Maine racing provides a fantastic test bed for varied hull shapes

Brisk winds, sunny skies, beautiful boats and solid fleet size attract all types of racers to Maine for a string of classic yacht regattas in mid summer. Success is determined by crew performance, boat performance and design, and always that little bit of luck. ©Alison Langley

Racing in Maine’s varied mid-summer weather and tides rewards a variety of boat types and hull shapes. Why do certain designs work better than others in specific conditions? Read on.

The classic racing season in Maine is short and sweet. Until a few years ago, classic and Spirit of Tradition boats had to pack it all into three days, Thursday through Saturday of the first weekend in August—the Castine Classic, a race from Castine to Camden, the Camden-Brooklin “feeder” race, and the venerable Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. A few years ago, the Camden Classics Cup joined the party with two more days of racing on the last weekend of July, and this year the Boothbay Harbor Yacht Club (BHYC) added a classic element to its annual regatta by inviting vintage, Classic, and Spirit of Tradition boats to sail in their own divisions the week before Camden Classics. A very nice spread of racing in the sweet spot of a Maine summer.

Here’s our quick run-down of this year’s events except for BHYC which we couldn’t make but heard a lot of good things about.

The Camden Classics Cup was weather blessed. A super-flat Friday morning belied the promised brisk Nor’wester but a little patience paid off. By 1:30 the fleet was rail-down, some boats reefed, as a shifty and puffy breeze dropped off the Camden hills onto West Penobscot Bay. Only the briefest, occasional sprinkle marred the dark and stormy horizon and wind-lashed white caps. The breeze blew all night, and into Saturday morning, but by race time, the clear weather was having its effect and the sea breeze was putting up a fight. The day kept decent breeze until the afternoon, but not without the occasional soft spot, as the conflicting breezes wrestled between south and northwest, eventually averaging out at westerly. The fleet of 90 boats revelled in the conditions—everyone had enough power most of the time.

The following weekend things were less delightful, weather-wise. Thursday’s Castine Classic race began in a drizzle and an uncharacteristic light northerly, turning the typical long beat to Robinson Rock into a run. This would have been fun if it had held, but soon the breeze dropped and the rain fell. Front-runners were lucky enough to find a wind line that kept them moving. Much of the fleet simply sat and watched their wet spinnakers drag in the water.

Friday dawned sunny and with a promise of a gentle southwest breeze—typical conditions for the Camden-Brooklin feeder race across the top of North Haven, through the Deer Isle Thorofare and around the corner into Jericho Bay and up to Great Cove in Brooklin. The race committee had seen this movie before and wisely shifted the start a couple of miles east to shorten the course right off the bat. We started in ten knots or so, close-reaching, and as we got into the wind shadow of North Haven the dreaded Oak Island Hole gaped in front of us. After a particularly agonizing park-up, the sea breeze filled with a bit more west in it than usual, and a bit less strength. This made the next leg a fetch to the Thorofare, and a deep reach through the Thorofare ending with a tight spinnaker reach up to Brooklin.

Saturday, the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta started in a weak southeasterly. So it was a typical lopsided beat out of the reach. Normally the wind would strengthen and veer as the fleet approaches Swan’s Island. This year the veering happened but the strengthening was short-lived. Large moving holes appeared on the racecourse, shifting from right to left with remarkable speed given that the wind had little speed in it. We hoped the outgoing tide would at least push us into the breeze enough to let us beat out to Halibut, but that double-edged sword cut harshly after rounding, when the speed of the current pretty well matched the wind-speed. The run home was painful.

So how do these variable conditions factor into which boats are successful and which boats fall behind? Let’s take a look at this through the lenses of our own boat, Zingara, and some others that are familiar to us among the Spirit of Tradition fleet.

The first rule of sailboat racing–the boat in the wind is faster than the boat without wind–is immutable, so results may show who was smarter or luckier at staying in the breeze than which boat is better suited for the breeze. That said, however, we can see some patterns.

