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Invisible touch.

In the third of our Seamanship Series we focus on the role of what has traditionally been called the helmsman, but which we understand today as the man or woman who has. in theory, a simple task: steering the boat to go as fast as possible. This requires a split-second evaluation of wind shifts and sea states, the ability to anticipate and react to crew work, and a sixth sense to guide the boat into its groove, or optimum performance parameters. Sean Lang man is acknowledged as one of the best around--a champion on tiller and wheel, from dinghies to maxis. Here, he gives us his valuable insights into the technical and intuitive components of helming.

EQUIPMENT

To do your job as helmsperson, all rudder components must be in good working order. From experience, rudder bearings don't get serviced until they have an issue. Damaged and unlubricated rudder bearings make helming difficult, and expends physical energy. Check for bearing play by pushing the rudder blade sideways. Check steering cables for excessive wear and tension. Beware of over-tensioning steering cables as the tension force transfers onto the steering wheel hub. Understand the capabilities of all the rudder equipment from the rudder blade to the stock and cable attachment points. On tiller-steered yachts, beware of adding people and purchase when heavy running. On Maluka in last year's Rolex Sydney Hobart, the decision was made to back off when heavy running once we had three crew and the purchase to hold her straight. There is no doubt that there is a breaking point for a spotted-gum timber tiller!

SEAMANSHIP AND HELMING

Seamanship is a word that is taken in the context of a connection --with the sea, a person, and a ship.

The helmsperson must have a complete understanding of sea state and the idiosyncrasies of the particular type of yacht being helmed as each will behave differently. A full-keeled yacht, for example, will not tack or bear away as quickly as a fin-keel yacht. In a mixed-race start, such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart, the strategy of starting and making it to sea without incident must take into consideration the manoeuvrability of the yacht. Once at sea, a helming mode is selected based on the sea state. For example in flat water, upwind VMG, and in bumpy conditions, upwind a faster VMC helming mode.

SUMMARY

Helming is fun, exhilarating and challenging. To achieve proficiency takes a little discipline, but for me, being a helmsperson evokes a love of the sea on a well-found yacht and complete enjoyment.

FEEL

Helmspeople often refer to feel. Feel is something that has zero scientific basis, but is a skill that all helmspeople must acquire. Dinghy sailors, It seems possess an innate ability to helm a yacht well and at speed. To develop this, go sailing with the instruments turned off. Hold the tiller or wheel with soft hands. Move your hands around the wheel or along the tiller until you find the area where your body is most relaxed, and most importantly, you can feel the wind on your face. Look forward, and after five minutes sailing, close your eyes. Continue with soft hands and listen. By listening and feeling the wind on your face, you will be able to understand where the yacht's heading without seeing it. Your ability to feel is complete once the soft hands can Interpret the changes of force on the wheel or tiller and adjust ourse accordingly.

TARGETS AND COMMUNICATION

As the helmsperson, know your job! It has a few layers: helm a course, helm at the desired speed, helm through a bad sea state to negate damage, and ... don't hit anything! To helm without collision requires communication from all crew members. To helm a course requires communication from both the navigator and the tactician, but the helmsperson must respect all communication from all crew members. To helm at desired speed requires a VPP (speed and performance) chart, as well as communication from trimmers. To helm through a bad sea state requires an appreciation of the old adage: to finish first, first you must finish.

CONCENTRATION

To helm effectively takes concentration. Understand your own limits and don't stay too long at the helm. Ask the trimmers how you are performing, and ensure the back-up helms are well rested. At sea, water should be supported with an energy drink to maintain salt levels. Don't hold on from going to the heads, and above all, stay warm and dry. Regardless of which yacht I sail offshore. I ensure all crew have appropriate wet weather gear. I use a sealed smock top and wear a beanie. I don't wear a hood as I find it best to have the wind about my face for those moments when feel takes over. If there is a distraction such as a breakage that requires attention, it's best to hand the helm over to a fresh crew member rather than losing focus.

BALANCE

A yacht, by definition, is a machine. It has moving parts and is propelled by conversion of energy. What makes this machine both special and challenging is that the energy converted is natural, and the energy used (wind), is not constant. Understanding the balance and the load paths of each particular yacht is crucial to successfully managing the helm. To do this, look at the yacht out of the water to determine if the mast is over the keel, or well in front. Typically, if the mast is over the keel, the yacht is a masthead rig and driven by large headsails. If the mast is well in front of the keel, then a fractional rig with larger mainsail is typical. Most helmspeople prefer a degree of weather helm, whereby the yacht will naturally head up into the wind when close hauled. A degree of weather helm is desirable for simplicity, however the rudder is a brake when in use, and should be used as little as possible. Each racing yacht must have a sail cross-over (selection) chart. If used correctly, the chart will keep the yacht in balance both in the hydrostatic sense, as well as a heel angle. Excessive heel angle increases weather helm and leeway. Both are enemies of VMG.

SAILING BIO

Managing Director of the Noakes Group, Sean Langman is one of Australia's best-known sailors. His competitive spirit and raw sailing ability has seen him achieve outstanding success across an amazingly diverse range of craft from 49ers, 18-footers, speed records in his ORMA 60 trimaran, "too many seconds" in the Rolex Sydney Hobart, and wins in other major offshore races aboard the downwind flyer Xena. Add to that recent appearance on the GC 32s and the 2016 Rolex Sydney Hobart on the beautifully restored Maluka of Kermandie, which continues to threaten to steal IRC honours from her state-of-the-art carbon rivals.
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Title Annotation:SEAMANSHIP
Author:Langman, Sean
Publication:Offshore Yachting
Date:Jun 1, 2017
Words:1140
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