How to sail at … Frensham

and other puddles

Like many inland venues, Frensham is surrounded by small hills, but worse, by large weeds sometimes and erroneously known as trees. This lot are a big part of the reason the wind is so eccentric. Dealing with their impact includes some obvious and some less obvious tricks. So:

  • Stay away from the windward, sheltered shore as much as possible. On the beat, that might mean leaving the weather-shore-approaching tack as long as possible. In a typical south-westerly, this means doing most of the port-tacking bit first and approaching on starboard (ie going right) as this generally pays. The same principles apply downwind, particularly in an asymmetric spinnaker boat
  • Don’t get sucked into following the fleet as they all luff each other into a wind-shadow. This happens regularly having rounded 1 to starboard at the start of a westerly course. Often, a whole fleet will sail into the shadow of the shore by mark 2 where there is no wind. Create yourself some space and gybe off instead
  • Conversely, on the lee shore, the wind will divert along the trees rather than climb-over. So again, in a south-westerly, the breeze is both stronger and bends around the shoreline on the way to 2 on the far shore
  • There are lots of effects like this – I cannot describe them all here but you get the idea I hope – so get on to the water a few minutes early, have a look and a think, then test your analysis before the start

That explains it…
The next paragraph is a bit complicated, but stick with it as it explains why it is so easy to capsize to windward.

The wind does not move along always at the same height (thankfully, or we would not get any!) So, much of the wind, particularly the gusts, blows downwards, sometimes at quite a steep angle. As the moving air hits the water it spreads out in perhaps a semi-circle from the impact point. Sailing upwind, this can have a devastating effect. What happens is that as you reach one gust cell, first you get headed – perhaps 20 or 30 degrees. Then almost straight-away you get lifted and lifted and lifted and lifted, well above the direction you were going before the header. This feels fantastic at the time. Trouble is, the next gust cell is approaching rapidly and you are now pointing well above mean wind direction, perhaps by 35-40 degrees. And the first part of that next gust cell will now present itself as a huge header of more than 45 degrees. This spells big trouble – as you are likely sitting out hard in a gust and the sails are about to fill on the opposite side. Uh-oh. Splash.

And that is why you keep capsizing to windward.

All this is nice and scientific, but what can you do about it? Well, first, know its coming – fore-warned is fore-armed. Second, rather than head up and bear-off so dramatically in each cell, sail a more average course, ease the sails in the lift, stay upright and go for speed instead. Third, be ready to move fast, even if this means not sitting out to the ultimate (but keep the boat upright of course). Fourth, particularly in a Laser with its low freeboard, sometimes you can let the water take your body-weight, aided by the buoyancy in your lifejacket, and relieve the windward heeling force that way. Don’t forget that grabbing the far toestrap or gunwale is actually helping pull the boat over on top of you!