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A good night on the Xenon Trapeze

A lovely sunny evening with a stiff breeze across the reservoir - just the ticket!  I did however misjudge the beautiful conditions..... yes there was a stiff NE breeze but in the shelter of the launch area it seemed rather lighter than it was.  I decide to sail in nothing more than running shorts, usual Tee shirt with the trapeze harness.  We also decided to dispense with the floats. We quickly rigged and launched and the Xenon took off very nicely.

Our first target for the evening was to practice roll-tacks and downwind gybes with the gennaker.  We put the GPS on-board to review our sailing later. Sailing went well and the excellent steady wind (15 knots) gave us plenty of practice.

Sailing was going so well I decided to try my hand, feet actually, with the trapeze.  Although we have had the trapeze fitted to the Xenon for a couple of years the opporunities to use it have been few and far between. Ideally a fairly constant wind is required to avoid a lot of scrambling in and out. This evening was the ideal weather. Plenty of constant wind with some heavy gusts on occasion. 

The most difficult part of trapezing is getting out on to the trapeze in the first place.  Always use your leading leg, wedged against the shroud fastening, as the first stage after hooking on. Heave yourself out as quickly as possible and lay back on the trapeze line with your legs braced apart. Do not hesitate with one leg on the gunnel and the other on deck - you will quickly become unbalanced. The gunnel of the Xenon is broad and comfortable and provides an excellent foothold. I was wearing soft 3mm neoprene boots without any tread.  Having treads would be good but I had no difficulty in maintaining grip, albeit with my leading foot always against the shroud fastening.  Any timidity in making the first move out can cause problems because you are in an unbalanced state as you move out.  On my first hesitant attempt a year or so ago I found myself swung unceremoniously out of the Xenon and on to the bow and just as quickly, like the pantomime fairy, a lucky swing of the Xenon put me back on deck. The trick I found was to wait for a steady moment and then go for it.  Once up and leaning on the wire with legs apart all was very steady and indeed very comfortable.

I had a good helm who wotked hard to keep the Xenon flat. As the wind slackened I was easily able to bend my legs to bring my body inboard and as the winds returned used my legs to push out and increase the hiking.  I soon discovered that using the trapeze on a longer setting provided more scope for hiking and made unhooking easier. Adjusting the trapeze whilst hanging on to the trapeze handle was a fairly simple operation and overall I found the longer setting was both better for trapezing and probably safer.

The fun and exhileration I had on the trapeze was second only to the joy I experienced when we first used the gennaker and the Xenon took off at speed. The joy with the gennaker on that occasion was short lived as we crashed over relatively soon (we are a little smarter now and as it starts to heel we bear away so our crashes with the gennaker are fairly rare).  That expereince had a lot in common with this evenings experience!  I was fully hiked out on the trapeze and the Xenon was thrashing upwind at speed (GPS suggests around 9 knots) when a sudden and very heavy gust struck and I found myself precariously balanced, nay teetering, on the side 2 metres above water level.  It occurred to me then that Grandads should not be doing this!  Rather than take a headlong dive on to the mast I crouched and grabbed the shroud to break my fall as the Xenon crashed over. Grabbing the shroud worked well (I was wearing excellent gloves), I landed in the water feet first and immediately released the mainsheet cleat - it was then that I noticed the Xenon was in the process of turtling on top of me, so I dived under the hoop and falls out to the back of the Xenon. I just managed to get clear as the hull came down. Helm was on the hull but had not managed to steady the Xenon before the turtling took place - note to helms: do not wait to admire the view during a capsize, grab the righting line and lean out to slow or stop the capsize from turning into a turtle.  We managed to right the Xenon in about a minute using the pull-down line.  I climbed onto the upturned gunnel, stood upright with my feet on the gunnel and gripped the knotted pull-down line and leaned well back. The Xenon rapidly came up to the capsize position and helm was able to stabilise it while I swam around ready to be scooped up..... and away we went. It was only then that I had some regrets over not fitting the floats, it would have given helm more time to stabilise the capsize. 

It was particularly pleasing to be able to travel very rapidly upwind and to keep the Xenon almost perfectly flat. Normally I find it very difficult to keep the boat genuinely flat when sailing upwind but the trapeze certainly made that possible and with a substantial increase in speed.

I am very keen to have another trapeze session, it added yet another dimension of enjoyment to sailing in the Xenon, however the evening provided some food for thought that I note below;

1. The day was warm and sunny, the water was also warm but.... as my Tee shirt dried out I became cold in the NE breeze. Perhaps I should have used my rash vest or wetsuit.

2. Yes we were hit by a very heavy gust but I now wonder whether we could have avoided a capsize. When I helm I tend to rely on easing the mainsail to counter gusts but am noticeably slower/reluctant at bearing away. For the future I intend to practice both bearing gently away AND easing the mainsail because I believe this will provide better control in heavy conditions.  I am gradually coming to the conclusion that a capsize in the Xenon should be a rare event and more often than not is due to "User error".  The next time we have a practice sail in decent winds I intend to work on that part of my sailing with a view to better co-ordinating the mainsail and rudder until it becomes instinctive.

3.  Do not underestimate the effect of having someone, particularly a heavy grandad, perched on the trapeze. It makes a substantial difference to the force needed to pull in the mainsail. The Helm needs a strong arm and stamina to handle the mainsail with the additional weight. Helm complained all the way home!

Finally after reviewing our sailing using the GPS tracks and replaying our route I was pleased to note that in many instances our tacking had been sharp and clean with only a few oversteers and some of our gybes were actually very good, clean sharp turns with no trace of oversteer. In summary a very satisfactory evening.

Your comments /advice will be welcome.

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