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Podium Insights: Light Air Analysis of Hijinks' J/88 North American Championship Win

Laura Weyler’s Hijinks took home the title at the 2018 J/88 North American Championship. The light air conditions in Chicago that weekend created a challenge for every team, including Weyler’s. Quantum’s Kris Werner explains how they did it and how to maximize light air conditions on any boat.

Delicate Moves - Hijinks maneuvers the light air of the J/88 North American Championship to win the event. Photo by Chris Howell.

Laura Weyler’s Hijinks has made quite a name for itself over the past few years since hitting the J/88 one design scene. Winning the 2018 J/88 North American Championship is just another notch on its already impressive belt of wins. Quantum’s Kris Werner has been an integral part of the team and their success. After their recent win in Chicago, Kris gave us the rundown of how they did it. J/88 teams, pay attention, and everyone else listen up too: These light air sailing tips expand beyond this offshore class.

Crew

We sailed the boat, as most do, with six crew and no need for a weigh-in.  Our combined weight was likely just about to the class max of 1081 pounds.

Sails

We sailed with a 2018 mainsail, 2017 J1 jib, and 2017 A2 class runner. The Quantum designs continue to prove to be the fastest sails across all ranges. 

Tune

  • We made sure the rig was set up exactly to the guide, paying particular attention to getting the headstay to the correct length.  Because the furler and the foil over the turnbuckle on the J/88 can be set up differently each time, we checked and then double-checked the length. Once it was set, we noted the caliper measurement between the turnbuckles for future accurate reference.  
  • With the headstay set and our rig centered in the boat and straight, we had peace of mind. The rest of the tuning was easy. 
  • We really do find the guide to be quite accurate with a few minor adjustments at the upper and lower end of the range.  
  • When at the Quantum base for 12-16 knots or any higher wind range, we find that the lowers (D1) need to be about 1 to 1.5 turns tighter, which gives us the ability to put on a considerable amount of backstay without over-bending the mast and over-flattening the mainsail.  
  • If you haven’t had over-bend wrinkles at the higher ends of the range before, I would suggest you have not been using enough backstay!
  • At the lower end of the spectrum, I am less concerned with following the guide exactly, but rather making sure the boat is as powered up as possible without compromising the sail shape. A loose rig becomes too straight and makes the mainsail very deep and draft too far forward. However, you still need the rig to be loose enough to create some headstay sag in order to power up the jib, so make sure the lowers are extremely loose and sight up the mast to see the slightest suggestion of sag in the middle of the mast.  The point is that you want power in light air; however, you don’t want a very deep sail that will cause lots of drag, especially in flatter water.  
  • Use your draft stripes as a reference for where the mainsail gets the most depth, and adjust the rig until you get it to look right. It should be pretty obvious when the draft goes way forward and the sail is deep.
  • When in doubt, it’s much safer to err on the looser end of the tune. A J/88 can feel extremely sticky and slow when the rig is too tight in light winds.

Trim

We had winds the first two days in Chicago in the 7-12 knot range, while the last two days were under 7 knots. 
This is what we learned as we focused on trimming fast in light air:

  • Traveller between 90%- to 100%-to-windward helps the driver get some feel.
  • Slight luff wrinkles on the mainsail are okay in very light air.
  • It’s better to err on a bit less inhauler in the light air and keep the slot open and clean. We used our inhauler mostly to the #2 position in the light air, and about to the #3 position in the medium breeze (see picture). 
    Inhauler positions
  • Keep a constant eye on the upper leech telltale on the jib. It must always be moving in the light air.
  • We love the marks on the spreaders (per guide) to match up to the jib leech for reference! Quite often we felt fastest when we had the jib trimmed right to these marks and again with the top tell tales just flowing at 99%.
  • Keeping both leeches trimmed in unison is important. Constant communication on how far off/out the jib is should be communicated to the helm and main trimmer.  
  • If you need extra pointing ability for a short period of time, constantly fine-tune the mainsail sheet to keep the upper tell tales flying and just slightly stalled.
  • A slight tension of backstay in light air to take any bounce out of the headstay is okay.
  • Keep the jib halyard on the winch for easy adjustment when needed.

Sailing Tips

  • In light air, going for a low-density spot on the line with full speed is smart. Having the ability to “free sail” after the start is the most critical with a J/88, as it is with the J/70 and other similar boats. You must have a clean leeward bow and the ability to put your bow down for speed if needed.
  • Having crew go below (much as it may not be pleasant) improves speed in light air and lumpy conditions. Also focus on being forward in the boat, concentrating most of the weight between the companionway and the bow hatch.  On our boat, I hand off the mainsheet fine-tuning to the driver so that I can go forward and low if needed. Then I come back briefly to roll the boat and manage the traveler in the tack.
  • When downwind in light air and chop, cleat the furler line and crank in a bit on the jib sheets to help pull the rig forward and stabilize it.
  • Communicating with the crew to pull off a stealth gybe is important in getting a jump on your competition and defending your lane. Do NOT stand up and start moving around until the boat is turning!

Final Tip

With the ultra-hot weather we had in Chicago, staying hydrating and out of the sun as much as possible were key. On Saturday, we drifted around for quite a while in postponement in the blazing heat and sun.  We had a nice lightweight sunshade on our boat to cover the cockpit and companionway. It’s made of spinnaker cloth, weighs almost nothing, and protects not only the crew from the sun but also the mainsail. Having the sunshade allowed us to motor around slowly to create some breeze, a much better option than being in a steaming hot cabin with no ventilation. Many other teams sat out in the sun and baked, and I truly believe the sunshade made a difference in the only race of the day. We stayed nice and cool and out of the sun, and when it finally came time to race midafternoon, we were sharp and ready to go, not sunbaked. We won the race. Contact your local loft today to get one of these secret weapons!

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The Discussion

Doug Burtner

September 10, 2018

Nice Article Kris

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