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Sailing the Cat 4.9


Darren Peters is one of Australia's top Cat sailors and has kindly offered to answer some questions regarding the techniques he uses to get the Cat rigged Taipan moving. Darren's home pond is the water off Adelaide, South Australia.

Another top cat sailor Simon Jeffery has added a few further points to Darren's answers.

Sailing To Weather

How do you set the boat up for going to weather?

Really wind dependent.

Light weather(L) keep your weight forward and work like a dog to keep the hull out.Rotation 45deg.

Medium(M), trap as soon as you can and hold power in the rig for as long as possible.Rotation 50-60deg.

Heavy(H), some guys derotate to 20-30 deg, others overrotate. I find that you can derotate in flat water, whereas in bigger seas overrotation works for me. Be aware that derotating the cat rig mast may cause a breakage in heavy seas. I always derotate in over 15 knots (say to get the spanner to point to the outside of the back beam). This presents a thin edge to the apparent wind (reduced drag) but does tend to fill up the guts of the sail so pull your down haul till you think your fingers will snap off.

Do you have your traveller centred or down a bit when going to windward?

That's a tough call. On the whole, I'd have to say that those who have split traveller systems (which pull to exactly the centre) tend to suffer if they pull the traveller in all the way. As my traveller is standard and doesn't pull all the way there I generally run a couple of inches down from centre anyway - the boat is faster there.

How much downhaul do you use?

L, wrinkles out.

M, about 2-3 ronstan numbers lower.

H, as much as you can without breaking gear. As much as I can, including wrapping the sheet around my hand and straightening my legs to get more tension on it. You'll see the leech at the top visibly loosening.

How much outhaul?

My boom is set up so that I can never fully flatten my sail, seems to depower the rig too much. Then again, I sail in heavy seas. More research in flat water may produce a different result. Generally, L 100mm between boom and sail max point, M 75mm or so, H 50mm

How do you set your daggerboards?

Always all the way down.

Do you raise the windward rudder?

Never, some classes do this. The platforms on the Taipan are a lot stiffer and the foils a lot more efficient than most so drag is not an issue as with some boats

Do you tend to sail a high line or a fast line?

Depends on the conditions and those around me. I would classify myself as a fast line sailor. The taipan seems to go a lot faster for only a small loss of height.

How do you tack?

Obviously, there are three types of tacks. The main issue is not to knock the power out of the rig in all three.You'd be best to start off letting out 700-800mm of sheet and slowly but surely reducing it as you get used to the boat. The windier it is increase the amount you let out and increase the speed with which you pull it back on when on the new tack (saves blowing a tack). I use more like 400-500mm of sheet through the blocks. I use a 7:1, so that's about 70mm of boom height. Thinking about it it's probably more than that, hard to say sitting here in front of the pc.

L. Turn the rudder slowly, let the main sheet out about 400-500mm as you go through. Don't cross under the boom until the weather hull starts to rise/the sail flicks across to the new tack. Bear away on the new tack and pull your 400-500mm in as you move forward again.

M. Turn the rudder a little more quickly, come off trapeze as the hull drops and let the main out about 400-500mm again as you come in, concentrate hard on ensuring that you're going to make the other side when the main flicks. Get across the other side and jump out on trap while you're bearing away slightly to regain speed. Pull the 400-500mm back on after you're back out there and come back up to your normal height.

H. Say a prayer and hope you're going to make it! Pick a smooth patch of water, if possible. Concentrate on smoothly gliding the boat through. Let out 500-600mm a little earlier and cleat the main if you have a cleat. Come in off of trap as the hull lowers to the water. Don't go across until the sail flicks. Be sure to let the main off a bit more if you happen to bear away too quickly. Jump out on trap as soon as you can and pull the main back into position as you come back up to position.

If you happen to blow the tack let your traveller and main out and backwind the main by pushing the boom aggressively and flicking your rudders the other way. Then pull the traveller back in and main on as soon as possible. This will happen when you're sailing cat.

It really pays to train yourself to look at the water behind your boat and see if you are starting to drift back. In heavy air with a sharp chop the boat is easily pushed back in a tack and you need to see this and reverse your rudders ASAP. In all conditions after completing the tack after hiking out get as far forward as possible till your speed is OK - the boat won't accelerate too well with the stern dragging.

Do you try to sail on one hull at all times going to weather?

Definitely, just skimming is sweet and fast.

