Thursday, April 27, 2017


Last month I towed my Zephyr 'Slipstream' (Zephyr 195 with the red numbers, above) by car to Auckland and raced in the Auckland Zephyr championships. There were seven races over two days. The skippers I met were friendly, helpful and encouraging. I was advised to purchase a new mains'l as the sail that came with the boat was very old and cut very flat (possibly for the more breezy sailing on Wellington harbour from where I purchased 'Slipstream'). We raced offshore between Howick Beach and Waiheke Island. There was a good breeze and I had a wonderful time competing. It was a great learning experience. There were about 18 Zephyrs racing. I was last in every race. I didn't just lose, I lost by a 'Country Mile'. At the time shipmates, I expressed my thoughts regarding this situation in this way: "Bugger".

A few weeks later and after receiving my brand spanking new mains'l (Zephyr 195 with the new blue numbers above) I towed 'Slipstream' down to Auckland for a days racing at French Bay on the Manakau Harbour. There were four races held on this very tidal but delightful piece of water. This time with my new mains'l I wasn't beaten by a country mile - I was just beaten. I was last in every race. There were a couple of hopeful moments where I managed to get around the top mark on the first beat to windward in the middle of the pack; but downwind the other boats just seemed to have that extra bit of boat speed. Shipmates, at the time I described the situation in this way: "Bugger," in fact it was: "Double Bugger" (Because it's happened twice in a row).

Now, at this point it is important to note that the skippers who beat me in the racing are excellent sailors, they know their stuff and nothing I say is intended to detract from their excellent and well deserved placings in the racing. I just want to go faster than them.

One notable fact that I observed during the sailing was that compared to my rotund physical profile all of the other skippers looked somewhat like Norwegian racing sardines. My contrast with this fact rather protruded into the sailing atmosphere much like the proverbial elephant in the room. Bugger. Now elephants in rooms are usually not addressed directly because they are metaphors for things that are obvious but too difficult for people to talk about. I have been eyeballing my elephant and talking to him directly.

My goal is to create optimum racing conditions for myself by making some changes. This of course is no guarantee of success in terms of winning every race - that is unrealistic. But changing the situation of being beaten by a 'Country Mile' into finishing in the top 50% of the fleet is certainly an achievable goal.

My weight analysis (below) takes for granted that all of the following are being integrated at a high level:  Helmsman skill, good boat speed decisions, good route decisions, best use of natural conditions (taking correct windshifts), avoiding other boats and their slowing influence, defending a position (covering, luffing), automatic skills (sailing by feel), conscious fast sailing skills (concentration on the mains'l luff, waves etc), a well tuned boat, speed through the water, correct fluid compromise between pointing for height / bearing away for speed, Good tactics etc........... if all these skills are in place then boat and skipper weight can be examined as part of the full sailing scenario.

My analysis of the weight situation is predicated on the basis that a high power to weight ratio provides more speed. If the boat and skipper of a certain sailing skill weighs considerably more than the sailing opposition of a similar sailing skill then the power to weight ratio will have a considerable influence on the race outcome. I have found this out when racing my Starling dinghy. At 97kgs I am at a disadvantage (especially in light conditions) while racing the Starling when other skippers are weighing in at under 60kgs. The extra 37kgs in the Starling is pretty decisive. Some will give anecdotal evidence of how weight doesn't make any difference but an anecdote is not science and the laws of physics are, well.... the laws of physics.

Extract from Zephyr website:-
How heavy can you be and still sail a Zephyr?
Statistics from this years National Contest.
58-107kg in the Nationals fleet
65 - 86 kg in the top ten and
65 - 92 kg in the top 20 

- My weight when I started sailing my Zephyr was 97kgs

- I am an old (65) but reasonably skilled and experienced small boat sailor. Other competitors many who are 65 +  are also skilled and experienced. So I am competing on a level playing field.

-  My boat is pretty much down to weight at 63 kgs. The class rules determine the minimum weight at 58kgs. Getting 5 kgs out of the boat would help if combined with other weight loss measures - 5kgs alone won't make much of a difference.

-  To achieve my goal I need to lose some weight.

Now, shipmates bear with me as I explain the next bit of my dissertation. One of the meanings of the word 'Perverse' is: "Contrary to the accepted or expected standard or practice". So shipmates here is the perverse bit:

About four years ago when I weighed 103kgs I had a heart attack; a sobering experience that very nearly killed me. After quadruple heart bypass surgery and a couple of weeks recovery my weight got down to 90kgs. It then climbed back and settled at a steady 97kgs. Since then the very sensible advice from my wife, doctor, cardiologist, hospital surgeons has been:

"Losing weight will: lessen the risk of heart attacks, protect you from developing type two diabetes, help take the strain off your arthritic knee and ankle, enable you to walk longer distances without joint pain and generally enhance your quality of life." - Good stuff and I agree with all of it. But turning it all into action has been difficult - Until I bought a Zephyr sailing dinghy and got beaten by a 'Country Mile.'

Today shipmates I got on the scales as I have done since the campaign began and my current weight is 89. 2kgs............. and falling steadily ............... If I am able to get 5kgs out of the boat and get my own weight down to 80kgs that will be a total reduction of on-board sailing weight of 22kgs - not an insignificant amount. I will then be able to mix the results of the laws of physics with a few Norwegian racing sardines and see what happens to the 'Country Miles!' pah!.......................

............... what common sense and concern for my health hasn't achieved - human pride, competitiveness, bloody mindedness and dented Ego has.  

I shall write a book. I shall call it: THE ZEPHYR DIET. 


Tillerman said...

Brilliant! I look forward to reading all about the Zephyr diet. I am tired of being beaten by little people in the RS Aero class.

Alden Smith said...

