Jun 23, 2023

2023 DF95 AUSTRALIAN CHAMPIONSHIP REPORT


Thanks to Kim Klaka for this first-hand in-depth report.

 Location

The racing was run from 5th-7th June, hosted by the Sunshine Coast Radio Sailing Club at Lake Kawana on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Lake Kawana is a large saltwater inlet with no current and no weed. The air flow across the course is relatively undisturbed, with wind speed and direction more consistent than it is at most WA venues. There were still plenty of shifts and holes to take advantage of though. The lake/inlet was fairly deep, with stone walls around it from which to launch. Some of the edges were shallow, so three or four specific launching sites were recommended. The viewing area was excellent - the surrounding land was about 3m above water level so it was easy to see the entire course without moving. It also provided good spectating for the tactical advisory team (aka Annette).

Several competitors experienced what was probably radio signal interference, causing the boat to suddenly go out of control for a few seconds. The club had previously conducted some kind of electronic sweep of the race area and they did not find anything problematic. They concluded that it was due to poor setup on those boats, seeing as it occurred mainly on the far side of the course. However, my setup is good (antennae at 90 deg to each other etc.) and besides, I had never had a control problem sailing at similar ranges e.g. at SoPYC. Therefore, I believe there was an intermittent radio interference problem from somewhere.

Boats

Trim and tuning of the boats varied, but most seemed at or close to the standard tuning i.e. mast at deck level well aft (mark 7 or 8), 1135mm rake for A rig, 980mm for B rig. The boats were all of similar speed, mine being as fast as any. The only trend I could see was that the top skippers tended to point higher by using less twist, probably because they were more skilled at controlling the boat in gusts. I used more twist than the top sailors, sacrificing pointing for controllability and speed through the water. Most of the boats used custom sails from various suppliers. I think I was the top ranked finisher to use standard Joysway sails. I couldn’t see any discernible advantage for those using custom sails, and some showed weaknesses at the corners (eyelets pulling through the film etc.).

One boat caught fire during a race! Of course, most people jumped to the conclusion that it was the lithium battery, not realizing that:

  • The lithium batteries we use are LFP chemistry, which is much safer than the LCO and LMO chemistry batteries usually found in mobile phones, laptops and power tools.
  • Inspection of the battery connector showed that it had shorted due to corrosion, causing the fire; the battery itself was fine.
  • Lesson learned: keep your terminals clean and dry. Other skippers helped tape over the burnt hole in the hull and the boat was on the water for the next race. Overnight another participant loaned a spare new hull, and the skipper continued the regatta with it, finishing second overall.

    Figure 1 Corroded connectors

    Figure 2 Battery is OK

    Racing

    There were 28 boats competing, so the Heat Management System (HMS) was used with 2 Heats of 16 boats in each Heat. Yes, those numbers don’t add up and it is confusing - for an explanation of the HMS see the appendix at the end of this report. In simple terms it is like UK soccer league tables, where you can get promoted or demoted from your Heat.

    There were 25 Races completed in 3 days, which might not seem a lot until you realise that each Race has two Heats. That means there were 50 of what you and I would call races – I told you it’s confusing! The races were standard port rounding’s, with a separator mark at the top and a gate at the bottom. Each race was 3 laps, lasting about 8-10 minutes.

    The winds varied from about 20kn down to about 7kn, direction being typically SW in the morning, swinging SE in the afternoon i.e. less variability than we are used to. The first day was definitely B rig (as I and a few brave/foolish A rig souls discovered to their cost) and very cold (I was wearing my lined waterproof offshore jacket). The other two days were A rig, with some brief marginal A/B rig periods. It also warmed up to not-quite-shorts weather.

    There were a few recalls and general recalls, all well-managed. The round-the-ends-rule was implemented after a first general recall.

    The results are given at the end of this report.

    My performance

    I was the only competitor from WA. I finished 11th out of 28, which I am very pleased with. I won one race and I was leading after 2 laps in three other races. I could have finished maybe 6th or 7th overall, but for two factors:

    • In the (first) seeding race I chose to sail with A rig (as did a few other misguided souls) but it soon became clear that it was B rig weather. My poor result (10th out of 14) put me in the lower group (Heat B) and it took me all day to climb up to the top group (Heat A). Not only did this affect my results, it dented my confidence a bit. Clearly all my fault, difficult to estimate how many points it cost me – maybe 10?
    • In Race 8 my 1-month old digital winch broke when I was in the lead on the final lap. This cost me not only a first place in the race, but I also did not start the next race because I was busy replacing the winch. Not only did the winch fail, but this caused the near-new lithium battery to drain completely and it is now dead (I am trying to resurrect it – any suggestions?). So I went from first to last in two races. I cannot think of anything I could have done to prevent this. The analogue winch I replaced it with has performed perfectly. I have been a bit suspicious for some time about the performance of these new digital winches; I’ll stick with analogue one for the time being. Points lost, about 25.

