From the Experts--Craig Leweck
Originally published in the Snipe Bulletin, March 1994
I remember the summer that I had my first Snipe. College was out until fall, I would be teaching sailing in Marina del Rey and hoping to qualify for the US Snipe Nationals in August. My performance in the boat, unfortunately, was not coming along very well. Heavy air speed was a joke. For the offwind legs, it was always damage control. If we could only stay between them and the mark we would be okay. But there would always be too many thems and only one of us. We were hardly a participant in the race. We were one of the boats that helped qualify the fleet for extra trophies. We were more like an entry fee.
With all my Sabot and college sailing, I figured that I would have been further along. The boat was new in December, and six months later my climb toward success was stuck. No one had a tuning guide to give me or enough input to jump start my engine. One night, however, this changed. Then reigning World Champion Jeff Lenhart had a beer or three Saturday night at an Alamitos Bay YC regatta and was laughing about how the guys at the Worlds had never figured out his trick. Finally hearing somebody open up on how to sail these stupid boats, I got closer and listened. He was talking mast ram and boom vang and how they helped him set up his rig in medium to heavy air. My mind was cracked wide open.
The first opportunity I had I got out on the water to analyze every adjustment on the boat once and for all. This would include the jib and main cunningham, boomvang, mast ram, outhaul and jib halyard. I was amazed at my discoveries. When I pulled on one of these lines, much more happened than I thought. It was as if somebody had put my head inside the engine of the car so I could watch the motor work.
Dependent on the type of boat you have and the power of your adjustments, a great number of sail plan changes can be made. The down side is that the boat relies on you to make these changes. Boats are usually easiest to sail in about 8-10 knots, with all the adjustments at basic settings. Just pull in the sails and go. It is when you go out of this range that the sail plan needs some help. My discoveries on this fateful day formed the foundation of my knowledge of sail plan adjustment.
With my partner making large adjustment changes, I could sit forward and watch mast, main and jib changes. When he pulled on the boomvang, the mast bent low, the main flattened, the leech got tighter and the jib luff sagged off. When he pulled on the mast fore puller the mast bent lower, the main flattened, the leech got looser and the jib luff sagged off. When he pulled on the mast aft puller, the opposite happened. When he pulled on the main cunningham the draft moved forward, the leech got looser and the sail got flatter as the mast section above the hounds fell off to leeward. When he pulled the mainsheet in, the mast bent, the mainsail got flatter, the leech got tighter and the jib luff got tighter. The opposite happened when the mainsail was eased.
With this knowledge, scenarios developed in my mind. As the wind builds, the mainsheet gets trimmed tighter and both sails flatten simultaneously. Perfect reaction. However, when the mainsheet must be dumped for larger puffs, both the main and jib get fuller. Bad reaction. To combat this we can use the vang, which flattens the main but makes the jib fuller, To improve this we can tighten the aft puller, which flattens the jib but powers up the main. Using both the boomvang and the aft puller, their negatives and positives combine to create the best compromise to flatten the main while controlling jib luff sag. With the mainsheet in tight, the main and jib are flat. When the main must be dumped in a puff, the aft puller and the vang help maintain that sail shape. In real high winds you also pull the main cunningham hard to flatten the top of the sail. These discoveries dramatically improved my heavy air speed.
CAUSE AND EFFECT CONTROL MAST MAIN JIB --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Vang bends low flatten, leech tight sags Fore Puller bends low flatten, leech loose sags Aft Puller straighten low full, leech tight tight Main Cunningham tip to leeward draft foreward, leech loose -- Mainsheet--in bends flatten, leech tight tight --ease straightens full, leech loose -- Heavy Air--Combine these for maximum effect Vang flatten full Aft Puller power-up flat Main Cunningham flatten top
Problem solving is part of sailing. Knowing the effect of all your adjustments and confidently making these changes during a race is part of the success formula. In shifty, puffy winds it is better to set these adjustments for the lighter end of the wind range instead of making an adjustment for every wind change. Too much time is spent making sail adjustments and not enough time keeping track of the next wind shift. Setting your adjustments for the lighter end of the wind range is best as it is easier to keep your boat speed up in heavy air when setup wrong than it is in light air. Do your best to set up correctly but be wary of losing track of the race.
Successfully racing your boat should be much like sitting on the couch at home. There you have the TV clicker and the cordless phone within reach and you know how to lie on it to be the most comfortable. Your boat should be the same. All my Snipes I have either rigged myself or specified where the hardware would be placed. Rigging is highly personal and must adapt to the interests of each team of people. Decide who is going to do each job and place the controls near that person. Every adjustment must be positioned to make sense relative to when it is used. The upwind adjustments must all be within reach when hiking with the downwind or light air upwind adjustments put inside the boat to avoid deck clutter, putting too many adjustments in one place requires a distracting glance to confirm that you have the right line. When action is quick in a race, a well thought out deck layout is worth boat lengths on the course.
With one month to go before the 1983 US Snipe Nationals, we made a monster jump forward in performance and confidence when we got second in the last qualifying regatta. This was good enough to make the cut, which we later parlayed into a sixth place finish in the Nationals. Two weeks later, we won a heavy air Pacific Coast Championships in San Francisco, which was our first important victory. It was amazing how the insight gained from the adjustment analysis was what it took to restart our progress on our learning curve, Today I am in a position to help those learning how to sail their Snipes like I was a decade ago. One of my jobs at Sobstad is to continually update our tuning guides. My goal each year is to think of new areas to expand on so this book becomes a critical asset in one's learning. Our hope is that the Sobstad Snipe Tuning Guide makes the difference to someone looking for that piece of information that will make the puzzle complete. Good sailing
Craig Leweck is a sailmaker for Sobstad Sailmakers in San Diego. Craig has been US National Champion twice and has won the North American Championships. He has represented the US in two World Championships, and continues to finish in the top at regattas on the US Circuit.