Tillerman, I have already written the book. There is only one page with one statement printed on it. Quoting from this page the diet is summed up thus:


(Whether you eat mainly healthy food or mainly crap food; if you eat less of it you will loose weight)."

Alden Smith said...

........ and Tillerman, I love this which I am quoting from your blog profile:

"I am a Laser sailor, runner, and grandfather of five, who is slowly coming to terms with the concept that the older I get the faster I was."

....... but it will not deter me - today 89.2kgs! tomorrow or thereabouts 80kgs and somewhere in the top half of the Zephyr fleet, maybe, possibly, if I'm lucky!

George A said...

Alden: Congrats on your current weight loss. Keep in mind that health benefits can be measured (blood lipid profiles, fasting glucose, insulin levels, etc.) with as little as a 10% weight loss. Starting off at 97kg, that would mean roughly getting down to 87.3kg--at 89kg you're almost there! Keep in mind that losing weight is easier than keeping that weight off. In that regard, if you don't have guidance from a registered dietician, then you may want to download a nutrient tracker such as This does two things: it makes you more aware of the energy content of your diet and also helps avoid pockets of nutrient deficiencies that can easily crop up when one diets without guidance. If you don't already take a multiple vitamin pill do so(get the kind for men which lacks added iron). A good multi vitamin will help cover a lot of ground in terms of trace mineral and vitamin requirements.

In Classic Moth racing, the rule of thumb is that one pound taken off the mast is worth 5 pounds off the hull and 10 pounds off the skipper. This is why carbon masts have become required kits for Moth Boats. The boat becomes less of a pendulum if the skipper isn't hiking against so much weight aloft. Don't know if your class rules permit carbon spars or lightening of exiting spars but something to think about. As for the skipper's weight every stone (~14 pounds)you can throw overboard (up to a point) seems to be worth one boat placement in a typical Classic Moth fleet.

Final point: the new sail has proven its worth. Next optimize your blade profiles according to class rules. The blades in my mind are perhaps more important than the sail since water is quite a bit denser than air and small defects impact boat speed due to turbulence, detached flow, etc.

Alden Smith said...

George, thanks for your informative comments, I appreciate that. You are correct that weight loss is easier than keeping the weight off. This is why I am not "Dieting" in terms of going on a "Diet" such at the Paleo Diet or the Atkins Diet etc, etc. I am simply eating my normal 'diet' which is pretty healthy and simply cutting down on the amount of food. So I guess the key to what I am doing is 'portion control'. I am under no illusions regarding how easy it is for it all the weight to just pile on again.

The Zephyr class rules don't allow carbon fibre masts at the present time but this may change. The mast I have is an old mast which is stiffer than the new model and may be a bit heavier, so a new mast could be a way of shedding a few kilos and the benefits that you have described.

New blades is something that I am thinking about. My current centreboard and rudder assembly are old fashioned and relatively heavy. The question will be how to lose weight in this area without having to purchase very expensive commercially made versions. Aluminum rudder cheeks would carve off a few kilos compared to the rather heavy versions on the current rudder and a cedar centreboard would be better than the current heavy Kauri timbered one.

A project before the Zephyr Nationals next year will be to do some sort of renovation of my boat which will include fairing and repainting the outside of the hull and drying out the interior and repainting which should get the boat down to the minimum weight. I also need to replace the self bailers which leak badly bringing aboard a good amount of unwanted heavy water sloshing around in the cockpit. Fixing the self bailer issue will also help to keep weight out when sailing.

Paul Mullings said...

French Bay, my old club where I sailed Zephyrs back in the late 70's early 80's!. Wish I'd known you were down there, I live 5 minutes away!
Good Luck with the weight all areas.....

Alden Smith said...

Hi there Paul. I drove to French Bay taking the Blockhouse Bay route and got completely lost in the hilly part of the French Bay area; so I probably drove past your house several times! Bugger. Never mind, I am sure to be down sailing at French Bay again sometime.

Ben said...

Getting rid of 22 kg out of total 160 (man and boat) is a 14 % reduction. Why not going to 75 kg, your boyhood weight I guess, giving a 17 % reduction. Meaning 17 % less friction or 37 % less power for the same speed. Moreover at lower weight you will attain much earlier the point that you go into the planing situation on a broad reach or running course, which can make all the difference. Just kidding Alden, in fact sports motivation can make all the difference when our ego kicks in. My own limit while bike racing is that at a weight over 78 kg my legs start kicking my belly, reducing power output. A good incentive to cut down on the jummy stuff and beer 😊. And the health benefits you get for free!
By the way the subject of weight regarding sailing performance is very interesting, though very complex indeed.

Alden Smith said...

Thanks Ben, I hadn't thought to add the two weights together and work out an overall percentage weight loss (It's that astute scientific mind of yours 'crunching the numbers' as they say : > ).

All joking aside, it would actually be great if I could achieve a weight loss that would take me back to 75kgs! Whether that is achievable or not time will tell.

I am certainly getting the benefits of my current weight loss. I can walk further without pain in my knee and ankle and I my all round mobility and ease of movement has improved far more than I would have thought with the modest amount I have lost so far.

I think I have underestimated the 'real life reality' of what I have been carrying around all these years. The other day I lifted up the circular concrete weight of our sun umbrella stand which weighs about 15kgs. I was surprised at how heavy it felt and I didn't lift it up with ease at all. If I was able to achieve a weight of 75kgs that would be a weight loss equivalent to the sun umbrella stand plus 5kgs - a significant amount of weight. - If I was to place the umbrella stand plus another 5kgs in my Zephyr it would make the boat visibly settle down in the water, and as you have pointed out delay the moment of planing......... all 'food for thought' (rather than food for my stomach!! LOL ).