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Sailing Upwind in the Xenon

It is probably safe to say that almost all sailors spend the majority of time sailing upwind, often close hauled.  It therefore follows that any improvements in our upwind sailing techniques are likely to give a worthwhile pay back.

 1.   Focus on keeping the Xenon as flat as possible in the water. The Centreboard should be fully down to prevent the Xenon crabbing sideways. As the dinghy heels it will naturally try to turn into the wind. You will find yourself instinctively using the rudder to correct this tendency .... thereby adding resistance to your forward motion. The greater the heel the more rudder will be needed and the more resistance is generated. At a certain point the rudder will become less effective and the dinghy may then do its own thing! When the strength of the wind is such that the dinghy cannot be kept flat ease the mainsheet to reduce the heeling force. In gusting winds the helm will need to constantly play the mainsheet to achieve stability and best upwind speed. The video shows a sudden gust striking the Xenon but a combination of helm and hiking keeps us on an even keel!

In strong winds it may be very difficult indeed to keep the Xenon sailing flat. If you make this judgement before launching you have two options; rig the Xenon to depower it or for very heavy winds, reef the mainsail.


2.   Move the boat trim forward. Both Helm and crew should sit as far forwards as possible consistent with hiking  to counterbalance the heel. If the Helm and Crew are not cosy then they are not sufficiently forward.  An indicator of poor boat trim on the Xenon is a noisy wake. You will see bubbles streaming from the stern. Shift well forwards and all goes quiet and virtually all bubbles disappear. Try it.  In a racing scenario in light winds, ie helm alone can balance the heel of the Xenon, the crew should move as far forwards as possible, kneeling in the centre - not comfortable but you do want to win!! - and helm moves to the front section of the Xenon close to the Lower shrouds. This will dig the bow into the waves and lift its tail reducing the drag as the Xenon moves through the water. However the helm will need to be alert for gusts and slide astern to allow crew to start hiking if necessary.


3.   Steer by the Tell-Tales. When close-hauled the Xenon Jib Tell-Tales provide an excellent and reliable guide to how well you are sailing.  If you sail too close to the wind, ie virtually in the no-sail zone the front of the Jib will shake and the Xenon will slow. This is indicative of a serious sailing error. Long before this happens the windward tell-tale will start to drop. Steer slightly away from the wind until the windward tell-tale resumes its horizontal flight.

Look through the Jib sail material. Dependent upon the sun position you should be able to see the Leeward tell-tale. This too should be flying horizontal. If you sail too far away from the wind (in racing terms you are not sailing as directly towards your marker buoy as is possible) the Leeward tell-tale will flutter and rise. It may even stream forwards. Steer closer to the wind to correct this.

You will discover that the Xenon sails best on a narrow well defined course, either side of which the tell-tales will no longer fly horizontal. Make only gentle course alterations to keep the tell-tales flying correctly.

The Xenon is fitted with three pairs of tell-tales on the JIb. It is difficult for the Helm to view the upper sets of tell-tales but when all pairs of tell-tales are flying together and responding together, ie drop or rise, it indicates that you have the perfect Jib sail and Jib car settings for the current wind conditions. See the Tuning section for more information on Jib car positioning.  Incidentally in pouring rain (or following a capsize) the tell-tales become pretty useless as they stick to the Jib sail and are no longer sensitive to wind flow.


4.   Watch for wind shifts. The wind of course will change direction in an effort to mess up this nice sailing scenario. As the wind shifts you will need to  steer the Xenon to maintain the best close hauled course. If the wind moves around to the front of the boat, ie the boat is 'headed', you will be forced to 'bear away' and steer a course even further from your intended buoy or destination.  In a racing scenario it is at this point that you will need to make a judgement on whether to tack or remain on the current course. If the wind shift is significant or you guess the wind change will hold for a while you will decide to tack to a course that will take you closer to target. However in a sudden short change of direction you will not change tack but merely swing away from the wind, returning almost immediately to your original course as the wind resumes its original direction. Your ability to judge the wind is a good indicator of your sailing skills but this only comes with experience.

 This video clip shows a fun evening upwind sail with winds of around 13 knots gusting to 18-20 knots.

We were using the trapeze to get extra leverage but, as you will notice from the occasional extreme camera angle, a lot of heavy duty hiking was essential. If you think you can see water in the Xenon you are right! it did occasionally come over the side. In these conditions the Xenon is an absolute delight to sail and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. It may look a little hairy but the Xenon is intrinsically a relatively stable dinghy and at no time did we feel that we were about to be overwhelmed, notwithstanding some fairly strong gusts.  We usually sail with the Xenon flotation pack rigged, if the worst happens we don't waste good sailing time getting going again!

Sorry to disappoint but the worst did not happen!!