Mike McNamara observations
from his and Simon Townsend's victory in the 1992 Worlds
How does he do it?

Michael McNamara shares his magic - an exclusive interview with the new Wayfarer World Champion. Martin Wood, puts the questions. Your Racing Secretary, himself an enthusiastic seeker after the definitive simple truths of dinghy racing, asked our 1992 National and World Champion some searching questions...

Preparation: Can you outline briefly how your prepared for this year’s World Championship?

Both Simon and I were pretty fired-up this year, we wanted like mad to win the Worlds. In fact 1991 had been a pretty quiet year for us, so we came to this Spring raring to go. Following the Nationals at West Mersea, we knew we had pretty good speed, especially upwind in a breeze, but felt vulnerable on the run, particularly in light airs. This could be largely attributed to the fact that both of us like a good breeze and (probably!) our combined weight of 28 stone. (ed. note: for us North Americans, that would be 392 lbs., and for Danes and the rest of the world: about 178 kg.) We also knew that we could go fast to windward in very light winds, providing we set the boat up correctly beforehand.

There were several Open Meetings and Area Championships in the two months between the Nationals and the Worlds, and we sailed virtually every weekend against top competition. In these events we tried various modifications, logging the results, and tried to build up enough knowledge of the rig and sails to enable us to “change the gears” quickly when needed. Among the things we tried out were:

1) A small-diameter mast pivot pin - this was quickly rejected as we found it difficult to get the same mast settings again during a race once we had altered rig tension.

2) Straightening the mast to enable us to keep the genoa luff tight and give more “power” to the main-sail in medium breezes. This was rejected after the last race in the Southerns as we couldn’t open out the main leech  and  the  excessive backwinding and panting at the front of the mainsail kept shaking the wind off the sail. We discovered that we had probably been sailing with too much rig tension; during the first race in the Worlds we were unable to get full rig tension, and as we had more mast bend and a slacker forestay than we liked, we had to sail with the jib sheet eased more than usual. The boat suddenly felt really good - the air was not being shaken off the main every time we hit a wave - and the helm was light.

3) A crosscut spinnaker which with its saving in weight gave us more speed on the run in light winds. (See “Sails” below)

4) Raising the spinnaker pole eye on the mast by 200mm. This was a major im-provement. I’m a great believer in keeping the pole as near a right angle to the mast as possible in order to project and spread the spinnaker to its maximum size.

5) New mast - I noticed that our mast was split in front of the pivot bolt hole, so a fortnight before the Worlds we fitted out a new spar. This was marginally stiffer and helped our offwind speed considerably.

6) Homework:  As I hadn’t sailed in Hayling Bay for many years we decided to spend a couple of days out there just sailing around. Also, we were loaned a “Top Secret” set of tidal data and spent a long time studying these and trying out this knowledge in the bay.

7) Finally, for peace of mind I decided to have the boat re-measured.

So, by the time we got to Hayling we knew what we had to do to set the boat up for most wind conditions and consequently could change gear fairly quickly.

Boat and Foils: To the interested observer, your boat appeared to be immaculately prepared in every respect, especially the foils, which were both glass-sheathed. You were also using the older, shallower rudder blade. Can you explain your thoughts on foil shape and stiffness, and perhaps suggest how the efficiency and longevity of Wayfarer foils might be further enhanced?

Before the Worlds I spent a lot of time working on “Cordon Rouge”. I took all the fittings off during the winter and repainted and revarnished her. All the fittings were checked before being refitted. It actually took quite a long time and I only finished on the Thursday before the Nationals. A bit close for comfort!

As “Cordon Rouge” is my third Wayfarer, the fittings are exactly as we wanted. In fact they all work well and come easily to hand. In the weeks before the Worlds I replaced most of the load-bearing control lines, halyards, etc. During the winter I modified the plate case to the new packing-piece rules and got a new Edge glass-sheathed cedar centreboard. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and the new sheathed rudder blade didn’t arrive in time.

Despite the occasional stall on a screaming reach, I still prefer the old rudder shape as I feel that the new design has too much frontal area. For the same reason, I think the thinner the better. There is of course a bit of a worry that it may break! In the last two years we have broken two of the mahogany rudder stocks and so were glad to hear that the rule on plywood stocks would be enforced at the Worlds. I use an adjustable extension so that I can alter the length for different conditions - longer for light weather so that I can sit further forward.

It is very important that the leading edge of the centreboard is as close to the 83º maximum as possible. Despite checking ours about 40 million times we found that we could have gone down another degree when it was check-measured at Hayling. The Wayfarer board is very large and is prone to twisting. That’s why packing the case is so important. It mustn’t, however, be too stiff. But to actually quantify how much bend and twist to allow is impossible. I suspect that no matter how stiff we aim for they will still bend...

I did not fill the front of the case to conform to the shape of the leading edge of the plate as I didn’t feel that it was legal. This has now been confirmed by a ruling of the Technical Committee.

One snag with using a glass-sheathed cedar-cored board is that you must not run aground. Luckily the Worlds were held at sea and not in Chichester Harbour.

Sails and Rig: Can you describe the shape and construction of the sails (including spinnaker) you used at the Worlds, and compare them with those you make for other members of the class?