     

    I had no other breakdowns. In a couple of races I lost a few places due to the radio interference problem, but all my other mistakes were self-generated. My starting technique in particular was poor until I got the hang of the big fleet. As my results show, I got better as the days went by.

    Strategy and tactics

    Racing in a fleet of 16 good skippers is very different from club racing. They all have good boat speed and maneuvering skills, and their movements are usually predictable. The most important thing by far was to avoid contact at all costs. Forget about exercising your right of way – if the give-way boat hits you, you will lose a lot of places. I would always come in to the top mark at least 2-3 boat lengths above the starboard layline (often much higher). This paid dividends, as I frequently sailed round clumps of stalled boats, gaining 5 or more places as a result. Similarly, I would round the separator mark very wide if there were any other boats around (which there usually were). This occasionally lost me a place to the boat behind, but far more often it gained me several places by sailing clear of the clump of

    boats just ahead or with me. Likewise at the gate, having the inside overlap was no advantage unless all the other outside boats (often 3 or 4 of them) kept clear. If there was going to be a traffic snarl up ahead, I would either head for the other side of the gate or, if that was a really bad move, haul the sails in tight to slow the boat and keep behind the clump at the mark. Every time there was a snarl up at the bottom mark, the clump would drift to leeward like a lump of tangled seaweed, allowing a boat behind to round close to the mark and sail in clear wind up the beat. This key strategy of keeping clear at all costs extended to not hitting the marks. I would round each mark well clear, even if there were no other boats around. Hitting a mark and doing a penalty turn was not disastrous (if you could find space to do your turn), but getting caught on a mark put you last in that race.

    The strategy for sailing the upwind leg – especially the first leg where the boats were closer together- was to ensure you crossed to the right hand layline early, even if the left side of the course was advantageous. If you left it late to head across, you risked getting caught in a clump of boats tacking onto the starboard layline within 10-15 boat lengths of the top mark. It would then be very difficult to sail clear of other boats and the mark. When heading across to the right-hand side, you have to be prepared to duck a lot of sterns to get there; I think I ducked more sterns in 3 days than I did for the entire previous year’s sailing!

    Starting strategy was interesting. The top boats had perfected the skill of keeping the boat stationary in pre-start, yet not falling off to leeward (by applying slight intermittent sheeting). I did not have that skill so I would either hang well back near the right-hand end then tack immediately onto port to get clear wind (and tack back after 10 boat lengths if the left side of the course was favoured), or start at the left-hand end and hope that the rest of the fleet would tack when a header came and I wanted to tack. This right-end start tactic was less of a risk than in regular club racing because they were all good sailors, so everyone would tack almost in unison when the header came. In club racing, it only takes one beginner to stay on starboard tack and you are forced to keep sailing into the header. The tempting starting strategy of hanging back from the line then powering up to full speed through the fleet was very risky, because there was rarely a gap big enough to power through, so you ended up having to do a penalty.

    The rest of the strategy was the same as for club races – differentiate between oscillating and permanent shifts, look for any geographical shifts, and sail in clear air. All those strategies are as important downwind as they are upwind – something we often forget in regular club racing.

    Not sure if this counts as strategy, but I found it essential to sail the boat for half an hour before the first race of each day, for two reasons. Firstly to look for geographical shifts, and get a feel for the wind oscillation frequency. Secondly to get the balance of the boat right (i.e. sail upwind and downwind in a straight line with hands off the controls). Whilst this second point is always important, it was absolutely crucial in a big fleet because you often found yourself “sailing” the boat without being able to see it through the mass of other sails. You therefore had to be completely confident that it was sailing properly without having to touch the controls.

    Organisation

    Overall, the organisation was excellent. There were marquees, lots of volunteers, a whiteboard for the skippers names and placings in each heat, another for the course. Most impressive was that progressive results were loaded onto a computer in near real-time, and displayed on a big-screen TV. A hot lunch every day was included in the entry fee ($95), as was continuous free tea, coffee, lamingtons and water. There were several great spot prizes awarded after each day’s racing, whilst consuming free beer and soft drinks.

