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Sailing Tips

In addition to the below, some interesting simulation graphics can be found at WB Sails website including an interesting article about tell tails

This document was inspired by, and severely plagiarised from, an item written by Andy Cassell of Ratsey sailmakers. Andy has raced Dragons for most of his life and makes Dragon sails very popular amongst Dragon sailors on the Solent, and elsewhere in the UK.

Standing Rigging

Setting up the mast is critical to the performance of a Dragon, both as regards its fore and aft location and rake.
Poul-Ricard Hoj-Jensen of Petticrow's boat builders and Hoj-Jensen design has a set of reference measurements for optimum performance. Note that different wind conditions require different rig tensions and mast rake. These differences allow the boat to be powered up in light conditions, and de-powered once the wind strength exceeds 20 knots.
Poul-Ricard has pointed out that the mast settings may be useful in your boat but they may not be exactly applicable to Dragons from other builders. The optimum position of the mast may well vary by some 2 or 3 inches which reflects, amongst other things, the tolerance afforded by the rules to the fore and aft positioning of the keel during construction.

Adjustments during Racing
There are two areas of standing rigging to which adjustment is permitted during racing:
  1. MAST RAM - The mast ram moves the mast fore and aft. The permitted movement at deck level is 150 mm. This movement has permitted considerable downwind performance gains. In light airs, and a sloppy sea, the ram prevents rig movement. The ram can also be used to stimulate pre-bend and permit de-powering of the rig in heavy winds.
  2. JUMPER ADJUSTMENT - Easing the Jumpers allows the head of the mast to fall away, which may be necessary in very heavy conditions to de-power the main.
Many Dragons have "Tacking" jumpers, which permit the head of the mast to be pulled to port or starboard. The effect of pulling the mast to windward, in light to medium conditions, can be an improvement in pointing ability. The trade-off is a potential loss of speed.
These tacking jumpers could be used to good effect on a crowded start line.

The Mainsail

LIGHT AIRS (0 - 7 knots)

With smooth water adjust the outhaul until the mainsail is fairly full along the foot. Do not overdo it - say 2 inches from the black band. Too much bag will dissipate the air travelling over the surface of the sail and reduce power.
A really full sail is only required in light to medium air with a choppy sea where it really pays to power up. The Dragon, being a heavy displacement boat, needs to be sailed free and fast through a short chop; which keeps the speed high enough to gain lift from the keel.
The next step is to ensure the Cunningham is slack allowing creases to form all the way down the luff. This allows the draft to move aft and create a little feel to the helm. Move the traveller slightly to windward (3 inches approx) and ease the main sheet until the top tell-tale streams out aft from the leach, and the boom is near (but below) the centre line. Very slight runner tension should be applied to prevent the forestay from flopping about in any waves. No kicking strap tension is required.

MEDIUM AIRS (8 to 18 knots)

As the wind increases, and more sheet tension is required, the helm will begin to have more bite and consequently improved pointing ability. Now the mainsheet traveller can be centralised on the track, as mainsheet tension is increased. The outhaul can be tightened until the clew reaches the black band, unless there is short choppy conditions where additional power may be required through the waves.
If the wind increases further the traveller can be allowed below the centre-line. In gusty conditions the traveller may need to be dropped down to the leeward side to keep the boat flat. Cunningham may be required, depending upon whether the mainsail has a full cut. Considerable runner tension is now applied, again dependant upon the prevailing sea conditions.
If there is a short chop then too much runner could deprive the boat of power required through the waves; do not be afraid to carry out constant runner adjustment through sloppy seas. Considerable Kicking strap tension will also be required, to keep the top trailing tell-tail flying.

HEAVY AIRS (19 to 28 plus knots)

In Heavy airs two simple rules apply; if more power is required trim the sails in, if less power is required ease the traveller down the track.
The mainsail can be flattened by applying maximum Cunningham tension. If you require to de-power further, then the mainsail can be flattened more by increasing mast bend. There are two techniques available to introduce additional mast bend; the first is to allow the mast ram forward slightly, the second is to ease the Jumpers. Current thinking is moving towards zero adjustment of the Jumpers (New masts can be fitted with fixed Jumpers). Running Backstay tension can also encourage mast bend.
The outhaul should be on maximum tension (clew to the black band). The kicking strap should be very tight but please do not forget to ease it slightly before bearing away.
As the wind increases more leech line tension may be required to prevent leech flutter. Please do not forget to ease the leech line, on both the mainsail and genoa, in more moderate conditions as a hooked leech can seriously effect sail shape.

