Light Airs - Mark Gillett - Pocket Battleship
Having snatched overall victory in the unusually light airs of this years Hamble Winter Series, I was asked to put together a few thoughts on sailing these boats in the lighter airs. Returning from the East Coast of the US in December 2000, this has been our first season racing the 707 in the UK. Sailing the East Coast in the US is a serious light air affair, so some of the points below are not specific to the 707 fleet … just some helpful reminders of what we already know!
Starting in light air
As with any one design fleet of reasonable numbers, getting clean air away from the start is absolutely paramount in light airs. This is almost 50% of the race won in the large 707 fleet on a short 45 min course, so in light airs we put almost as much effort into this as we do for the whole of the rest of the race. Although the line bias is usually a tempting factor in deciding which end to start, we concentrate on determining which side of the beat is favoured (wind/tide). We tend to pick the end of the line which will get us to this favoured side quickest, and protect that and all the clean air available. Take time to sail to windward and run back down before the sequences start to gain this appreciation and try looking at the other fleets to see which side they figure is favoured, especially the Mumm30's. Finally, whenever we get a poor start we try to escape to one of the sides of the course as quickly as possible to get back into the clean stuff and avoid all the dirt up the middle section. Just remember clean air is worth more when its light.
Downwind in light air
I've heard a few schools of thought on sailing the 707 downwind in light airs, but I'll choose one specific point we've been focusing on during this series in particular. That of boat speed, and the need to keep the boat moving to generate some apparent wind and drive from the spinnaker. This involves sailing higher than you would in a medium breeze to optimise VMG, but just how high do you sail and how best to gauge this ? I am a firm believer that the trimmer should steer the boat downwind in these light conditions, and I don't mean getting hold of the tiller ! The trimmer can best gauge the pressure in the spinnaker, so by calling this all the time (light / medium / good) the helm can sail higher or lower to maintain this optimum pressure. This works to maximise downwind VMG, sailing lower in the puffs and higher in the light spots to deliver rewarding gains. It's good to swap over the helm and trimmer when out practising in light air conditions, you need to calibrate your trimmer to protect that urge to sail too high!