Racing Techniques

In recent years, the Wayfarer has developed into an exciting and demanding racing dinghy. Exciting, not in the sense of an out and out planing trapeze dinghy, but rather in the sense that it responds so beautifully to correct, accurate control.
    In fact the closer the racing, the greater the need for this positive control. Thus, proper technique is important. Luckily, the controls which organize Wayfarer boat speed are now well known. Influenced as they are  by the specific characteristics of the Wayfarer, these controls revolve around:

1. The need to keep the relatively heavy hull with its large wetted area moving as quickly as possible in all conditions.
2. The need to keep the air flowing smoothly over the large, low aspect ratio sail plan without the air stalling and without the boat heeling too much.
3. To ensure that the raked aft centreboard creates the maximum possible resistance and that the rather small rudder blade steers the boat, even in the strongest of breezes. With their parallel sides and short bevels, they will both stall all too easily if not properly used.
4. That the long toe straps are as comfortable as possible so that the sailors can work efficiently.

Obviously there are many subdivisions within these major groupings, but the Wayfarer sailor, at least initially, should be concerned with general areas of responsibility rather than become obsessed with detail.

Keeping the boat upright is perhaps the single most important aspect of Wayfarer boat speed. If the boat is allowed to heel, the water has to travel around asymmetrical curves; the waterline is shortened and the stern digs in. Not only does the boat go slowly, but it is also hard to steer with massive weather helm, and then the boat goes sideways as the centreboard loses its grip.
    The motto has to be: Keep the burgee above the crew’s head. This is obviously achieved by easing out the mainsheet to reduce the amount of curvature in the main as soon as the boat heels. In extreme circumstances, the genoa should go out, too.
    The proper technique is to watch the gust coming towards the boat, decide whether it is going to head or lift, and then, as it hits, have the sheet ready to ease, i.e. uncleat the sheet. As soon as the boat heels, ease and keep easing, even if the main is backing. Once the gust has eased, the main can be sheeted in again.
    The way to decide whether the approaching gust is a header or a lift is straightforward. If the gust front looks closer to the bow than it does to the side, then the gust will be a header. If the front appears to be closer to the side than to the bow, then it will be a lift. In fact, it doesn't matter what happens as the gust hits, as long as the sailors are prepared for its arrival.
    This system works best if both helm and crew remain fairly still and sitting out. If either of the sailors keeps diving inboard too early, then the boat is unstable, and the sails cannot be sheeted correctly. There is no need to keep moving about anyway, because if the boat heels to windward, then all that is needed is to sheet the main in to lift the sailors up out of the water. The only exception to the upright rule is in very light winds. Here the boat needs to be heeled just enough to get the sails to set rather than flop about.

A common fault often seen in Wayfarers is that the sailors sit too far forward when beating. This sinks the bow and lifts the stern out of the water - reducing the water line length. In simple terms, the helm stays behind the thwart in all conditions except in very light airs. The crew should be close to the leeward shroud in very light winds, move aft to sit on the centreboard box as the wind gets up a bit, and 6 to 8 inches behind the shroud while hiking out. In very windy conditions at sea (with big waves), move even further aft to keep the bow up.
    Off the wind, move aft only in planing conditions, and then just enough to keep the bow up. In very windy condi-tions on a broad reach, both sailors can sit well aft to get the flatter sections at the stern to work. Watch out though, for sinking the transom too much. A turbulent wash and back eddying wake are the signs to watch for.

The rudder blade is fairly small, and, as it is parallel sided, the flow breaks away fairly easily. So, overzealous use of the rudder (i.e. increasing its angle beyond 45º) will reduce its ability to steer. This is particularly important when tacking or gybing. The front of the rudder blade should be vertical. It should also be held down solidly by a pin (¼” wood dowel is legal) and/or a very strong downhaul shock cord. The tiller extension should be about 38” (98-99 cm) long and may benefit from bumps of PVC tape, etc. to provide a better grip.
    Wherever possible, help the rudder by using the sails. If you want to bear away, ease the mainsheet (to bring the centre of effort forward). If you need to luff up, ease the jib very slightly (to bring the centre of effort aft).

It is vital that the centreboard have minimum play inside the box. On glass boats with wide slots, you need to insert plastic or tufnol washers of several inches’ diameter on both sides of the board, putting the centreboard pin through them.
    The leading edge should be as close as possible to the maximum 83º angle allowed to get the biggest possible presented area.
    When sailing off the wind, have as little board down as you can without skidding sideways. If there is too little board down, the helm will feel heavy and the wash will be turbulent on the windward side. So if in doubt, look aft!
    The leading edge needs to be nicely rounded. An arc of about 3/8 inch is about right. It should merge gently into the centre flat sections. The transition between the flat centre and the aft bevel should be equally smooth with no abrupt change in profile. The very back edge needs to have 1/8” flat or so, to give it strength.

