Changing Gears: It’s Like Riding a Bike

By Charlie Pendleton

Rhodes 19s are underpowered boats that take skill and patience to go fast – but that’s what makes them fun to race. The sails are basically the same size and cut as a set of sails used on a Lightening, which weighs almost ½ of a Rhodes 19! So how do you go fast upwind in a heavier boat with a smaller engine? After a race, you’ll often hear Rhodes 19 sailors say “I had to constantly change gears to keep the boat going.” Getting a Rhodes moving and keeping a Rhodes moving is a lot like riding a bike, you start in a low gear that makes it easy to pedal and get the bike moving. Once you’re rolling, you shift up a gear, when you’re going faster, up another gear. If you encounter a hill or something else that causes the bike to slow down, you shift down a gear or two. To make a Rhodes go fast, use your gears! Here are some “gear” settings that Jim and I use – yours may vary depending on boat setup and conditions.

First gear

Main eased with the top batten falling off to leeward. Jib slightly eased from our optimal trim with loose jib luff tension.

Second gear

Main trimmed tighter with the top batten parallel to the boom. Jib trimmed optimally with the luff tension slightly tighter.

Third gear

Main trimmed hard with the top batten hooked in to windward slightly. The jib comes in tighter than the “normal” and the jib luff tension is tighter.

In windier conditions, we rarely use first gear and in lighter conditions, we may never make it to third gear.

A few tips that have helped Jim and me with gear changing and upwind speed:

  1. Mark your mainsheet. With your main trimmed so the top batten is parallel to the boom, use an indelible marker to place a visible mark on your mainsheet, just outside the block that you trim from. Use this as a reference and learn where the mark sits in relation to that block when sailing in different conditions.
  2. Pay attention to crew weight movement in the boat. When you or your crew has to shift weight in or out of the boat to keep the same angle of heal, that’s a dead giveaway that you should change gears. Crew weight movement to leeward = shift down a gear. Crew weight movement to windward = shift up a gear.
  3. The skipper should almost never take their eyes off the jib telltales. Keeping a Rhodes moving takes concentration. Break that concentration and the boat slows down.
  4. Don’t over trim the main sail – doing so stalls out the sail. This is a common mistake off of the starting line, and in light air.

Good luck and keep pedaling!

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