I guess if you put two Laser Sailors into a highly technical two handed dinghy that we might have to learn some stuff along the way. Our season has been pretty challenging, often with speed issues throughout the wind range. Our Nationals had looked promising from the scoreline, but we were always starting well - in fact very well, but we were mostly overhauled on the first beat by the top 5. When the conditions had changed from offshore "gust hopping" to fairly steady wave sailing, our results tumbled from the top 10 to the top 20. We always always struggled to pull the jib in enough as the boat died when we sheeted to what looked the best angle to point. Effectively holding our lane to windward was always a challenge.
We might have finally found a handbrake at the end of Chichester Harbour Federation Week. The weather was fantastic, hot and sunny and rather light. Ideal for sailing in the new Thermaflex Longjohns with perhaps just a Rash Vest and an Aquafleece® as a possible wind chill back up when required. Unfortunatly for us we only found the handbrake on Thursday's race's last beat. I had reduced the rig tension (shroud tension) for the last run and then we both forgot to put it on again. The boat came to life on the next beat suddenly wanting to go to windward rather than feel more like we were dragging her to windward. It now felt like we were sailing a Laser to windward in 20 knots WITH the cunningham ON rather than off. Now that the leeward shroud was flopping more than 6 inches from true, sailing was effortless with some automatic power control; the norm is to snudge up the leeward shroud to stop it dancing. So it was time for some serious head scratching.
So a night of pondering and asking some sage advice from one of our more senior Merlin experts, Dan Alsop. I suggested to Dan that if I were in the Graduate with spreaders that are over supporting the mast, then I would tend to release the rig tension to allow the mast to bend on its own in the lighter winds. I thought that this was a similar situation as we had allowed the mast to bend without the interference of the spreaders by reducing the rig tension. We had our spreaders set up to Taxi's settings, 135mm deflection from the back of the track to a line drawn from each spreader end. Dan suggested we take it to 140mm at first.
Mast down, adjusted and up again and with rig tension at or near our normal (stop the leeward shroud dancing) tension we had a nice 1" of pre bend. It was then that our other diffiuculty at tacking the top batten also hit me like a hammer blow. Too stiff a mast for the sail luff curve and we were always going to suffer from the top batten not crossing - doh.
So back to the first race "with the handbrake off". The boat appeared to zing upwind. We could point with ease. The head of the mainsail was quite full and twisty as we used much less vang tension to take out the bend of the mast in the slot. So now with gust response and a slot that was not choked, the boat felt so very different. When to rake also became obvious, I can't explain why, but once we were over pressed and the boom was off the main traveller, a rouch more rake solved the problem and did not at the same time kill our pointing. Now how much more spreader angle should we experiment with? Would even more pre bend make it better or worse? With Weymouth's Silver Tiller event this weekend, I think we will leave it where it is for now and see if this is yet another ficticious handbrake. Time will tell.