Today we will continue on our quest to find the freedom and guts to go sailing naked. What instrument are we going to eliminate today? I vote for the knot-log.
So, what exactly is the knot log?
The knot log is a transducer that protrudes from the bottom of our boat usually located ahead of the keel on or near the centerline. It is important for the knot-log to be out front in clear water so that the water flow across it is the same no mater what tack or point of sail we are on. The log has a paddle wheel that spins as the boat travels through the water. It works just like the anemometer that we spoke about yesterday. Unfortunately, unlike the anemometer, the knot-log is vulnerable to being fouled by barnacles and debris in the water. It is also notorious for being inaccurate. There are new designs that help to eliminate this problem but they are still not the norm. The knot-log gives very different information than your GPS. It measures our boat’s speed through the water while the GPS measures our boats speed across the ground.
You ever find yourself sailing along and all the sudden realize that the boat feels just awesome? When we have our sails trimmed correctly and the boat on the correct point of sail it just feels right. Guess what, we’re probably sailing the boat as fast as it can go at that moment. When was the last time you went sailing and said, “Hey, I think I want to slow down”? That just doesn’t happen. When sailboats are hauling butt they’re going 6. That’s already slow, right? Most of us want to go “fast”, so slow just isn’t a skill we want to develop although many of us seem to have a natural ability to accomplish it. When the boat is “fast” it has that awesome feel. We don’t need to have a digital display flashing in our face telling us what we already can feel.
We should be able to be at the helm in a comfortable position, with the boat at the optimum angle of heal (about 12 degrees), the rudder at 3 or 4 degrees to leeward and the wheel being held loosely between our thumb and pointer finger. If that’s not going on then there are only three things to look at and they are: Sail trim, amount of sail up and point of sail.
If our sail trim is poor the boat will be slow. Most sailors tend to overtime their sails. The tendency is to trim in to far. This will “bind up” the boat and may well increase weather helm. All well designed boats have a tendency to turn into the wind. This is a good trait that adds to safety (if there is a problem at the helm the boat turns into the wind and slows or stops) and the ease of steering (by giving the helmsman a little pressure to “feel the rudder” with). But as with most things in life, too much of a good thing is not good. With over-trimmed sails we need to apply more rudder angle to keep the boat sailing straight. More rudder angle equals more drag and that equals 5th or 6th place at the end of the race. Under-trimmed sails means we are giving away power and drive. Proper trim will allow the boat to sail fast.
Amount of sail set:
This is really an extension of sail trim. Regardless of how well we trim our sails if we simply have too much or too little sail exposed to the wind the boat will be slow. Obviously if there is not enough sail out the boat will be underpowered. Being underpowered will make us sail at a lower angle to the wind (sail fat). It takes sailing fat to get the boat speed to where we expect it, so while the boat speed may be okay our journey to the free rum (directly upwind) will take longer and that equals slow. The opposite problem is too much sail out and that will make us overpowered. If we are overpowered we will experience an excess of weather helm. We counter-act that weather helm by turning the rudder leeward. Keeping the rudder turned increases drag and slows the boat tremendously (it is also exhausting to hold the helm against the added pressure). In the worst case picture the rudder is unable to hold the boat on course and it will round up into the wind. Now, that’s really slow. It is important for us to get to know our boat and discover what amount of sail is appropriate for the wind conditions on any particular day.
Incorrect point of sail:
If we have deployed the correct amount of sail and we have trimmed those sails perfectly for sailing close-hauled but we are sailing on a close reach then our boat speed will be terrible. It is crucial to be sailing on the point of sail that we think we are. Our talk yesterday explained how to be sure we are sailing the way we want. Go back and read it again if you are having trouble with this. All of this aside, does it really matter whether we are sailing at 5.2 or 5.4 knots. At the end of the day we will be where we want. Our trip planning skills prevented us from planning a trip based on speed that closely monitored. Didn’t it? How could we plan for that level of accuracy anyway? Ever here of current? So, if we spend a great day of sailing with proper sail trim, proper deployment of sail and on the point of sail that we say were on we will get our boat from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
Go practice, better yet get an instructor and go practice. By doing so, these things will become second nature and you’ll have more fun on the water. Knot-log? Knot now! Ah, I can smell that freedom comin my way. Naked sailing here we come. See ya tomorrow On the Water…With Captain Frank