The Genoa

The Genoa is the powerhouse of the Dragon's upwind performance. A badly set genoa will also impact on the mainsail performance.

LIGHT AIRS

In light airs (say 0 to 8 knots), the genoa halyard should be tensioned sufficiently to only hoist the sail! The luff itself should be loose with visible horizontal creases appearing on the leading edge (be sensible about the degree of creasing). The tension on the foot and leach should be almost equal with slightly less on the leach to allow the air to stream away, ease the leech line to prevent hooking.
The sheet tension depends very much on the prevailing sea conditions. In flat seas the leach should be approximately 5 inches from the spreader, and the foot should be approximately 2 inches from the shrouds. In sloppy seas you may have to ease the genoa considerably with the leach approximately 8 inches from the spreader and the foot approximately 5 inches from the shrouds.
Power is required in the genoa so runner tension should be sufficient to prevent the rig slopping around.

MEDIUM AIRS

In medium airs (8 to 18 knots) increase the luff tension so that the creases become less visible, until no creases are visible at approx 12 knots in flat seas and 16 knots lumpy seas. Basically, the tighter the genoa halyard the flatter the sail becomes.
The barber hauler should now take full control of the slot; down to close, up to open. As the wind increases the slot will tend to open of its own accord, for higher pointing close the slot and to power away through a chop open the slot.
The barber hauler block should be positioned as near to the coaming as possible, without backwinding the mainsail. A rule of thumb could be that for flat seas the leach should be 1.5 inches from the spreader and the foot of the genoa should be up tight against the shrouds. For choppy seas you may have to open the slot lightly; perhaps with the leach 2.5 inches from the spreader and the foot of the genoa touching the shrouds.
Running backstay tension should be steadily increased, as sea conditions allow, to facilitate maximum pointing. In choppy conditions attention should be paid to how the boat rides through the waves. If the boat is stopped by a wave then the runner should be eased to power the boat through. Anticipating the effect of the wave is better than reacting to the effect.

HEAVY AIRS

In heavy airs (19 to 28 knots plus) the halyard tension should be increased further so that no creases are visible in the luff. This will flatten the genoa further, but due attention should be taken to the sea conditions. The slot may require opening slightly by moving the barber hauler block away from the coaming to prevent excessive back-winding. In extreme conditions the barber hauler block may need to be raised higher from the deck to de-power the genoa.
As the boat heads towards being over powered, maximum runner should be applied to encourage flattening of the mainsail.

The Spinnaker

When in doubt, always fly the spinnaker as it will invariably produce more power and extra speed. The exception to this rule is on a very close reach in a blow when the main and genoa may be more effective, especially in less experienced hands.
Most Dragons have the spinnaker pole mounted on a sliding track on the front of the mast; this permits an infinite variety of pole heights with the pole parallel to the deck. Some of the newer Dragons have poles stowed on the main boom and two rings on the mast for pole attachment, which restricts slightly the possible pole heights.
As the wind goes aft of the beam don't forget to push the mast forward using the mast ram, don't forget to ease the backstays first. At the bottom of the downwind leg you will need to bring the mast back before unfurling the genoa. DO NOT pull the mast back with the mast ram, use the backstays first then bring the mast ram aft, this will extend the life of your mast!

LIGHT AIRS (0 to 8 knots)

The halyard should be at the top of the mast. The pole should be as high as you dare but ensuring that the clews are at the same height. In choppy seas it is particularly difficult to keep the sail filled and the pole may have to be set very low to keep the spinnaker "firm".
It is best that only one of the crew play all the strings. The pole height, guy and sheet need to be played constantly and high concentration is required. The Pole downhaul can be used to force the guy forward as required. Using the guy to trim is sometimes easier and quicker to adjust rather than the sheet, especially on the reach. The other crew member will be required to sit very close to the mast, perhaps on the foredeck, to help keep the stern from "sticking" in the water.
In very light conditions it pays to have the mainsail nearer to the centre line (over-sheeted) than you would expect, this has the effect of opening the slot which is tighter than expected because the spinnaker is unable lift away from the mainsail.

MEDIUM AIRS (9 to 18 knots)

The halyard should be at the top of the mast, except when reaching where the head can be lowered several inches to help increase the slot.
The pole should be at maximum height, except when at the lower end of the range of the wind scale in choppy seas, where the pole may be lowered slightly to keep the clews level and the spinnaker firm.
On the run the Foredeck crew should stand/crouch by the mast looking backwards. This crew member will be helping to prevent the stern sticking in the water, but more importantly spotting for more wind and potential shifts on the water behind.
As the wind increases through the range the helmsman should sail as deep as possible, when running, without losing boat speed. Being a displacement boat Dragons do not gain anything from sailing angles.

