SOME TIPS FROM BILL BUCHAN
(Starlights, June 1986)
When you were an up‑and‑coming young sailor, what type of training program did you follow?
Bill: "It seems as though it's been going on for ever. I've always just been in a sailing frame of mind. Sailing has always been first and foremost. I've never done a lot of actual training in the pure sense, but I've always had a mental state that was geared toward my sailing ever since I was a youngster. I have my business and a family, with all the responsibilities, but sailing was always right there. The training I went through was actually more a mental state than actual hard core training with a particular goal in mind. I love to sail, and do a lot of it. It was very much a gradual thing.
From time to time when I felt I had a good boat or a good combination going, I'd get my enthusiasm up and point for a particular regatta. Then I'd feel I realistically had a chance to do well and would put more effort into it. That was the case with the Olympics.
So it comes down to a lot of years of the same level of activity with four or five big efforts in my sailing career.
I've always put in a lot of time on my equipment. If there was any particular effort, it was in lots and lots of hours put into my gear, working on special mast set‑ups, being meticulous about everything on the boat. Even though it might not always look as though I'd put that much time into it, the things that matter received a lot of time, especially in days of wood boats. It's not an exaggeration to say I've spent ten times more hours working on the boats as sailing them.
If you don't enjoy working on the boat and aren't willing to spend the time developing your own set‑ups, you just won't get the results. The sailor who expects to buy a winning combination and goes crying to his sailmaker or boat builder when he doesn't win is following a tough program that isn't likely to bring success.
I guess I need that psychological lift from putting my own gear together. I like the feeling, whether it's there or not, that I might have put together a package that's better than anyone else's."
Do you think the young sailors are spending more time in the boats than they used to?
Bill: "We used to have to put more time into working on the wood boats. Now that time is available to sail. A number of young sailors postpone their careers, manage to get some financing, and do a lot of sailing. They don't spend anywhere near the time on the boats that I do. The average 25 year old has probably spent as many hours on the water as I have at age 50."
Where should a sailor concentrate his efforts in order to improve?
Bill: "If you always sail in the same' class with the same guys, the pool of information you can call upon is somewhat limited. My most valuable sailing experiences have always been when sailing with and against sailors who were better than I was. Even though I've always been a Star sailor, people don't always realize how much sailing I've done on other types of boats, especially when I was younger. One of the reasons it took me so long to attain the level I've reached now was that I spent so much time sailing here in Seattle. There are a lot of good sailors in Seattle, but you have to get out and have new experiences. You can't act like you know it all. You have to keep your options open. I think I've been very good at that. I'm very receptive to new ideas. When I start thinking I know it all, I'll know that's the beginning of the end. Some people need that positive attitude, that they know this is it. They're so positive about it being right that they can make it be right. I'm not that kind of person. There are a few things that I'm reasonably certain about, but not many. In a nut shell, if a guy is plodding along and seeming not to improve, the best thing he can do is to get out of the sphere in which he's sailing.
Over the years people have come into the Star Class that have been very good. When Buddy came into the Class he was just plain sailing at a better level than we were. I realized we just had to get to a higher level. I'm pleased that we've apparently been able to do that. I'm not sure we're to Buddy's 1978 level, but we've attained the level that he is now. Over the years I've come up against some good sailors that made me wonder if I was in the wrong sport. But I just stayed with the program and was able to wear 'em down. Some of the Germans made us look like fools five years ago, but we've learned from them and now can successfully compete with them."
How can the average guy become more knowledgeable about sail shape and boat shape?
Bill: "Again, you have to broaden your experience base. I think it was very valuable to me to have come along in the days of the wood boat. Over a ten year period I used to build a new boat about every second year. I was always experimenting with hull shape. That sort of thing is ancient history to the newcomers in the Class. The hull shape lessons I discovered for myself in the sixties still apply today. I built a round bottom boat, a flat bottom boat, a narrow boat, a wide boat, a boat light in the ends. I guess I never tried to build a boat heavy in the ends. I tried different shaped keels. All the different things. A lot of this was wasted effort. After a time you begin to develop a feel for what works best, even though it is difficult to determine what factor has the most influence on the speed of a particular boat. Some years I intentionally did not get a new sail so I could better evaluate the changes I made in the hull with the variable of the sail remaining constant.
