Single handed Media Race in the Weta - a family battle
by Richard Gladwell on 9 Dec 2013
It seems a little hard to believe that it was three and half years ago that I first sailed the Weta, off Takapuna Beach on Auckland’s North Shore.
Weta Boat Test and Media Race, November 2013 © Richard Gladwell http://www.richardgladwell.com
That day in a 10-12kt sea breeze the Weta was put through her paces, sailing singlehanded.
It was a memorable sail – a few months after BMW Oracle Racing had won the America’s Cup sailing their 120ft wingsailed trimaran.
Having seen the massive trimaran flying her mainhull with relative ease, the obvious objective was to see if the Weta would do the same. Despite several carefully angled runs, and with the Code Zero fully powered up, we never got close.
But it was a great experience to be able to run three sails while sailing singlehanded.
Over the intervening three years, multihulls have become much more mainstream – largely off the back of the AC72’s and the America’s Cup – but what is like to race a Weta single handed?
An invitation to have another test sail soon got upped into a Media Race – competing against Boating New Zealand's Ben Gladwell - nothing quite like keeping it in the family, is there?
This time Lake Pupuke was the venue, instead of the picturesque Takapuna Beach. But as our race unfolded the initial drawn session stretched to two – with the second being staged a week or so later off Takapuna.
After a bit of cockpit drill ashore the Weta seemed to have simple systems, the only question being how it would all come together in a race.
Soon after leaving the shore, I had my had our first 'hydro' moment. Not sure what caused it – fiddling with the rudder, forgetting the mainsheet and jib were semi-cleated.
As with Emirates Team NZ in the America’s Cup the lay-over was spectacular. The Weta was right on her side, with the leeward float submerged, and an ignominious capsize seemed to be inevitable.
However the Weta is no ordinary boat and she just hung in there, until the mainsheet was flicked out of the cleat, then unbelievably she recovered and fell back upright.
Those who have sailed on Lake Pupuke know that it is renowned for its finger like patches of wind, and quick changes in direction – mostly created by the tall buildings at its western end which act as wind deflectors and shields. - which makes the former volcanic crater, very challenging on which to sail, quite different from the relatively even breezes off the beach.
Fast and Forgiving are probably two words that sum up our total of four hours on the water.
The latter is the more important for those getting into sailing for the first time, or those looking to improve their skills. Even though you can get into some very awkward situations, unlike a monohull, they don’t result in a capsize. The Weta just comes back up, shakes herself off and sits there waiting for you have another crack.
The Fast adjective is of more interest to those interested in pushing their and the Weta’s limits. In the second test we were clocked at 15kts – in probably about that strength of breeze, and the boat certainly has got legs.
Coming from a background of sailing single-handed trapeze boats, at world championship level, the Weta certainly provides plenty of scope to be pushed, and pushed hard. Of course, being very forgiving, you can push the risk a lot more, because you know that the boat will give you plenty of warning when you get close to the red-line where speed turns into disaster.
Your warning typically comes when the leeward hull starts loading up and buries.
This signal is accompanied by a slowing and general loading up of the boat. You get the impression you are just fighting with the boat, and the easy thing to do is to get your weight further aft, lighten up the load on the sheets, pop the leeward hull out and off you go again.
Upwind it is much the same. Like in the AC72’s you clearly have two modes pointing and footing.
From a tactical viewpoint, both are useful when racing the Weta. Pointing will get you up to the mark, or into a new wind shift or pressure. Footing is great for just covering the ground upwind, particularly if you are in a good shift and want to get over the top of your opponent. Particularly your son!
Of course, singlehanding upwind does pose its challenges in terms of righting moment – even if you do weigh 90kgs. The Weta generates sufficient power that in winds of 12-15kts that you just can’t grunt your way through it and have to do something different in terms of the way you sail the boat.
Being a very forgiving boat, going into footing mode in the Weta, is your escape route, and by springing the mainsheet, and sacrificing a bit of angle, you get a big gain in speed - you’re back in control again.
One of the neat things about the Weta, if that you don’t have to work hard hiking, if you don’t want to.
As we found early on just sailing around on the Lake, just getting your bodyweight onto the trampoline is enough to get righting moment to track at about half pace or better upwind. Get all the way out to the edge of the tramp, and are at about 80% of righting moment – and you are still just sitting down – no real effort required.
There are two stages of hiking beyond that – the first is to get you feet under the straps and go for it Laser style, which wasn't that hard to sustain. The final stage, is to droop down onto the windward hull, and literally sit on that – very comfortable and fast – as we were told after the racing had finished, by Kiddo – who claimed he'd used the technique to get through us upwind.
Returning from the second days sailing, we had got a little offshore, and had the prospect of punching into an increasing 20-25kts SW wind, which can pump a bit at Takapuna. Again footing off some more, springing the sheet and just sitting at the edge of the windward rack was enough to get home at a good pace.
Racing the Weta, singlehanded, is no different for another high performance singlehander. You have to cover a lot of ground through the tack across the boat, and back out the other side. We covered this distance by sliding through, standing in the main hull, twisting, and then scrambling out the other side, while springing the jib sheet and re-sheeting for the new tack, getting the tiller cleared through for the next tack, and handling the mainsheet.
Yes, there is a bit on – but that is always the challenge of singlehanded sailing – and part of the satisfaction you get from doing it.
There are also two speeds to run the manoeuvres – you can do what you normally do in a high performance boat which is to make more gradual transitions and concentrate of keeping the speed up through the tack or gybe. Or, you can take the Laser approach and just get through the turn as quickly as possible, get set up on your new course and then quickly accelerate to make up the distance with the boat coming to a near stop.
For sure, with more practice, you would have a combination of both. But often in racing no two situations are the same, and many favour the gradual transition approach trying to keep the pace up. But in the Weta there are more skills to master than in the few hours that we have spend in the boat.
There are some excellent Weta coaching videos to get help get you started.
That is part of the satisfaction of single handed sailing – just going out and practicing and getting attacking or gybing and being able to nail it consistently is very self-satisfying. With the Weta, you’ve got a lot more to master than just tacks and gybes. And then you have the Code Zero furls and unfurls – along with three sheets and a tiller to run with just two hands to do it.
One of the tricks to all this is the simple trick of tying the mainsheet to the jib sheets – so at least you can resolve some of your shortcomings from the comfort of the windward side. Of course, our perennial problem seemed to be trying to slither up the windward trampoline, with the Code Zero sheet wrapped around both feet. But with more practice that issue would surely be overcome.
Two-boat 'match' racing in the Weta was both challenging and fun – using existing race marks or other buoys and a gate start – three of the four races ended with about a boat length separating the two boats, and the lead changed at least one each race.
You certainly don’t need a big fleet to have a great sail, or an afternoon’s racing.
At the end of the second day we got to derig and dismantle the Weta for trailing.
For what unfolds to be a beamy trimaran, the Weta folds back up to be a very compact load on a trailer.
Even with an injured shoulder (a 10 month old injury) dropping the light carbon mast was not a problem. Similarly with pulling the hulls apart from the main – all are held together with well fitting hull sockets and simple tie-ins to hold the hulls in their sockets. Similarly with the trampoline – which is also on a quick release system – and the whole operation can be done in a few minutes.
The slowest part is talking to the never-ending stream of onlookers who want to know more about the boats.
And the outcome of the racing? We’re keeping that in the family for the time being – read about it in the current edition of Boating New Zealand.
Same outcome as San Fran, a few months ago, I'm afraid.