Whether you’re racing or just getting away from it all offshore...
there’s no sailing like sailing short-handed
By Oakley Jones, Harken USA Northeast Sales Manager
About a year ago Sarah and I got married. Some might say our relationship was made in heaven—or at least in the marine industry. We had known each other for many years. I work at Harken and Sarah is a sales manager at one of our biggest customers, Beneteau USA. When we first met, she was working for our biggest competitor! Given how we live, it’s probably not surprising that we celebrated our honeymoon on the water.
We didn’t do it in the South Pacific on a crewed charter with our every whim covered off by a uniformed crewmember. We went for a very different...much more hands-on…experience. We provisioned and hopped aboard Sarah’s father’s 1968 Morgan 30 and took off from the base of Little Compton, RI for a week exploring the Elizabeth Islands, Buzzards Bay, and frankly, wherever we wanted in the vicinity. We had an amazing week. Yes, it was our honeymoon, so we’ll never forget it for that reason. But there was something even more special about spending the time alone…together--out there, relying on each other to get the boat to wherever we had planned to be that day. Working together to do right by that little shoal-draft-with-centerboarder. We loved that time together so much that it seems to have become a tradition. We’ve just come back from another very similar week aboard the same boat. Single-burner camp stove. Icebox, no fridge. Reliable diesel. We were clearly cruising. But we paid attention. We set the sails well. We steered like people who have sailed their whole lives. We overachieved the PHRF rating in the race against ourselves—that’s my story.
If you spend even a little time offshore short-handed, you ‘get’ all the excitement there is in the short-handed racing world. There’s an energy that comes with complete accountability for results. There’s less accounting for different personalities. There must be unmatched intensity in the codependence of double-handers when you’re out there in the dark and it’s hitting the fan. Make no mistake, it’s not about simplicity…the logistics and responsibilities of learning every incredibly sophisticated system on an IMOCA 60 or a foiling 100-footer and how to troubleshoot then repair everything that can break miles offshore cannot be more intense—because they cannot be delegated. The responsibility you feel when the other person goes down the steps to take their off-watch is it. Sarah and I will remember that feeling when we watch the mixed, double-handers competing in the Paris Olympics in 2024. It’s going to be gripping—especially when it blows out there!
Our September issue of At The Front explores a variety of variations on the short-handed sailing theme. You’ll find everything, from a fleet racer who made her first foray into double-handing last fall, to an international coach who was inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic to start a boot camp for double-handers, to an Operations Director for the Vendée Globe race that begins this November, and a shore team leader in a French Ultim program. Hope you enjoy the issue. P.S… There’s still a full month of summer left in North America. And then there’s fall sailing. Get out there!
BACKSTAGE AT THE Vendée GLOBE
An inside look at the operations team behind the "Mount Everest of solo sailing"
There's no denying the Vendée Globe is extreme. It's the only round-the-world sailing race that is solo, non-stop, and without assistance. It leaves Les Sables d'Olonne, France on Sunday, November 8th with up to 35 skippers on the start line all in IMOCA Class boats, many of them foiling. With a large sail area, they are the most powerful monohulls on the planet led by a solo skipper. They can go beyond 30 knots in downwind conditions. The rules of these race animals is defined by the IMOCA class: a standardized keel, a choice between two masts - conventional or wing-mast, and a limited number of appendices and ballasts now imposed for new boats. The rest is up to the architects.
Meet Hubert Lemonnier, the Vendée Globe Race Manager Duty Officer. Hubert's role is very similar to an air traffic controller — except for instead of managing planes in the sky, he and his team manage all of the sailors and boats. If something goes wrong, it's Hubert's job to deploy emergency protocol.
WELCOME TO BOOT CAMP
By Ron Rosenberg
Thank you for the opportunity to share what we’ve been doing here in the Pacific Northwest since the global pandemic began for us in early March. As a marine industry marketing professional, my job with Team McLube Marine Products allows me to continue to professionally sail and coach all over the world. As travel shut down and sailing championships were cancelled, we were all forced to rethink how sailing might look going forward.