We used a standard main and genoa made in 180 gram HTP squared Polyant Polyester. This is fairly light but has a good resistance to stretch. The main was  actually second-hand, as an inland customer found the cloth too stiff for him to “read” and so I swapped it for a softer sail. As I didn’t have time to make another sail for the Nationals I used it there and decided to carry on with it into the Worlds. Our genoas go well at sea with the sheet slightly eased. Simon is really good at this and constantly adjusts the tension, keeping the top windward tuft just working. We sail with all three windward tufts angled up at least 45 degrees. He pretends that this is all quite an effort and I recently overheard him telling someone that all he really does is to keep the jaws on the jam cleats “clicking” away. If I hear that, then apparently I’m happy. Hmmm!

There is quite a weight saving in a crosscut spinnaker so we measured in two: a 1-ounce and a ½ ounce. As it happened, we never used the ½ ounce. Normally it takes about 3-4 races to “wear” a new spinnaker in. So we were lucky I suppose, that the first race, being so windy, did it in one!

After the first race at the Worlds, we kept the rig tension fairly slack even though the genoa luff seemed to sag more than we would have liked. I actually slack-ened the forestay because it looked so wrong.

With the mast  fully chocked at deck level we had approximately ¾” of pre-bend. On the breezy days we took a ¼” chock out. The mast was very solid sideways at deck level. Our spreaders measure 20.25” from the mast and we use about 7.5 to 8” distance from the back of the mast to the straight line spreader tip to tip. I’m really not too dogmatic on these sort of measurements, preferring to make sure that the mast fits the sail. We use the (classic) “rule of thumb” on deciding kicker tension, i.e. that the last 6” of the top batten and the boom should be parallel.

Starting: On almost every start, including some where you were badly buried, you seemed to be able to dig your way out and establish clear air and appreciably better speed than those around you. What is your general policy for good starting and also your favourite “escape route” when things are not looking so good?

Our starts were generally not too bad apart from the last day when I got it completely wrong. The decision on which end to start includes consideration of the bias on the line, how many other boats are around, and which way we have decided to go up the beat. I never start right at the actual end of the line, preferring to be a few boats along, hopefully hidden by a bulge.
Normally, I approach on port tack and hang around until a hole appears near the area I want to start in. However, this is a bit risky and so at Hayling we went for a conservative type of start, gradually trickling up to the line on starboard near the favoured end.

“Cordon  Rouge” points really well and so, even if there was a boat close to leeward, we were able to ease out after a while. At this time, it is absolutely vital that the boat is perfectly upright, (a) to keep our rig away from the boat to leeward, and
(b) to direct dirty air from our sails into those of the boat to windward.

The first beats were long and so it was relatively straightforward to get clear air reasonably quickly after the start. We knew we were fast to windward and so could afford to duck a few sterns in order to go the way we wanted to. I never, ever commit myself to one side of the course or the other until it is obvious which is the paying side. This meant that, unless it was very windy, we were behind other boats until at least half way up the first beat. In fact we were never well clear at the first mark and often rounded 2nd or 3rd, but better that than running the risk of taking a flier up the first beat. So, our speed enabled us to go for safe, conservative (Simon says “boring”) starts.

The Crew: You have been blessed with a talented crew in Simon Townsend for several years. For a helm who is trying to identify a crew for a campaign, what would you say are the ideal physical and mental characteristics to look for?

I am very lucky to have such a good crew as Simon Townsend. He is the best spinnaker stower I have ever sailed with! We get on very well in the boat, and he has never ever grumbled at me, no matter how badly I have sailed. He’s also got a great temperament and when I get uptight, he “switches off” and lets me whitter away to myself. This nonchalant stoicism is in fact a total sham. He is very, very competitive and very much wants to win. He’s also tall and tells me that he’s classically good-looking - cast in an heroic mould. Be that as it may, his size keeps those nasty wet malignant waves away from me.

We’ve been sailing together for 5 years now and the teamwork is quite good. I like our tacking and much of the success in that is due to Simon’s sense of balance, for the boat never comes over on top of me when I sit down. Knowing that you can tack out of trouble if necessary helps one’s confidence no end. This is especially so at the start where we may have to tack several times in very quick succession.

Heavy weather gybing at the Worlds was not a problem providing I didn’t think about it but just did it. Because Simon is so strong the boom went across and the spinnaker pole was changed over no matter what happened at the back of the boat. Although we are heavy and can suffer on medium weather runs as a result, there are so many things going for sailing with Simon that I just get on with sailing in the conditions. In fact, the Wayfarer is such a good weight-carrier that we get away with it mostly... I think that many boats are sailing much lighter than I would want to.

When beating in a breeze, we sit further aft than most sailors. Simon has to sit diagonally with his legs in front of the thwart but most of his torso behind it. This is especially important because in getting closer to me, he reckons that I can lean on him and at the same time stay drier.

The (then) Racing Secretary suspects that the last answer was composed either under the influence of alcohol or under severe duress from person or persons unknown.

Michael McNamara  UKWA News #56/57   Winter 1992 & Spring 1993