Move Over, Swanson - I'm Driving!

by Jesse Falsone, crew USA 8643

Here's the Scenario ...

You're a regular crew on a 505. You're always pumped to sail, even if it is with your ingrate skipper who thinks good crews grow on trees (recurring theme in the "Crew's Union"). You read everything and anything you can get your hands on about 505's and becoming a top-notch crew. Then the "unfortunate" happens. You're skipper can't make it to a regatta. What to do? Find another driver or, I dare say, drive the sled yourself! If your skipper is at all interested in developing the best possible crew, he'll say 'I can't make it, take the boat'. And that is exactly what you should do my brethren crew.

Call it cross training in the 505. It won't matter how much you read about rig tuning, until you actually pull the strings and feel the change in the helm, you're just flipping through the channels. Your perception of speed change may not be quite as keen on the wire. I found myself saying "Wow! What a difference that adjustment just made!".

Its OK to Take it Easy ...

My first driving experience in a 505 came during a practice session I had with a buddy of mine before the 1997 Hampton Trapeze. Bryan Russell had never sailed a 505 before, and I had never really driven one, and as luck would have it, it blew 25 plus knots for our first excursion. We took it easy that day. I decided that it was far more important not to break the boat and better to boost our confidence. We jib reached out to the middle of the bay, made one tack, and came back. What did I learn from this chicken sail? More than I thought I would! I quickly recognized why my skipper frequently jerks the helm around when its really blowing - when you get hit with a big gust on a reach, falling off and keeping the boat flat is the best way to accelerate and keep from capsizing. I also realized that unless the chute is up, the skipper has the more physical job (sorry, Crew's Union), especially upwind in a blow. The helmsman is constantly moving, hiking and trimming to keep the boat flat and fast. As a crew in these conditions, much of my fatigue stems from pointing my toes to get every last foot-pound out of my 5-11" frame (OK, 5'11" with the sailing boots on).

Don't be Afraid to Swim ...

For our second practice, the wind had dropped to a modest 20 knots. Therefore, we had no excuse not to raise the spinnaker! Armed with the knowledge previously attained from the earlier practice, we were able to keep the boat upright for 20 or 30 seconds after the hoist. This brings me to the next lesson learned- douse the chute before attempting to right the boat! Also, it became quite apparent to me that the best thing the crew can do after a capsize is get on the centerboard and keep the boat from turtling. When we finally decided to attempt a jibe, I had no idea what the best place was for the hiking stick while I straddled the tiller through the maneuver. As the hiking stick managed to tangle itself around the mainsheet during our first jibe attempt, it was obvious that the best place for it is resting on top of the tiller (at least for a novice driver). Much of my revelations came as epiphanies while I swam around the boat to help my crew stand on the centerboard. Our next heavy-air hoist went well mainly due to my realization that heading off drastically during the maneuver kept us from healing too much and slowing down.

Pull the Strings ...

As we beat back up the river, I played with the rake and rig tension controls. It was amazing how much rig tension and ram affected leach tension! I also realized that pulling the centerboard up a little helped balance the boat by reducing my helm and heeling moment. After a few adjustments, I was able to make a connection between theory and practice. Raking the mast and tightening the shrouds does wonders, especially when combined with the correct lower bend, leach tension and centerboard angle. The boat no longer felt "stuck', as Ali Meller says. My last practice revelation as a driver was how much it hurts to hike hard for extended periods. I can see the benefits that leg extensions in the gym could have.

Sailing with the Competition ...

The regatta in Hampton proved to be another valuable learning experience. You never really know if you're fast or not until you match up with other boats. It was blowing 15 to 20 on the first day - weak conditions by our standards! We looked good out of the blocks, but a capsize on the first tack pushed us back instantly. Our tacks eventually got better, and I learned that with the long Waterat tiller and hiking extension, the skipper really needs to "shoot" through to the windward side and sit down further forward than one would expect so that the tiller doesn't get stuck behind you're back Also, I made it a point not to turn the helm for a tack until the crew has unhooked and uncleated the jib since either can make you a swimmer.

It doesn't take much to fall behind in the 505 class when its windy. On one occasion, I found myself behind Ali Meller and Allan Johnson after the start. I glanced over to see if they were affecting my air and I noticed Ali radically moving the tiller as he navigated his way through the chop. The lesson here is when in upwind planing conditions, keep the boat on a plane whenever you can! The speed difference between planing and not planing is huge, and if you have to dive off 10 degrees to avoid damaging waves then it is worthwhile as long as you can spare the height. Watch what the good guys do. Don't be afraid to ask for tuning advise while on the water.

My last 505 driving experience came during the first day of the 1997 East Coasts. I had a novice but willing crew in Allan Freedman, and 20+ knots of wind. Although we were sailing a spanking new Waterat, boat preparation is always paramount. Barney and I had never sailed with the rudder pinned and never had a problem. As fate would have it, the rudder flew off three times on us (twice in one race)! The lesson here is leave no stone unturned when it comes to preparing your boat for a race. Take the time to learn as much about the boat while crewing before you attempt the helm. Oh, and use a rudder lock.

Look at the Big Picture ...

To put all this in perspective, Macy Nelson told me at the East Coasts dinner, "I bet I've lost more 505 races by greater distances than anyone in this room". That made me feel better, especially coming from a three-time North Americans champion. The fact is that each boat has its own learning curve, and although the 505 curve can be a steep one, it offers more fun and excitement than any I have encountered. Put your 505 team on the fast track by switching positions at least for a practice sail. The experience can be a boost for both skipper and crew.

Jesse Falsone crew (and sometime driver) USA 8643


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