Not far from where I live near Seattle is a place called Orcas Island, home to dozens of amazing sailors of all ages. Here, everyone pitches in to make sailing fun, easy, and accessible to all. Orcas Island Yacht Club, near Westsound Marina, is where it all happens. Sailing is important to these people and their families, so they quickly figured out how to do it safely by limiting it to families or those they quarantine with, and they encouraged double-handed racing (DH) too. This local blend of family-oriented sailing and DH racing was an overnight huge hit. Lots of great husband/wife and parent/kid teams began trying it out and quickly realized how much more fun and challenging it can be. Add in a bit of coaching, and suddenly you have an inspired group of talented sailors learning so fast and having so much fun they can hardly wait to get back on the water to continue improving together. Some even have realistic Olympic DH aspirations! From my perspective, the success of our collective efforts has been astounding during this strange time period. Sure, it helps to be removed from a major metro area, but if we can do this here, certainly others can enjoy similar success.
What maneuvers are the most difficult to accomplish double handed? (Kite changes? Jib changes? Kite douses?)
My experience is that most maneuvers around the race course can be mastered quickly and easily if the team is able to first practice them in slow motion a few times and learn the best order or proper procedure for two people to manage the set of tasks. In manageable wind conditions, tacks, gybes, spinnaker sets, and sail changes can be executed just as fast with two people as can be done with a full crew. I often hear from new DH teams that the boat feels roomy and is devoid of distracting noise when DH sailing. The most challenging of all is still the leeward mark rounding with a spinnaker drop. I remind my DH sailors that it’s ALWAYS better to drop the kite a bit early, as we all know that spinnakers are much faster when flying them downwind rather than upwind!
Can you talk a little bit about different techniques required for double-handed sailing that you wouldn’t see as much (or in as light a wind range) in a full-crew situation?
The biggest difference is that there is NEVER A DULL MOMENT in DH sailing! I think that’s why it is so appealing to so many people. Rather than being one part of a larger team and only being responsible for a small percentage of roles, you are now involved in every aspect of racing the boat. Kids especially love being highly engaged in EVERYTHING that happens onboard, and they are mentally responsible for so much of the decision making as well as the more physical tasks of sail handling. We have an inspired group of 13-15 year olds that typically helm while their parent crews for them, and these teams quickly bond and grow together. I know the kids love it… and I think the parents love it even more. Sure, from a technical standpoint, we make an effort to simplify everything onboard without sacrificing performance and I think that goes a long way toward successful DH sailing. One obvious strong theme here is always asking yourself how can you do your job better in a way that can help your teammate do their job better too. Simply steering down low as you approach the leeward mark so the kite collapses behind the mainsail and can be easily dropped is one example of this. I think with only two people onboard you’re keenly aware of the stress and strain on the other person, and you realize how much easier you can make their work by just being aware and being present.
You’re using the J/70 in your Orcas Bootcamp. What makes it a good trainer for teams honing their double-handed skills?
The J/70 has proven to be a great platform for improving DH sailing skills. The boat is light and responsive and the helm is quite sensitive to sail trim, body weight and heel angle. The main and jib are never loaded much and are easy to handle. It’s basically a big dinghy with just enough weight on the keel to keep you out of trouble in heavy air. These characteristics make it easy to feel the differences between small adjustments. The boats are just so much fun to sail with two people, and they really light up in a breeze off the wind. Essentially they sail very much like a scaled down TP52, and they reward excellent driver focus and execution of great sail trim. Sailors often comment that they love double-handing sailing the J/70 so much that going back to full crew racing someday could be tough!
What seems to separate really good teams from ones that have ground to make up?
The critical components are teamwork and coordination, and the necessary glue is communication. Both sailors have to be on the same page all the time in order to keep the boat sailing efficiently all around the track. The teams that have practiced together can communicate clearly, stay in step with each other, and simply get around the track faster than the rest. If communication or timing is off even just a little, the boat slows down and you’re losing boat lengths quickly. In DH sailing, those boat lengths are valuable, and they’re hard to earn back against the really good teams. With enough practice, it’s impressive to me how even the most difficult maneuvers can be smoothly handled with very little verbal communication between the two sailors. The basic rule onboard a DH boat is to be sure you get your tasks completed first, and then support and assist your partner if they need help completing theirs.
What kind of complementary skills do you find absolutely necessary for teams to possess?
