Caribbean 1500: The Lottery Has Arrived

The Dashews have a tricky decision to make in terms of weather tactics…Plus they reveal one of their "secret weapons".

cruising/racing with Beowulf

One of our “secret weapons”, BEOWULF’s main (shown here) and mizzen deck seals. These create an end-plate effect on the bottom of the sail, increasing the effective aspect ratio. Benefits include reduced drag and heel plus increased power. The two seals are good for three to five percent in boat speed beating and close reaching.

537 miles to go. We’ve come to a decision point in terms of weather tactics. All the faxes we’re seeing, together with the SetSail-MaxSea routing software, are telling us to sail the rhumb line to the finish line. They are basing this on forecasts which indicate winds from no worse an angle than east over the next two days.This means reaching with the true wind just forward of the beam-a fast angle.

But…if the wind goes southeast ahead of schedule (it is predicted to shift in three days) we’ll be faced with almost a dead beat. We can buy insurance against this happening by sailing high now-which means going more slowly, so that we have some angle with which to sag off later if we get headed. But doing this slows our progress into the stronger trade winds we know (hope?) lie just over the horizon-and by slowing this progress down, we increase the odds of the SE shift hitting us.

In the meantime, BEOWULF is sailing very efficiently, averaging slightly better than true wind speed-an improvement of close to five percent over what she used to do in this wind and sea state. This is due to one of new our secret weapons-our “deck seals”. These seals fit between the bottom of the main and mizzen, and connect the sail to deck, creating an “end plate” effect. We first started using these seals on one of our catamarans, BEOWULF V, and if you can fit them in they really do work. Not only better boat speed, but less heel as they reduce induced drag.

We’ve also got our mizzen “blade” jib set. We are carrying this at 040 apparent, which is very tight, but even so it is good for half a knot. It is really fun to see the speedo sit on ten knots when there barely any whitecaps!

And then there’s this race we are in. The boats behind are in varying degrees of a frontal system, all with SE to SW winds, blowing 15 to 20, and climbing up our stern while we sit in this light easterly wind. The hot cat ALACRITY still has us in their sights-although at a distance of 170 miles back they are going to have to make their move soon.

The fun part of the race is plotting the changing positions at every roll call. We are doing this on the SetSail-MaxSea software. We can then correlate the positions with our own situation, and check the reported weather against what is shown on the file we’ve downloaded for the day.

These electronic weather files have so far been uncannily accurate. Sometimes the weather pattern will be ahead or behind a few hours of what has been predicted, but the pattern itself has been right on the money. When we feel the timing on the prediction is off one way or the other, with two mouse clicks we can adjust the current time frame of what we are looking at. This makes the decision-making process much easier.

As we’re writing this our lovely 10-knot breeze has dropped to seven/eight. If we are to have any hope of shaving some time off the record we are going to need more wind. Stay tuned…

Posted by Steve Dashew  (November 11, 2001)

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