The hull shape I developed for the 1961 World's is very, very similar to the hull I sail today. There just is not much difference. I fail to see that there is a better hull shape out there today than that shape. It's basically a narrow, flat fore and aft, fairly round athwartships kind of hull shape. There may be some better hulls in some conditions, but for an all around boat, especially in moderate air and rough water, I think my hull shape is just as good as any other. Again, widen your experience base, sailing other kinds of boats. Some of the biggest clews to hull shape I picked up by paying attention to the hull shapes in other classes. Bruce Kirby wrote an article on International 14 hull shapes several years ago that just opened my eyes to what was wrong with the direction I was going with Star hull shapes. I applied what he had encountered in International 14s to one aspect of the Star shape and the next Star I built was far superior to my previous boats."
What hull shapes are fastest on different points of sail?
Bill: "It appears that if the boat is fairly round at the bow, has a fairly deep forefoot, and fairly rounded contours at stations 3 though 5, it will tend to be fast to weather in rough water, but tend to be slower off the wind in semi‑planing conditions. When it's really planing conditions, then everybody planes. The flatter hull shape at stations 3 through 5, athwartships and fore and aft, is faster in semi‑planing conditions but that boat will tend to be a little slower to weather. It tends to have a little wider shape going through the water. There has to be a compromise. My current boat is sort of half way between. It's fairly deep on the centerline in stations 3 through 5. The chines are also fairly deep. It is not at a big disadvantage in any conditions. I have a sneaking suspicion it may not be too great in real light weather, but we haven't sailed in light weather with it so I'm not real sure if there is a problem or not. We won the two lightest races in the Trials, so maybe we're OK.
I'm pretty sure that the aides or a Star should be vertical. The boat should be narrow on the chines at station 6, so the boat ends up being narrow at the deck at station 6, not very much flair. I have minimum beam at the waterline and average beam at the deck. But the deck beam from station 6 to the transom is pretty close to minimum and likewise forward except wider at station 1. That's where we differ from the Italian designs, they have more flair and are certainly successful, so I'm having a hard time saying that's not the way to go. But I personally believe that for all around conditions a Star boat should be designed with the sides fairly vertical. If you knew you were going to sail in heavy air where righting moment is an over‑riding factor, then you might want to flair the topsides at station 6 so the crew will have more hiking power. A boat with more flair should be able to carry a lighter crew, but I can't think of an example. Obviously no one will accuse Gorla of having a light crew on his Folli, so I can't really prove my theory.
I'm not sure what's right fore and aft in the back part of the boat. Whenever I don't know what's right, I tend to go down the middle, then I can't be too far off."
How about keel position?
Bill: "I've had some bad luck with keels that I've put all the way back.
That may have been for reasons other than the keel position, but the further back you put the keel, the more the boat tends to rock up at the stern. Even though my keel is back, I was very careful with the bulb so that the boat wouldn't have a nose down effect, because I think it's slow. Everyone is going for rake in the leading edge. As long as everyone's going that way' no one can get hurt. I can't think of any logical reason why the leading edge of a Star keel should be vertical. I'm not too keen about the center of gravity of the keel being too far aft.
With regard to rudder shape, I like to keep the post fairly vertical, which allows the leading edge of the rudder below the skeg to be at about the same angle as the leading edge of the keel.
I'm careful to keep the back end of my boats light."
How important is minimum mast tip weight?