In my opinion, all that is required is an open mind and a “learn-it-all” mindset. If you’re willing to work with your partner and you gain satisfaction from your own self-improvement, you’re likely going to excel in the DH sailing world. Sure, at the highest level of DH sailing, it might be nice to have two perfectly complementary individuals teamed up; however what if something unexpected happens? Now you need to adjust, and suddenly what was once a nicely organized roles-and-responsibilities chart matching the team’s strengths is now in disarray, and you have to shift to Plan B. Here in Westsound, our most skilled DH team is a husband/wife team who have worked hard to learn to sail their J-111 very efficiently. They both are equally capable, physically and mentally, to accomplish any onboard task, and they constantly switch positions and roles as they race around the course. These two determined athletes have clearly improved faster than any other team.
Ron Rosenberg has a unique passion for sailing and coaching. As a sailor he’s won five world titles (Youth Worlds, J-24, Olympic Soling, Etchells, and 5.5 Meter), two gold cups, and one European championship. He has more than 50 national titles in a wide variety of One-Design classes. Ron was elected Team Captain of the US Olympic Sailing Team in Barcelona 1992 with USA winning medals in 9 of 10 disciplines. He has either competed or coached in every quad since 1984. He has coached others to many more meaningful wins than he has achieved himself (including back to back worlds in the Dragon class). Over the past two years he’s been focused on coaching Dragons, Etchells, J/24s, J/70s, J/80s, and TP52s in Europe and Australia. He most enjoys helping others efficiently achieve the results and goals they set for themselves.
Cate Muller-Terhune on Racing Double-Handed
Cate Muller-Terhune is a great friend of ours in Pewaukee. She worked alongside us. We’ve enjoyed hearing all about her family’s Windy City Das Boot days and her Chicago-Mackinac race exploits.
We missed her when she left Pewaukee, and we miss her even more since when she left Chicago and moved to Annapolis to marry her best friend and rock star husband. We’re still watching every move she makes. Go Cate.
What excites you about double-handed distance racing? What does your mind’s eye see when you think about that kind of racing, now that you’ve done a few races?
The things that excite me about double-handed sailing are very similar to the things that excite me about going offshore in general. There is a challenge, a certain amount of risk, and a lot of preparation that goes into distance racing. There is also a level of comfort and trust in the people around you, and I go through all the same “gut feelings” and emotions that I do in preparing for a normal distance race, only a bit more amplified, and I think that’s very fun, exciting and also very satisfying.
You did an overnight race last fall in Annapolis, and it was sort of a sprint…overnight, but not multiple days. What do you think would be particularly challenging if the race was more than three days and required a real watch system?
Yes, our race in the Chesapeake was just about 24 hours. I think the biggest challenge when you go offshore for more than a day is that you start getting tired. When you start getting tired, that’s when you make mistakes, and ultimately that’s when really bad things can happen. I think it’s important to create a system (maybe not even a watch, per se, but a system), where you and your teammate understand “Hey I need a cat nap,” or “I really need you right now for this gybe, but then get some rest.” I think the more you know the other person, the easier it is to figure that out. I think the longer you are on the water, the more it could feel like you’re on a single-handed race with a person sleeping down below!
In terms of communication specifically, what do you do to ensure a maneuver (tack, gybe, reef, sail change, etc.) will go according to plan? Did you talk through or choreograph these maneuvers onshore before you went out then try them on the water?
For the Annapolis Yacht Club (AYC) race, my friend Mike Coe and I had never sailed the Jeanneau SunFast 3300 before it got to Annapolis a month or two prior to the event. Mike was heavily involved in the project, and my husband was involved in the sail package that North put together, so we certainly talked about the boat a lot, but it was in a very theoretical way. The first few times Mike and I sailed it, we brought along my husband, Allan, and Mike’s wife, Kelly. They are both great sailors, and we knew they would be there: A) if we messed something up and needed help, and B) to give us critical feedback on our maneuvers. We did that setup a handful of times and then struck out on our own for a few practice sessions and one sundown to 3 a.m. session. Critical (and kind of funny) to the timeline of our race preparations, Mike and Kelly actually got married the weekend prior to Mike and me sailing the double-handed race, and then Allan and I got married the weekend after! We had a lot going on at the time, so we really tried to make every effort on the water a very focused event. We would go out with a plan and a list of things we wanted to accomplish. With not a lot of time, we had to make everything count.
You’re an excellent sailor…but you’re a civilian—not a multiple world champion with three gold medals. Do you think double-handed racing is something more people could do if they gave it more consideration?
I think double-handed sailing is the next wave, and you 100% don’t need to be a top-level pro to do it. I think one needs to have a very methodical approach to racing the boat and making decisions; you certainly want to make well-informed decisions and maneuvers because let’s face it, everything is harder with only two people.
