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2021 Snipe Nationals Recap

The 2021 Snipe Nationals offered fantastic racing and learning opportunities to a pack of enthusiastic sailors. Quantum Snipe experts George Szabo and Carter Cameron recap the event and provide insight into boat setup, tuning, and venue and fleet management. 

Notes From George Szabo

As we got into the swing of competing in championship one-design regattas again, my first priority was to get back into sailing shape. I’m still a long way from where I’d like to be, but it felt good to be back in outdoor bootcamps in the months leading up to Nationals. We can lose sight of the physical demands required to sail a dinghy in a competitive class. Sailing the Snipe is physical, so keeping up on fitness, building stamina to hike, and conditioning for long days on the water can make the difference in this competitive class.  

When we arrived in Annapolis for Snipe Nationals, we felt our time was limited but our to-do list was lengthy. While we had a fantastic charter boat, we spent time making slight modifications for our particular needs and working through the systems to ensure everything would run smoothly. Some items on our charter boat checklist included a second ratchet on the boom, rigging the pole launcher so it worked efficiently, verifying that the mainsheet was centered, running through the tuning, and marking everything in a variety of colors for repeatable settings and trim. Upon return from our first practice session, we had a new worklist and some tweaks to make. We spent the majority of Day 2 in measurement but managed to get in some decent light air practice before the breeze shut off that afternoon. Time in the boat is always a priority before an event, and it was valuable to sail in our charter boat as much as possible.  

Our tuning is straight off the Quantum Sails Snipe Tuning Grid. We are using the “San Diego Style” part of the tuning grid for our light 0-10 setting. For medium pressure, we employ settings of 21’7” and 20 tension. In heavier breeze, we are using the “Brazilian Style” of 21’6” at 21 tension and then 21’ 4” at 21 tension. We did not change our spreader length for the medium and heavy tunings as the wind was up and down during the event. 

Annapolis is a special place to sail and maintaining speed is critical. We experienced a lot of chop and disturbed, bumpy sea-state from powerboat wakes. As a result, we focused on our jib lead location. We were constantly trying a new spot in hopes of maintaining speed or going faster, and we often found ourselves one hole forward of where we expected we would normally sail for those conditions. We came away each day with notes on our settings, continuing to learn and pursue the perfect setup. 

For our mainsail trim, we focused on the effective use of the outhaul. If we were hiking, we put on more outhaul, and if we were not hiking, we quickly eased to a position of .25”-1” from the band. On the water before and between races, we spent a lot of time helping customers get the best out of their setup. It was rewarding to see several teams improve significantly as the week went on. 

Downwind conditions were also tricky. In the lighter air, the rig would bounce all over the place. To prevent massive rig movements, we often added more fore-pusher on the run to keep the rig more forward and just snug the leeward shroud. We also tightened the jib halyard about 2”-4” tighter than normal and frequently found ourselves putting a light tension on the leeward (lazy) jib sheet. Eventually, we found the right combination of minor adjustments to achieve our goal of minimizing rig movement downwind. 

Tactics and playing the current were also a challenge. Unfortunately, we were not the best at figuring out the clouds and conditions in Annapolis and would have preferred additional sailing days before the event to really help us. We employed some big fleet tactics on Nationals’ large 50-boat fleet and adapted and learned on the fly. A few of our tactical takeaways were to 

  • Get on the line early. Being on starboard with 1:15 to go was always a winner and made it easier to build a starting hole. 
  • Keep clear air lanes by playing the edges of the fleet instead of the middle. 
  • Go straight for 200 yards when coming out of either the weather or leeward mark, effectively reducing the amount of sailing in chop that is created by the fleet.

The Snipe is a phenomenal class with a strong sense of family and camaraderie. The competition is fierce, oftentimes with past National, World Champion, and Olympians on the line next to you, but it’s also awesome fun to battle it out against long-time friends in a venue with a stellar race committee that delivered nine great races. 

Notes From Carter Cameron

Sailing a major event like Snipe Nationals at your home club is always a treat. The volunteer team at Severn Sailing Association in Annapolis did an amazing job at making sure every part of the regatta was seamless, from lot management and measurement to sponsorship and social events. The result was an excellent regatta experience. 

It was exciting to be participating in my first Snipe Nationals representing Quantum Sails. It’s always fun seeing old friends after being away from regattas for a year, but it’s even more fun helping them set up their boats for success. It’s truly rewarding to help others with boat setup, rig tune, and impart some of our learned Quantum Sails Snipe knowledge to an eager fleet looking to better their sailing experience. 

I had the tiller in my hands and the honor of my good friend Bryan Stout, a seasoned and expert Snipe sailor, as crew. He and I have been sailing several times a week together, participating in a local Fleet 532 tuning session and doing our best to train for Snipe Nationals. I have to emphasize what George said about the importance of time sailing the boat. Much of our preparation included boat work to perfect the systems and dial in our settings.  

Our base setting was 21’ 6.5” final rake at 18 tension on the Loose gauge for 3/32 Dyform shrouds, one of the more common shroud selections for the Snipe. This is consistent with the “San Diego Style” tuning grid. Bryan and I weighed a combined 295 lbs, which was a bit less than other teams. Factoring in our weight, we decided it was best to put 2 turns on our Sta-Masters and 1 full turn on for the second race on Friday. We felt the added turns for the second windiest race of the regatta − blowing about 12 kts - 15 kts − helped us manage our rig. In the building pressure of Friday’s races, we had 2 full turns on for the third race, when it was blowing about 15 kts - 18 kts.

Confirming notes with George Szabo, we felt that getting on the line with about 1:15-1:00 to go was the way to grab a hole. Bryan and I focused on getting clean off the line while still trying to start in the favored third of the line. Even though we identified the favored end and had decent starts, in a fleet this large and competitive we didn’t always get off the line so easily. 

Ironically, our best race came after having our worst start. We got caught in a large pile-up at the pin end, forcing us to tack out right. We quickly realized that course-right was favored while everyone else went left.  We finished fourth in that race, which was a great sendoff, as it was the last race of the regatta. It’s invigorating to finish a regatta on a high note, and that fourth place finish was a nice way to keep things rolling into the next event.  

During the regatta, we also focused on keeping the boat moving through the chop. Annapolis is notorious for light and lumpy conditions, so finding a clear lane, keeping a constant angle of heel, and finding and using the powered-up settings were key for the lighter days on Thursday and Saturday. When the breeze built on Friday and Sunday, we focused on our transitions from lulls to puffs and vice-versa. Not only did that include changing cunningham, outhaul, and vang controls, but we also were in constant communication about who was going to move their weight first. Bryan and I were both hiking in 10 kts -12kts and heavier breeze. In this range, we determined I’d be the first to move my weight. I started by bringing my shoulders in and moving more of my body inboard as needed. As things got lighter in the 8 kts - 10 kts range, I stayed up on the rail and Bryan stayed in, subtly moving his weight from sitting in the boat to sliding up on the rail. Consistently playing the weight game is critical.

The 2021 Snipe Nationals was an absolutely fantastic event with top-notch sailors and awesome racing conditions. It was also a great event to learn about sailing in large fleets and how true the class stays to its motto of “Serious Sailing, Serious Fun.”
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