By Brian Hayes
Connecticut-Rhode Island District
1993 North American Champion
(From Racing the Lightning)
I have always believed that everyone should have many different interests and hobbies in life. Too much of one thing generally leads to stagnation and boredom. I think that you have to have the proper balance in your life to be happy and successful.
“Alright,” you may ask, “but what does that have to do with Lightning sailing?” To be honest, EVERYTHING!!! Just as you need to constantly change and try new things to avoid becoming stagnant, the Lightning needs constant movement and adjustment so that it can be sailed at its fastest all the time. The following are some ways we use to make sure that we have the right BALANCE when we race the Lightning.
Checking Your Upwind Heel
The first thing that you should realize is that the Lightning is a hard-chined, very square, flat boat!! if you could look, from under water, at a Lightning sailing at various heel angles I think many people would be surprised at how drastically the profile of the boat changes with just a few degrees of heel.
When sailing upwind the middle crew is responsible for making certain that the boat has the proper heel and that the crew weight is positioned correctly fore and aft. You should make certain that the transom is never dragging in the water. if it is, move your weight forward. You also need to maintain proper heel angle. in very light air we try to have the boat heel so that the weather chine is about 4” to 6” out of the water. This will allow gravity to fill your sails without sliding to leeward when a puff hits. If there is a lot of chop you will need to heel more to get the forward section very narrow and pointed so the boat does not pound in the waves. In flat spots you can sail the boat a little bit (2” to 3”) flatter.
In moderate wind conditions we usually have the middle crew turn around so that their chest leans on the rail. This allows them to (a) see the race course a little easier so that they can give good tactical information to the skipper, (b) keep their upper body and head out of the skippers line of sight and (c) gives them ability to quickly check over the weather side to monitor the heel of the boat by checking to see how far out of the water it is. In moderate air we try to keep the chine out of the water about 2,” this is about 8 to 10 degrees of heel. These are the conditions when subtle changes in weight can make huge differences in pointing and speed. There should be constant adjustment to keep this angle of heel.
In heavy air the middle crew will basically disappear over the side until the weather mark (when they will need you to fly the spinnaker). In these conditions the balancing of the boat and keeping the proper heel becomes the responsibility of the skipper. It is very important to keep the boat as flat as possible. As the boat heels more the centerboard loses its hydrodynamic efficiency and you will slide to leeward. The skipper must steer and play the backstay, bridle and mainsheet to keep the boat tracking and flat.
The secret of keeping the Lightning going fast at all times is having your crew working in unison so that you maintain the proper heel angle. If you practice sailing your boat focusing on keeping the proper balance it will give you and your crew a “sixth sense” and feel for the boat so that maintaining boatspeed will become second nature.