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On pitchpoling and nose diving

Dr Peter

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In another post I reported getting hit with a bullet after rounding the top mark and pitch-poling my cat-rigged Mari. At the time I put it down to poor instincts due to the event occurring early in my sailing season.

I went out racing again two weeks ago and the conditions were around 16-20 knots. I was a little apprehensive but started the race and all was manageable until I rounded the top mark and headed for the wing mark. I simply could not sit far enough back and/or out to stop the boat nose-diving. It was an anxious time and there was no way I was going to risk a gybe turn. In the end I did a shunt tack. i.e from being in irons I pushed everything back: sail and rudders. I ended up heading in the direction of the club house and decided to call it a day. Needless to say it was a very thrilling ride home.

I think this time my instincts were good and the nosediving was due to some other factor. I had a bit of a discussion on shore with some other cat sailors and we determined that the extreme rake of the mast might be to blame. When going off the wind in a strong blow the mast would be pushed upright. However, by the time the mast was upright and starting to spill air the bows were well and truly pushed under the water and were unlikely to come up again.

By standing the mast just a bit more upright, the thinking was that air would spill from the top of the sail before the nosediving occurred. This theory was borne out last weekend when, in a good 12-16 knots, the bows were pushed down but not submerged. The boat was much more manageable from hiking perspective, the pointing did not seem to be adversely affected and, tacking was a dream. I should add that excessive weather-helm was not an issue either.

Anyway - I thought I'd share what I had learnt.


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mate, at the Toukley Brass Monkey I sailed Darcy's maricat "Cheetah", which had some extreme mast rake. I only weighed 62kg, but layered on about 10kg of clothing.

It was blowing 20-25knots, and I could keep the nose up downwind with feet under the strap, knees over the rear beam and leaning out backwards. No probs.

I did cartwheel, in the lull I moved forwards to bring the nose down, and with all the clothing was too slow to move back again when the gust hit.

Have your sail all the way out, vang off (if you have one) and go on a broad reach. If it's looking dodgy, round up a bit so the sail de-powers. When you can, bear off and run a bit more square.

The mast rake shouldn't play into it, as you keep it fairly flat and that angle isn't going to change.

Same strategy on the PT; haven't cartwheeled since the Kembla Klassic 2009. It was after that Dave Stumbles told me about letting the vang off and it's been all good since. And I've sailed some fair gales since then too; Kembla Klassic 2010, or Paynesville when they took us all the way downwind across the lake to a start line and THEN called off the race due to the 30 knot winds. All good fun

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Ahh, the old chicken gybe - yup, been there done that! and the mari has that awful tendency to roll forward on its banana shaped hull as the boom comes over and of course you're facing back so you see the transoms rear out of the water!

Couple of thoughts, first rounding down - ie around a mark you have to ease the main - have a look at the extreme 40's or whatever they're called (the baby America's cup cats) and they have all sorts of trouble doing it so its not just a mari issue, if you don't ease as you're bearing away you WILL go down the mine! Darcy managed it on the start line last season, bore away quickly (because he was coming up too fast into a gap that dissapeared!) and the water was back to the beam before his 95kgs (and a lot of shouting) pulled it back up.

With the mainsheet being released and on a reach, if you go further downwind things suddenly settle and you can take a breath and can then start to bear up. Watch the waves too try not to bury the bow by either bearing away or up.

With the vang, I don't think it needs to be on tight (like the dinghy's do) because on a mari it's not easy to adjust (on a PT its just one of the many strings that can be adjusted!), its main task is to stop the boom going too high - this makes for crisper gybes and faster runs (holds the boom, holds the leech thus catches the gusts). Having said that I'm generally the only one at Manno that uses one (last weekend 2nd last and dfl!) all the others don't. I usually only put it on if I have time.

On gybing in breeze, go dead downwind, steady the boat, do a quick tiller adjustment to get to to the lee then as you pull the boom over adjust back so your dead downwind again, anything else - straight downwards! Any dinghy or yacht is the same, once on the new gybe then start to round up as required. At Manno when there's a breeze up they tend to set a windward / leeward course and even I can cope with it.

One of the points of mast rake on maris was to avoid the mine but I agree with you, and Tony that too much makes it silly - with my old sail, in 12-15 last weekend I stuffed nearly every tack!

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Give me some friggin credit!!!!

I did all these things. Loose vang, luffing up, hiking out as far back and as far out as possible and I am telling you ---- It didn't help! The bows were nosediving. I went 200m past that wingmark before I figured out how I was going to turn around.

Standing the mast more upright DID MAKE A DIFFERENCE! I was out in very similar conditions and the boat was a different boat. Much more manageable.

I didn't do the original post to look wise or to make other people look brilliant or myself look like a fool. I posted it because what I did - made a difference to me and I thought other cat sailors might be interested.


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