The Art of Reaching

As mentioned in our previous blog reaching is considered as a dying art as the reaching legs become shorter and many classes only sail a windward leeward course

However the technical abilities to be fast on a reach and control your angle of sailing are still worth mastering as every small gain to be made is worth a while. It is incredible how many boats you can take on a reach if you are both fast and smart.

In this blog we will mainly discuss reaching with a symmetrical spinnaker but the principles apply to slow single handed dinghies (laser, Optimist) skiffs and foiling boats

There are many differences in techniques between various wind and sea conditions but the following are similar at all times:

Power settings – It is as critical to have the correct power settings to the given conditions and the angle of sailing when reaching as it is for going upwind, In light winds we will require more power than in stronger winds, in a broad reach we will require more power than in a tight reach. We can depower our sails by flattening them by bending the mast for the main either by pulling the cunningham or by dropping the kicker to open the leech and lose pressure of the sail, by lowering the pole for the kite to flatten it. Or power up the sails by pulling some kicker for the main which will close the leech and keep more power at the top of the sail (be careful not to pull too much as it will bend the mast and depower the sail or kill airflow by hooking the leech) and raising the pole for the kite which will give us a fuller and more powerful kite.

Airflow – as reaching will be the fastest our boat can sail we have to ensure we have optimal airflow over the sails, the main aspect we have encountered with sailors in symmetrical spinnaker classes such as 420 and 470 is the flow line between the jib and the main, in lighter winds having the jib slightly tight or loose might slow you down a little, but in stronger winds having the jib too tight can make it impossible to sail and depower the boat, over and over again we see sailors struggling with the boat in strong winds due to that fact, the faster we go it is crucial to allow good air flow between the jib and the main. Symmetric spinnakers are a bit tricky since we can adjust the pole height and alter the shape of the spinnaker, as a principal we are interested in keeping both clews of the spinnaker at the same height to ensure maximum power to our kite, the lower the pole is the tighter and flatter the luff of the spinnaker becomes and should allow us better control of our attack angel to the wind, in some situations it will flatten the spinnaker and reduce power, we as sailors need to be able to distinguish between the different needs of the leg, the sails we are using and the sailing conditions to be able to decide our optimal pole height.

Hull or foil drag – with this factor there are differences between classes that can lift their center boards and classes with a fixed center board such as 49er, the principal is that the faster we go the more lift the center board and rudder will generate, the fact there is a body in the water slows the boat down as it creates drag, if we are sailing a class that allows us to lift the center board the stronger the wind and the faster we go the less centre board we will need in the water (actually the same is valid for sailing upwind), lifting the centre board to the right position, based on wind and sea state and angle of reaching will generate less drag in the water and will help us to go faster, the speed differences due to this factor can be significant.

Rudder pressure is another important issue, as our boat goes faster every rudder movement will slow our boat down, it is important to set the sails and control the heel of the boat to eliminate any rudder pressure (regardless of wind speed though more damaging in stronger winds), in some conditions being too slow to react to leeward heel generated may cause the boat to stall (mainly 420 and 470) which may lead to a capsize.

Hull drag varies between displacement mode in which keeping the waterline as long as possible will maximize your boat speed and planing mode in which your boat surfs its own bow wave, finding the right position to allow planing or maintain planing may be tricky, sometimes your boat will be planing but still generate a lot of hull drag because your bow might be too high out of the water, in other occasions your bow might be too low which may cause the occasional pitch pole (nose dive), or even worse big drag – so basically we are required to continuously adjust our position while planing to ensure our boat keeps planing for as long as possible and as fast as possible.

After giving all the above consideration one of the most important abilities to go fast in semi planing or fully planing conditions is the ability to steer the boat and keep it planing longer and better than others, it takes great skill and concentration both from the helm and the crew to ensure the boat keeps planing, the main factor is keeping some amount of pressure on our sails, it takes talent to be able to feel it, we usually see sailors bearing away too deep to reduce pressure and control the heel of the boat to a phase in which they lose too much power and the boat simply stops planing, feeling the exact point in which your boat will require to luff back up and maintain pressure and planing can make a huge difference to the overall of your reach.

At TopLevel Sailing we ensure our sailors understand the different aspects and develop a feel for the boat and the team work needed to sail a reach as fast as they can.

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