A lot of times we round the windward mark, take a deep breath, and hit cruise control until its time to turn back upwind and make some decisions about the breeze. In the skiff, down wind is where we see the largest gains / losses, lead extensions, or contractions of the fleet. Everyone is going fast and mistakes can be costly. Down wind it’s time to get scrappy and work harder to go faster.
Think about how different wind conditions have impacted your lead or opportunity to catch up. Patchy, unstable conditions force boats to connect the dots downwind and compress the trailing boats against lead boats. Jumping early or jibing in pressure pockets creates opportunities for lead changes.
In stable breeze boat speed is king. When everyone travels (relatively) the same speed, having an edge on wave riding, angles, and top end more your boat farther ahead, or closer to your target.
How do we maximize VMG while running? A few key factors that set a foundation for successful VMG downwind are things like: A) Sail trim – matching leech profiles of 3 sails (main, jib, spinnaker); B) Driving Angles – heating up for speed (higher heading), burning off or soaking low (heading), C) Balance of Power & Momentum– 10 % rule [not burning too much speed off before heating it back up], D) Pitch & Heel– boat’s angle of heel and tilt.
WHEN LESS IS MORE
Practicing down winds before the race allows you to work through a checklist. Is the kite rigged properly? Is crew & skipper communication and movement in sync during sets and douses? What’s our [crew and skipper] general position for the current seastate? What are our heading angles in the persistent breeze and oscillation ? Getting a handle on all these prior to the prep signal sets a base of muscle memory and data collection you can refer to while racing.
CHALLENGE TO YOU
Go through these photos from our practice on December 4th. They were taken during our final downwind leg from Stiltsville to the Sailing Center. How did your boat speed and angle match up against the other boats.
SELF REFLECTION | Look at these factors:
Crew weight position: Forward to drive down the bow, back to lift bow out. Distance between crew’s feet. Toggle height. Stance.
Skipper weight position: On the rail, inside cockpit, forward, aft.
Sail position: main (distance between bridle and boom), vang tension, jib position (distance off deck / jib car), where’s the water hitting the hull, kite sheet (clew in = higher heading / clew eased = soaking low).
Now that you’ve thought through these things. What do you want to try next time you go down wind, what changes will you make as a crew, what do you want to change as a skipper?