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2010-09-18

Thoughts on efficient sailing

IN a recent discussion from a sailing forum in which I participate, the usual question of "what cruising boat should I get?" came up, and is usual with these sort of discussions, the merits and flaws of the more traditional, heavy displacement, cubic metres of tankage-style of cruisers came up, specifically the Island Packet line. Bob Perry, noted naval architect and writer (and designer of boats both heavy and light), noted:

"Listen, my pal with the IP 38 races it! He enters single handed events on the great lakes and he does quite well. He loves to tell me ( ad nauseum) about how he can beat a Valiant 40.
" Ok, so once you beat a Valiant 40 now shut up."

Making a boat go or not go is usually far more about the sailor than it is about the boat. Many IP owners are non racers and less than skilled sail trimmers. They could make the latest IRC racer go slow, very slow.
Sure the IP will not be as close winded as some boats but you can foot off a bit, sail the boat on the fat side and just let her roll along and you'll do just fine."--Bob Perry from anything-sailing.com

To which I replied: This is true. If I can make this thing sail at 4.5 in 9 knots apparent, anybody can trim any boat to its maximum potential, which may prove surprising not only to the guys on the race course, but to the skipper!


I consider it a truism that while not every boat is a racer, but any boat can be raced.

Most people, with the exception of racers, don't realize their boat's full sailing potential (and I don't just mean speed, but rather efficiency of the boat slipping through the water, making the minimum of lee, and having the ballast organized to provide the smoothest ride, among other considerations). Yes, some boats are inherently slower than others, measurably so. But technique and familiarity are key, and this is why I tend to cruise as if I am racing in the sense that I took all I learned in five years of flag-winning club racing (which is not all there is to learn, by a long shot) and transferred that to cruising.

Why? Because a boat sailed efficiently is a happy boat, with a happy skipper. It is fulfilling its reason to be.

Sometimes, the key to learning where to start is from crewing on the boats of others, or reading books or mucking around in dinghies or even looking at your own boat in a new light. About six years ago, I switched to a Gori folder and took about 300 pounds of gear out of my 9,000 lb. '70s racer-cruiser. The difference was noticeable and I found further tuning and sail trimming "fixes" that made the boat even more of a pleasure to sail than it already was. I transferred this knowledge to our newer steel "old shoe", and found similar "gains", although obviously to a different scale and degree. Still, it surprised more than one observer, crew or passenger to see such a big, heavy boat move in light air and manoeuver with something approaching grace.

Playfulness leavened with science will tell anyone more about their boats, even if it's generally thought to be a slowpoke. An example: My steel cutter [I]Alchemy [/I]is getting its batteries increased in weight by about three times, but they are moving forward to the CG under the mast. The new engine will be about 150 pounds lighter and about 1,200 pounds of lead ingots in the bow will be replaced by chain and tools, which are coming out of the pilothouse lockers. The water tankage remains the same at 200 gallons, but is moving down onto the stringers and frames instead of mounting beneath the side decks (this was a poor choice by the P.O.). Lastly, I'm putting on a feathering prop. My experience with both a folder and my friend "Cap'n Matt's" experience on his steel ketch with an Autoprop convinced me that a fixed prop, while mechanically simpler and much cheaper, created unacceptable drag.

I expect all these efforts to have a salutary effect on the boat's sailing characteristics and to increase both stability and "sea kindliness". Yet it is sometimes assumed that given that it's a 15-16 tonne boat, there is very little I can do that will have much of an effect.

That is not my experience. Any boat and any skipper can be improved. Sometimes it's about learning or relearning many of the basics of sail power; other times it's about removing heavy crap out of the boat or to a better spot. Skippers in the age of sail knew this about "ballast" intimately, because poorly stowed ballast could kill you if it degraded the handling of the boat or caused unacceptable losses of stability.