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Learning the New Toy - Merlin Racing
By Steve Cockerill
I always love the learning process working out what makes a boat tick. The key driver is time and an open mind, at least that's what I keep telling myself. Time to experience and analyse the boat's and our performance in different conditions.
I guess we can call it our post race analysis, but between sailing in chatting, driving home chatting or discussing our feelings with other experienced sailors such as Dick Batt of Batt Sails - each one adds another clue to resolve 'how to' or 'does it work?'
Another invaluable tool is our GoPro camera. I have tested other cameras that are more moderately priced, but for clarity of picture, the GoPro really hits the spot. You will see that I have been playing around with a suitable mount for the camera on the Merlin - and I have finally settled on upside down on the boom. I managed to rotate the video myself using quicktime and then uploaded it direct to Youtube. I had originally placed it on the tiller of the Merlin - but I could not see the horizon which is a must to analyse our trim.
Despite this, it told us very simply that in 30 knots we either need the kite up downwind - or we both need to be sitting on the transom!
So here is our first capsize.
And it also showed us that our transom flaps worked!
But once the kite is up and you are on a reach - the boat is a bit like a tiger in a cage - things happen a bit too fast at the moment. The camera mount has fallen over in this shot - but the water in the cockpit floor is reassuringly level.
Our experiences of the Snowflake races at Chicheter Yacht Club is that its probably sailing craft that is keeping us at the front of the fleet (despite our capsize). We are still trying to work out what rake to use and when and how much lowers or vang to use, where to sit for the best place in light and strong winds as well as who does what when.
We were excited to go and race in more open water at the Winkle of the Harbour at Mengham Rythe Sailing Club as we were to meet some of the fast Hayling Merlins in a gusty 10- 14 knots.
Psyched up - we went for the favoured end of the start line that was perhaps in the most tide:
The start was unfortunately recalled and the pin was moved substantially down. A safe mid line start above the sag then left us in the hunt at the first mark, but not at the front of the fleet and we never really recovered to pass the two well sailed Flying Fifteens, despite the fun we had on the first reach:
I am not sure how far to sit forward downwind in this semi planing mode as yet - time will tell - too many down the mines and I'll need to sit further back - but the transom wake was giving it away bubbling too much - so I was probably a bit too far back. (still cautious after the last capsize perhaps?)
Some said that it was the Flying Fifteens ideal course with lots of running (second reach was a long run as well as the prescribed run) but our pace against them slowly improved throughout the race. First we tried footing underneath them to windward - that did not work. Then finally we sorted the windward heel on the last beat and actually caught the Flying Fifteens on the beat for the first time. In the end we were first Merlin by a couple of mins, but still only finished 8th overall on handicap - but I thought this boat was a handicap bandit? The race was won by a Contender, with two foiling moths, another 2 Contenders and two Flying Fifteens to us in 8th.
Post race analysis - or more like chatting on the way in - we figured that we should have gone for more mast rake to windward with more lower tension so we could have had the jib more powered up making the boat feel more manageable which would have made it easier to hold it on top of us. But I also have a niggling worry that I also need instant mainsheet power control to give me the confidence to hold the boat on top of us. Not sure if we will get that extra power from the lowers and vang or mainsheet - but we might be running out of range on the mainsheet hoop to close the leach when sheeting when we have more rake?*? Time will tell :)