The toe straps should be just long enough to enable the sailors to sit out comfortably. There should also be shock cord tensioning to keep them taut so that the sailor can find them easily after a tack or gybe. There must also be enough room left between the helm’s toe straps to enable him to step between them as he tacks.

The Wayfarer will roll tack beautifully without stopping. The secret of a good tack is for both sailors to remain on the old windward side until the boom has gone over. Then both sailors should move to the new windward side. It is also important to ease the mainsheet a little as the helm goes across. This lets the sailors sit down without the boat heeling too much.
    The crew should be marginally behind the helm so that he can, in windy conditions, sit down on the weather side, or in light conditions, move back to the leeward side as needed. Especially in light winds, the helm is usually unbalanced at this time, and must be careful how he sits down. If he is too clumsy, the air will be shaken off the sails.
    For this reason, aft mainsheeting is generally better for sailing inland in light weather because the helm faces aft during the tack and is crouched lower in the boat. The helm should always swap hands on the tiller before he leaves the old windward side. Then the extension is already in the correct hand when he gets onto the new tack.
    Centre mainsheet roll tacking is rather more complicated as the helm has to face forward. He shouldn’t swap hands until he has sat down on the new windward side, even though this means steering with his hand behind his back for a second or two.
(Uncle Al’s note: We have available to borrow, a video of Mike demonstrating roll tacking and gybing as well as using sail trim to help steer. My editing is amateur but Mike’s demo is professional!!!)

The Wayfarer is incredibly stable and can be gybed even in the very strongest breezes. The gybing technique obviously varies according to wind strength and whether or not the spinnaker
is being used.
    In light winds the boat will roll gybe using techniques basically similar to those used in roll tacking, in that the helm and crew wait until the boom goes across before moving across the boat.
This has. the particular advantage of heeling the boat slightly on the new gybe to keep the mainsail quiet. The gentler the sailors’ movements in these conditions, the better. The crew should hold the boom out after the gybe to prevent it coming back into the centre. The vang too, should be well eased, but not so much that the boom jumps off the gooseneck.
    In windier conditions, the helm should be in control. As the helm bears away, the crew should move to the centre of the boat, and then stay there until the helm is ready for him to move. This means that the helm knows exactly where the crew is, and can then get him to move to whatever side is needed.
    It pays the helm to sheet in a fraction as he bears away. Then he can ease the sheet as the boom goes out on the new side. This acts as a spring on the mainsail which otherwise fills quite violently. (Uncle Al’s note: Another outstanding way to cut down on the violence of a windy day gybe is to have the crew use the vang (kicker) to start the boom across and then restrain the boom from really slamming across by pulling against the direction it wants to go once it has crossed the centre line of the boat. This really works supremely well!)
    The moment the boom goes across, the helm should urgently tug the tiller so that the bow is pushed in the same direction as the boom for an instant. Then he should almost immediately straighten the helm. This stops the violent spin towards the wind which so often causes the broach and/or capsize.
    For this reason, it is best not to throw the boat around too quickly when gybing from reach to reach in a breeze. Arrive at the gybe mark slightly high, bear away onto a dead run, gybe, and then harden up after the spinnaker is sorted out.

This is a very important technique as it is absolutely essential to getting good starts. It is best practised outside the race situation by seeing how long the boat can be made to hover close to a buoy. It will be surprising how long it takes to stop.
When accelerating away, the correct technique is to sheet both sails in together in a smooth, non-jerking way. (ed. note: if you’ve been luffing above close-hauled, as is usually the case when you’re sitting on the line, it is best to sheet the jib in first to encourage the boat to bear away to a close-hauled course.) This will keep the boat tracking without it luffing up and stopping. The rudder must not be used until the boat is moving, otherwise it acts as a brake.