HEAVIER AIRS (19 to 28 plus knots)

When reaching do not hoist the pole too high, as this will close the leach and cause excessive backwinding of the mainsail. To keep the leech as far away from the hull as possible, make sure that there is no tweaker on the sheet. The foredeck should play the spinnaker and the middleman should play the kicking-strap; easing it during the excessive gusts and allowing the helmsman to bear away. The spinnaker should be eased as much as possible, without being allowed to flap. The skipper also has to assist the crew playing the spinnaker by bearing away when the crew cannot pull the sheet any further.
The main outhaul should be out to the black band, keeping the mainsail flat at the top end of the wind range. Do not worry about the mainsail back-winding, just try to keep the boat as flat as possible and look out for wind ahead so that you are prepared to bear away in the puffs.
When running try and avoid excessive rolling, this can be done using lots of kicking-strap and keeping the spinnaker relatively flat. Do not pull the pole too far aft as this will pull the spinnakers centre of effort away from the centre line, encouraging rolling.
Dragons are not dinghies but they will surf in reasonable wave patterns, so good wave technique and a well few timed pumps on the spinnaker sheet can produce rewarding results. For best speed sail the boat as deep as you dare without compromising stability. In certain conditions sailing slightly by the lee can produce best results, but be careful!
Most importantly; ensure that the boat is constantly pumped out. Modern Dragons have bulkheads, which produce positive buoyancy, but we do not want to test how long the buoyancy keeps the boat afloat! Do we?

Boat and Sail Trim Tables

LIGHT AIRS (0-8 knots)

 Mainsail Control  Upwind Reaching Downwind
 Outhaul 1" from black band except in slight chop then 2.5" from band 2.5" except when close reaching with spinnaker and experiencing backwinding  Ease to 1.5" from band
 Cunningham  No tension  No tension  No tension
 Kicker  No tension  Very slight tension  Very slight tension
 Traveller 2-3" above centre line Halfway down track Halfway down track
 Sheet Sufficient to keep boom on centre line To give Desired boom angle  To give Desired boom angle

 

 Genoa Control Upwind Reaching Downwind
 Halyard  Loose, puckered luff Loose, puckered luff Genoa furled
 Track  Inboard as far as possible without backwinding main Track outboard if possible  
 Barber Hauler  Eased to set sails some 4-5" from spreader (make sure top and bottom tell-tales are parallel) Trimmed to keep excessive twist out of leech.  
 Sheet Depending on sea conditions; the foot should be just touching shroud in flat sea, but the foot should be up to 6" off in lumpy sea.  Trimmed on tell-tales  

 

 Spinnaker Control  Reaching Downwind
 Halyard  4-6" off the mast To mast
Pole Lowered to match clew height Lowered to match clew height 
Guy/Sheet Normal Guy position, use Pole downhaul to push pole forward as required. Try to keep sheet out of water. Easier to trim via Guy rather than sheet. Pole as far aft as possible without having to oversheet; maximum projected area.

 

 Rig Control  Upwind  Reaching  Downwind
 Runners Adjust to take slop out of forestay - no tighter Adjust to take slop out of forestay - no tighter Release to allow rig forward
 Backstay     Release to allow mast forward
 Jumpers Maximum tension for straight mast. With possible windward adjustment Maximum tension for straight mast. Maximum tension for straight mast.
 Mast Ram Maximum Aft Maximum Aft Maximum Forward

MEDIUM AIRS (9-18 knots)

 Mainsail Control  Upwind Reaching Downwind
 Outhaul Out to black band 2.5" from band  Ease to 1.5" from band
 Cunningham  No tension  No tension  No tension
 Kicker Tension increasing as wind pressure builds Adjust to prevent head falling off slight tension
 Traveller Near centre line, dropping down the track as pressure builds Bottom half of track Bottom half of track
 Sheet Sufficient to keep boom on centre line and tighten leech of main To give Desired boom angle To give Desired boom angle

 

 Genoa Control Upwind Reaching Downwind
 Halyard Loose, puckered luff Loose, puckered luff Genoa furled
 Track Inboard as far as possible without backwinding main Track outboard if possible  
 Barber Hauler Eased to set sails some 2" from spreader (make sure top and bottom tell-tales are parallel) Trimmed to keep excessive twist out of leech.  
 Sheet Depending on sea conditions; the foot should be hard against the shroud in flat sea, but the foot should be loosely touching shroud in lumpy sea. Trimmed on tell-tales  

 

 Spinnaker Control  Reaching Downwind
 Halyard 4-6" off the mast To mast
Pole Pole level with clew. The pole should never be higher than the clew - this prevents "hooking" into the main. High as possible for maximum power without the clew drooping below pole height.
Guy/Sheet Normal Guy position, pole must stay off the forestay. Ease sheet as much as possible. Pole as far aft as possible without having to oversheet; maximum projected area.

