'95 Wayfarer World Champion, Stu Rix, shares his sailing philosophy and techniques
Sailing...A Game of Mistakes...

It was drummed into me a long time ago that the crew who made the least mistakes inevitably won.
Sailing is such a complicated sport of many variables: not only is the boat, the rig, the sails and all the tuning involved, but the water, the waves, the tide, and - as if that is not complicated enough - you also have you, the sailor, with all your anxieties and superstitions, your level of commitment and awareness. If you can get all in tune together then the chances are, due to a confident and calm approach, it is you who will make the least mistakes, and win!

The Wayfarer is an easy boat to sail, but a difficult boat to sail well and fast. There is plenty of good tuning data available from both boat builder and sailmaker alike. I have included for amusement at the end of the article, the measurements I used at the Lowestoft Nationals...

The Lowestoft Nationals (ed. note: 1994 U.K. Wayfarer Nationals) introduced a short chop sea state, especially with the wind in the opposite direction to the tide. For those of us brought up sailing on inland ponds, this can take a while to adjust to. When sailing on inland water, we set up our boats with flatter sails and tight leeches to point higher; but when there is a chop at sea to contend with, it is more important to concentrate on boat speed through the waves than on pointing ability. To this end, I set up my rig slightly more upright and the mast straighter to keep the boat powered up - with the boom on the centreline, no kicker in a light/medium breeze, and the mainsail leech set with a little twist controlled by mainsheet tension. Ease the sheet (inducing twist) when the wind drops or the boat slows, then, when the boat picks up again or the wind strengthens, tighten the leech again to improve pointing ability. The mainsail leech is an important tool for achieving boat speed, and the genoa is likewise played in the same vein.

However, once both the crew are sat fully out, then I start to let the boom off the centreline and progressively use a lot of kicker to keep the mainsail leech from twisting too much. In a Force 5/6 (ed. note: 20-25 knots), the boom is well off the quarter of the transom and being played around this position to keep the boat as flat as possible in any gusts, with the kicking strap (boom vang) on as hard as I can pull it (12:1 system). The genoa car is moved back 2” and the sheet eased 1”.

So, having got your boat set up well for all conditions, it is now time to forget about fiddling for boat speed (if only we could!) and concentrate on going the correct way: i.e. sailing the best course. It is no good having the fastest boat if you point it in the wrong direction - you only end up in the wrong place quicker!

Let’s start at the beginning. If you start well, you have already accomplished 30-40% of the race tactics - certainly in a big fleet. If you do not get away in the first echelon of boats then you are immediately in dirty wind and going slower.

It is very important to be sailing at full speed on the line when the gun goes, ideally with nobody on top of you or beneath you, squeezing you up. It’s not easy. It was Gary Player who said “the more I practise the luckier I get.” Every now and again you should be over the line, showing how close you are pushing it.

At which end of the line should I start?
1. Where is the line bias? On a long line you can not afford to give everyone the luxury of a head start by starting at the wrong end.

2. Tide/wind bends. Do I want to go left or right, depending on what’s going to happen further up the course, and will that modify #1 above?

You need to collect all the information available to you and produce a plan of where to start and which way to go, and more importantly, stick to it.

When it all works...
In Race 4 at the Nationals, I decided I wanted to go hard left towards the shore to try to get out of tide, which was over the course. So, I started down at the port end to immediately start going in that direction, got away well and led the bunch of boats who went left. I had a tactical plan, executed it well, was not distracted from it, and eventually won the race.

When it goes wrong...
But what if it all does not go well? In Race 2, after a good start, I went hard left and made the Big Mistake (huge!) of overstanding the windward mark by a long way. I rounded the windward mark 12th/13th with the leaders long gone. Now, what I must do, as I am unlikely to win the race, is adopt a policy of minimum damage.

Consistency wins Championships.
I therefore sailed the fastest straight line speed (allowing for tide) down the next two reaches, concentrating on surfing on the waves (F4-5), not getting involved with any luffing matches and trying to calm the mind (busy castigating me for being such a plonker up the first beat!) The latter was the hardest to achieve. It took me a complete round before I forgave myself the mistake and got on with the task in hand. Not till then did we start to go quickly again - finally finishing 5th, which proved to be an important discard.

Mistakes will happen. You and I must put them behind us quickly. Having tuned the boat, decided the tactics, then it is down to between the ears to win the race.

Mind over Matter
Several years ago a survey placed sailing and motor sport at the top level of sports demanding a developed intellect. The complexity of these two activities, the sophisticated equipment involved and the variability of the conditions in which they have to operate, make the qualities of knowledge, analysis and logic essential to success. Mix this with the anxiousness of a big race... and the self-doubting “jelly” at the back of the boat is in trouble!

All sailors get psyched out at times. It is so easy to say “he’s going faster” or “ he’s pointing higher.” In reality, he rarely is. However; if you keep thinking it, he soon will be! It stands to reason, if you are concentrating on the opposition’s boat and not focused on yours, you will begin to slow down. There will be times when he gets a lift or gust of wind you do not - that’s the way it goes. You must continue to focus and be aware of your boat, the boats around you, the orientation of the course, the wind, the waves and what the tide is doing. Easy, isn’t it? All it is practice and learning from mistakes.

Stu describes the final, deciding race of the Championships
Going into the final race of the Nationals, I stood quarter of a point behind “a legend in his own lifetime.” (ed. note: Mike Mac) I had to beat him over the water and finish in the top 5 to win the Championship. I knew my boat was as fast as anyone’s in the breeze of the day and, importantly, so did everyone else. After a number of attempts, the race was started and we got away to a good start, leading the bunch of boats to the lefthand side of the course as planned.

Now to get around the windward mark first and away.. not to be! The boats from the righthand side got there first. We go around 5th and McNamara 7th. My crew reminds me to “settle down and think boat speed”, which he had been invaluable at doing all week. Despite making a mistake up the second beat - allowing Mike to cross us - we quickly picked the best course. We knew the boat was fast, so were able to relax and enjoy the sail, the result being that we were second going round the last leeward mark and Mike McNamara was third. Priority one was to stay ahead of him but also to remain in the top of the fleet. We covered hard initially and then eased off to maintain general position and then, in the last quarter of the final beat covered hard again, once second or third position overall seemed assured.

Hence I achieved a goal set a number of years earlier - to win the Wayfarer Championships - through practice and learning from mistakes. We formed a well-tuned boat and crew who, given their day and a little bit of luck, would take the championships from a field of very good sailors. Yes.

Stu Rix   W 9363 Mad Savannah

How “Mad Savannah” was tuned
Mast Rake: 23’6” from normal main halyard hoisted sailing position to bottom edge of traveller.
Mast Bend: Light/medium wind - 8” (measured to back of mast from the straight line spreader tip to spreader tip) 
Heavy wind - 7¾”
Spreader length: 20¾”
Chocks: With 350 lbs of tension on shrouds and mast set as above. 2 chocks to firmly fit in gate in front of mast at deck level in all winds except light wind when one 4mm chock removed.

 Stuart Rix   UKWA News #63/Autumn 1995