GO Faster Tips

Top Speed

Go Fast Tips from top Class Sailors

Article 01 - Speed Tip: Helming in Over Powered Conditions.
This months Speed tip comes from SoCal Viper sailor Kevin Taugher. Kevin has a long list of accomplishments in different dinghy classes including the 505 and a Laser Masters Championship.

My team and I have been together for about a year and are learning every time we go out. We all bring a skill set and experience from other classes (from dinghies to grand prix keel boats) which sometimes translates and other times doesn't. The Viper is a bit unique in that it's not quite a dinghy and not quite a keelboat, but properly named a sportboat which requires a style of sailing unique to its own. We've been working on a lot of areas, but one area in particular that we've seen some major gains is in balancing the boat upwind in overpowered conditions (15+ knots of wind). This is fresh on my mind as we sailed last weekend in 25 steady and it was really challenging to keep the boat in the groove, but clearly fast when we did.

When conditions get overpowering sailing the boat gets a bit more complex. No longer can you pull the main to the center line and pinch, especially in waves. Some adjustments in rig, hiking, jib and main trim and angle of heel need to be adjusted correctly to maintain consistently good height and speed.

This may come easy to some guys, but it's a challenge and I see lots of teams sailing their boat with too much heel. So what's the optimal angle of heel and how do we maintain it, especially in varying wind and waves? That's the main question. What we don't want is the boat sailing with 10+ degrees of heel or constantly "hobbying" (between flat and heeled). Both are quite slow. As we all know, too much heel increases leeway as well as drag on the keel and rudder and reduces the efficiency of the sails. Hobbying is also problematic. My teammate Mike Pentecost made a good point the other weekend that with the heavy bulb we can't have it moving all around, consistent heel is optimal.

Kevin and crew sailing flat and fast
Kevin and crew sailing flat and fast.

Let's make the assumption that your team is fully hiked and your rig is tuned correctly and that we're tightening the outhaul, cunningham, jib halyard and vang accordingly as the wind builds. It seems that as the wind builds, the vang needs to be progressively tightened. What else can you do to control the boat and when should you act?

As the wind builds and we get overpowered we will need to sail with the boom off centerline. This is where the complexity comes in because as the boom is eased, the top of the mast straightens and the headstay loosens which powers up the jib (what we don't want). The goal is to find the "groove" or sweet spot where we can ease the boom (going sideways not up) without losing too much headstay. This usually means easing the main sheet 2 - 12 inches (off center line) depending on the wind strength. Tighter shrouds help control the amount that the headstay will fall-off. In other words, with tighter shrouds you can ease the main more than with loose shrouds. Some tuning guides also recommend shortening the headstay in big breeze.

I find that the "groove" can be found by sailing with 3 to 5 degrees of heel. The boat seems to feel good and controllable in this angle and the helm is light. At this angle of heel you have the ability to point or foot. Keeping this angle consistently is the real challenge for a helmsman (and a bit difficult to explain, but here goes). In general, what I found that works pretty well is to ease the main a few inches and if still heeled too much I'll need to ease the main more and/or head up a couple degrees to feather the jib temporarily, especially as a puff hits. I look ahead of the bow and by looking at the texture of the water try to gauge the strength and angle of the puff. With this anticipation I will already have the main-sheet uncleated and start to ease the main - and if necessary head-up to maintain the angle of heel as the puff hits. Having the main cleated and easing after the puff hits is a mistake and is going to reduce your response time and will cause your boat to hobby. As the boat settles into the right angle of heel or as the puff eases, I'm able to bear off a couple degrees to a point where the jib is not luffing and also able to bring in the main a little. There will be some variations in techniques depending on the strength of the wind and size of the waves. In really gusty conditions it's also helpful if the fore crew can ease the jib temporarily as the puff hits.

It's important for the crew (and helm if you're comfortable) to look around to help find the optimal VMG upwind by looking at other boats. If you can get better VMG by pointing that can usually be easily solved by sheeting harder (sometimes only an inch or two on the main-sheet). More difficult in these boats seems to be to make the switch to a good bow down fast forward mode (especially in waves). Having a tighter rig and a crew that can hike well makes a big difference. You will also need to ease the main a bit more and probably move the leads aft and a maybe slight ease of the sheet to spill the top of the jib. Easing the jib too much is not good as the jib can get round and too powerful. If you find yourself in a situation where your rig is too loose for the conditions then it seems to help to tighten the vang, ease the main-sheet slightly in puffs and concentrate hard on heading-up to feather the jib rather than further easing the main (as this causes too much headstay sag).

