To soak or to plane?

In part two of our asymmetric technique series Melges and skiff champion Mike Lennon gives his tips about the angles to sail downwind
Following last weeks introduction to this new 10 part series, Andy Rice talks to Mike Lennon. This new series of 10 features will be looking at the skills required in boats with asymmetric spinnakers, both the new generation of skiff-type dinghies and the lightweight sub-30ft keelboats known as sportsboats. The series is sponsored by Holt, so if you want to be in with a chance of winning £250 of Holt hardware, click on the competition panel further down the article. Mike has had success in a broad range of dinghies and keelboats. He has won the Melges 24 Nationals twice, the RS800 Nationals once, finished third in the 1720 Nationals and fourth in the International 14 Worlds. His day job is Technical Director of Hyde Sails, so he knows a thing or two about fast sail shapes too. Here he talks about one of the most straightforward aspects of asymmetric sailing – how to sail in a straight line. Actually, not as simple as it sounds. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to get down the run too, apparently. Which angle to steer? Knowing where to point the boat downwind is one of the first skills to learn with asymmetrics. It’s all about finding the best VMG to get you to the next mark in the shortest time. That might sound simple enough, but as soon as the wind changes in strength or direction, the chances are you’re going to have to switch modes. There’s a trade-off between bearing away to sail more slowly and point closer to the mark, compared with heading up to sail faster, but for a greater distance through the water. Exactly which mode of steering you choose depends on a whole range of factors – the wind strength and direction, wave conditions, tactical