Gybes that Count
When we go windsurfing, one of the most exhilarating manoeuvres we can pull is the carve gybe – a manoeuvre that even the most remote person on the planet can see is beautiful, skilled, poised and somehow effortless and magical to achieve. Timing is everything, strength is not needed for a perfect carve gybe
Why then can’t we take equal pleasure in a great gybe in any boat? The fact is that any planing boat (usually a skiff type boat) can flow from gybe to gybe and look, and feel magnificent. To enter a gybe at speed and seemingly come out faster is a thrill. Its a case of the pros make it look easy, but its not – it requires coordination and skill. Yet this blog is about gybing any boat with a sail and making it feel good, and above all in racing making it pull distance on the opposition.
A planing boat gybe depends on very little aside from the boat having enough speed to generate apparent wind and going faster than the wind on entry to the gybe. The same principles hold for any gybe – if the rig is “”unloaded” – I.e. it is feeling light with no pressure in the mainsail – then a gybe can be set up to flow and gain distance. What do we coach on these boats? THere’s a standard list.
Are we entering the gybe fast enough.
Are there any obstacles in the way (usually waves) to slow the boat down and load the rig on exit.
Where do we place our bodyweight when crossing the boat – fore or aft.
How do we coordinate to keep the boat flat? We don’t want the bow burying, we don’t want it popping a wheelie (going in the air) to create stern drag either.
When do we lose power in the spinnaker and how do we keep momentum whilst getting it across the boat to the new gybe.
How do we come out – high or low in order to maintain or increase pace by making sure we’re hooked in and sheeted on early.
Now all the above apply to planing boats – those boats where speed is easy to achieve to unload the rig by going faster than the wind. The challenge becomes timing and finesse, rather than battling rig loads. All the answers are discoverable through practise, and all the variations of those answers according to conditions are key to success across the range of conditions. The skiff greats flow through them all, and it just takes hundreds of hours of practise!
In the 90s I was talking to a British Olympian sailor, Richard Stenhouse, in Hyeres – a great guy who was one of the real analysts of the game. He sailed a Finn. The regatta had been windy and he’d lost a race by capsizing on his gybe for the line. He said he’d gone into safety mode at over 25 knots, and just wanted to complete the gybe. Now this guy was a hugely talented and very experienced sailor, and he was so upset with himself because he’d not considered in the heat of the moment that his safe gybe was surfing as fast as he could in the big waves to unload the rig, and to then gybe. He talked for ages about it. After he finished with the Finn he became the first Musto Skiff legend, and never faced blowing a gybe again! I mention Richard because it can happen at any level. We are doing well. Caution creeps in. Caution is obviously moderating speed to a fully controlled level. Then gybing becomes risky as we know the rig is going to load on exit. So in any class speed is safety, especially in breeze.
We now come to how we can gain and be fully in control of a gybe in breeze in a Laser, 470 or other non-planing boats without an asymmetric kite. Let’s look at the checklist for skiffs above, and we see a similar pattern emerging.
Check you can go faster than the wind by reaching, surfing, or exiting a big gust.
Check there are no waves that you’re going to plow into and stall the boat.
Practise where your weight needs to be to keep the boat speed up as high as possible.
Don’t use too much tiller (about 10 cm is the max in any boat).
If in a singlehander be very aware of the exit angle to keep speed going and sheeting angle to sustain it or to accelerate.
If in a double hander the coordination between helm and crew, bodyweight.
If in a double hander figure out when to move the pole, if the boat has a kite, and who has what job when it’s happening.
Always exit the gybe with maximum leverage (hiking) to make sure speed is at a maximum, then focus on depth.
There are many nuances to the planing gybe, which can all be figured with a lot of practise. The main thing is it is safe as long as you keep speed, and crisis management is a lot easier than the beam to beam when the rig can suddenly overload. It takes practise, usually encouragement from a good coach, and courage to begin to understand that speed is safety.
At Toplevel Sailing we always encourage innovation, because let’s face it, if we didn’t think our clients were going to be better than we ever were, it wouldn’t be worth our while coaching!