The key point is to put a lot of focus on keeping a constant angle of heel and look around to help find the optimal VMG. Hope this helps.

Article 02 - Team Argo the current North American Champions

This month, our Viper tip comes from Chad Corning. Chad crews for Jason Carroll on Argo. Team Argo is our current reigning North American Champion. Chad takes us on a quick ride around the race course on Argo...

First priority for Argo is to make sure our setup is correct. There are a lot of sail options for the Viper - all have different tuning guides so you need to make sure you¹re in the right zip code for your sailmakers guide. Some of the big things to get right are spreader sweep angle, step position and rake. Once you get to base caliper the shrouds so you can get back to base quickly out on the water. We setup with the North tuning guide which calls for a fairly tight rig. We are always careful to setup on the looser end of the guide¹s suggestions unless we are confident it¹s going to build or be fresh all day. Being caught down range with a tight rig is bad news, no power in the main and no headstay sag so be careful!

OK - we¹re setup now, let¹s get off the dock. Step one for us is to check in at the signal boat and sail at least half the beat. It¹s good to tune with a friend who is same speed or faster than you. After you line up and are comfortable go for a split to see if you can get a feel for the favored side of the course. Do this both upwind and down. Make sure you back down prior to the sequence. Getting into this routine before every race will keep you in tune with the conditions so keep down time to a minimum and make sure it all gets done.

Time to race! Make sure you get solid pings on both ends, especially at a big fleet event with a long line. You¹ve identified the side of the course you like so start at the end that gets you there. Don¹t be afraid to compromise though - if an end is favored and very crowded you¹re going to do better starting away from the pack a bit - only a few boats are going to get out of a crowded end alive. Hopefully you arrive at the weather mark 1st and then best part of Viper sailing begins.

A good setup and solid tactics will pay dividends upwind but you can make huge gains on the runs. A planning keelboat like the Viper is very responsive to good technique downwind. One lesson we learned at the North Americans in Houston last year was how soaked you can sail in light/medium winds. Early in the series we were caught sailing to high at times and we learned to be more aggressive with weight to leeward and weight forward to keep some feel in the boat and to encourage the helmsman to stay down. Once the wind builds above 10 knots it¹s time to change to a hotter mode that will get the boat on the step. As the wind builds through the range it¹s important to hike hard to give the boat all the power it can take.

As it gets very windy remember to sail with the spinnaker sheet fairly eased. This will twist the sail which makes it more forgiving and gives the helmsman the ability to move the bow around. Once it gets over 10 knots we skiff jibe all the time. The keys to a good ³skiffie² are a fairly quick 1st half of the turn coupled with a low (held down) clew backed at the front of the shrouds. This will allow the head of the sail to jibe first which should trigger the release to the new side. Hand speed is king here, if you¹re quick the sail will just set on the new side and you are off. Don¹t be afraid to skiff jibe in very fresh conditions, it can give you more control as you don¹t have the extreme loading that comes when the spinnaker pops after a conventional jibe.

All-right, you¹ve just had an epic run, time for a part of the racecourse with a lot of opportunities to gain and loose - the exit from the leeward gate. Try and identify the correct gate prior to the start by sailing up to them and seeing which is favored. As you approach the gates don¹t be afraid to bail on the favored one if it¹s a particularly heinous traffic situation. This can mean either being behind a long line of upwind boats who will inevitably force one another to tack or sailing through a lot of downwind traffic after you¹ve turned the corner. The air and water will be choppy after you round the leeward mark. Make sure you¹re powered up with eased outhaul, cunno and jib sheet. Once you are through the disturbed air of the downwind traffic get your controls to the normal settings. Sailing this leg within a leg properly can be a huge gain.

A few final points. One of the lurking daemons on the Viper is the takedown line. We religiously coil it before every set and make sure it¹s free to run on the takedowns. We¹re all been there when it goes bad and this is an easy one to control! It¹s a good idea to get an open hook on the boom that will hold the spinnaker halyard up out of the cleat on takedowns. My parting shot would be to remember what a physical boat the Viper is. You get out of it what you put into it so hike hard, dominate the boat in maneuvers and always look to refine your technique!