Hemisphere conditions, which experience a much higher prevalence of light air racing than we do here, in more-often-than-not, sunny, windy, Australia.

So what do the experts say?

A collection of basic tips, might look something like this:

  1. Start Fast. Arriving at the line on time, at maximum speed in clean air, is crucial in light conditions. Dave Flynn of Quantum Sails says the best way to start is to run up and down the line close reaching, with the correct weight placement throughout the start sequence, and avoid getting caught in clumps of boats, which will take all of your clean air, and smother you for room to build speed to “accelerate” away from the line.
  2. Steer With Minimum Rudder Movement. Captain John Jamieson says that you should steer with absolute minimum movement to reduce resistance and drag over the Rudder. He states no more than 20 of rudder angle should be applied, to maintain momentum and keep you moving, because once you stop, it takes a lot of effort to get moving again.
  3. Maintain Momentum. This sounds pretty obvious, but Steve Benjamin tells Jonty Sherwill of Yachting World that it is vital to keep the boat moving by limiting movement of crew, maintaining heal to leeward which will use gravity to assist whatever breeze there is to fill the sails, and avoid the temptation to change sails, and build apparent wind by maintaining a close reach.
  4. Speed over Height. The experts call it “footing”, steering down 50 to 100 from the usual close-hauled course. Bill Gladstone of North U says this should be combined with easing all sheets, halyards and backstay to promote more shape to your sails to improve airflow over both sides, and introduce twist to the top of both sails to also improve airflow and build apparent wind speed.
  5. Downwind Sailing. Australia’s Michael Blackburn says it is crucial to be just as subtle with your movements when sailing downwind. Big pumps or movements will cause your sails to loose contact with the wind for many metres and take much longer to connect and fill again. He says downwind sailing is largely about “…just sitting still and letting the air hit the sails and push you along.” He also says you should “Take a deep breath occasionally and relax!”

My brief desktop study to find useful tips for light conditions gave a myriad of other tips to help in all sorts of light conditions, including the use of tide and current, reducing sail size for light air sailing, reducing drag, and above all else, practice, practice, practice.

There will be no better conditions to practice than what we will have on offer this coming Sunday, so If you haven’t yet entered, grab your crew, take a few unwanted provisions of your boat, and come and join us for an interesting race in light conditions and test your skills.

The Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions are available from the Race Documents tab above, as is our link to Race Entry.

See you out on the water!

By Matt Fahey.



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