Nat TaylorObservations & more

Victory At The Rhodes 19 Nationals

Fleet 46 and the Hingham Yacht Club put together a wonderful event for the 2014 National Championship with a great mix of quality racing and on-land mingling, in true Rhodes 19 class fashion.  A huge thank you goes out to all of the volunteers who pulled it off.  This was Team Taylor’s first nationals since the 2010 event in Marblehead where we finished outside the top 10; our first event with all-star crew Kelly Gorman; and my first time driving an entire nationals.  We are thrilled and proud to take the top spot on the podium.

This year 24 boats, including at the reigning national champ, competed in 5 races over the course of 3 days, with Day 2 getting blown out and offering only a very exciting sail home with gusts well over 30kts.  It was a flat water event, and current played a big role on day 3.  The last 20 boat lengths of the beats were incredibly crowded and extra tacks could be advantageous.  As usual, the winner was decided in the last race, separated by a single point from second place.

Day 1

An oscillating 10-14kt northerly allowed for 3 races inside Hull Bay, where current was not much of a factor.  Race 1 saw several lead changes, with Team Taylor getting the bullet on paper since Hall Pass’s on the water first place finish unfortunately didn’t count as they were counted OCS.  Race 2 was equally close, particularly at the windward marks where Team Nelson reportedly tacked 8 times before going on to win.  Race 3 went to Team Taylor, who lead all the way around, and narrowly escaped getting tangled up with a tight battle for second between Hall Pass and Bight Me.  At the end of the day, Team Taylor led with 5 points (1-3-1) in front Team Nelson by just a point (2-1-3) and 6 points up on Pendleton/Raisades (3-6-2.)

Day 2

After sailing out in 12-14 knots, the breeze steadily built into the upper 20s with gusts well over 30, and racing had to be cancelled.

Day 3

Race 1 was sailed in Hingham Bay in a 11 knot Northerly tapering to 7 knots, with the windward mark right in the middle of Hull Gut channel during a flooding moon tide.  Team Taylor and Pendleton/Raisades were the first to get to and stay out of the current on the left, and led the whole way around by a good margin with Pendleton/Raisades getting the win.  It was not possible to stay entirely out of the current, since the windward mark with in the channel where the current was ripping downwind at 1+ knots, which, not surprisingly, caused a great deal of chaos.  In between races the breeze died, and Race 2 was sailed in an 8 knot Easterly in Hull Bay.  Current was still a factor, but it was perpendicular to the course.  Team Nelson battled past Team Taylor for the bullet, but was not able to put a boat in between, which secured Team Taylor’s position as 2014 National Champions!

Our victory was described as “dominating every facet: great starts, amazing boat speed and solid tactics.”  We were able to do that thanks primarily to excellent crew work.  Our crew work was near-perfect on 9 of 10 windward marks, 5 of 5 leeward marks, countless gybes and roll tacks and off the line.  Below are some of our tips.

Starts

At the start, Jim and Kelly’s 20 second countdown, fingers pointed at hole stealers, verbal cues about distance to the line and seamless boathandling, allowed me to focus exclusively on positioning the boat and controlling speed, and go on to win 3 of 5 starts and get off the line in the top 3 in the other two.  Buddy Melges is often quoted, jokingly, as saying “Just win the start and extend.”  Jokes aside, I think we led at around 10 of 15 mark roundings and it was our starts let us sail in clear air and in the direction we wanted; undoubtedly the source of our success.

It is difficult to give starting advice, but here is what I tell myself:  For the given conditions, fleet and line, a perfect starting strategy exists.  I think the perfect start for a Rhodes 19 in A) 6-14kts in a B) good 15+ boat fleet on a C) normal line is the following:

  1. Set up at least 1 BL off the line at approx 60 seconds with a hole, luffing on close hauled, and maintain this position by going as slow as possible without stalling the foils
  2. Be very vocal with your crew about what you want and say “trim” or “luff” a lot
  3. Have your crew point and talk about hole stealers.
    1. Be very vocal if someone is attempting something dumb like reaching down or coming into a hole that’s too small
    2. If someone tries to take your small hole, trim jib and try to pivot the boat down and fill hole
    3. If someone tries to take your large hole, trim both sails and burn some distance  to try to make them set up above you
    4. If someone wiggles in below you, step in and pull the boom hard, to heel the boat and pivot it back to close hauled, without burning distance
  4. At 20 seconds, have your crew start counting down
  5. At 9-12 seconds, depending on wind speed, trim in and bear off
  6. At 3-5 seconds, go to full trim and height.  You should already know (based on tuning/preset marks) how hard you need to trim
  7. Cross the line at full height and speed right at go
  8. Assign one of the crew to be in charge of describing speed and height.  Talk exhaustively about “max trim” and “bow down for speed” to stay well positioned with the boats around you.  Assign the other crew to constantly evaluate your escape route (e.g. can you tack and cross)

