Jenny Riley - National Champion crew 1990, 1993, 4th 1997, 6th 1999 (winner races 5 & 6), 3rd 1999 Inlands. (Jenny is a petite 8 stone)
Generally speaking, Squibs are sailed by two strong blokes and it’s easy to think you’ve no chance if it’s rough and windy and your little and not ever so strong! So here are some tips to help you succeed if together you weigh less than 21 stone.
First of all look at your kit and rigging. You need to control the fullness of your mainsail, so a bendy mast is very important. An original glued Holt or the latest Holt, etched for greater flexibility (i.e. left in the anodiser bath for longer) is best. (Note from Jenny: "This is no longer the case, we now have a Holt Canapus mast which has proved to be even faster and very easy to control in all wind strengths"). The mainsail needs to be the flatter cut. All the running rigging used to control the shape of the sail needs to be easily adjustable at any time. Our boat, Brimstone 73, is laid out very simply but I can easily alter the cunningham, kicker and jib barber haulers by small amounts in any wind. The jib and spinnaker sheets run through Harken ratchet blocks into Harken cleats - not cheap, but I never have a problem cleating or uncleating. Put marks on the jib sheets, just where the rope goes through the barber pulley, so that you don’t waste strength by pulling the sheets in too tight. Our jib barber haulers have a 2:1 purchase and are arranged so that with one pull, both pulleys come into the deck - really simple and easy to use even in heavy weather. In fact, all our pulleys and cleats are ball bearing and work really well. A little crew will never manage otherwise, so do check. Toe-straps (individual ones for crew and helm) need to be adjustable so that you can hike as comfortably as possible. You are going to need to get fitter too, so that all this extra leaning out doesn’t hurt so much!
If all your sail controls are powerful and run smoothly and the boat is set up for a blow, then it is just a question of improving your technique to get up there with the Big Boys! Upwind, you MUST keep the boat flat. Hike out hard on those toe straps and ensure that your mainsail is suitably flat. The cunningham, kicker, backstay and outhaul will change the sail shape so that you are not overpowered. Sail as close to the wind as you can and feather up in the gusts, to reduce heeling. You need to sail in clear wind on your own, so that you can point high in peace, without those heavy guys powering over you with huge grins on their faces! Flat is fast - so spill wind early, making sure the kicker is on hard enough to hold the boom down whenever the mainsheet is released. (The traveller remains fixed in the centre position so that the slot is kept open.)
When tacking, cross the boat quickly, pulling in the jib as you go but don’t worry if it’s not right in to your mark. When you’re on the new course, lean out hard. Then your helm can cleat the mainsheet, reach across and pull the jib in that last bit with you. No problem! Close reaching in very strong winds is the most challenging part of sailing. Keeping the boat flat is vital. Spill wind from both the main and spinnaker in plenty of time to avoid broaching. It is better to have the boat upright and the sails flapping in a really heavy gust. The good news is that as soon as you can bear away a bit, you will be really flying!
In rough and windy weather, you can never expect to be the fastest on the water, but if you look again at your kit and technique, you may surprise yourself. It’s never simple in a Squib but whatever the weather and whatever the crew weight, a top ten place at the Nationals is always possible.
Explanation of sail controls
Strong wind pressure forces the mainsail draft aft beyond its design position (which is about 50%) and causes heeling. Pre-bending the mast also moves the draft aft. Tightening the cunningham will counteract this. The cunningham also bends the top section of the mast, opening the mainsail leech, increasing twist. The kicker is used by heavier weight crews only off the wind. However, for lighter crews, it is used to stop the boom rising - and so loosening the mainsail leech - when releasing the mainsheet when over-pressed. (Note that the Rileys keep the traveller central in heavy winds.) The outhaul increases tension along the foot of the mainsail and flattens the lower third of the sail. It reduces sail draft, opens the lower leech below the bottom batten and opens the slot lower down. The backstay produces prebend. Tensioning the backstay flattens the top 2/3rds of the main, opens the leech and increases twist. All these effects reduce heeling by reducing power. How much you use, depends upon your weight and your hiking strength.