Sunday, September 16, 2012

Getting to Know You -- Part I

Since launch, I have taken Solitude III out sailing a couple of times.  These voyages have allowed me to slowly become more familiar with the boat: her likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies.  Every boat is different, each has its good points and its bad.  Keeping in mind the bias the undoubtedly results from having invested the last two years building this boat, I’d like to dedicate a few posts to exploring what I’ve learned thus far about this boat that I have built.

In this post, I'll tackle the meat and potatoes of the matter, Solitude III's handling under sail.  Future posts will examine my thoughts on her rigging, how she handles under power and other practical matters.
Sailing Qualities
This is, of course, all first impressions and may change as I spend more time under sail.  But, man, what a first impression.  This boat likes to sail!

Upwind, the boat is surprisingly close-winded for a gaff rigged vessel.  I’d estimate that she can get to within 45-50 degrees of the wind, close hauled.   My going in expectation was more like 55 deg.  The boat will heel over delightfully, popping quite readily up onto her chine and then becoming quite stiff.  As I experienced when sailing PocketShip, in big puffs, she’ll heel over a little more, letting the rubrail kiss the water.  Though at this point the crew took action to depower the sails a bit, she didn’t feel like she really wanted to go any farther.

Compared to the dinghies that I’ve spent most of my sailing time in, Solitude feels like she takes a long time getting though a tack, and takes a little time accelerating again on the other tack.  Despite this, Solitude holds her way well through a tack, and feels like you’d really have to make a hash of it to get caught in irons.  About halfway through the tack, the helm will suddenly get really light, and you lose a good sense of where the tiller is.  Several times now I’ve found myself inadvertently easing the helm as a result.  I can see this leading to me getting caught in irons if I don’t watch it, though I haven’t yet.  So, I need to be extra vigilant in keeping the helm a-lee when I’m coming about!

One of the idiosyncrasies of the design is that in tacking, it is important to avoid sheeting in the jib all the way until the boat gathers some way.  Sheeting in too soon leads to the boat continuing to fall off until she gets moving again.  I had expected this, based on both reports of the designer and reading about this “feature” on other traditionally rigged boats.  Still, knowledge is no replacement for experience, and I’ve already racked up several falling-off-due-to-oversheeting-the-jib incidents.   My current procedure when tacking is to let the jib fly, tack, build some way, and then sheet in the jib.  I don’t find this procedure aesthetically pleasing, though, since the jib spends a lot of time flopping about.  In future outings, I will be trying lightly sheeting the jib right after the tack, and then setting it properly when the boat is ready for it.  More experiments to come.

Her best point of sail seems to be a good beam reach.  Coming off the wind from close hauled, there is a point where the boat will give you a swift kick in the pants and leap up in speed.  Find that sweet spot, and the boat will yield a sailing experience second-to none. 

Things tame down going downwind.  That big mainsail will still push the boat pretty good, but everything feels relaxed.  The main tends to blank the jib quite a bit going with the wind.  Furling the jib would probably be just as well in these cases, but I’ve found I can bear off until I’m on a dead run and get the boat going wing-on-wing with relative ease.  On a run, the sails are very communicative, and they’ll let you know when they want to gybe.  The jib seems to always want to gybe first, which is a feature I like.  Sailing Lasers, I developed a dislike of gybing…the sail would sometimes just go, the mainsheet would hang up on the transom, and I’d be capsized before I could do anything about it.  Gybing Solitude provides good therapy for that trauma.

The PocketShip design is a touch overpowered.  I forget what her sail area-to-displacement is, but it is a big number.  This has some pluses, of course.  That big mains’l really makes the boat sporty in good winds, and gives her the ability to make good even in the lightest of airs.  On Solitude’s maiden voyage, we were pulling a solid 4.5-5 kts on a reach in about 7 kts of wind.  Sailing PocketShip, in conditions where we admittedly should have had a reef in, we were pushing 7 kts at times.  Maybe someone sitting in a 32 footer wouldn't bat an eyelash at these speeds, but this is all on a boat with a 13’8” waterline.  Hull speed is theoretically just shy of 5 kts.  The big sail, combined with a hull featuring a nice sharp entry and a nice, clean, racing-dinghy-like run aft really can combine for some outsized performance!  At the opposite end of the spectrum, last Thursday, I had Solitude out in winds of up to 2-3kts.  The boat cleared 2kts easily close hauled.  On a run, there wasn’t even enough wind to keep the jib filled, and Solitude was still good for 1.5 kts.

In terms of sail trim, I’ve found the jib is pretty sensitive on the wind.  The main, being the big, low-aspect ratio wing that it is, is much less sensitive, at least from a performance perspective.  That being said, the trim of the main does seem to play a pretty big role in balance of the boat.  When taking up a new point of sail, I’ll trim out the jib to just where it wants to be (and it always wants to be just where it wants to be), and then trim main in such a way as to dial in a fairly neutral helm. 
When hearing I've finally launched the mystery boat that's been in my garage, folks invariably ask how she sails.  I answer, "oh-so-sweetly."  She really is a sweetheart under sail, meeting or exceeding all of my expectations.  And if there is an area in which a sailboat should excel, it is sailing! 

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