October 27, 2011

Apparent wind dilemma

THE APPARENT WIND has been an abiding puzzle for me. In my racing days, especially in one-design dinghies, I was never sure about the best way to go to windward. That is, whether I should pinch or foot.

What always made the decision difficult was the simple fact that the faster you go, the more the apparent wind comes from ahead. And the more the wind draws ahead, the more you have to pull off to compensate, and the faster you go. Conversely, the slower you go, the higher you can point.

It's all very well going as fast as you can, but when the boats around you are going slower but pointing higher, you get a gut feeling about velocity made good, that is, the real progress you are making toward the windward mark. Actually, it's not your gut that does the feeling. It's your brain, but for some reason it manifests itself in your gut.

Your brain says to your gut: "He's mad. Tell him to point up. He'll get to the mark much quicker if he goes slower but points higher." The gut says to the brain, "No, no, the plan is to take the slightly longer route, not point so high but go faster. Cover more ground more quickly."

"Won't work," says the brain. "He always does this, and never wins. He is the epitome of hope ignoring reality. Doesn't bitter experience tell him anything?"

"Don't ask me," says the gut. "I'm just the messenger. I didn't volunteer for this job and I don't get paid for it."

And then, just to confuse the issue, a freeing gust comes along, and naturally I am able to point up. So I do. Can't help myself. But at the same time the boat speeds up, so the apparent wind hauls more ahead, and I have to pull off some more to keep the jib filled. Back to square one.

Meanwhile, the other boats that were pointing up all the time still seem to be pointing higher than me. I ask the crew (my wife) in a perfectly calm voice to make sure the jib is sheeted in as far as it will go, because I don't seem to be able to point properly. And to do it rather quickly if she doesn't mind. She says: "If you scream at me once more I'm going to jump overboard."

So I don't have much choice, really. What it comes down to is that I have to point lower than the others AND go slower than them, too. It's the usual recipe for disaster. VMG gone to hell. Crew grinding her teeth and not speaking to me. The fleet disappearing ahead. And it's all the fault of that damn mysterious apparent wind. Again.

Today's Thought
The way of the Wind is a strange, wild way.
— Ingram Crockett, The Wind.

"Doctor! Doctor! Help me! I think I'm shrinking!"
"Now calm down, Mr Jones, there's nothing to be done. You'll just have to be a little patient."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

keyporttrawler said...

Sounds very familiar as I sailed the adopted boat with their old sails, but she was a gift horse (so to speak) and I was greatful to them for the opportunity to follow. Remember to change gears as you pick up speed, then sheet in and point higher- this from the guy who came in third once right behind the two who always seem to win.