British yachtswoman Pip Hare has to make some sail decisions ahead of the Mini Transat this September

Read previous entry here.

Friday 8 July 2011:

It’s time to make a few decisions on my sails for the transat and at last month my sailmaker John Parker, from Parker and Kay came to sail my mini in the solent and help me with a making my mind up.

John has a massive amount of knowledge and is easy to talk to, listens to me and what I think I want, occasionally putting me straight on my crazy misconceptions and combined with his experience with other single handed sailors, and his racing as co-skipper for Nick Bubb in his mini; I feel I am in safe hands.

The mini class allows 7 sails for the transat and these must include a storm jib, but can be any sail you like, and so the decisions begin.

If you go to any mini sailmaker they will give you a transat package; the seven sails that they have decided are optimum for the race and for your boat – having a pogo 2 the most popular series class, there are several sailmakers to choose from.

But me being me, I am not prepared to just go with what other people prescribe for me. Yes, I freely acknowledge the skill and time spent in designing a transat sail wardrobe by the sailmakers in France. But I need to look at all the options and make the decisions for myself. Not just follow the herd, right or wrong I want to own this decision so a bit of thought and probably far too much deliberation has gone into my end wardrobe.

The first two are easy, a storm jib and a mainsail. The storm jib must be a racing sail, I already have one and I use it in breeze over 25 knots and fly it from the baby stay. All the storm jibs must have a reef in them; one of my co-skippers looked at this reef and the resultant size of the storm jib and commented that you really shouldn’t be sailing if that was the appropriate size of sail for the conditions!

We have decided the mainsail should be no bigger than the one I already have at the moment, this gives the boat enough power, but is easy to handle and forgiving enough for dopey girly skippers. It has a satisfying fat head on it which still makes me smile when I look at it; the only change will be the material, laminate mainsails are no longer allowed in the series class, so the new mainsail will be Dacron.

Next comes the headsail which has given me no end of deliberation.

I, like every one else do not see the point in taking more than one upwind headsail; the transat is supposed to be a downwind race and so downwind sails are the most important.

The current fashion within the mini fleet is for a sail called an ‘inter’. This is a hybrid, between a solent and a genoa; taking the shape of a solent high up but then flaring out at the bottom to overlap the shrouds and so take and outboard lead on the sheets.

I have trained with both a solent and an inter and at the moment the decision between the two is giving me a headache. This is an area where I am not prepared to just do what everyone else is doing, I have other ideas but I will write about it in another blog; it is a topic on it’s own.

So allowing for a headsail, storm jib and mainsail, that leaves me with four more sails to go and they will all be loose luffed sails to be flown from the pole.

First is the code Zero, which I already have. This sail has been designed to get the boat moving to windward in very light airs, and we have used it to great effect in the fickle breezes of the Italian Grand Prix. This sail also doubles up as a bullet proof monster breeze downwind sail, as it’s laminate construction is tougher than spinnaker cloth, this sail is the Duracell bunny of the sail wardrobe.

Next on the list is what the rest of the mini world is calling a ‘code 5′. A flat small reaching spinnaker, this is something I have not yet had in my wardrobe and have really missed. I currently have a big mast head spinnaker and a medium sized fractional. The fractional is fine reaching in up to around 12 knots, but over that the boat just falls over and I have had to resort to white sails (not wanting to abuse my code zero which is after all a transat sail and so must be looked after) which are of course a fraction of the power.

Only two sails left and they both have to be down wind sails.

My initial thought was to have a big and a medium as I currently have, but after sailing with John I have taken his advice and changed my mind.

My current big spinnaker is big (78 square metres) and it does make the boat take off in the light to moderate airs, but I have been struggling to use it in over 18 knots of wind if there is swell as it collapses very easily and is unforgiving to trim and to drive to; so I have been finding single handed I am changing early to the medium spinnaker and gaining a better overall speed, as have more control of the boat.

The problem with this option however is that if you blow out the big spinnaker and then have sub 18 knot winds for the rest of the race you are pretty well stuffed and slow with only a medium size spinnaker left.

John came out and sailed with both the spinnakers and suggested that we worked on instead going for two big spinnakers but of a different design that is more forgiving and I can keep up for longer, and lets face it, bigger sails downwind should mean you go faster, so long as you are upright. So all I really need is help to keep the boat the right way up!

The second of the big spinnakers will have a reefing system in it with a zip foot, so that if it really is breezy, but not monster enough for the code zero, I have an option of a medium kite as well.

There is one more sail I am allowed as a cheeky extra, and that is a storm try sail. In the past clever sail makers have designed systems where these zip together with the storm jib to make another sized headsail, but this has now been banned by classe mini, so I will be going without this extra sail.

 Here’s hoping I won’t need it or that reef in the storm jib!