Friday, July 08, 2016


It’s not an unusual thing for the owners of sail lofts to win championships, but for Hyde Sails MD Nigel Grogan, trying to win the Squib Nationals came long before any involvement in making their sails. In fact, his love of Squib racing was part of the reason he became involved in the marine industry.

Nigel has been campaigning a Squib on and off since around 1987 with near misses at the elusive Championship trophy in Dublin (4th) Dartmouth (3rd) Lowestoft (2nd) and Howth. They came very close last year when they were 4th again, but would have won if they had not thrown away a first race win by trying to attempt an extra lap when they neared the finish line with a healthy lead….

Sailing with son Jack, they won at Weymouth with a day to spare from a 60 boat fleet that contained most of the classes top sailors. Second was many times Enterprise champion, Alan Johnson and Dave Garlick, third Dave Best and Pete Richards two times previous winner and fourth, a former Cadet and Laser Champion, Richard Robinson and Steve Allso.

The racing, as all Squib racing is, was close and tactical. Nigel attributed their win to executing successfully a game plan that was essentially conservative;

"We set out to stick to the middle of the course and start towards the favoured side of the middle of the line. With a 500m line and shifty winds we could not afford to be pinned out to an unfavourable side of the track… but starting mid-line, often with either the U flag or black flag meant that good transits and being able to see them, were essential.  We spent a lot of time getting transits, not just along the line (which are invariably obscured at the start), but on the safe side too so we could gauge our approach against them. We were never in the top three at the first windward mark, but we were never OCS or outside the top 15. That meant we were able to grind our way to the front in every race, helped by long courses."

Their score line of 2,2,2, 5, 3, DNC seemed to vindicate the strategy.

The use of their 'second' boat Squib 881 a newish Parker boat was a difficult choice. Nigel explained that the reason for preferring this boat to their proven old number boat, 105 was because the keel on 105 was rusting inside the keel box and demanded constant maintenance. 881 also had a perfect polished hull finish. 881 weighed in on exactly the minimum weight with maximum correctors, but Nigel was disappointed that when hauled out at the end of the regatta, there was significant slime and even sea creatures on the bottom, causing some rethinking that maybe a well prepared anti fouled hull finish was preferable.

Mast wise the team used a new Superspars mast, which was significantly stiffer than their old Superspar, but slightly bendier than the Z Spar alternative.

Sails were standard Hyde production versions using the 315s mainsail which has slightly more luff curve than the 315z. Spinnaker was the cross cut version which the team feel is noticeably quicker on windward/leeward courses, it is also exactly on the maximum size.

The sailing conditions included a few days where the waves were a significant factor. Nigel noted that being set up differently and sailing in a different mode on each tack was quite important. For example, on the Thursday race, starboard tack upwind needed a lower mode with a more depowered rig and concentration on getting through the waves rather than on port tack, where gusts could better be converted in to height without being stopped by the chop.

He also says “Upwind we tend to also sail with less heel than most when it’s breezy. It’s easy to hike really hard with the rig set up with too much power and throw away the leverage by leaning over. With the boat upright the crew weight is working more effectively leeway is reduced and the boat can be steered through the waves better. Best VMG when overpowered is by steering over the waves as a first priority, then a controlled stuffing technique to keep upright and thirdly looking at the tell-tales. Looking upwind to avoid the worst wave sets is vital, then either freeing off slightly or pinching a bit to get around them.”

Downwind their tactics were enhanced, according to his father, by Jack's strength, youth and agility. "We can throw ourselves into any situation down wind and because of Jack's crewing, come out smelling of roses. Because of this we always seem to have options at the gybe mark and at the leeward gates" Nigel said. They were also the only team that has converted their fly-away pole to the starboard side of the boom so that the first hoist is quicker and easier.

“We work the waves very hard when surfing conditions exist, Jack is an accomplished surfer and knows just when to move forward to catch the font of a wave. We both pump hard on every single wave that we can, in 18 knots sailing a Squib downwind is a surprisingly physical business, after races lasting 2 hours we were exhausted!”

But Nigel counsels against overdoing it;

“Squibs are really subtle boats to sail, they are easy to get downwind in a breeze, but hard to gain an edge, too dynamic an approach without helm and crew coordination can be slower than just sitting there, pointing in the right direction. But when the waves and wind suit and you can get planing, then big pumps and big deviations of course really can pay- but always keeping an eye on the rhumb line and the position of other boats behind. You have to think in terms of clean lanes downwind and position yourself accordingly, we probably gybe more than anyone else on the runs to achieve this”

Their boat fit-out is what they describe as being "on the complicated side of simple" which they feel is a necessary price to pay for full adjustability on the race track. Nigel said;

"It was always necessary to be changing gears. We are one of the few teams that ease the outhaul on the reaching legs for example, but which enables us to be more powered up than those that don't. The only control we could change but never touch is the backstay. Although at times it was quite windy, we do not depower by using the backstay, we feel it opens the mainsail leach too much for the optimum VMG, we prefer to drop the track to between half way down and the middle and sheet really hard. We never drop the traveller below the centre whatever the wind strength, but we are quite aggressive with the cunningham and vang"

They are careful about setting up their standing rig for the prevailing conditions, they use quite a lot of cap shroud tension, which they feel helps the gust response in medium conditions but is slower downwind. Nigel explains;

“Because the rules preclude adjustments to the standing rigging while racing and the spreader swing is unrestricted, the set up for a race is inevitably compromised. We adjust the jib halyard to just slightly tighter than the forestay and adjust forestay length to suit the conditions before the race. It used to be believed that the lowers were pretty irrelevant, whereas with our tight caps we think their tension is crucial. We adjust the lowers in increments of half holes the settings are so precise. Too tight and the mast is too upright and the main is too powerful. Too loose and the main flattens off too early and the leach opens up. “

Nigel cautions against too little jib halyard tension when windy;

“If the jib halyard is too eased, the sail rotates and the exit becomes too rounded choking the slot and slowing you down. Better when breezy to sail with a tight luff (best achieved with a lot of mainsheet tension- pull it on as hard as you can!) the jib cunningham really pulled down and the barber haulers eased out with lots of sheet tension. Look for a flat jib with the leech open and straight. In gusts never ease the mainsheet, the forestay will sag, the mast will straighten and the main and jib will both power up. Instead luff very precisely and if you can, drop the traveller down towards the centre. If continually overpowered, pull both cunninghams on hard and pull the vang on to bend the middle of the mast. At this point the mast will be against the front of the gate at deck level and the lowers will be allowing the maximum bend the luff curve allows”

Link to Weymouth SC page for full results

Hyde Sails Ltd, Harbour Building Office A, Hamble Point Marina, Hamble, Southampton SO31 4NB

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