The Boathandling Edge: Speed Through the Corners

by Nick Trotman
reprinted from Fall 1994 Tank Talk

Because of the many variables involved in racing a 505 it is easy to forget about the fundamental importance of good boat handling. For example, an entire series can be decided on the final tack as two boats converge on the finish line. Having hardly perfected this aspect of 505 sailing, compared to some of the middle aged masters of the 505 Class, I do feel as though I have a good understanding of what to do. The key lies in simplifying each person's role, then practicing until it becomes instinctual. Because 505s are a blast to sail, practicing is also a blast (imagine if they were Widgeons or some other tubby daysailor).

The ability to consistently execute good roll tacks can be a powerful tool in racing. There are three essentials to good tacks: timing, steering, and sail trim. Perfect timing involves both skipper and crew rolling at the same time. The only way to achieve this symmetry is through practice, which is so fun it should be easy. Proper steering through tacks can really help you gain distance to weather and ahead. By starting your turn slowly and carrying the momentum, you can track to weather as well as keeping speed out of the tack. However, when in Santa Cruz, turn the boat quicker and focus more on getting the boat going after the tack or you will stall. The most important factor in good tacks is sail trim. As you flatten out of a roll tack your apparent wind moves aft, so to maintain perfect sail trim you should ease your sails as if tight reaching. Then once you have flattened, the sails should be trimmed in, which also acts as a quick pump for that extra burst of speed.

The next crucial maneuver is the set. After rounding the weather mark it is often wise to reach off to set up in a high lane, depending on the amount of traffic behind. Mike and I have simplified our sets so we each have three jobs. The skipper's jobs are first to ease the vang as we round, then bear off and hoist the chute, and once it is up square the guy back. Meanwhile the crew, after he has come off the wire, hosts the board up, then sticks the pole out, and finally grabs the sheet and goes out on the wire. For launcher boats it is probably a bit easier, but we have yet to experience that.

As you approach the jib mark, it is important to set up a boat length to weather of the mark. The jibe should take place just before or as you round the mark, which may seem early but is necessary to defend the high lane. The skipper's roles are to cleat the main leaving enough room between the boom and the shroud to allow the pole to retract. Then as the crew comes off the wire, the skipper takes the sheet and keeps the boat going full speed into the turn. As the boom comes across, the sheet gets dropped and the guy (new sheet) gets grabbed and yanked as the skipper crosses the boat, then passed in front of the mainsheet to the crew once their jobs are complete. The crew has much more to do, starting first with taking the pole down, then pulling the boom across while switching the twings, then putting the pole back out, and finally going out on the wire as the skipper hands him the sheet.

The last move is the take-down which can be done in a variety of ways depending on the conditions and where the chute enters the boat. The essence of a good takedown is perfect timing so that as the chute is stowed and the pole down, the crew goes out and you turn the mark ready for the next leg.

Simplifying the roles and practicing hard with turning marks and other boats will dramatically improve your boat handling and your confidence in the boat. The less you have to consciously think about the maneuvers, the more you get to focus simply on tactics, and that is what the game is all about. Have Fun!