Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chicken or the Egg

Sprit boats and race course selection. Do you have an opinion? The sprit boat aspect invariably surfaces when suggesting there should be more reach legs offered to augment the current steady diet of Windward-Leeward courses.

While the relevance of this aspect is negligible in one design racing, the opinions get stronger when mixed boats - symmetrical spinnakers and asymmetrical spinnakers - meet in a handicap event.

But what came first: the sprit boats or the focus on windward-leeward race courses? Since the J/105 is considered the first production boat featuring a retractable bowsprit - allowing for an asymmetric spinnaker to be flown - Scuttlebutt contacted J Boats President Jeff Johnstone for some insight into this situation:

"The development of the J/105 in 1991 really had little to do with the style of courses being sailed at the time, and much more to do with finding new ways to sail faster with fewer crew. One-design keelboat racing was already many years into the W/L focused courses, especially in the international classes like the J/22, J/24 and Etchells. Handicap racing at top Race Weeks like Block Island and Key West in the early 90s were mostly on W/L courses. I remember racing on the last triangle course at Key West in 1994. It was a surprise to see it posted on the RC since we had sailed W/L all week. We were in a J/80 and it was blowing 20-25. It was an incredible ride, the highlight of the week, and Onne van der Wal happened to capture it in a picture that's still on the website 16 years later.

"In the more local and regional venues in the 90s, there was still plenty of triangle racing and it's probably a fair statement that the emergence of sprit boats alongside conventional boats probably helped encourage committees to "equalize" the set-up by going with more W/L. It was otherwise hard to establish handicap deltas for a W/L course that would hold up for a triangle course, and vice-versa. Of course, it wasn't long before A-sail shapes quickly evolved to the point where sprit boats were going downhill very well, so for handicap fleets the focus then became more on grouping boats of similar configuration (bowsprit vs. non sprit) as well as similar DSPL/L ratios (planing vs. non-planing) in order to get the fairest racing.

"Reaching is the most fun point of sail there is, so I'd welcome seeing more of it worked back into the RC course options. Besides a lot of us could use one leg in the race where we can just go fast without thinking and then be mentally refreshed to tackle that next beat and run."

COMMENT: In the past 30 months, Scuttlebutt has twice polled its readership on the subject of race course selection. In both polls, when asked if they would prefer more courses signaled that had reach legs, over 70% of the respondents said yes.

2009 poll:
2010 poll:

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At 7:10 PM, Anonymous Barry Demak said...

On SF Bay, the Open 5.70 fleet has organized two "invitational" events, just for us. Golden Gate Yacht Club is hosting us in August. We hope to include more small format sprit boats in the future. The benefit is that the courses, with regard to distance, # of legs, and W/L vs reaching are geared to our boats. We include options for reaching legs if the winds are light. We do something quite outlandish - we communicate with the RC before the race day and between races to "pick" courses that we want to sail.

Sure, VMG "mode" downwind is a lot more tactical - but fast reaching on a plane is a lot more fun!

On most SF Bay days, we have 15+ knots anyway - so this becomes a moot point. But, it's nice to have the option.


At 4:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate reaching legs unless I'm in a dinghy in planing conditions. The other night our RC signalled a triangle and our 6-boat fleet of sprit boats almost mutinied wanting to sail W-Ls so there are some tactics. We sailed the triangle, but the first boat to the weather mark led on both reaches and won the race. Lame! Even though it was me.

At 7:01 AM, Anonymous Erin Schanen said...

Despite the fact I do the majority of my sailing on a sprit boat, I'm pretty surprised by the results of your surveys. I can't believe so many people want to parade around the race course with little opportunity for passing lanes.


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