by Carol Cronin
For those of you who haven't spent a lot of time in New England in February, you may not realize how much the winter makes you look for excuses to escape. You can understand, then, how I latched on to the Chrysler Women's Regatta in San Diego as a chance to get a break from the cold-no sailing-blahs of home. Little did I know how much I would learn and how much fun I would have.
A concentrated afternoon of tuning with George Szabo (as my crew) and my husband Paul as a tuning partner got me back in the feel of sailing and Snipes. I did discover how differently the Persson turns (compared to the Jibetech I'm used to) when I went to gybe, lost the tiller, and almost took George swimming. But fortunately he clambered up to the high side in time to save us and then taught me how to turn the boat so it wouldn't happen again. I'm happy to report his lesson stuck, and he is VERY happy that the next time we sail together he will be back in charge of the tiller extension.
Sherry Eldridge came down from San Francisco to sail the regatta with me, and we figured to tip the scales at a whopping 255 pounds. The boat we were borrowing (thanks to Bob Bowden) had a Sidewinder Senior, so lack of power would not be a problem... the question would be how to keep the boat flat in anything more than 7 knots of breeze. George set up the boat with 16.25" long spreaders with a 27.25" spread and put a mark on the mast with the jib halyard set at 21'6", which gave us about an inch and an eighth of prebend. All I did to set the boat up on the water was pull the halyard up to the mark, lock the mast 1/8" to 1/4" forward of neutral, pull the main in, and pull on vang until the helm went light. And let me tell you, it took a LOT of vang. But the setup worked; we had excellent forward speed in all conditions, and most of the time we had equal or better height than the boats around us.
Sherry kept commenting that I was sailing a bit higher than she was used to (the windward jib telltale was lifting all the time). I kept telling her, "that's what George said to do." In the relatively flat water of San Diego Harbor, the boat seemed to like it and it was easier to keep the weather chine in the water if I didn't put the bow down. We also played the cunningham and jib cloth through puffs and lulls, and at one point watched our boat take off after we pulled on cunningham in a puff. Those lines are there for a reason- but if adjustments become an excuse to take a break from hiking, it will be a net loss.
George and Paul (watching jealously from the coach boat) also commented that we were flatter than everyone else upwind. Since we were one of the lighter teams, there can only be two reasons for this: 1) Sherry hikes like an animal and I have the photos to prove it: and 2) I kept putting more vang on in the puffs and the boat kept feeling faster and faster.
Since I had never sailed a Persson before, I really tried to listen to what the boat was telling me since it felt so different. The loudest voice was the tiller; when it was trying to pull out of my hand, I'd pull on more vang. There were alo more subtle voices; when the wind lightened up, the boat would lose its bouncy feel until I eased the vang. I've sailed with enough good skippers to know how the boat should feel when it's sailing fast; the struggle was to figure out what to do to get it there. Looking back on the weekend, everything that worked seemed to reinforce the Szabo "Snipes for Dummies" approach: "Flatter, more vang."
Snipe-Lite or how to sail fast at 255 pounds
by Carol Cronin