Kevin and Ashley, Congrats on winning the 2012 Newport Regatta over a few Snipe class veterans in Carol and Andrew. What were the conditions, and how did your speed stack up against the fleet?
Kevin - The conditions at the event were very up and down. Saturday started out dead and the breeze filled in slowly. Once it did it was a little bit west of the normal direction. We were sailing NW of the Pell Bridge tucked in fairly close to the shore. We were on a course with V640s, 505s, Stars and J22s. Lots of boats...lots of bigger boats. When you combine all those factors we were on a very long course with lots of wake and chop with up and down breeze; a lot going on. There was no guessing on where to go on the course. Even with a mile long beat we were all near one another, it was all about boat speed. We had 12 knots (maybe creeping to 15) on Saturday and with a boat weight under 270 pounds we had to hike hard. As soon as the wind filled I pinned down. It was 2 turns at first, finishing the day 3.5 turns down. Our speed was very good. We had two first places. In the other two races I can specifically pinpoint the mistakes I made that took us out of the top, it was not a speed issue. I sailed the boat very tight and had very good height. With the wind changing so much I used the vang more than the traveler, but really I stay trimmed as long as I could. When I had to release the main I put my shoulders back hard, let the sail breathe, and then tightened back up. There were moments where I was not fastest on the course going forward but I feel very good about our VMG all day. Sunday we had a little less wind, but not much. It was about the same with a breeze more left at a normal direction. Again a good day in the boat with my mistakes easily identifiable (one of which was going left into the current in the middle of the bay. I remember thinking, "man it is really smooth out here....crap, I'm toast.") Long beats again but a bit more tactical. We would have to push to a side of the course but then could play shifts up the side, you just had to sail 5 minutes without tacking to get there. Upwind I sailed the same, again being pined down all day. All weekend we felt fast downwind, did not loose a boat all weekend. We have a pretty good routine on the offset we keep the boat moving and open up the outhaul and cunninghams. Once we make the turn down the vang goes, the pole goes, and Ashley moves forward. I watch the leech and adjust the vang as we sail down the course so that the top of the leech is as tight as it can be without folding back toward me (I say tight because I think the tighter you can sail it the better...but it is still very loose, it is a very fine line). Then I sail low. As low as I can.
You just came off a really solid result, 8th at your first US Nationals (and the coveted Top Married Couple!), the first day was pretty windy and you guys had some tough finishes…the second day was even windier, and your scores were awesome. What did you change in the boat with tuning? What were your priorities in the boat as you two sail pretty light?
Kevin - I had very high personnel expectations for Nationals. Looking back those expectations were off base. Not because of the wind, (which I would love to blame it on) but because I had not sailed since the Don Q; in a snipe or anything. Once the forecast started lining up I began to psych myself out. We are light and I had never raced the snipe in anything over 12. I went through what I had to do in my head. I am used to sailing light. When you sail light in lots of wind there is a tendency to want to pinch and overtrim. What happens when you do that is you stall the foils, heal over and slide sideways upwind. It is the natural tendency so I have to get my brain to ignore that, keep the bow down as much as I can (you still have to pinch, but you do it as little as you can) and let the main go. It was not enough for the first day. We struggled upwind and while we made great gains downwind we felt like we were stuck in the same spot all day. For day two I knew I had to make a change. Ashley and I are in good shape, we felt like we should be able to push the boat better. We made very clear changes and the results were huge. First, the snipe may be heavy and only have two sails...but you can tune it. I decided I had to make an extreme change, so we left the dock 6, yes six, turns down and moved the shrouds back a hole on the chainplate. I am not sure what our tension gauge said but I would not be surprised if it hit 30. The boat was much more manageable for us. Two, I controlled the flogging. When I had to flog the main the first day I went slow and slid sideways. Whenever the main flogged on day 2 I put my shoulders WAY back, let the boat turn up a bit and then trimmed hard. We pointed through the big puffs, then, most importantly, got the bow back down before the foil stalled. Three, we stopped playing tactics so much. We split off because it was so hard for us to hold a lane. That had the unplanned advantage of allowing us to focus on boatspeed. We went a LOT faster on day 2. Lastly we, sorry I (Ashley always hikes hard), worked harder. When we were in the top at the first mark I didn't want to lose it so I worked harder. Obvious I know but tough all the same.
