How to be fast in a Blue Jay
By Brad Gibbs
Reprinted from BJ BANTER 1992
Though I did not win the Blue Jay Nationals (2nd by 1.5 pts.), I made the pursuit of Blue Jay perfection an integral part of my sailing career. For several years, I refined my rigging, practiced my roll tacks, and rearranged my systems. The information provided in this article will hopefully be useful. The Blue Jay, like any boat, requires practice, lots of practice. The following, though, are some tips which might help you get around the course a little faster.
Proper care and maintenance of your hull is essential. Occasional wet sanding of your bottom rids your boat of unnecessary resistance. Using 320 grit or finer grade sand paper, wet sand your bottom, making sure to sand in the same direction as the water would flow. If you must bottom paint your boat use a hard paint such as Micron CSC which sands to a geicoat-like smoothness. The skeg of the Blue Jay should also be wet sanded. Tapering the skeg to class rules seems to be fast, though there is no need to taper it to a razor point.
The rudder and centerboard deserve the same (if not more) care than the bottom. Both blades should be especially smooth. Squared-off trailing edges are often more effective in reducing turbulence than rounded ones, but be careful to stay within the parameters of the class rules. A tight fit between the rudder and tiller is also very important. If possible, there should be no play in your steering (your rudder should not be wobbling against the tiller). Similarly, your centerboard should not be able to move laterally in the trunk. Any side-to-side play is slow because it causes unwanted turbulence. To avoid such wobbling in the centerboard trunk, you can tighten the centerboard bolt and/or put strips of old carpet or teflon tape on the insides of the trunk. Often, in older boats, the centerboard trunk itself wobbles. This should be repaired through the installation of reinforcing-ribs by a local boat yard or someone experienced in fiberglass repair. Besides the reduction of resistance which results from proper care of the underwater surfaces of your boat, wet sanding and tightly fitting blades are a great confidence builder, improving your mental preparation and trust in your boat's performance.
Though the basic rigging of the Blue Jay is fairly simple, there are some things you can do to improve the efficiency of your boat handling and sail trim. The mast butt should be placed in the front of the step to induce rake. I sailed with enough shroud tension so that the leeward shroud became floppy only over 8 knots. Mast rake, measured by attaching a tape measure to the main halyard and measuring the distance to the transom, should be 19 feet 2 inches. During the past couple of years, an increasing number of Blue Jay sailors have installed a fixed bridle to their traveler. I found the ideal height of the bridle to be 14 inches off the deck, but it is important to experiment with this height. The fixed bridle allows you to trim the main closer to the centerline without stalling the leech. When sailing upwind, always be wary of the pressure on your mainsheet, the flow of the telltale off your top batten, and make sure that the boom isn't inside the inner edge of the leeward rail. (See Spring BANTER 1999 for additional details by Bill Healy.)
Jib trim can be improved by using two sets of barber haulers which adjust both inboard/outboard and fore-aft trim. In light air, the jib should be closer to the centerline, and the foot fuller. As the wind increases the jib foot should be flattened and moved further outboard in order to open up the slot and twist the top of the leech of the jib. Recently, I had the opportunity to sail with a polyant, or box-cloth jib which had the potential of lasting longer than a dacron jib and maintaining its shape better due to its Iow-stretch characteristics. It is also recommended that the jib sheets be led to blocks and cleats located on the cuddy. This way, the crew can tack facing forwards and keep weight closer to the bow, thus reducing wetted surface in the stern and improving timing.
To assist in spinnaker handling, the key is to have the spinnaker halyard led back to the skipper, so that the crew is able to set the pole and pull the guy around as the skipper is hoisting. I found that installation of a micro block five inches directly behind the spinnaker halyard cleat to be an easy way to insure that when the spinnaker is hoisted, it will cleat itself. I also found it useful to lead the jib halyard back to the skipper. To dowse the chute, you simply have to grab the halyard in front of the block and behind the cleat to release. It is also helpful to tie a fairly large washer onto the shock cord downhaul just under the foredeck, which will prevent the pole from skying during a windy jibe.
Other small tips include tying your anchor to the bottom of the mast with a slip knot so that the weight is Iow and in the center of the boat, and marking the jib halyard when it is all the way up which will allow you to have it perfectly set as you round the leeward mark. Also, tying shock cord to your hiking straps so that they remain up and outboard will keep your head out of the boat while tacking, jibing or hiking upwind. The use of a deck-mounted vertical compass is extremely useful for determining wind shifts, tacking angles, and courses.
Once your boat is set up to your liking, get on the water as much as possible. The Blue Jay should always be sailed with a slight heel to leeward, except downwind in moderate air when you can sail with a windward heel. It is important to always keep your weight as far forward and as close together as possible, moving back only when it is choppy. Since the rudder is a barn door, minimize tiller movement. Learn to sail with your weight and sail trim. A good drill is to practice sailing rudderless, making sure to put the board halfway up. Though the Blue Jay is not the lightest dinghy, it is very responsive to weight movement. Boat handling and speed should be practiced. Though I hope these suggestions are helpful, properly rigging your Blue Jay is only the tip of the iceberg. Sail, sail, sail. -Brad Gibbs
Brad Gibbs was a former Indian Harbor Head Instructor and Brown University Sailing Team member, All Star College Crew Olympic contender and sailing enthusiast.