Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Observations on sailing a Coast 34

We have had several pleasurable day-sails amongst the islands here in the Vava'u group of Tonga, during which I have noted a few things about the sailing of our Coast 34. One note for other Coast 34 owners is that Ladybug II has a rig that is over one meter taller than the original.

Like many sailboats with the main mast set back near mid-ships, Ladybug sails well on most points of sail with just a jib or genoa. The advantage of this, for those lazy day sails between nearby islands is that the main can remain covered and flaked down on the boom - no hoisting and re-flaking. The disadvantage is that beating up-wind is not all that efficient. Because there is no main up to keep you moving upwind, you tend to fall way off the wind on each tack and cranking in even the small 110% jib is a chore when filled with 15 knots of breeze! Still - for downwind and reaching work, the jib on its own has much to recommend it when the wind is strong enough. There is no main to blanket the sail, which seems to happen anytime you sail within about 30 degrees of dead-downwind. Also, the wind vane or autopilot works less hard because there is less weather helm. Surprisingly, on our Coast 34 anyway, there is still a good deal of weather helm with just the 110% jib. This decreases as one turns off the wind or rolls in the jib, both of which move the center of effort forward.

We had to sail into Neiafu yesterday , which saw us sailing on all points, from a dead downwind run out of our anchorage at Tapana island, jibing around the reef that lies south of Kappa, broad reaching and then beam reaching between Oto and Ava islands, and finally beating our way under 2-reefed main and full jib up the channel into the town. When sailing through these islands, we try to stay out of their wind-shadows, but this is not always possible, and we often end up in fluky winds as they swirl around points or curl over the hills. It is much like lake or river sailing where you must always be thinking of topography of the nearby land and plan your course accordingly. I learned to sail from my Dad on a river/canal/lake system in England called the Norfolk Broads as well as on a lake in Nova Scotia, so this kind of sailing is familiar.

When beating up a channel it is tempting to try for the longest tacks, so that you have to do less of them. However, the channels here have coral reefs along their edges and tall land, too, so that is is easy to get in the lee of the land if you hold onto one tack too long. For our beat up to Neiafu, Rani stood on the foredeck watching for green or brown water. I would wait until the panic in her voice reached a certain level before asking her to come aft and help bring the boat around onto the new tack. This takes fine judgment.

Close hauled, we find we have to reef at about 10 knots of actual wind and put the second reef in at 15 or so. Otherwise, we end up with an overpowered boat and way too much weather helm. It helps to move the traveler off to leeward to reduce the angle of attack of the mainsail, but during short-handed close tacking, this is a bad idea as the traveler then has to be moved during each tack. Also, we usually start hand-steering when beating amongst the islands because our little autopilot cannot cope with sudden wind shifts and we have ended up in irons and accidentally tacking when we rely on it to steer.

We buried the rail once on the way up to Neiafu, but managed to tack up the channel and through the narrows, even staying the right side of the navigation marks! Rani tolerates this kind of sailing because she knows it makes me happy and there will be a pay-back of some sort. Yesterday it was ice cream.

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