Wing on Wing and Win!
The recent America’s Cup and Annapolis Yacht Club’s weekly “frostbite racing” have a lot more in common than you might think. The courses are short, there are boundary lines, nobody is hoisting a chute at the windward mark and velocity made good or VMG is the holy grail of performance. What is different is how we maximize VMG downwind.
Frostbite racing brings out some pretty cool techniques that challenge many racers. During the summer racing season when you round the windward mark it is normal to set the chute and reach your way down the leeward leg. Due to concerns about safety spinnakers stay in the sail loft during the frostbite season and therefore downwind frostbite sailing presents a different challenge. Often, it pays to sail “wing on wing” downwind.
With no spinnaker most boats will sail faster by going directly downwind or even slightly by the lee rather than reaching. While the boat generally sails faster on a reach, the extra distance you sail cannot be overcome by the increase in the speed. Your “velocity made good” downwind then is best when you sail directly downwind. This summer, while sailing aboard a client’s beautiful Sabre 402 we demonstrated this very fact. We were deep reaching at 6.2 kts and I suggested that our VMG to the mark (20 degrees lower than we were sailing) would be better if we gybed the mainsail and went “wing on wing.” The client was dubious but we headed down, gybed the main and sailed directly a the target at 6 kts. The two-tenths loss was easily overcome by sailing a shorter distance to the target.
During frostbite this happens regularly. The course makers do a good job of picking courses that have a dead downwind (DDW) leg and getting your boat wing and wing can have impressive results. Here are some reasons why:
- Boat Speed – as discussed above your boat speed doesn’t drop appreciably when you sail wing and wing. More to the point, your boat speed doesn’t increase enough when you reach to overcome the extra distance sailed. Point at the mark!
- Tactically – Passing downwind has as much to do with position as it does boat speed. If you can position your boat “inside” of another boat then even if you are behind – you are entitled to rounding the next mark on the inside and shorter track. Rounding the windward mark and gybing to a wing on wing configuration will often allow you to gain or protect the inside while the boats that sail wide around the windward mark provide a lane for you to attack. All things being equal, in a port rounding scenario – gybing to the inside will give you a starboard inside position at the next mark – and that’s powerful!
There are times when wing on wing isn’t the right play. In very light and patchy winds it can pay to reach downwind as you “connect the dots” from puff to puff. The extra distance sailed is worth it, because you average more time in more wind. Furthermore, when you are leading it can pay to reach into a clear air lane rather than immediately going wing on wing. By “cashing in” some of your lead you can be sure to have clear air down the run – as the boats behind will be working hard to put their wind shadow on you.
Here is a great video from the most recent America’s Cup that highlights just how important VMG really is.
Go faster by figuring out what the best VMG angle is! This winter we will be hosting several strategy and tactics seminars that cover this and other important concepts. Interested in learning more? Give us a call today.