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Light Wind Thoughts


John Thornton

Now that we have failed to retain the Thames Area trophy, Mandy and I have been asked to disclose the secrets of inland sailing. Isn't editing a weird science?
Under pressure I would admit that the wind does tend to be more variable inland than on the open sea, but there are more ways of gauging what the wind is doing inland. We always watch the boats (and their burgees) around us to spot the shifts, but we also look at our burgee and any flags on the bank, and even the wind in the trees to get some idea of what is going on. Even with these indicators we find it hard to predict what the wind might do, so we always try to be prepared for anything which enables us to respond to the changes. For example we have practised our boat handling so that a big header naturally transitions into a good tack, and we tend to sail with a slightly loosened outhaul to get more power from the lifts.
The winds variability inland means that there can be huge speed differentials between boats that are physically very close to one another, it is for this reason that we often 'sail for the wind'. This can mean deviating from the shortest course to the next mark to get the maximum benefit from a patch of wind. Equally it means avoiding the wind shadow of other boats; one missed gust can make a big difference inland.
Several inland venues have strong tides and currents. These have a greater impact inland than those on the sea because they are not uniform over the race course. As everyone knows the currents weaken as one gets closer to the shore, but conversely the wind often gets weaker too. Because of this the big gains and loses are made in areas where the current eddies. Water likes to flow in a straight line and eddies are formed when this laminar flow is broken up. Thus one tends to find eddies where a river bends, or where a peninsular juts out. However eddies are equally formed by underwater rocks and shoals, so watch those local sailors!
There are often a lot of comments about what makes a fast inland boat, and there is no doubt that some competitive inland boats do not sail so well on the sea. Our experience is that the boat design does not have to make a huge difference to your potential inland. It seems to us that if you put a good inland sailor in a dog of a boat, then they will still sail well. Ask the Meadowcrofts whether they are quicker inland in the 'Greyhound of the Sea N2812' or 'Fools Gold N3429'. However it is important to sail to a design's strengths: whilst we tack at the drop of a hat in our Tigress, in the Chapter we tend to use the whole width of the river.
Regardless of what design you sail, there are a few ideas that may enable it to go faster inland. We never sail without a burgee; it seems to me that the burgee tells you not just what the wind is doing but also what it is about to do. When the wind is light, which only happens very occasionally inland, we sail the boat heeled slightly to leeward and trimmed down by the bow. Heeling to leeward definitely helps sail shape, and can reduce the drag in some designs. I'm not really sure why we trim the boat forward, but all the fast sailors seem to do it.
Despite the lighter winds sail shape is still very important inland. As mentioned previously we sail with fuller sails than most, both to make the most of the gusts but also because it is difficult to be certain where the wind is coming from - even when sailing up the beat. Similarly we often sail with the jib not quite hard in to make good progress and the most of the lifts. With modern sail designs this tends to mean sailing with more kicker than I would expect, but it does result in a good-looking sail shape.
To conclude, the comment must be 'never give up'. This may sound a little psychological, but it is the crew who remains calm and unruffled by the vagaries of inland sailing that can make the best of the opportunities which will arrive. It has often been proved that is possible to make up huge distances on the last leg of inland courses.

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