Camden Classics Cup, Day 1: big breeze widely distributed across the racecourse. When the wind blows, the boat with the power to stand up to it is going to do well. This was true for us on Zingara—she is a relatively heavy and under-canvassed cruiser when compared to the bulk of the Spirit of Tradition fleet. Her long waterline gives her space below and a high top speed, but adds to the wetted surface. With strong breeze, she was able to capitalize on the waterline length and stand up well to her sail plan. We finished second, behind Drew Lyman aboard his Seguin 44, Magic, also a fairly heavy cruising boat. Lighter, narrower boats, like Steve White’s, Vortex, and Lynnette, an Eggemoggin 47 (hull from Bob’s drafting table when at Brooklin Boat Yard) struggled to hold up their sail plans and slipped behind.

Zingara stands up proud to the blustery afternoon winds on the first day of the Camden Classics Cup. The conditions on the next day were not so well matched to Zingara’s design parameters. ©Alison Langley

Camden Classics Cup, Day 2: generally solid breeze with holes. Those who could stay in the breeze did well, those who struggled didn’t. Zingara had an unfortunate situation—her asymmetric spinnaker is a cruising chute—small and flat, with perhaps 30 percent less area than a good big racing A2. Worse, the periods when we had little wind, coincided with the periods when we were running with that little sail. We worked hard to compensate with a mizzen staysail, but we lost big ground on the runs. For example, we rounded a windward mark within a couple of minutes of Lyman’s Magic, but at the leeward mark we were at least 15 minutes behind. At the top of the next windward leg, we had an incredibly close port-starboard meeting with Magic again—we made up all that deficit on the weather legs. But it wasn’t enough. We finished sixth out of eight, and there went our hopes to award our own trophy to ourselves! Meanwhile, the top of the fleet included Lynnette, whose skinny, light hull delivered just enough power upwind to allow her slipperiness in the lighter downwind legs to pay off.

Steve White’s Vortex is pretty much as long and skinny as they come. Her reduced wetted surface, narrow beam, and sail plan power allow her to scoot away from her competitors in certain conditions, especially lighter winds, sailing faster than her rating at times. ©Alison Langley

Castine Classic: super-light downwind conditions, followed by a short broad reach. As the time on course increases while the length of the course remains the same, Time-on-Distance time allowances go kerflooey. This favors smaller boats, as the larger boats have to sail so much faster to save their time on the smaller boats with big handicaps. But what really makes the difference are good eyes on the boat—to see the wind. So low-wetted surface hulls with big sail areas and the good fortune to be where the wind is when it starts, were successful. A lot of patience was also key —you can’t win a race if you don’t finish. Zingara had none of that going for us—poor visibility made it hard to see the wind, our aforementioned spinnaker problems killed the sail area/wetted surface ratio, and luck deserted us. We were rolled by Outlier with a gorgeous Code Zero reaching sail soon after the start. Code Zeros are great in the light because they add much-needed horsepower and can be carried near close-hauled in lighter air. Later, we watched first Blackfish, then Vortex pick up a zephyr and walk away from us. They were barely a quarter-mile away, but within ten minutes they were heeled and sailing at six knots—while we were watching clumps of seaweed drift slowly astern. Wet and far behind, we retired and started the motor at about 5:00 pm. Vortex and Blackfish weren’t able to save their time on Outlier, the big and powerful Botin-designed TP-52 in skimpy traditional clothing, despite the time-on-course matter, finishing second and third behind her. An important challenge for the Outlier crew was keeping a wide, relatively flat-bottomed boat from “sticking” in extremely light air, compared to a slim boat with less wetted surface—both Blackfish and Vortex qualify for the latter. The results indicate she managed that challenge well.