It sounds like the Newport regatta was less extreme with the breeze, what was your tuning regimen for the event in the Newport seabreeze?
Kevin - After nationals I am not afraid to pin down. While it was not windy at Newport, it was not light either. We did not sail a single race at base, pinned down at least 2 turns in every re. I have decided that I only sail at base if we are not in the straps. Even if we can force the boat down, if we are strapped I am moving down from now on. My base setup is all the way forward on the chainplate. We set the mast rake at about 21'6". If I am having trouble dialing the boat right to that mark I always tend to a smaller number. Ashley and I never sail forward of 21'6". I set the tension at 21 on the loose gauge. It is tighter than many but I like it. I hate dangling shrouds and sagging jibs. Then I set a mast mark for the halyard. When I pin down I go back to that mark each time so as I rake back I also tighten up. If I was sailing with a bigger crew I might sail with a pinch less tension, maybe 19-20 (closer to 20) because you can tension the forestay with mainsheet trim. That is harder for a light team like Ashley and me.
I know you two are sailing the NE Champs in Beverly, MA; what other events/practice are you doing to prepare for the WH+O?
Kevin - I just took the head coaching position at Eckerd College. This will make sailing regattas before the event very difficult since it is soon to be the season. I will sail in the mornings with a focus on windier days. I am happy with the way that I tune the boat so I do not have a lot of experimentation to do. I just need to stay fresh. My coaching position will keep me sharp tactically. I am also religious about my physical training. I am hoping that pays big because it is going to be a long event down there and it is forecasted to be windy.
Ashley, you two are relatively new to the Snipe fleet, but you have managed to get yourselves to the front of the fleet pretty quickly. As a top crew, what are some suggestions you would give for a younger sailor, perhaps an active High School or College sailor, just getting into the Snipe?
Ashley - There have been quite a few younger sailors out there at Snipe events lately which is great to see. When I first got into a Snipe, I was struck by how different it was from what I was accustomed to sailing in college. The boat has a very technical side to it. In my opinion, the most important thing is to get out there and spend time in the boat, be it practicing or racing. Like anything, it takes a little bit of time to learn so it helps to be patient and open minded. The races we sail in Snipes are generally longer than those sailed in college which allows us a good amount of time to see what feels good and compare our boat speed and performance to the other boats. As a crew, it is important to pay attention to how in phase you are. A big change for me came with using a compass. Rather than trying to figure out if we feel headed or not, we just look at the numbers. Sail trim is another key element. If you are not trimming the jib properly it really matters, especially when you are sailing mile long beats. I pay very close attention to the leech to make sure that the top of the sail is not stalled. I also like to ease and re-trim whenever there is a big change in wind velocity or direction as well as messy chop. I tell Kevin that communication is really important. I don't have the tiller in my hand so it is harder for me to tell if the boat is stalled and I need him to let me know when things do not feel right Something that sets a Snipe apart from college and club boats is its size. Snipes are heavy boats so it is important to slow the boat handling down tremendously. When you rush a tack and do not roll long and hard enough, the boat comes out of the tack with very little speed. This is another area where communication is helpful between the skipper and crew to help keep one another from crossing the boat too early when tacking. I have also realized the value of hiking hard. We sail at a very light weight but we have been able to hang with heavier boats by working hard. I am at a disadvantage because I am both light and short so I have to work that much harder to make up for it. I feel much more involved in the Snipe than I did in college boats and I feel like I have a much better sense of what is going on inside the boat, though my husband might disagree with me a bit on that. The best way to improve your sailing skills is time in the boat so getting out on the water is certainly the most important thing.
The Snipe class has had a long tradition of being a Family boat that offers Serious Sailing and Serious Fun, good luck to you two as you ramp up for the Western Hemispheres and Orient later this year!