Getting Speed from a Top Hat

Getting Speed from a Top Hat

Postby Tales » Tue Nov 24, 2015 9:11 pm

A while ago one of our Members asked me how I got speed from my Top Hat as we did quite a lot of racing in Port Phillip Bay over a number of years.
Don't think you will find mention of us in the record books but we did try hard to represent the Marque.
Anyway, this is what I wrote.

If we start at the bottom, a clean hull is critical. Even with good antifoul I would clean every month. Just slime is enough to slow you down.
Tests done by Yachting Monthly show a reduction in drag if you can let the prop turn (this is on an outboard but suppose it would be the same on and inboard?) Folding prop would be nice! There are 2 Top Hats down here in Victoria which have slides to lift the outboard right out of the water which would be the best I think.
Rig tension is critical. It must be tight enough not to get a sagging luff on the jib or you just won't point.
There is no point having slack in the shrouds either on a Top Hat so keep them tight too.
Top Hat sails main sails are cut with a straight luff so bending the mast will just slow you down.
Sails need to be good to go fast. The ones I had with Tales originally were old and stretched so none of the tuning tricks worked at all.
I bought new #1, #2 and main (with 3 reefs) plus a new storm jib. Had a pretty good #3.
Sail trim is critical so tell tales are needed and must be used. It's a mistake to try to point too high when the waves are knocking you back though so free off a little to get speed.
The Top Hat does not have a deep keel so it is a big mistake to heel too far. If your toe rail is in the water you are going sideways fast but not pointing. Check the recorded track on your GPS to measure your real tacking angle. If you can achieve 100 degrees that's not bad! The compass in that case would show about 90.
It's easy to over power a Top Hat by putting up too much sail.
Here's how I used to do it - on the wind with 2 on board.
#1, full main - 0 to 12 knots (get the #1 down when you see any whitecaps or you will stretch it).
#2, full main - 10 to 16 knots
#2, 1 reef 14 to 18 knots
#3, 1 reef 16 to 20 knots
#3, 2 reefs 18 to 24 knots
Storm jib and 3 reefs over 25 knots.
Note that anything over 16 to 18 knots the waves are going to knock you back much more than a 30 foot (or bigger) boat and you have to free off or work each wave.
Additionally, as the wave height increases, the wind is less in the troughs so you don't get the drive that you get on the peaks so there is a lot against you just as the bigger boats are getting going.
Top Hats in Port Phillip had the reputation of being 'light weather flyers' compared to the bigger, heavier boats about at the time ('60's) and if you can get flat water and lots of bodies on the rail to keep her upright with 12 to 18 knots you will see her at her best.
Races with minimal legs into wind are the best too especially if your handicap was developed on races with lots of into wind sailing.
We beat a 40 footer once in a long two handed race. Not just on handicap but over the line! The owners of the 40 footer were not very skilled at sail trim or sail changes (or navigation as it turned out!) and relied heavily on their normal crew but we always sailed two up so we had a really good routine worked out.
An efficient reefing system is a boon. We could have a reef in, on the wind, and pull it out just before rounding the top mark so we had a bit more main on the down hill run. Put it back in as you come onto the wind again. We could reef in 30 to 40 seconds though, all done in the cockpit.
Getting both sail leeches parallel helps a lot and it takes a bit of trimming to do this because when you sheet in the jib it tends to backwind the main so it might take a few adjustments to get it right.
How do you know if you are making it go better though? Really important to know what your log is doing. Keep the impellor clean and calibrate it on both tacks in a tide free area against a GPS.
Tales reads high on one tack and low on the other. I used to calibrate the log with the motor (so no heel) in calm conditions then note what she was doing on each tack when the wind got up later in the day.
A bit of science now. The wind changes direction as you get higher up in the atmosphere. The bit we are interested in for sail trim on a Top Hat is the first 40 feet above the water, and even less when we are heeled a bit.
The friction of the waves slows the wind but also changes its direction. You will find that to go as fast on one tack as the other (allowing for the log variation) you will need to trim the sails differently on each tack. More twist on one, straighter leech on the other.
Down wind it’s easy to get overpowered on a Top Hat as the rudder is so far forward and it is very tiring even if you manage to keep it going in the right direction.
We have carried a #2 up to 30 knots with no main once but it was pretty exciting and the waves were huge!
So reef down in a blow even going down hill. Won't slow you down really as the wind can then get at the jib.
If the race rules allow extras and you don't have (or like us, are wary of) a spinnaker, you can hoist a second jib flying on the lee side (pole out to windward). Winched up hard, the gap between the luffs is minimal and we used to get and extra 1/2 to one knot. Works well in light weather too even with the main up.
Really though, a spinnaker is king in the light weather so we bought one and learned to use it. I do stress however that you need to be good at it or you will waste too much time in a race fighting the twists and general bad boat behaviour which comes with such a sail in the wrong hands.
We eventually did quite well in series racing on Tales but it took a few years to learn the tactics, rules, starting accurately, sail trim, instrument calibration, navigation and boat preparation. We needed all the sails I mentioned to cover the range of weather in which we sailed.
The jibs were hanked on so sail changes were quick, usually on the down hill run but I guess even a furler would work alright as long as the foil was clean and didn't slow things down.
Tacking in a race needs practice and initially we nearly stopped each time. In the finish we could tack and still keep 3 knots on the dial.
All the stuff I have written can be read somewhere else and that's mostly how I leaned it but the one thing that will really hurt your performance is too much heel. Olin Stevens recommends maximum heel 23.5 degrees for the S&S34 and he is a bloke who really knew what he was doing.
What can you expect from a Top Hat? In the end we were getting 5 knots on the wind from about 8 knots wind upwards and pointing 50 degrees on the GPS. Speed was still ok but pointing got worse over about 16 knots unless it was flat water.
Plenty of reading there but a lot more work to put into practice.
Good luck,
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Re: Getting Speed from a Top Hat

Postby Phillip » Wed Nov 25, 2015 8:06 am

I believe it also helps to get all of your junk off the boat as well as water in the keel when racing. :D
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Re: Getting Speed from a Top Hat

Postby Tales » Wed Nov 25, 2015 10:30 am

Getting junk off sounds like a good idea!
I never skimp on tools or spare parts though.
Weight is worse at the ends of the boat as the inertia while 'hobby horsing' really slows you down. Particularly weight at the front of the boat.
Think I would keep the water tank full. It's well below the waterline so it might help keep you on your feet.
None of these issues will hurt your performance as much as a dirty hull or a blown out old sail however.
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Re: Getting Speed from a Top Hat

Postby Arohanui » Fri Nov 27, 2015 10:32 pm

Thanks a lot for this post. Really explains a lot. I had my top hat mark 1 out th other day in about 25+. Full main and big head sail. As the so bad upwind with 3 of us onboard but when I was alone going downwind it was a bit scary. Had the jib to starboRd and the main to port and she started gradually swaying, corkscrewing, so I gybed and moved the main to starboard also. I'm new to this boat and am still getting used to her.
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Re: Getting Speed from a Top Hat

Postby percyverhance » Sat Nov 28, 2015 6:29 am

Good post Tom.Thanks for going to the effort to post it.
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