 

 Rig Control  Upwind  Reaching  Downwind
 Runners Tight in smooth water but easing through slop to keep power on Ease almost right of Release to allow rig forward
 Backstay     Release to allow mast forward
 Jumpers Maximum tension for straight mast. With possible windward adjustment Maximum tension for straight mast. Maximum tension for straight mast.
 Mast Ram Maximum Aft Maximum Aft Maximum Forward

HEAVY AIRS (19-28 plus knots)

 Mainsail Control  Upwind Reaching Downwind
 Outhaul Out to black band Out to black band Out to black band
 Cunningham Pull on to remove creases No tension No tension
 Kicker On Hard Ease on bearing away. Ease kicker in puffs to de-power if required. Remove twist on mainsail to prevent rolling.
 Traveller Play in gusts (dump) but try to keep as close to centre as possible - avoids backwinding from the Genoa. Down track Down track
 Sheet Hard in To give Desired boom angle To give Desired boom angle

 

 Genoa Control Upwind Reaching Downwind
 Halyard No Creases in luff No Creases in luff Genoa furled
 Track If overpowered, or backwinding main then ease down.  Have Genoa as far outboard as possible.  
 Barber Hauler Eased to de-power in extreme gusts when overpowered. Normal setting should have leach 2" from spreader. Trimmed to keep excessive twist out of leech.  
 Sheet The foot should be hard against the shroud. Ease until tell-tales stall. Ease to spill when overpowered.  

 

 Spinnaker Control  Reaching Downwind
 Halyard To Mast To mast (reduces rolling)
Pole Low to straighten luff and open leach (reduces back-winding) Lower than maximum to avoid spinnaker swinging (reduces rolling)
Guy/Sheet Trim as eased as possible Trim for maximum projected area but sheet in when rolling starts.

 

 Rig Control  Upwind  Reaching  Downwind
 Runners As hard as possible Ease but keep control of rig Allow mast forward but controlled
 Backstay Not required Not required Apply backstay for gybes - prevents mast inverting.
 Jumpers On Hard. If overpowered then ease as last resort On Hard On Hard
Mast Ram Fully aft. If main is too full and back-winding then allow ram forward slightly to flatten main. Maximum Aft Maximum Forward

Upwind Sailing in Heavy Air

The Helmsman sails the boat as flat as possible, feather in gusts. If overpowered the crew have the following options which are shown in order of preference:

  • Play the Main Traveller - drop to leeward in gusts.
  • Ease the Genoa barber hauler to de-power in gusts.
  • Move the Genoa Car Track to leeward to de-power and reduce back-winding of main.

Boat Handling

LIGHT AIRS

UPWIND - The helmsman sails fast and free, maintaining boat momentum at all costs. To this end, the number of tacks is minimalised and the boat is kept heeled by the helmsman sitting to leeward and the crew sitting on the leeward side decks. By heeling the boat the sails fall into a foil shape and this helps propel the boat in what little wind exists. Movement around the boat is cat-like and minimal.
TACKING - The boat is sailed around slowly, maintaining momentum. The crew should endeavour to encourage a roll through the tack (yes, a roll-tack!), which is easier to execute in a boat with the winchless Genoa system.
The following tacking sequence can be followed but some of the tasks can be shared by more than one crew member, you will develop your own technique/preference with practice:-

  • Load windward winch (usually Foredeck crew)
  • Release windward runner fine tune (Helmsman/Middleman)
  • Apply coarse leeward runner if not set up already (Middleman)
  • Helmsman gently tacks boat whilst nominated crew backs genoa momentarily
  • Nominated crew releases genoa and feed sheet through barber hauler block
  • Other crew hauls in genoa very gently (do not oversheet) and brings in sail as boat accelerates.
  • Main traveller pulled up the track (Middleman/Skipper)
  • New windward runner adjusted via fine tune to prevent rig flop (Helmsman/Middleman)
  • Genoa is constantly trimmed to react to waves and variations in wind speed (usually Foredeck)

DOWNWIND - SPINNAKER HOIST - After bearing away, the main is gently pushed out, the genoa trimmed and the spinnaker hoist proceeds as follows:
  • Ease leeward spinnaker sheet tweaker on approach to windward mark (Foredeck)
  • Chute open (Foredeck) and hoist pole (Middleman)
  • Hoist spinnaker (Foredeck) Trim Guy (Middleman)
  • Ease Backstays (Helmsman)
  • Set Sheet and take control of Guy (Middleman/Foredeck), Furl Genoa and Mast Ram forward (Crew member who is not playing Spinnaker).