AYC ran a Two-Bridge Fiasco this summer, similar to the Three-Bridge Fiasco in San Francisco. It was a pursuit-style race from the mouth of the Severn River to either the Bay Bridge or Navy Bridge, and it was strictly double-handed. We had over 130 boats out on the water sailing, and it was a FANTASTIC sight. Kids were in 420s and Lasers, there were a few 505s, but mainly it was the boats you see on a Wednesday night (30-40 footers) - all double-handing. I think the more that local race committees can think outside the box and run races like that and the more people get the opportunity to TRY double-handed sailing without the notion that they have to go a long way, the more this part of our sport will grow – which is awesome!
Even some very experienced sailors would never consider racing offshore double-handed…it would just be too scary. How do you deal with the potential for inconvenience…or disaster?
Preparation. I deal with the same fears on any offshore race; only, as I mentioned, these fears can be a bit more amplified when there are fewer people involved. I’m a firm believer that the more prepared you are and the more you understand your boat, your team, your sails, the course, the weather, etc., the safer you will be. This notion takes the fear out of it and honestly reduces the potential for things to go wrong. I’d also add that trust is a critical component. Neither Mike nor I had done any double-handed racing prior to the AYC event, and we had not actually raced with each other before, but we trusted each other immensely, and moreover, our partners trusted each other, which I think is also really important. Allan doesn’t do a whole lot of offshore sailing, and I recall him saying that, while the whole thing made him a little nervous, he felt confident because not only does he trust me implicitly to do the right things, he trusts Mike. That gave me an extra boost of confidence for sure.
To whom would you recommend it? Who DEFINITELY needs to give it a go?
Listen, it’s not for everyone, but I do think more people should give it a try. It seems daunting from the onset, but if you already know how to prepare a boat for a normal offshore race, chances are this is something you can do! I’d say that if you are a good all-around sailor who is as comfortable driving as you are on the bow, you HAVE to try double-handed sailing. For the all-around type of sailor, this is the next new challenge!
Now that you’ve done some of this, what behaviors and traits would someone absolutely need to have for you to consider doing a double-handed race with them?
I think having personalities that complement each other is important. There were things I knew I was good at and therefore took ownership of, and there were things I knew Mike would be better at, and he owned those things. That kind of relationship is important. I also think it’s important to have someone you really trust and simply enjoy being around! It’s obviously not always easy, and there can be frustrating moments, so understanding the other person and how they deal with frustrations and other situations is important.
You sailed the Jeanneau SunFast 3300. Did you find that boat well-suited to the double-handed mission you assigned it to? What have you learned a boat needs to do to be an appropriate choice for double-handed competition?
The 3300 was great. This is what it was designed for, and it’s performing really well. Ken Read and Suzy Leech have been sailing the boat Mike and I sailed, and they have been kicking ass; I know they just won the double-handed section of a brutal Ida Lewis Distance Race.
I think a boat has to have a safe cockpit that you can always clip into; I think the ability to clip into the cockpit before your feet are actually on deck is a feature that’s overlooked a lot and is really important. I’ll be sailing an Italia 9.98 this fall in the AYC event, and the clip-in point was one of the first things I noticed. I also think light and easy-to-handle sails are critical. When things like furling a code zero go wrong, it can be really bad and very stressful, so having the right sails and equipment to do the job is a no brainer. We had a full Harken setup on the 3300, and all our equipment performed fantastically, which honestly goes back to the importance of preparation and trusting your setup. Finally, I’d say having a good autopilot (if it’s allowed) is worth its weight in gold; when you need two sets of hands on the bow, you want to trust that you aren’t going to randomly tack or do something weird.
SHORT-HANDED TROUBLESHOOTING AT THE FRONT
Sébastien Sainson, Project Manager, Gitana 17 Maxi Edmond de Rothschild
At the front, there is no playbook. Design, testing, and installation are just chapter one. From there, the real work begins, and the real gains are made. The Gitana 17 Maxi Edmond de Rothschild has been devised, developed and built with a focus on solo sailing but is also made for major record attempts in crewed configuration.
We asked Sébastien Sainson, head of the in-house design office, how the Gitana team plans for on-water trouble. What could fail? What is the action plan if something fails? What kind of spares do they need onboard?