there are no dumb questions

ask dave

Hey you know how our “Ask Ullman” feature goes, right?

You have a question that you want a real answer to, not some made-up bullshit? Send it right here and Dave Ullman will answer it. Here are the latest Q and A’s…

Q – Thirty years ago you wrote an article in “Yacht, Racing & Cruising” entitled “Get the Pros out of Sailing”. What the heck happened?

A – That’s a fair question and one that deserves a fair answer. That article was aimed mainly at PHRF and I still believe that pros should be limited from sailing PHRF. The PHRF rule was created to keep the sport affordable and for amateurs. The ’87 America’s Cup was a pivotal point in sailing. Dennis Connor upped the game with the level of professionalism he brought to his campaign and the sport was forever changed. I now think it’s acceptable to have pros in upper level Grand Prix , some One Design and big boats. All sports have changed and there is an important role for pros. It’s also important to limit some classes to keep sailing affordable and for weekend warriors.
Q – With the growth in square top mains with adjustable full-length battens up top, what do you look for to set the batten tension for various conditions?

A – Setting batten tension is no different in a Square Top mainsail than a regular mainsail. In medium conditions you want to have just enough tension on the battens to take the wrinkles out of the sail. As the wind builds you want to have more tension on the battens. Tighter battens actually induces camber. It also moves the draft forward which is precisely what you want. In light conditions you have to have them fairly loose in the pocket, even to the point of seeing some wrinkles. If they are too tight they will not flip through when tacking and gybing.
Q – When beating and sailing to the tell tails correctly, I’ve had competitors (directly abeam of me) bear off by a degree or two and gain speed and distance. When they tack, they crossed ahead of me. In this case the wind was about 12-15 knots, seas moderate. We sail on Lake Michigan in the highly competitive T10 fleet. What’s going on?

A – You should always be sailing at your optimal VMG, even in a chop. You may find your optimal VMG is achieved by sailing a degree or two lower to build speed, especially in a chop. More likely what’s happening is that you are both sailing in a lift, but heading toward a header. The boat to leeward is footing off to get to the wind shift first, and when they do and they tack on the header they cross ahead of you. It is also true if you are sailing on a header toward a lift, you should sail slightly higher than the normal VMG sailing toward the shift.
Q – When sailing downwind with our First 317, we release some of the pressure on the vang, the backstay, the cunningham, the outhaul and the halyard; but when we do so our main gets a terrible shape, especially along the mast. Can this really be fast and is it wise to let a yacht roll to leeward in light winds?

A – What’s probably happening is that even though you have let everything off you probably still have too much tension on the halyard and this is causing the sail to wrinkle. Ease the halyard off and see what happens. If the problem persists then either you have a sail that has too much draft, or more likely a sail that has too much luff curve. When you ease the backstay off the mast straightens up pushing the luff curve back into the body of the sail. It has nowhere to go so it forms a wrinkle and this is exacerbated if the halyard is on too tight.

As far as heeling the boat to leeward in light winds, this is generally a good idea. Heeling the boat allows the sail to set to their designed (read ‘full’) shape. It also gives you a little weather helm, which is good because it gives you some feel to help with steering; and it attaches water to the rudder, which is also desirable.