How do you handle gusts?

Steering first, mainsheet second and if it's still there I apply more downhaul and will then pull the main back on a tad. That's the lazy way.

How do you handle lulls?

Crouch in initially, let the downhaul off, then the rotation if it's a long lull and then let the main out. Depends on the size and length of the lull. From the crouch to the main would have to be 7 knots over approx. 50-60 metres.(I'm writing this in the winter so am having a little trouble rembering the exact ranges but these figures will be close.)

Rounding the Windward Mark

How do you round the Mark when the next leg is a reach?

Ease the downhaul prior to the mark,(but be careful as the boat will heel over with the extra power) crack the main 100-200mm, ease the rotation to 60-75 deg. Ease the traveller depending on angle. Ensure that the top telltales in the main flow as much as possible and try my best to dry the underside of the windward hull when I reach the wing mark!!!!

How do you round the Mark when the next leg is a downwind leg?

Same as above except that the rotation goes out to 80-90deg. Come in off trap, ease the traveller, ease outhaul and lift board

I always ease the traveller before coming off wire and rounding - I've seen plenty of boats dig in at the mark as easing the main combined with a change of angle can twist the sail and give it MORE power thus digging in the leeward bow, you lose steering and over you go.

Also keep looking at the sail and keep your telltales flowing, especially the leeward ones. THERE IS NOTHING you can do with masts, outhauls, centreboards, whatever that increases your speed by 10% BUT if your sail stalls you'll loose 20% speed without even thinking about it. I've shot past heaps of boats at the top mark or wing mark whilst the skipper frigged around with his centreboards or outhaul and his sail was stalled.

How do you approach the Mark?

I generally overlay the windward mark (refer comments above on taipan being faster for only a small height loss) by 20metres or so, concentrating on maintaining boatspeed, bearing away and reducing this amount when it's clear I'm going to make it.

Do you attempt to stay on one hull during the mark rounding? How do you achieve this?

Definitely, practice and knowing your boat. To start off the main and steering are the most effective tools. Concentrate on this and you'll be able to reduce the amount between your boat and the mark over time.

The Reaching Leg.

How do you set up the boat for a reach?

Depends on the conditions. Raise the weather board if it's a long leg and I'm going to stay out on the wire. Ensure that the twist in the main and the traveller setting are producing a powerful yet low drag rig through concentrating on flowing telltales on both sides of the sail for the whole leg. Play between rotation, downhaul and sheet tension until the combo feels right. Refer to main settings for a rough guide with cracked main. It's largely feel in the end, and you will get the feel if you stick at it.

How do you sail the reach?

Pretty generic question, about 50 answers to this one. Don't worry about keeping the bow down (make sure a part of it's in the water), stand on the rear beam in a blow and sheet out to save your skin. Keep the hull out when it's light where possible. I always try to aim slightly lower at the mark when I have power so I can come up when I don't. There are few boats a taipan can take to leeward so always pass to weather.

Consider sailing low in clear air or up high to prevent someone sailing over the top of you. If one of these bigger boats takes you to weather (which they will because they are faster and sometimes have a kite) you get dumped on big time and spat out 100 meters or so.

How do you handle gusts?

Always bear away, never bear up, unless you like to swim. Sheet out if bearing away still has you looking down the barrel. If you are in the light stuff you'll have to pull the main on a touch as your leech will be starting to hang.

How do you handle lulls?

The opposite to gusts. Sheet out a tad as your sail will start to flatten/leech will tighten up.

Rounding the Reaching mark

How do you approach the mark?

As fast as you can, usually from a lower point. Try to round as closely as possible (I could touch it most days). How close you sail to the mark depends where you sail as you have to be careful not to pick up the marker ropes.

How do you round it?

Let the main out as I start the turn. If the traveller is not already at the inside of the beam I'll let it off as the sail passes through the centreline. Grab the main rope cluster and help it through to soften the blow. Make sure you pass the tiller from one hand to the other without letting it hit the water and make sure it doesn't hit the mark. Turn up and apply the 300mm or so of main to accelerate and then work on the right point of sail.If it's really windy I may stay low on the new tack and come up at a slower rate to regain speed. Ease main if it's windy, leave the outhaul and lift boards. If it's real windy, lift the weather board and the leeward only when possible. If it's light the priority will be to get to full speed with full power, ensuring your transoms are out of the water.

