National 12 - find out more...


Jon Whitehead N2996

For those sailors that don't want to or simply can't afford to put seven grand into a new twelve foot boat, there may be another way! One can be competitive in older boats given the right set up, the right water and a favourable set of circumstances.

My son and I have been campaigning a 22 year old Windfall design for the last 3 years. We have had some success, notably on the smaller inland waters in light to mildly moderate winds. What we have found is that there are a few tricks to getting a result in such a boat both in terms of the setup and the way the boat is sailed. The boat is nothing special, its over weight (like its owner), it has an old rig and, other than the addition of a leeward jib pole, it has no go fast goodies.


1. Weight - don't get obsessed with the weight of the hull. It's probably 50 lbs over the top. Check what can come out due to overbuilding but don't compromise the strength of the hull. The older build systems are no match for the latest composites so it's doubtful if one could cut out enough wood to get near the new minimum. Check out your waistline instead. If it has had a major venture capital injection from Boddingtons like mine, then the weight problem may be closer to home than the certificate suggests.

2. Keels - We took our keels off, not really for weight reduction, but more to improve tacking since we figured that our main competitive chance would be on small lakes and rivers where the low rocker and wide transom new designs would be stalling out of the tacks. We counted how many tacks, gybes and mark roundings we did in a typical race - it was 70 plus! We were pretty awful at manoeuvres at first. We figured that we could improve our boat handling by about 1/3 boat length per tack / manoeuvre and save about 20 -30 boat lengths ( 1 leg) per race. We wanted to improve speed out of the tack and although we also saved 7 kgs of weight (including about 10 layers of paint on the hull) this was not the main objective. One has to take care that the hog is sufficient to support the loads when the keel is off and watch for the bilge keel being a part of the hull strength (Rowsell used these to good effect for this).

3. Rig - Keep it simple. Small waters have short legs. Complicated rigs need more maintenance from the crew during the race. If the rig is complex, the helm may not even get his head out of the boat before he's at the next mark! Our boat has kicker and cunningham controls led aft and jib pole and boom mounted outhaul for the crew. The crew also operates the on/off seasure shroud levers. The outhaul is preset on/off too, so one just uncleats it at the mark and it set up for a force 2 broad each. No point in going too fancy

4. Jib Pole - I have to bring this up as a separate tip. The jib pole is a great invention. It increases the life of an old jib, it improves boat handling in a blow and its easier to use than the old jib stick. Ours is a telescopic fishing pole (8 quid) with two of the five sections araldited together. Then we took off the old barber haulers and salvaged the cleat (on mast) a pulley and lead eyes from it. It took about one hour to fit and I parted with ten quid


1. Manoeuvrability - The major advantage that one has with an older boat is the manoeuvrability that it has over the modern designs (say post Baggy) so one has to learn how to use this to good effect. That 1/3 of a boat length gain I talked of earlier is about right for our gain over a Chapter or a Foolish. If you spy a new helm in a double bottom boat make that a one boat length gain! I'm not joking, even the most skilful of twelve sailors has had to learn how to tack these new boats. If we saw a wide transom ahead in a race, we would try and engage them in a covering dual - we hardly cared if we tacked on a shift or not - just as long as the lead boat covered us, and when he did that was the excuse to bang another in. And another 4 foot gain was had.

2. Rig - the keep it simple idea works great at the approach to a mark. One can see frantic handfuls of multicoloured rope flashing through frenzied hands each side of us as the mark draws near. Some guys it would seem, have about 10 bits of string to pull and then when they get around the mark they don't seem so happy with the string pull results so they do some more! Wow! We use a system - two lengths off the mark outhaul is set, plate is set if not too windy, cunningham is set. Now we're at the mark, we make the turn then shroud lever off, kicker set, helm takes jib sheet (if pole required) crew sets pole, helm gives crew jib sheet. The changes are done simultaneously between the crew and the helm so they happen more quickly. We do some in the 2 boat length approach since there is now no need to look for the "water at the mark" hunters. We're done with our changes way before the new boys and look around for a quick killing. Since we can rarely pass over the newer boats due to lack of boat speed, we look for the next mark, which way do we round it? Which side should I go to get water on him?

3. Starts - These are always vital and more so on a smaller water. Don't give anybody a head start. At least be on the line at the gun. One small tip though. I have noticed that there is a link between those that have purchased a new boat and their owners ability to consume large amounts of alcohol on a Saturday night. Sunday mornings first race looms and the old head isn't quite getting it it? Well, here's another opportunity to get up that beat and engage that wide transom again! We checked our results and noticed that we won the first race almost twice as often as any other. . . Funny that.


4 Dodgy but effective - yes, there are a few tips that are amusing but verge on the unsporting. Far be it from me to bring these up here but there is one that I can share with you concerning the speed difference of the new craft and that of the old Windfall. At Middle Nene this year we were usually in the top 5 at the first mark, which we were really pleased with. The depth of experience was such in this fleet that one couldn't rely on any superior upwind tactics to make gains. We simply had to slow these guys down so they couldn't overtake. A little diversion perhaps? We were losing about 4 boat lengths per downwind leg but by making therm bunch behind us, we could always get away on the beat. We did this by making sure that we went dead slow in the 2 boat lengths before each downwind mark At one time there were 8 boats in a line right on our ransom, all bawling at each other for some room that they couldn't have from us. By the time they had sorted themselves out we were well clear and back on the beat!

So don't despair about that seven grand, sort the yacht out so that its ship shape, get on that start line and go look for a wide transom.

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