high performance sailing
What sail, what spars, what foils Español / English
The correct combination according to sailors’ weights
It frequently happens that we don’t know what’s the best stuff to buy for our kids when they are sailing Optimist. In many cases parents buy a second hand boat coming from a sailor whose age made him or her leave the class. What happens is that our young and light kid has to sail using a stuff that was very good for someone whose weight was about 15 kg heavier! I’ve seen too many times children suffering in the water instead of having a good time practicing our sport.
After a certain time sailing, people learn that there are brands and different models for everything. Sails, hulls, masts, booms, sprits, rudders, dagger boards… A lot of possibilities, but what are the best options for their kids?
I’ll try to give you some information and recommend you what, in my opinion, would be the most appropriate for them.
JSail is simply the best sail in my opinion, and I’ve checked many brands. Very well made and very good stuff. They use a cloth that lasts a lot and, the most important thing: the JSail have a shape that gives both, very good upwind angle and high speed in all courses. Many other sails are simply copying it.
A sail model has to be the one a sailor needs, and it is determined by his/her weight. Some people think that more power means more speed… it actually is the opposite. A child who needs a JSail Blue, for instance, will get his maximum performance only with the Blue. The Red or the Black models are more powerful, yes, but with these sails light sailors would always sail lower and slower in the upwind courses and it would also be more difficult to handle in all conditions.
A flat sail is more aerodynamic than a deep one, which in addition has a worse upwind angle and when it blows strong it will be necessary to hike more and earlier. But a too flat sail will be very bad in waves and acceleration after tacking or in the starts. Again, the best sail Is the correct one for each sailor's weight.
By tuning correctly a sail, we can prepare it to be faster in flat waters or to be stronger to climb waves. Only the correct model offers the perfect balance of both terms and it can be perfectly tuned only for the conditions the sailor is going to face.
Let me explain you a short story. My youngest daughter was a very good sailor but she was always having problems in strong winds and gusts. I tried different combinations of stuff, but the problem remained. One day I went to N1 Foils, whose owner is a good friend of mine, and asked him for a more flexible dagger board.
It took us days, but we measured and compared many dagger boards of all the brands we could find. Blades that were even made in various continents… We made a scale of stiffness and saw that it was a very good room for a new model. Some days later, we finally got a prototype. Some weeks later my daughter won the Spanish Nationals with it- most of the races were in strong winds - and N1 Foils decided to offer the new blade to clients. It was the very first N1 Foils XR Light.
N1 Foils offers very high quality at a surprisingly affordable price. The production is made with CNC moulds, which give the blades a very good finishing, and the epoxy resins and glass fiver they use are of the best quality. CNC is also used for blades finishing, which guaranties a very fast final product. The company has recently introduced a new design that presents a concave blade, which makes the dagger boards faster because they drag less and produce less turbulence in high speed.
There are two models of dagger boards: the XR Light and the XR Series, which is also the name of their only model of rudder blade, the stiffest you will find, which is exactly what your kid needs.
Light sailors need help in difficult conditions. Gusts usually make them hill too much and too suddenly. A more flexible dagger board helps them making the boat hilling less and slower. In most cases, light sailor means young sailor; expert sailors are usually older and consequently heavier and stronger. For them it’s easier to see coming gusts and to trim their sail even in advance. Young sailors are smaller… and trimming and hiking continuously can be exhausting for them.
In light winds there’s no difference between a flexible and a stiff dagger board, but in medium and strong winds the difference for a sailor can be very remarkable.
This is a more difficult subject than the two before. Sails and the foils of the same brand and model have very little differences between them, but the question of spars is a completely different point. After checking lots of masts I have never seen two of them with the same stiffness and making the same curve when bending. Even more, I have seen “flexible” masts stiffer then “stiff” masts in the same brand… In my opinion, the best mast, the one I recommend to all sailors (see why below), is the Optimast Black, the most reliable. It is an excellent mast and after measuring many of them it is where I’ve found less variations. You know that the mast you buy will really be stiff and the curve produced when bending is going to be very regular.
Sprits and booms are a different case. By using a stiff mast as I propose you will need the rest of spars to help you in strong wind and gusts. The lighter the sailor is, the more help is needed. In the cases of the booms and sprits I cannot say only one brand. Each of them, in the different models they make, have advantages and disadvantages… So, what I did is, again based on the sailor’s weight, to make a scale with what the stuff I recommend in each case.
A new theory (which is already working) and why
My tuning guide tips'n tricks explains how to rig a sail in order to have it performing the best whatever the sailing conditions are, with no need of ties tension readjustments in the water between the races because of wind strength changing, for example.
But this makes a mast bending irrelevant; whatever its curve is a sail will always have the best shape and the maximum capacity of pushing a boat forward.
So, why was it necessary to make a mast bend? In the old style it was justified: if the ties are short and transmit the mast bending to the luff it flattens the sail in case of strong winds. For a very long time in reality it was the only way to depower an Optimist sail, and it still is in most of the other classes. But in the particular case of the Optimist a flexible mast has some serious inconvenients.
1st, Depowering it means that you’ll have some less difficulties in the upwind course, but it also means that you will have far less power and speed when you need all what your sail can give you at the reaches and downwind courses.
2nd, In case of strong winds you have to vary a rake a lot in order to give a boat the correct balance. The more flexible the mast is, the more sensitive to the rake corrections it is, and more forward you’ll have to push it to go back to the balance point. This means that in the downwind courses with strong winds the possibility of nose dives will be much higher.
3rd, In the gusts, when the mast always bends backwards and to leeward, moving the sail centre out of the balance point. Automatically a boat wants to point higher and it makes necessary to pull the rudder, sometimes a lot, to avoid it. Obviously, this reduces substantially our speed.
But now imagine your sail looking always perfect in its front section, giving you both speed and strength to climb the waves and maximum performance in reaches and downwind courses. And also imagine your leech opening automatically and helping you to keep the boat flat in the gusts. This will only be possible if we take a very stiff mast and a sprit and a boom of the correct flexibility for our weight. This was a dream some years ago, but sailing stuff has developed a lot since then and now we can find exactly what we need.
In the particular case of the Optimist the leech control is not given by the mast bending, but by the parts that work directly with the leech ends: the boom and the sprit. We also need a boat to react at the gusts in a way a sailor feels comfortable with. This is provided by the dagger board stiffness.
So, how to combine the stuff?
As I said before, I propose to use always the stiffest mast (Optimast Black) and also the stiffest rudder (Foils XR Series) and combine them with a sail, dagger board, boom and sprit a sailor needs. While this need directly depends on a sailor’s weight.
So, this is how it would look like:
A small detail: it also depends on when a sailor’s weight is taken. If it is at the beginning of the season, remember that children tend to grow up and become heavier. But if you are preparing for an important regatta I´d recommend taking this scale as a very good orientation. Some other points should be also considered, for example, if a regatta is going to take place in a lake and a sailor is very close to the border between two different sail models, the best would be to go for the flatter one. Better speed and angle… less strength to climb waves, of course, but who would miss it in a lake?
And that’s all :-)
I would be very glad if sailors using my ideas could e-mail me to share their feelings from sailing, their observations and stories of their successes!