The Downwind leg

How do you set the boat up for the downwind leg? Daggerboards? Downhaul? Outhaul? Rudders?

Up, off without wrinkles, off, both rudders down.

When wildthinging. Where is the traveller? How do you sheet? Where do you sit on the boat?

The cat is different to the sloop as it's sail configuration and overall power cause it to not operate as efficiently as the sloop when wild thinging. The A class is different also, taller rig, lighter boat, longer hulls. The cat seems to achieve the best angle by running the traveller a little inside the leeward hull in a blow to maybe 300mm up from that. If you have to go further to raise the hull you'll be beaten by dudes falling asleep sailing conventionally. Sheet in and out like there's no tomorrow, subtly. I sit as low and as forward as my tiller extension will allow me without passing it inside the wire in a blow and near the board case when I'm not diving into waves. The cat doesn't cope real well in big winds and waves, not enough weight to keep the bows out.

If anyone finds a good rule of thumb about going wild, let me know. When its on you smoke. When its not on, at best you'll keep up with the fleet. At worst you loose height because you're concentrating on going wild. I've found here in Brissy in a sharp chop that there is a range, perhaps 13 -15 knots. I think Dazza's tip above might be OK - If you have to sit too far forward to stop the stern dragging, forget it. Similarily if you have to sit way back on the back beam to keep the bows out, forget it.

Also in a blow, I've started to rotate the mast to 45 degrees. This flattens the top and stops the boat driving the bows in. Seems to work OK. Only do it 18knots plus.

How do you get the wildthing happening?

Get the hull up by bearing up a little aggressively to raise it.

What is the angle of the apparent wind while doing the wildthing?

Good question, it's a matter of feel and probably a question for someone with a compass. The apparent wind moves all over the place but it feels more front on than conventional sailing. Maybe 10 degrees higher. I'm a feel sailor!!!!

How do you jibe?

See above on mark rounding, except when in a big sea and I have a choice I pick a smooth patch. Generally go for speed by bearing up slightly, ease the main as I turn, help the main cluster across, bear up on the new tack, pulling the main back in and then finding the groove by sailing back down until I notice a small loss of speed. Constantly utilise main and sail just above this point. Look back to see the foam trail(sea water) occasionally to monitor which angles I'm taking

How do you jibe wildthing to wildthing?

Start with a clean pair of shorts. Seriously, try my best to fly a hull from tack to tack, staying on whichever is the leeward side for as long as possible. Always make sure the main is ready to be uncleated, you're in a position to jump to weather and you're able to bear up. Make sure that you analyse where the other boats are before you gybe 'cause your head spins while you're attempting this impressive manoeuvre that will see you go from hero to sharkbait in a flash.

Rounding the Leeward Mark

How do you round the mark?

I sail against sloops and they make it all look easy. I'm always embarrassed about my roundings but am told they're ok. Firstly, pull the outhaul back and lower the boards, pull rotation in slightly and downhaul on reasonably. Ensure I'm on a fast line, if not then go lower when/where possible. Look past the mark to where I'll be upwind in a few seconds (funny that, visualising it assists the process). If I'm gibing and then rounding I'll always leave 6 or so boatlengths to ensure a smooth rounding. Yep - that's it - enter wide and exit close. Back to it, hook up, pull main in a tad more, traveller in as I turn and jump out with traveller in one hand and tiller in the other. Cleat traveller, pull main on. Apply more downhaul and rotation if necessary, adjust main and traveller again if required. Find the fast line and stick to it, adjusting traveller and main to ensure a fast, low drag rig.

Should I be able to easily right my boat on my own after a capsize?

Most definitely, the cat rigged Taipans are easy to right provided you keep the bow head to wind, or get it back to that spot by standing up the front. I feel it is worth spending a couple of minutes in the water swimming the bow into the wind. If you get it into the wind you can sometimes pull the boat up without the righting rope.

Any other comments?

A lot of guys use centre-sheeting. The top two cat guys in Australia use a main with a cleat from the rear beam. The centre sheeters would no doubt change these tips. People say main cleats will cause you to tip. I've sailed taipans for four years and have only ever gone over due to gear breakage. I've never gone over due to my main being cleated

I sheet from the rear beam with a cleat. Man only has two arms, one of them steers, the other releases downhauls, travellers, outhauls so there's no room for no cleat.

The Austrailian Taipan Sailing Web Site would like to thank Darren and Simon for taking the time to answer our questions.