Thursday, April 18, 2013

Comparing Roll Tacks in the FJ and 420

In the last Zim Coach article, we looked at the basic do’s and don’ts of roll tacking FJ’s and 420’s.  While all the basic principles of great roll tacks remain the same, there are subtle adjustments that the best sailors make, when switching between the two boats, which make a substantial difference.  In both high school and college sailing, you will switch back and forth often between each boat, and it is important to know what adjustments you need to make, as you will not always have time to prepare in each boat before an event.

To understand why the tacks in each boat will differ, it is important to note the differences in the two boats.  The 420 is built relatively wide, and is flat toward the stern.  Both the rudder and centerboard are large and powerful blades that exert a significant amount of force when moving in the water during a roll or flatten.  These factors all lend to greater stability, and demand a great amount of force to effectively roll the boat over.  Tacks take longer in 420’s because there is more boat and blade to roll through the water.  Combining the width of the boat with the size of the blades also gives you a much wider margin of error for rolling and flattening the boat.  In other words, it is much more difficult to over roll, or over flatten.

In contrast, the FJ is relatively narrow, and has a completely rounded on the bottom.  The centerboard is much less relevant, as is the rudder, making the boat much less stable, and much more prone to sliding.  Rolls take much less effort, and occur much faster than rolls in a 420.

What this means for the two boats, is that FJ’s need more finesse during tacks, while 420’s require more force.  This is not to say that timing is not important in the 420, but that you should put more force into it your rolls, as you have a much larger margin of error, and much more to get to the other side and nail your flatten.  Furthermore, it takes more effort, working against the centerboard of the 420, to roll the boat over.  Thus, both timing and force are critical in the roll.

In the FJ, everything is much more subtle.  Putting a significant amount of power behind a roll will roll the boat over too quickly, ending in a lot of poorly executed flattens.  Remember, the flatten is what makes a roll tack fast.  No matter how big the roll is, if the flatten is not executed well, a flat tack would be more effective.  Thus, rolling hard in FJ’s leads to a lot of slow tacks. 

This is not to say that the goal in an FJ tack is not to roll the boat way over.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  The best sailors will typically get the rudder to just pop out of the water for an instant during the peak roll.  However, reaching that point is more about timing than effort.  Except in light air conditions, FJ tacks are typically executed with the skipper and crew both sitting on the rail with shoulders slightly outboard, waiting for the right time to cross.  In the 420, usually skippers in crews get off of their butts, and slam their hips hard into the rail to initiate the roll.  The FJ is so narrow and round, that by using the right technique during your turn (see previous article), the boat and wind will actually do all of the rolling for you.  Remember, if you do not nail your flatten in the FJ, it will actually slow your boat down.  Neither the boards, nor the boat are particularly wide.  Thus, at the peak of the roll, when the boat stalls, the boat will quickly slide sideways if the flatten is not properly executed.  By using less effort to roll the boat, and focusing on timing, you get the same amount of roll out of the boat, but have a much easier time to properly execute a perfect flatten.

Lastly, how the crew crosses the boat differs in the 420 and FJ.  In the 420, the crew crosses facing forward, and the skipper will look to them to coordinate the timing of the roll.  In the FJ, the crew actually sits backwards, watching the skipper to coordinate the roll.  This is done because of the way the crew’s feet cross in the different boats.  In the FJ, by tacking backwards, the crew’s feet fall in the perfect place to lock right into the strap and hike or flatten without hesitation.  This is not true if they tack facing forwards in the FJ. 

This transition is often mental, and hard to figure out at first.  To make the switch, crews should hold the primary jib sheet in their forward hand in FJ’s, and in their aft hand in 420’s.  All rolling and flattening movements are identical once this adjustment is made.  You are just doing it while facing in another direction.

See you on the water,

Zim Coach

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