Aero North American Championship
The first Aero North Americans Championship lived up to its billing and delivered great racing, a range of conditions with good camaraderie. Wind conditions ranged from 10 to 22+ knots with most races sailed in 15-18 knots.
Twenty-one (21) Sailors came from all over the country including: Rhode Island, California, Florida, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Hawaii and the even the UK. All boats raced with all rig sizes (5, 7 and 9) competing in a unified scratch race.
On the Friday before the regatta, Peter Barton, our Aero class manager from the UK gave a detailed clinic on how to get the most out of your Aero. On land, he discussed rig setup and trim for various conditions. On the water, he ran a series of short races. This was similar to the Aero Primer recently posted. This was just the tonic everyone needed to prepare for racing.
Aero Speed Challenge
After the clinic, we sailed the inaugral Aero Speed Challenge where each sailor had 10 minutes to post their best maximum speed. The breeze was gradually easing, so everyone was keen to set a time quickly. Sailors tried reaching back and forth across the Columbia river to get the best time using either a 7 or 9 rig. Sean Grealish placed first with a excellent speed of 14.4 knots set in about 18 knots of wind using the 9 rig.
In the regatta, the first Aero North American Champion is Dan Falk who sailed exceptionally well. He made very few mistakes and showed great speed, smart tactics and clean sailing upwind and down. Congratulations to Dan on a well deserved win. Second place went to Peter Barton and third place to Michael O'Brien tied on points with Bill Symes.
Peter Barton had great speed upwind and despite being jet lagged, was hiking his boat beautifully flat. Bill Symes, in only his second outing in the boat, was fast all round the course and showed his wily cunning downwind and in picking the shifts. I suppose it does help that he recently placed 2nd in the Laser Master Worlds. In many races, Sean Grealish was threatening and doing amazing combacks. He he closed out his regatta with a nice first place and won the best junior award.
We went into the clinic and North Americans regatta, eager and confident that we would learn a lot over the few days. In a short two days, we all improved considerably. Here are a few lessons I learned:
Sailing scratch races with all the rigs together is fun and effective. Rather than having three smaller fleets, sailing all rigs together makes racing more exciting. The regatta results had a 9 rig in first place, followed by three seven rigs, then a 9/7 swapper then one more nine rig. Results were primarily determined by who was sailing better rather than rig size.
The 7 and 9 rigs can be surprising close in speed. If above 20 knots, the 7 rig may have a slight edge upwind. Off the breeze, the 9 will probably gain that back. Upwind in light to medium breeze, the 9 rig enjoys its largest advantage. Sailor skill, strength and weight were more significant factors in determining the race outcome than rig size.
In a breeze, you can trim the cunningham much harder than you think to effectively depower the sail. Wailing on the cunningham flattens the sail, bends the mast, opens the leach and twists the top of the sail off. This is extremely effective in depowering the sail. In the windiest races, there were a few very light sailors who should have been in the 5 rig, performing admirably with the 7 rig. They were able to flatten the sail and get the boat around the course. FYI: I was trimming the cunningham cringle down to #6 on the mast.
You can use the vang (kicker) fairly aggressively if moderately overpowered. Getting the boom close to horizontal should be the desired outcome, but you need to be alert and contstantly trim the main to keep the boat flat. If completely overpowered, ease the vang a bit to make the boat more manageable.
Speaking of keeping the boat flat, the Aero is much faster upwind when sailed very flat -- almost totally flat. Peter Barton was the master of this and few other sailors were as flat as he was upwind. I'll do a separate post about this, but there is a big difference between being totally flat and heeling 5-10 degrees. "Laser flat" is not flat enough — it is all about the chine.
When reaching in strong breeze — get way, way back in the boat. Especially for lighter sailors, you need to hike back as far as you can. Your back foot should be in the back strap and you may even be hiking with your shoulders aft of the transom. When you do this, the boat becomes super stable (and fast). You can then use gentle tiller and mainsheet adjustments to smoothly steer the boat under the rig as it is blown downwind in the gusts — very skiff like. If you are a heavier sailor, be quick to move forward in the lulls so the transom does not drag.
My Top Moment
On Saturday, the race committee suspended racing when the wind got a bit too strong. As the Australians say, ... "it was just a little bit fresh". So in true Aero spirit, several boats launched anyway and screamed back and forth across the river, reaching and gybing as fast as we could go.
I was one of those boats and I had the best time sailing I've ever had in any boat! Broad reaching in an Aero, in strong breeze is simply amazing. When we all came ashore, we were like giddy kids who had just been playing with a new toy. This part of the Aero is completely unlike a Laser. We must have more of this kind of reaching in our Aero racing.
So mark your calendars to come for another Aero epic event in the Gorge.