Good starts don’t happen by accident or with luck; you need to have a plan and execute on it.  If one of those conditions (A, B or C) is not true, adjust accordingly (e.g. in Race 4 we started 1-2 BL above everyone at the pin because we identified the current and line sag.)  If you fail at any step (1-8) make a mental note and try to correct it next time (e.g. we were fouled on the line in Race 1 and had to call an audible.)   It took me a very long time to learn the importance of a rigid plan, because you can get a pretty good start most of the time with a much looser plan.

Boatspeed

On the course, flat water and new sails allowed us to quickly find and then stay in the groove, with constant chatter about wind speed that drove changes in weight, trim (jib leech touching the spreader about 3” inboard of the tip in puffs, ~1” looser in the light spots) and halyard tension (sagged off 6”-12” with scallops in the under 10kts and a new sail, tighter as velocity increases and as the sail gets older.)  Meanwhile we watched the compass and thanks again to our starts, had freedom to tack on most shifts.  Downwind we listened to our own bow wave and moved weight fore and aft accordingly to balance out bow plowing against stern dragging (weight max forward until the bow wave is louder than the stern gurgling, then start inching back.)

Cone

In the cone (the last 20 boatlengths of the beat,) again because of the flat water and shifty conditions, it could be advantageous to short tack the shifts, tack into close lee bows, and pinch people off, rather than the normal R19 strategy of eating some extra distance to overstand and stay in clear air.

Tactics

For tactics, our best weapon was a chart that we’d drawn some current arrows on and put in a ziploc bag.  We studied the chart tediously in between races, then tried to predict the current and confirm it with pots before each race.  This allowed to entire the race confident in our plan and knowing which end we wanted and which side we wanted to go to.

Crew Work

For crew work, communication and planning were key.  We talked through all of the maneuvers ahead of time, and each assigned ourselves ownership of remembering a few bullet points from our boat’s go-fast playbook.  I thought our sets were particularly good and worth walking through:

  1. Make sure everything is prepared: twing on, chute packed, sheets untangled and most importantly, that the sheet is cleated at a good preset position.
  2. Prefeed the guy if possible
  3. Come in to the offset a little high, so that just before you hoist you can ease both sails to a broad reach setting
  4. Right as the crew hoists, the skipper pulls the guy around
  5. As soon as the guy is visible (i.e. around the jib) douse the jib
  6. Now the crew should grab the sheet (s/he hasn’t touched this yet because it was preset,) skipper can fully ease main and backstay and crew can fraculate
  7. Get into settled position as fast as possible

Other Notes

Our combined crew weight was about 500 pounds; our sails had one day on them at the start of the event; our boat has bottom paint; we don’t have jumpers; we learned during the event that our port uppers are about 10% tighter than starboard.

A Special Thanks

The members that make up Fleet 5, are an incredibly fast, fun and welcoming group.  I first raced on a Rhodes when I was 7 and I remember it very clearly: I thought the sail in and out were really boring, and I didn’t understand why everyone was so intent on just sitting around talking when it was finished …but that the racing was electrifying.  There was action; tempers flared; positions changed; but above all else there were laughs and everyone sailed around in between races to say “nice race” and ask how their competitors’ families were doing.  In the 20 years since I have sailed in several fleets including optis, 420s, FJs, 505s, sonars and some PHRF stuff, but I chose to spend my Saturday’s going 2-3mph in heavy, slow, under-powered Rhodes 19s because Fleet 5 provides unrivaled quality racing and unrivaled camaraderie.  Since I was 7, the entire fleet has constantly encouraged me and all of the sailors, helping to instill in me love of sailing, racing and the water.  Thank you Fleet 5, and thank you Dad.  It was my Dad who took me out that day when I was 7.  It was my Dad who has provided me with go fast tips, boats to sail on, the resources to go sailing, and undying support my entire life.  And (obviously) it was my Dad who I got to share the victory with, making this an extra special accomplishment for me.  Thanks Dad! Thanks Mom too for the support, resources and lots of other stuff (but not the go fast tips!)

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