After the Antoine Albeau domination of the 2007 FW Worlds in Brazil, a great post was written by Andreas Macke posing some ideas on how one man could dominate an event so much. One thing to consider is that Antoine is around 100kg whereas 2nd placed Steve Allen was 82kg at the event. Power-to-weight plays a very important role in your speed around the course, so let’s have a look at it more closely and see how you can improve your stance to get the most out of your gear. We will begin with some ideas from the master of theory himself, Frank Bethwaite and then move on to look at the techniques of the top FW sailors.
Frank Bethwaite was at the forefront of development of the 18ft Skiffs from the 1970’s through to the 1990’s. He suggested that the performance of boats that sail with the apparent wind forward of the beam at all times (as does a FW board) is governed by the ratio of the sail carrying power versus the total weight.
(See the above picture and read the full chapter, “The Quest for Speed”; pg 164 -High Performance Sailing)
This chapter was written about 18ft Skiffs. A modern FW’er emulates the performance of an 18ft Skiff. A good comparison was the Ronstan Bridge-to-Bridge race in San Francisco. Micah Buzianis (USA-34) and Kevin Pritchard (USA-3) competed against many top 18ft Skiff boats from Australia (including the World Champion from England) as well as the best of the best in kitesurfing. Micah narrowly beat the 18ft Skiff in this race highlighting their similarity in boatspeed:
The “sail carrying power/total weight” ratio for a sailor like Antoine Albeau on FW gear is in the vicinity of 55% compared with 61% that Bethwaite identifies for a modern 18ft Skiff. The total equipment weight of FW gear is around 26kg (unless you have the new Exocet board!). With the hydrodynamic lift that a FW board generates when planing, the “sail carrying power” is perhaps a better determining factor in going fast, rather than Bethwaite’s sail carrying power/total weight ratio.
SAIL CARRYING POWER =
Righting Moment / Distance between the centre of effort of the sail and the combined lateral resistance of the hull and fin.
Antoine, at 100kg has a sail carrying power which is 20% more than someone like Steve Allen at 82kg. With the development of the FW class, raceboards have become wider (up to 100.5cm now) and in the last two seasons, even wider in the tail. This allows for more sail carrying power which has been helped by the stability and handling of the newer wide-luff race sails.
All that being said, there’s more to winning a race than simply eating a few too many meat-pies before you go sailing, which is proved by a guy like Steve Allen coming 2nd overall at a relatively light weight of 82kg. So let’s focus less on what you can do physiologically and look at some things you can “actually” do to help you go faster around the course at whatever weight you are…
Have a look at this photo from the racing in Silvaplana, 2007. The lead boat is Alberto Menegatti (ITA-456), behind him Markus Bouman (NED-6) and 3rd in the line is myself (AUS-120). Notice our distinctly different techniques. With Alberto on the uphaul rope he can get his body much further hiked and still have the sail quite upright. Markus gets out a little further than me but isn’t sheeted in too well in this picture. I believe I am too upright in the photo and have since worked on my technique to improve my stance.
Now have a look at this photo gallery here; a few photos of some of the top guys in FW going to windward. Notice everyone’s technique is slightly different but most of them have the sail very upright and are very hiked out, getting their body as far from the sail as possible. My favourite is the photo of Kevin Pritchard (USA-3) from the 2002 FW Worlds in Germany. His sail could be a little more upright but check out how far hiked he is! No wonder he won two Worlds in a row!
It is hard to get the sail upright and keep sheeted in at the same time. The two things seem to contradict each other when you try it. Work on getting your body hiked and away from the sail first, as it’s the easiest to correct. When you do, you will most likely be sailing with the rig too far on top of yourself. Once you start to drag the sail on top of you, the lift forces you are generating from the fin begin to decrease, so the second part of your training should be to work on ways of getting the sail more upright whilst still keeping your body hiked out. Here’s some tips to get you started…
Feet are VERY important in railing the board and positioning your body for a good stance. Make sure you are on the balls of your feet. In lighter winds you can use your front foot to pull up on the front strap and help rail the board – in the extremes you can even do this with your back foot. Keep light on the board as heavy pressure will only dig the winward rail in (that’s slow!). Keep light on your feet; think like a ballerina.
The best technique involves having a straighter front leg than your back leg. It shouldn’t be dead straight, but just a slight bend to allow you to absorb chop with your legs (by bending them slightly over the swells) and be comfortable when you sail. The concept should be to apply more weight to your back leg and lifting your front foot to rail the board, which allows you to power the fin and still rail the board. Practice will help with this…
There’s no right or wrong here but I personally believe you can get further away from the rig with a pronated grip (both hands over the boom, as opposed to having your front hand under the boom). Everyone has a personal preference and once you have a good technique down-pat, you can do it with either grip – but to help learn this technique quickly I would suggest trying the pronated grip. A pronated grip allows you to roll your shoulders forward and effectively lengthen your arms a few cm.
Try to avoid twisting your body to windward. The best sailors have a relatively straight stance if you look at them from directly upwind. Have a look at the photo in the gallery of Wojtek Brzozowski (POL-10), he stands very straight on the board which means he can keep the sail very upright and still hike out. Twisting your shoulder forward as some people do when they are overpowered can lead to dragging the sail on top of you more.
Believe it or not, breathing is important with this technique. When you breathe deeper, you open your diaphragm up and can relax your shoulders more to get them rolling forward to lengthen your armspan. Probably, it’s hard to remember your breathing in 25 knots, but give it a thought on that 10 knot day when you next go sailing.
Equipment plays a big role in helping you hike. Your boom height, harness lines, mast-track position and fin will change the way the sail feels in your hands and the pressures it allows you to apply to the fin. This is all personal preference. Try it all. Get a friend with a camera to take some photos of you sailing and see what setup helps you to get more hiked.
The jury is still out on this one. Many top sailors use it in light winds, many go the same speed without it. My personal opinion is that the theory behind it is good, because the guys using the uphaul are hiked out incredibly far whilst still having the sail upright. There are plenty of guys who can get their bodies out that far without the uphaul rope, so whatever works for you – works for you.
Take some time next time you race to have a look at the stance of the guy’s winning the races. If the fleet is at a decent level, then chances are the guys winning will have a great stance keeping the rig upright and hiking out far from their board to generate maximum lift. That is why they beat you around the course without forking out so much money for a new fin like you did. Now, imagine you’ve worked on your stance AS WELL as buying that new fin …