THE GYBE - The usual method for gybing is to "end to end" the Spinnaker pole and proceeds as follows:
  • Release windward running backstay (Helmsman/Middleman)
  • En route to foredeck ease pole uphaul several inches (Foredeck)
  • Pull mainsail to centre of boat ( Helmsman)
  • Facing forwards on the new windward side end to end the spinnaker. Ensure that the genoa sheet is dropped off the end of the old windward side of the pole, place the other genoa sheet over the new windward side of the pole (Foredeck)
  • Release Spinnaker sheet tweaker on old Windward side, pull on tweaker on new windward side. (Middleman)
  • Trim Spinnaker (Middleman)
  • Lightly pull on weather runner (Helmsman)
  • Reset pole height (Foredeck).

THE DROP - The hatch may be left open in light conditions
  • Pull rig aft with backstay. Set Outhaul and kicker for beat (Skipper).
  • Available crew ensures that the halyard is free to run, pulls mast ram aft, and unfurls Genoa.
  • Available crew pulls up slack on Spinnaker umbilical (ensure umbilical NOT wrapped round the bow), releases Spinnaker halyard and pulls the umbilical like mad.
  • Spinnaker trimmer eases the guy forward as the spinnaker disappears into the chute, then drops the pole onto the deck.
  • Both crew tidy up the sheets and pull the pole downhaul hard (prevents spinnaker pole dragging in the water).
  • Trim Genoa for upwind (Foredeck).
  • Tidy Spinnaker sheets and halliards (available crew)

MEDIUM AIRS

Basically the procedures for sail handling are the same but the movement around the boat becomes less constrained and more urgent as the wind increases.
TACKING - The boat is sailed into the tacker faster than in light airs. The boat is kept flatter into and out of the tack. The genoa is backed for approximately half a second (just as the sail is starting to back) to ease the genoa round the shrouds.

  • The crew must get their weight to the windward side, and hiking, as soon as possible.
  • The crew should avoid oversheeting through the tack to allow the helmsman to drive off immediately after the tack.
  • As the boat accelerates the genoa sheet should be brought in via the fine tune and the runner should be tightened.

SPINNAKER HOIST - The runner should be eased but not released entirely as the mast needs support. The hatch should be closed after the hoist is completed.
GYBE - No difference in the boat handling except to trim the backstay to give the mast support during the Gybe.
to allow the Spinnaker drop.

HEAVY AIRS

No real changes in techniques, though in heavy seas the helmsman will need to time his manoeuvres more carefully, and avoid close shaves with other boats.
UPWIND - More muscle required during tacks, Genoa only requires momentary backing.
So far as gust control is concerned to prevent overpowering the following techniques are used:-

  • Middleman - Takes care of the traveller and runner fine tune
  • Foredeck - Takes care of the Barber Hauler, Genoa sheet fine tune.

If constantly overpowered the genoa should be eased outboard via the track or Barbers.
The helmsman seeks to feather the boat into the wind with hardened mainsail. However it should be noted that the cumulative effect of four or five awkward waves may be to stop the boat in which case it is beneficial to pay off, and ease sails, to regain speed.
SPINNAKER HOST - Particular care should be taken in easing, rather than throwing the runner off. Furthermore, backstay should be applied to support the mast.
Do not pull up the Spinnaker until the Spinnaker pole height and Guy position have been set. On a reach, take account of a little stretch on the Guy, so set it so that it will remain off the forestay when the Spinnaker fills.
Dragons do surf so pump main and spinnaker if brawn permits!
On the run suppress any tendency to roll by lots of Kicker and oversheeting the Spinnaker once the boat starts to oscillate. Allow the Guy forward slightly in extreme conditions.
GYBE - During the gybe , ensure that both the windward and leeward tweakers are hard on. In extreme conditions the middleman should assist the skipper to gybe the main, having oversheeted the spinnaker slightly first (allow the foredeck enough slack to gybe the pole). IN HEAVY WEATHER REMEMBER TO PUMP THE BOAT OUT FREQUENTLY!

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