Camden-Brooklin “Feeder” Race: moderate breeze with a giant soft spot in the middle. The huge hole plays havoc with rating rules—a “park-up” in the middle of the race basically resets the fleet, so the faster boats have a shorter distance to make up their time allowance against the smaller, slower boats. That was the biggest factor in this race; the rest of the conditions were moderate and stable enough so that most boats were “in the groove”, with enough breeze to perform well but not so much that very powerful boats could do well. On Zingara we took a flyer out into Jericho Bay, sailing hot with a borrowed kite that fixed our spinnaker area problem. But the flyer did not fix problems for us—we ran out of breeze and had trouble getting back to the Deer Isle shore where the breeze stayed. 

The W-37, designed by Stephens Waring, shows a fine entry with a wide beam and very wide transom. This boat loves the breeze especially offwind. As a day racer we knew there would be crew aboard as moveable ballast, fore, aft, and athwartship. For more information on the W-37, click here. ©Alison Langley

Eggemoggin Reach Regatta: moderate breeze early and late, VERY soft and spotty in the middle of the day. Tough tidal conditions too, with strong ebb during the run back in in the soft stuff. Timing made a difference. Early starts held the breeze longer, so large boats in those starts were most of the way around before the breeze shut off, and had less time to struggle with it. Smaller boats were slower and spent more time in the height of the tide. Zingara was a slow boat (low rating) in the last start—we lost the wind earlier on the course than many of our rivals. We had a slow beat out to Halibut, then found very little wind to stem the tide back in. Spirit of Tradition boats that did well were those that were heavily-canvased enough and slippery enough to get out to Halibut quickly while the wind still blew, then found sufficient breeze to beat the tide back in. An important element in boat design is the Prismatic Coefficient (PC)—a measure of volume-distribution in the underbody—whether a boat is fine-ended or full-ended. This distribution has a strong effect on hull resistance—a low PC means low drag at slow speeds (light air), while a higher one promises less resistance at higher speeds. This does make intuitive sense—a sharp bow slides easily through the water, while a broad stern is beneficial when nearly planing. When we look at the results we find the two boats at the top of the Spirit of Tradition leaderboard are Lynnette and Hoi An, boats we’re intimately familiar with, and hull designs approaching two decades old. Each has a PC near the lower practical limit, meaning they are optimized for light air performance, while the low PC means they will have higher resistance at fast boat speeds. This race was their conditions, and that design, along with thoughtful strategy and great crew work won the day for them. Boats with higher big-wind speed potential, like Outlier and the brand-new Jim Taylor-designed Equipoise, suffered in the light air with their higher PCs and their higher handicaps in the slower race.

The 50-footer Hoi An, also from the Stephens Waring drawing board, is a great all-around performer and balanced design. Crew weight is less important as ballast and her low wetted surface allows her to slip through the sea easily no matter the wind strength. For more information on Hoi An, click here. ©Alison Langley

The Takeaway: While all boat design is compromise, the secret is knowing which compromises create the best results for your particular needs. When you’re thinking about designing or buying your next boat, give some thought to the typical conditions in which you sail or race. If strong breezes and racing are your thing, look for a design with plenty of beam and form stability, knowing you’ll rarely see the light conditions where her wetted surface will negatively affect performance. You’ll also be able to put your crew’s weight to best effect on the rail. If you’re daysailing in light airs, find yourself a skinny splinter with hollow waterlines. Her lack of stability won’t make you suffer, and her low resistance will pay dividends in both sailing comfort and sailing performance. If you want a fast but more comfortable ride as you sail around the world with your family, seek out a boat with a long waterline for fast passagemaking, and moderate beam with a heavier keel, so her stability comes from ballast, not crew weight on the rail. Your kids will thank you! Whatever your sailing niche, we’re here to help you determine the design characteristics that’ll suit it to a tee.

The Castine Classic paragraph above has been edited (10.1.21) to show that Outlier won the race rather than finishing third as originally reported. We regret the error and congratulations to the Outlier crew for their success.