Sudden lull recovery

Discussion in 'All Things Boats & Boating' started by laukejas, Aug 12, 2018.

  1. laukejas
    Joined: Feb 2012
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    Location: Lithuania

    laukejas Senior Member

    Hey, guys,

    I'm not sure which section of this forum is most suitable for asking about sailing techniques, rather than boat design, so I posted it here. Figured that some of you, who have more experience than me, could offer some advice about a particular small dinghy sailing issue.

    Some background. I have a small, narrow 10 foot homemade sailboat with a 80 ft^2 lugsail. It has very little initial stability, and the spars, though lightened as much as possible, still bring the center of gravity quite high. To get a feel of how unstable it is, think International Canoe, and you'll be in the ballpark.

    The venues I'm training and racing in are mostly small, narrow, branched out lakes, with forests and hills all around. Which means that there is no such thing as a steady, clear wind with a definite direction. It's a ******* chaos. One second, it's so calm, that flower flakes on the water are floating still beside the boat, and a few seconds later, a gust comes, so strong that it turns the water to foam. Sailors around here often joke that we don't have wind here; we have gusts, spurts, whirls, and vortexes. A 20 knot breeze, suddenly turning 180° around, turning 180° again, and reducing to a <1 knot calm in less than 10 seconds doesn't surprise anyone anymore. Not exaggerating one bit here. You can imagine that sailing in this stuff, especially in a boat that is so overcanvased and unstable, is exhausting as hell. Worst thing? Due to the topography I described, the wind at the surface of the water is almost never the same as a couple of feet above, so most of the time, there is absolutely no indication of whatever is coming your way.

    Anyway. I have already learned to handle these unexpected gusts, jumping on the gunwale, grabbing the hiking strap with my feet, and sheeting out until I can get the boat flat again. I rarely capsize during gusts. What usually gets me are the sudden lulls while I'm hiked out on a close hauled course. Imagine, you're beating to windward like this in a strong breeze:


    (just a random photo from the internet to portrait the situation)

    And then suddenly, without any warning on the surface of the water, the wind dies. With sudden loss of pressure on the sail, and the center of gravity way outside the gunwale, I keep falling into the water, bringing the whole rig on top of me. I just can't seem to figure out a way to get inside the cockpit when the boat is already falling on me. The faster I try to get in, the more heeling moment I create, making it worse.

    Up till now, I have worked out two methods to get inside the boat without capsizing:

    1. If it's a complete lull, I usually try to push the tiller hard and fast, bearing up, so the turning moment throws me back into the boat.
    2. If there is any wind left, sometimes I do the opposite - bear away hard and fast, to face the sail into the wind, and get some heeling force that would prevent it from falling on top of me. Unfortunately, unlike the first method, this creates a turning moment in the wrong direction, throwing me out of the boat, rather than in.

    Sometimes these methods work, sometimes they don't. It all depends how much I was hiked out, and how much wind is left after that lull. Even when it works, it completely robs the boat of any speed it had, and leaves me ill prepared for a water-foaming gust that often comes after a lull. Losing speed is also bad during a competition.

    You can imagine how frustrating that must be. This isn't just some random occurrence; I get these killer lulls dozens of times in every sailing session. Other sailors who have wider boats fare better against this, but it is still a never-ending inspiration for profanity for the most.

    I'm writing this in hope that maybe some of you have some advice how to deal with this. As I said, preparation is rarely possible: due to the shore topography, there are no indications on the surface of the water, (like darker patches, or the lack of them). So, what can be done? How should I deal with these sudden calms when I'm hiked out all the way, touching the water with the back of my head, holding the hiking strap with the tips of my toes?
  2. Doug Lord
    Joined: May 2009
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    Doug Lord Flight Ready

    Sounds irritating enough that I might consider adding a couple of small hulls(amas) either side of the boat. They wouldn't normally be in the water-only there to prevent a sudden capsize.
  3. JamesG123
    Joined: Mar 2015
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    JamesG123 Senior Member

    Probably not allowed by his class rules.

    I would say look at what the fastest guys and consistent winners are sailing (ie; wider boats) and doing and copy that. It is the sincerest form of flattery after all.
  4. laukejas
    Joined: Feb 2012
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    laukejas Senior Member

    My boat is homemade... No class rules. The other guys are either capsizing, or have the boats wide enough so that they don't have to heel so much in the first place... Meaning there is no problem for them to handle these lulls without capsizing over to windward.
  5. Blueknarr
    Joined: Aug 2017
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    Location: Colorado

    Blueknarr Senior Member

    If I understand correctly, the race results are tiered by the number of capsizes. The slowest top tier with zero capsizes beating the fastest with only one. It is paramount to avoid capsizing. Even to the point of sacrificing speed.

    The photo you provided shows the classic hiking position to maximize speed. This position also maximizes lull recovery effort. It is well and good for the center of your lake were the breeze is stabilized and predictable.

    To keep upright near shore you can either learn to predict how the land bound feachrs affects the wind or adopt a hiking pose which reduces lull recovery even if it reduces speed thru water. It might reduce overall time on coarse by avoiding those time consuming capsizes.

    An alternative hiking technique I developed while in puffy conditions on my sunfish is;
    - keep hips onboard. This allows me to slide in and out on my torso without having my hup/butt catch .- rotate body so forward arm is close to water and aft arm is skyward.. Allows my fold in to stay low, folding forward instead of upward.
    - lower/forward foot hooks into near hiking strap to pull me onboard. Upper/aft foot engages far side to push me outboard.
    - If able, hold main sheet directly from boom. Pulling on main sheet helps bring upper body onboard and the air cought in sail prevents heeling to windward.

    Give it a try. Probably feel awkward at first, but does have advantages.

    Good luck
  6. The Q
    Joined: Feb 2014
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    The Q Senior Member

    When I used to have this problem and I was sailing in warm water, I'd just relax and flop my body into the water and not pull the Laser over on top of me. When the next gust came along, as they did, use that to lever myself back out of the water.
  7. jehardiman
    Joined: Aug 2004
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    jehardiman Senior Member

    First you need to read the water and anticipate the wind. It can be done. Get a copy of Wind and Strategy (ISBN 9780393031362) by Stuart Walker which outlines what to look for and what to expect. Then work those rectus abdominis muscles.
  8. laukejas
    Joined: Feb 2012
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    laukejas Senior Member

    Interesting. I will try it out next time we get strong winds here. I admit, the way you described, that sliding does sound quite painful. I assume your boat doesn't have as many sharp edges as mine!

    The moment I do that, my boat goes over. Laser is infinitely more stable than my boat. It's midships profile is pretty much oval, so all of the stability comes from the sailor. Besides, the next gust might come in 10 minutes.

    Thanks, I have that book, and have read it several times. However, as I said in my initial post, due to the local topography, there aren't any indications on the water 90% of the time. Believe me, if even the best sailors in our fleets, some of which are professionals of the sport, cannot do any better job of predicting these gusts and lulls, then it's really fair to call them unpredictable.

  9. Blueknarr
    Joined: Aug 2017
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    Blueknarr Senior Member

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