First priority for Argo is to make sure our setup is correct. There are a lot of sail options for the Viper – all have different tuning guides so you need to make sure you’re in the right zip code for your sailmakers guide. Some of the big things to get right are spreader sweep angle, step position and rake. Once you get to base caliper the shrouds so you can get back to base quickly out on the water. We setup with the North tuning guide which calls for a fairly tight rig. We are always careful to setup on the looser end of the guide’s suggestions unless we are confident it’s going to build or be fresh all day. Being caught down range with a tight rig is bad news, no power in the main and no headstay sag so be careful! OK – we’re setup now, let’s get off the dock. Step one for us is to check in at the signal boat and sail at least half the beat. It’s good to tune with a friend who is same speed or faster than you. After you line up and are comfortable go for a split to see if you can get a feel for the favored side of the course. Do this both upwind and down. Make sure you back down prior to the sequence. Getting into this routine before every race will keep you in tune with the conditions so keep down time to a minimum and make sure it all gets done.
Time to race! Make sure you get solid pings on both ends, especially at a big fleet event with a long line. You’ve identified the side of the course you like so start at the end that gets you there. Don’t be afraid to compromise though – if an end is favored and very crowded you’re going to do better starting away from the pack a bit – only a few boats are going to get out of a crowded end alive. Hopefully you arrive at the weather mark 1st and then best part of Viper sailing begins.
A good setup and solid tactics will pay dividends upwind but you can make huge gains on the runs. A planning keelboat like the Viper is very responsive to good technique downwind. One lesson we learned at the North Americans in Houston last year was how soaked you can sail in light/medium winds. Early in the series we were caught sailing to high at times and we learned to be more aggressive with weight to leeward and weight forward to keep some feel in the boat and to encourage the helmsman to stay down. Once the wind builds above 10 knots it’s time to change to a hotter mode that will get the boat on the step. As the wind builds through the range it’s important to hike hard to give the boat all the power it can take.
As it gets very windy remember to sail with the spinnaker sheet fairly eased. This will twist the sail which makes it more forgiving and gives the helmsman the ability to move the bow around. Once it gets over 10 knots we skiff jibe all the time. The keys to a good ‘skiffie’ are a fairly quick 1st half of the turn coupled with a low (held down) clew backed at the front of the shrouds. This will allow the head of the sail to jibe first which should trigger the release to the new side. Hand speed is king here, if you’re quick the sail will just set on the new side and you are off. Don’t be afraid to skiff jibe in very fresh conditions, it can give you more control as you don’t have the extreme loading that comes when the spinnaker pops after a conventional jibe.
All-right, you’ve just had an epic run, time for a part of the racecourse with a lot of opportunities to gain and loose – the exit from the leeward gate. Try and identify the correct gate prior to the start by sailing up to them and seeing which is favored. As you approach the gates don’t be afraid to bail on the favored one if it’s a particularly heinous traffic situation. This can mean either being behind a long line of upwind boats who will inevitably force one another to tack or sailing through a lot of downwind traffic after you’ve turned the corner. The air and water will be choppy after you round the leeward mark. Make sure you’re powered up with eased outhaul, cunno and jib sheet. Once you are through the disturbed air of the downwind traffic get your controls to the normal settings. Sailing this leg within a leg properly can be a huge gain.
A few final points. One of the lurking daemons on the Viper is the takedown line. We religiously coil it before every set and make sure it’s free to run on the takedowns. We’re all been there when it goes bad and this is an easy one to control! It’s a good idea to get an open hook on the boom that will hold the spinnaker halyard up out of the cleat on takedowns. My parting shot would be to remember what a physical boat the Viper is. You get out of it what you put into it so hike hard, dominate the boat in maneuvers and always look to refine your technique!