Bill: "I don't think I've ever had anything other than a light weight mast. I've seen some boats go very fast with some heavy masts, but I think their speed can be attributed to some other factors. When the sail shape required a stiff mast, the weight was secondary to the stiffness. When we were sailing with the wood masts, if the jumper broke you might as well go home because that little bit of extra mast bend was crippling. You were finished. When I look at some of the sails today, there are times when I think I'd be going significantly faster with a jumper. But no one has a jumper, so you don't notice it. So maybe a mast a little stiffer on top, bigger and heavier, might be faster some of the time. The weight probably isn't as important as getting the right sail shape."
Can you give us some tips about getting the boat to jump up onto a plane?
Bill: "Probably just about the only good thing that ever happened to us during the '83 Pre‑Olympic Regatta was that we were sailing alongside one of the English sailors and he just surfed right by us. We started paying closer attention to what we were doing. For us the ooch seems to work the best. We saw a lot of other things going on, some outside the rules. We decided to concentrate on doing what's permitted. We look for the waves. The Germans have been very good at that, making the course to the next mark incidental. We work hard at wave chasing. We're not as good as some but because we work harder we catch more waves than some of the other guys.
Elvström preached steering the course that will take you down the wave. When there's an underlying swell, you have to wait for the wave and swell to be in sync.
One of the biggest single assets Steve contributes is his agility off the wind. That is where a little heavier crew pays off. When a heavy crew ooches, the boat feels it. One time when Ron Anderson was with me in Nassau we were sort of careening around on the top of a wave. Ron leaned forward and smacked the bow. Away we went! Expertise at riding the waves seems to be the most important factor in getting over the hump."
Let's talk through a tack.
Bill: "Tacking is one place where Steve and I excel. A lot of this came from my 12 Meter experience.
Before you tack you have to be going full speed. Don't tack after you get back winded by the boat in front of you. Tack immediately when the guy tacks on your wind. If you aren't going full speed when you tack' you're not going to come out of the tack at full speed, that's for sure.
Look for a smooth patch. Never tack in a batch of waves. Sometimes you may have to tack right away, such as when covering. But generally it's better to wait for a smooth spot.
I, frankly, feel that roll tacking is not beneficial in a Star boat.Once in a great while we'll pull off one that feels good, but 99 times out of 100 a roll tack does not make it on a Star boat. I don't know why' maybe it has something to do with the shape of the chines or the shape of the keel. So don't fool around trying to roll tack.
I trim the main going through the tack and then as I come out of the tack I crack the main a couple of inches to power up on the new tack and trim as I get into the strap. But if I steer carefully through the tack I don't have to crack the main. We work to not have the main or jib flog during the tack. It's important for the crew to have the timing right on the jib trim' especially not to trim too tight on the new tack.
I'm not into letting the runners off to sag the jibstay. The jib does not get fuller when you sag the jibstay, the leech just gets tight and slows down acceleration.
Of course, during the tack it's a race to get to the other side and into the strap. Steve always wins.
Moat of the speed through a tack codes down to the tiller and getting a feel for the angle as you come out, so you're right on the wind.
Assuming you're technique is good' if you're slow coming out of a tack' there's probably something wrong with your sails. A lot of sails go fast in a straight line, but a poor sail is slow coming out of a tack."
How important are the sails?
Bill: "All the sails being made today seem to be pretty darn good. Sail trim is very critical We have marked our sheets and through sail testing have learned where we should be trimming. Then we have to discipline ourselves not to over trim when things don't seem to be going right.
A lot can be done with the rig and trimming to adjust the main.Improper trimming of an excellent sail can be really slow.
A poor jib can be a real problem. There's not much you can do. But if the sails don't seem to be fast, spend some time with the rig and your trimming. You can do a lot. If you're slow, it's very likely that the sailmaker did a good job and your tuning and trimming are causing the problems. But without a doubt, over the long haul, it's important to have a good sail.
The only time we'd ever had an opportunity to do some extensive sail testing was prior to the Olympics. The speed differentials of the sails were very slim. We did learn that sail trim was extremely critical."