Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What makes a boat go fast?

Tillerman on his Blog 'Proper course' has been asking the question of what makes a boat go fast? What is the secret of good boat speed? As he rightly reports top sailors in any class will tell you that boat speed is king. So what makes a boat go fast?

I think there are a number of things that contribute to boats speed. Certainly a good boat with rig and effective systems is important for good boat speed but this alone will not put you at the front of the fleet. Good sailing technique is perhaps of paramount importantance, a good sailor will make even the slowest boat go well, perhaps faster than a good boat in the hands of lesser sailors.

So what are the key skills that make a boat move through the water as fast as possible.

The first priority is getting the most from your rig, which is the powerhouse. All the energy that is required to make a boat accelerate quickly to the maximum speed comes from the rig, rig being the sails and the mast that controls the sails and transmits the power to the hull.

This means learning how to control the rig to control the power. I say 'control' because sometimes you need to reduce the power to a manageble level or you will be overpowered and this can be slower than another boat which is has optimum power. Knowledge of how the rig works is important as is experiance. I spent half the year wondering why I was slower on the reach until I realised that I was letting of the kicker too much and losing power.

Second is boat boat trim, the attitude of the boat in the water can aid steering, promote planing, reduce drag and reduce the slowing effect of waves or enable better use of them. The key control for trim is the position of crew weight.

Then comes steering, and by this I mean the control of the boats direction by use of boat trim, sails and, if need be, the rudder. The boats direction is never static, it is always changing and should be. The wind and the waves are always changing so it stands to reason that the boat should be responding to those changes.

The trick of good boat spead is bringing all these factors together so that the optimum power is delivered to the hull which is at the optimim attitude for the current manouver that suits the needs of the prevailing conditions.

Add to this good stratagey (i.e. finding the optimum track around the course making the best of the prevailing conditions), good tactics (i.e. taking advantage of the relative position of other boats in the race for your advantage using the rules), a good mindset that enables you to think clearly and quickly and to summon up the mental energy to keep it going and the physical fitness that enables you to give all that it takes, and you have a wining combination.

But what makes the difference between sailors of equal skill and boats? I think some just know how to position themselves in the fleet to take advantage of changes in the conditions or the mistakes of others. Its a bit like chess; assessing the position and then making the right kind of moves eventually leads to an advantage opening up. Of course it doesn't always result in a race win but consistanty being at the front of the fleet increases the possibility of winning.

Now the only problem is doing it!

1 comment:

tillerman said...

Great post Tim. You have definitely identified the key factors that are essential for boat speed.

That other issue, "positioning", the mental chess game of sailing, is very much the theme of Stuart Walker's books and what I'm attempting to discuss in my Wednesday posts on Walker's Words of Wisdom on Proper Course.