    All observers were provided by the club, so competitors did not have to take on that task. The courses were well laid, and they rarely requirted changing between races. This helped keep the pace going, with not much hanging around.

    Twenty of the 25 races were videoed (sadly the five I did well in were not!).

    Measurement was efficient, comprising measurement of non-standard sails, weighing of batteries, and a general check of the hull and deck. Some of the rule interpretations were open to question, but there was no point arguing at the time with the volunteer measurer. A separate note will be sent to the DF Association, with suggestions for how some rules might be clarified.

    Everyone from the club was very friendly, as were the competitors. There were one or two skippers who tried on-water bullying, but it didn’t usually work.

    There was one competitor who had never raced in a fleet of any kind before, he had just sailed against one other boat a few times. Indeed, he had never sailed any kind of boat before he bought his DF95. For the first few races he was way behind the rest of the fleet, so much so that he often retired in order to allow the next race to start without delay. He was nevertheless persistent and optimistic, and several other competitors (including the overall winner) helped him tune his boat and gave advice. When he eventually finished a race with three boats behind him, the cheers from the crowd were deafening. That signifies two things: firstly the tremendous camaraderie of the group; secondly, anyone can take part and have fun, regardless of ability.

     

    Results

    The Tasmanians were the strongest group, taking three of the top ten places. There were New Zealand and South African competitors racing under Australian clubs, so it was quite international. There were only two female skippers, one of whom finished second overall.

     result nationals

  • results nats 2
  • Appendix: the Heat Management System explained – sort of

    Here is a highly paraphrased and personalised introduction to the Heat Management System (HMS), together with my views as to why it should be changed. Note that I use title case for some words because they have a specific meaning under HMS.

    If there are more than, say, 20 boats racing then the starts and the mark roundings get too crowded for safe and fair sailing. The HMS deals with this by splitting the fleet into groups of about 12-18 boats, called Heats. So if, for example, there were 54 boats, the fleet would be split into 3 Heats of 18 boats each. For the first Race (the “seeding” race), the boats are allocated to a Heat randomly (this is not quite true, but I am trying to keep things simple). The top 6 finishers in each of those seeder race Heats are then allocated to Heat A (the equivalent to Division 1 of a soccer league), the next 6 in each seeder race are in Heat B (soccer Div 2) and the last 6 in each Heat are allocated to Heat C (soccer bottom division). So, off you go for the next Race: the 18 boats allocated to Heat C race first. The top 4 finishers (or top 6, depending on what the Sailing Instructions say) in Heat C are immediately promoted to Heat B, and set off straight away in the next race, which is for Heat B. The top 4 in Heat B get promoted to Heat A, and they then race. When all three Heats have finished, the results are allocated across all the fleet so that the winner of Heat A is 1st place, down to the last boat in Heat C is in 42nd place. If you have climbed up one or more Heats, it is your final result that gives you your placing for that Race.

    The genius of this system is that, if you have a bad race (especially a bad seeding race), you can climb straight to the top Heat (group) if you do well enough in each Heat.

    It is a bit more complicated than that e.g. one of the oddities is that you end up with 22 boats in a Heat because 4 boats have just moved up from the Heat below. Or at least I think that’s what happens, I never fully grasped what was happening.

    Now for the two things I think need changing…

    First, you might have realised by now that the above explanation is confusing, because boats can sail in several Heats within what is called a Race. So you can race several times in one Race! This can create all sorts of confusion, and even our experienced Race Officer at the championships got it wrong to start with, when trying to explain when was the latest time the last race (or Race?) of the day could start. Also, the way HMS uses the word Race creates confusion when you start using the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS). So much so that the Appendix E of RRS – the one that deals with radio sailing - has to define a race to mean two different things! Life would be so much easier if they used the following:

    Flight, which is a group of boats on the water racing i.e. what they currently call a Heat.

    Heat, which is the combined results of the races for all the Flights, i.e. what they currently call a Race.

    This leaves the word “race” to mean what we all know and love i.e. what a bunch of boats on the water do; which is how the RRS use the word.

    The second change I would like to see is, they need to allow for running two or more seeding races. There are several reasons, the most important one is fairness. If a boat is fouled in the seeding race and has a right to redress, how can you work out what points to give? (This situation has occurred several times). Usually, you might be given average points, but you haven’t finished a race yet, and you need to allocate a score in order to determine which Heat the boat should be in for the next Race. There has been at least one occasion when the jury/committee allocated zero points for redress, for the understandable but unfair reason that they couldn’t work out how to allocate points. By holding two or more seeding races, the problem disappears.

     



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