The number one rule is to get round the mark without hitting it. So, when rounding on its windward side in windy conditions, leave a good boom’s length to spare. In rough conditions with big waves, the mark will be moving about quite a lot, so keep well away. When approaching any mark, check which way the tide or current, if any, is flowing. The buoy could be leaning away from the current and there might be a wake.
    The general rule of thumb is to approach the mark wide and leave it close. This stops others from barging in. Try to keep mark rounding simple by not tacking too close either before or after the mark. In other words, sailors should try to settle down, both in approaching and in leaving the mark.
    As they are approaching a mark, both sailors should know where the next mark is, and what sort of a leg it will be getting there, i.e. how the sails, etc. are likely to be controlled.
    When rounding the windward mark, many sailors are so obsessed with getting the spinnaker up and getting the other sails organized for the offwind leg, that they miss out on waves. Surfing on waves is the biggest and easiest way of dramatically increasing speed.
    If one or more boats are close behind as you round the windward mark onto a close spinnaker reach, then stay high. (Al’s note: Don’t let them go over you while you hoist your spi in light or medium breezes. In those conditions, a brief lack of spinnaker costs virtually nothing as you sail high to discourage others from passing to windward. On the other hand, it is very hard to get past even a boat not flying spinnaker on a close reach once they have passed you except in a blow.)
    If you follow a gang of boats round the mark, go low - thinking of the inside position at the next mark.

The tactics used will depend upon the proximity of other boats, and what the wind and tide are doing. If you are alone, it is obviously best to sail in a straight line to the next mark except to play waves or gusts (bearing away in gusts and down the face of waves while luffing up in the lulls and in the troughs).
    If the tide is going to get stronger or weaker along the leg, then allowance must be made by heading either up or down from the mark. Also, if the wind is going to head, then sail high, but if it likely to free, then sail low of the mark early.
    It can often pay to go low to the next mark when following a group of boats, because the natural inclination of sailors in front is, quite rightly, to defend their wind and luff up to stop others from overtaking them to windward.
    If you are leading a group, it is therefore essential that those close behind do not get high enough to blanket your sails. But beware of going too high for too long so that the final approach to the next mark is on a broader, slower course. The exception to this is in a breeze, because all the necessary jobs involved in taking down the spinnaker can then be done without the boat heeling over.
    Playing waves is very straightforward. Wait until the stem lifts and the bow is just behind the wave in front, and then bear away just enough to accelerate. The secret is to watch the wave in front, and to try to keep the bow just behind it. Obviously, one cannot keep bearing away, so track a little to windward at every opportunity. The fastest course to the mark in planing conditions is therefore a series of gently curving zig-zags. Keeping the boat upright is absolutely vital. In fact, when bearing away, heeling the boat to windward helps to keep the boat tracking.

Getting down the run is a compromise between sailing the shortest distance on a dead run and luffing up slightly to build up extra speed. The general rule is that it pays to luff up to keep moving in very light winds, or to get the boat planing in marginal planing conditions. As soon as the boat planes, it pays to start bearing away again. The problem is, of course, that luffing up increases distance sailed and so the extra speed has to at least compensate for the extra distance.
    As a general rule therefore, tacking downwind does not pay. Because of its heavy weight, the Wayfarer does not plane sufficiently to make up for the extra distance sailed.
    If, sailing marks to port, you approached the windward mark on a starboard tack lift (or marks to starboard on a port tack lift), it will pay to gybe straightaway after rounding. If you approached the mark on a header instead, it will pay to leave the mark without gybing.
    Everything else being equal, consider on which side the spinnaker is stowed, as you decide on which gybe to choose. On a run, it is often easier to hoist the spinnaker on the windward side. Hoisting to leeward means that the spinnaker has to be pulled around the vang, jib sheets, etc.
When approaching a leeward mark, think about what side the spinnaker will be used on next. Try to get it stowed so that you will have a leeward hoist for an upcoming reach. Since the spinnaker should always be lowered to windward, you may need to do an extra gybe to achieve the desired effect.

If in doubt, take the tack that will take the boat closest to the windward mark. Check tidal/current flow, and always try to get a lee bow if there is the merest chance. Keep a constant watch to windward, watching out for signs of likely changes in either wind strength or direction - smoke, other boats, etc.
    In light winds, keep the boat moving and do not keep tacking and tacking. In a breeze, watch the approaching waves. Whatever happens, they must not stop the boat. So, if necessary, ease the sheets, bear away and accelerate. Just as the wave is about to hit, luff slightly to reduce frontal area, and then, once the wave has passed, bear away again to regain speed.
    Be very wary of getting too far out on one wing or the other of the beat. This is even more important as you approach the mark.

13. 720 TURNS.
Very few Wayfarer sailors practise 720º turns and yet they should. Imagine how tense the situation is! An incident has occurred. The sailor has admitted responsibility and must begin his turns as soon as he is clear of other boats. He’s het up. Which way does he go? Luff up to tack or bear away to gybe? It invariably seems to pay to gybe first. Luffing up is far too slow, especially if the centreboard is not down!