SOME THOUGHTS ON UPWIND SPEED

by Bill Buchan (PS)

(Starlights, November, 1980)

 

Bill Buchan, by a consensus of his major competitors, is the top Star sailor in the world right now. He has won back‑to‑back Bacardi Cups, the 1979 Baltic Regatta, 1980 Spring Championship and the U.S. Olympic Trials. His formula for winning is no secret -- he simply strives to constantly improve every aspect of his sailing. His thirty years of Star sailing he insists, have clearly taught him that there are no magic buttons to press or hidden rules to beat, that make a Star go faster. To win in the class, he says, you must examine the total effort, i.e. mast, hull, sails, crew, layout, training etc. and constancy try to learn what is best for you. This all translates into a word which is synonymous with Bill's style of sailing - consistency; the consistency of knowing where your settings are the consistency of knowing how to set up the boat in all conditions and change gears if conditions change, and finally, the consistency of making the correct tactical decisions with the idea that winning a regatta is more important than winning an individual race. Here he offers some helpful insight about his approach to tuning a Starboat.

 

Mast Rake

 

The mast should be set up in the boat so that the band on the boom is 3" to 4" beyond the transom with the proper amount of rake and about 4" of prebend forced into the mast by raising the lever. The jibstay/deck attachment should be within 1 inch of being all the way back from point A. I personally don't like to use a measurement for determining rake. I prefer to set up the rig so that I can have the maximum amount of rake and still trim the main hard in 10-12 knots of wind with at least 2‑3 inches of room for some extra trim on the mainsheet in case it is needed. This, of course, requires experimentation. In light air the rake might be increased slightly from this and reduced in the 12‑18 knot range. In the really heavy winds, those over 25 knots, have had good luck by drastically increasing rake. I think the reason for this is that in that wind range you will probably want to ease the main sheet to reduce power which in turn will cause lee helm in any gusts. I combat that with the greater amount of rake to help keep the boat in proper balance.

 

Shrouds

 

The shroud cars for the lower shrouds should be more or less in line with the face of the mast so that their tension doesn't change as the bend and/or rake of the mast is adjusted. The uppers probably want to be from 3"‑6" ahead of the lowers. I personally don't think their placement, as such, has much bearing on speed. Basically they should be forward so that the uppers tend to loosen when the mast is raked forward on a run. Having the uppers forward will also help so that when you are sailing upwind the uppers will tend to tighten as mast bend increases, which should keep tip sag to a minimum.

            As for shroud tension, I am currently sailing with a slightly loser rig than I might have had last year. My reason for doing this is that when the rig is super tight the mast seems less responsive to changes in wind strength in that the mast acts like it is pre‑bent which in fact it is. At the same time, however, I am tightening my backstays very hard as soon as the conditions are such that a tight jibstay is in order. That time of course is dependent on wind velocity, water conditions, type of jib being used etc.

 

The Jib

 

For determining proper jib trim and lead position I like to duck under the boom (before the start of the race) and sight up towards the clew of the jib with my eye more or less in line with the leeward cockpit coaming. What I like to see is the lowest batten turned slightly to windward of this line with the next batten pointing straight back and the top one falling off slightly. Most fibs can be set up to conform with this guide line by a combination of proper sheet trim and jib lead position both fore and aft and athwartships.

            I have found recently that I can sail with my jib sheeted harder than I used to think was proper if I am careful with my steering. Most people will find that their speed to windward will increase if they tend to trim rather hard but as I just stated your helmsmanship better be excellent or your sails will be stalled a good part of the time.

            If you get caught with a jib up that is too flat, particular near the luff, some relief can be gained by letting the jibstay sag. This idea isn't revolutionary but what may be, is that the leads should move outboard at the same time. If you don't, then the effect of sagging the jibstay will be similar to moving the leads inboard which would be totally wrong if you are sailing in the conditions where you need more fullness, such as rough water and/or light winds. Taking a little tension on the forestay to steady the rig is also helpful and it allows you to trim the main without having the effect of tightening the jibstay at the same time.

 

The Main Traveler

 

I have a difficult time arriving at firm conclusions regarding main traveler settings. I guess what seems to be best for me is to consider the traveler as something that needs to be experimented with constantly. A few years back the sails being built by the various sailmakers were too full down low with lots of leech twist built in as you neared the top of the sail. With this sail the traveler was nearly always in the center. Today's mainsails seem to be much flatter down low with relatively less twist allowing the sail to be sheeted tighter without over tightening the leech in the area of the lower batten. With this type of sail much more is to be gained from proper adjusting of the traveler. I guess what all this suggests is that there are reasons to adjust the traveler but I wouldn't attempt to prescribe what the settings are. In fact what seems to work one day may not work the next under what may seem to be identical conditions.

            Being able to keep a Star in proper balance through the proper combination of mast bend, main and jib sheet trim, jib lead position and traveler setting is far more important than any other group of items in attaining winning speed. Unfortunately, in trying to solve this riddle, I haven't been able to find any short cuts other than spending lots of time sailing under racing conditions in a fleet of good, competitive boats. I think you have to develop a sense for when the boat is moving well then keeping it going through a wide range of conditions. I have always felt that a Star is the easiest boat in the world to steer once everything is set up properly.

 

The Hull

 

It has been stated over and over again that the hull of any racing yacht should be light, rigid, fair, and of the proper hull form to be competitive so I will try to keep from mentioning the obvious items. What isn't widely known is that there are certain peculiarities with regard to Stars that should be pointed out.

            For instance, the chines of a Star need particular attention. It is my belief that they should be rounded to the maximum (~2~) radius from the stem back to the area between station 7 and 8 where they should be gradually sharpened.

 

The Keel

 

The keel of a Star, being of a rather unusual shape, also has problems not encountered in other classes of boats. Without getting into a discussion about the different shapes of keels, I think that there are a few items that are important no matter whose keel you have. One is that the fin should be near minimum thickness 3/4" with the leading edge reasonably circular in shape and reaching maximum thickness about 4" back. The back end of the fin and the bulb should be tapered gradually forming relatively flat surfaces that meet to form a really sharp edge. The attitude of the keel flat seems to make some difference. It seems that for most boats a reliable measurement would be to measure 48" down vertically from the knuckle of the stem and then to sight from this point along the bottom of the keel. The keel should be in line with this mark or slightly down at the back end. It helps to be in a slightly nose‑up condition for heavy air off the wind speed for some reason.

 

The Rudder

 

The rudder should be near maximum thickness (1 1/8") particularly in the area immediately below the skeg and the leading edge should be a little more parabolic in section than the keel, reaching its maximum thickness about 30% of the way back from the leading edge. The top of the rudder should be squared off and lots of attention given to making it as close as possible to the hull bottom. Some advantage might be gained with a more vertical rudder post so that the rudder can fit more closely to the hull without hitting. Another advantage with the vertical post is that the leading edge becomes more raked aft so that it catches less grass.

            These are a few ideas that I have developed over the past several years. From time to time new techniques have come along and will continue to do so, that have replaced what seemed so definitive. The one thing that hasn't at least in my experience, is that the sailors who spend less time worrying about gimmicks and more time concentrating on the basics of sailing usually come out ahead.