Why Trapezing is Better than Hiking

If you have not yet used the trapeze, you are going to love it once you figure it out. Trapezing is a lot easier than hiking (the harness and wire support you instead of your leg and stomach muscles), you go faster, and you have a much better view of what is going on around you. I love being able to watch the bow of a 505 going through the water; you get a great view from the trapeze.

There was a recent trapeze technique article in Sailing World (one of the Spring ’95 issues) written by an I-14 sailor. I-14s use double trapezes. A few issues earlier, Scott Ikle had an excellent article about trapeze technique. Scott is one of the best 505 crews in North America. The “sail to win” Series written in the UK has several good books, one of them is called “crewing to win” by Andy Hemmings. These books may be available at your local chandlery, and are also available from various internet retailers.

You Need A Comfortable Trapeze Harness

Get a good trapeze harness. Serious trapeze crews get really good harnesses. Most of the 505 fleet (and lots of other high performance trapeze classes) use trapeze harnesses made by The Spinnaker Shop in Palo Alto. They are high backed, with foam padding, last a long time, and give excellent support.

Going Out On The Wire

OK, now to get out on the wire. While sailing close hauled or on a close reach, in enough wind to use the trapeze, hook the trapeze ring to the hook on the harness. If you have trapeze height adjusters, start with them high, you will be more comfortable at first. Once hooked up, lean back and let the wire support your weight. Move your forward foot to the rail, and push off, following with your aft foot. Your forward foot should be somewhere just behind where the shroud meets the rail. Your feet should be far enough apart that you are stable on the rail. Keep them shoulder width or more apart at first. Keep your forward leg straighter (you can straighten it to “locked” straight) than your aft leg to counter the tendency of the trapeze wire to pull you forward.  Try to lie straight in the harness, and not sit up and hold the trapeze handle. The handle is there to make it easier to get in and out, not to support you once you are out there.

As you get more comfortable being on the trapeze, you can lower yourself on the adjusters so you are closer to the water, and providing more righting moment for the boat (assuming the wind is strong enough that the added righting moment is needed). Over time, you will be able to trapeze comfortably with your feet close together, with the balls of your feet, or even your toes on the rail. When you trapeze with your feet close together, you can swing a little. This “uncouples” your weight from the boat’s somewhat and makes it easier for the boat to turn as the skipper steers through waves. By keeping your forward leg straight, and your back leg very slightly bent, you angle back, keeping your weight closer to the skippers. In the 505, as in most high performance boats, both crew and skipper move back on the rail as it gets windier, and also when reaching. You and the skipper should try to stay as close together as you can. The skipper needs just enough room to hold and play the mainsheet with their forward arm.

In lighter conditions, raise yourself on the trapeze height adjuster. This reduces the righting moment to compensate for the lower wind. In even lighter, marginal trapezing conditions, you help balance the boat by bending your knees to move your weight in and out.

Coming In Off The Wire

To come in off the wire – say to prepare for a tack – you start by sitting up, grabbing the handle, and then bending your knees. As you get close to the side of the boat, lift one foot off the rail, and then the other. Since I tack facing forward, I think I lift my aft leg off the rail first, and lead in with it. When you are sitting on the side of the boat, unhook from the trapeze. This is easily done by a sweeping down motion with you hand, pushing the trapeze ring out of the hook on the harness. If you look at the hook on the harness you will see that it is easy to unhook anytime, unless you are sitting up and the trapeze wire is taking your weight.  Depending on conditions it may be appropriate to ease the jib before you come in, or as soon as you are on the rail. The skipper can also ease the main to keep the boat flat as you come in.

Some Technique Refinements

Once you get familiar with the trapeze, there are a couple of things you can do to speed up your maneuvers. Many top crews do not hook up to the trapeze while sitting on the side of the boat, but go out holding the trapeze handle in one hand, and the jib sheet in the other. They cleat the jib, then grab the trapeze ring and hook it into the trapeze hook on the harness. Now that they are hooked up, they can make sure the jib is cleated in the correct place (mark your jib sheets for reference). Crews can also speed up coming in for a tack by grabbing the handle, unhooking while still out there, and coming in holding the handle. You can use the momentum you gain coming in to help you get to the other side of the boat faster when you are tacking.

When you and your skipper have the timing figured out, you can get ready for a tack by unhooking and holding the handle, and then uncleating the jib and start coming in, while the skipper tacks the boat. The skipper basically waits for you to uncleat the jib, and takes that as a signal that you are ready, and are about to start tacking. The differences between smooth practiced trapeze technique and someone who is just figuring it out can be very noticeable on tacks.

What To Do With the Jib Sheet

On the 505, some of us dead end the jib sheet to the trapeze handle. That way you can always get the jib sheet when you are out on the wire. If you do not do that, and you drop the jib sheet while out on the trapeze, you will not have any way of retrieving it without coming in off the wire, or having the skipper hand it to you. Tying the jib sheet to the handle works best if you tack facing forward, and go across the boat behind the jib sheets. Some crews use an endless jib sheet system, with the ends tied to the jib clew. They sew a hook to their life jacket, and hook the jib sheet in. That way you take the jib sheet with you when you go out, and you will not lose it. I prefer not being hooked to the boat this way, though.

Trapezing With The Spinnaker UP

When going out on the wire with the spinnaker up, you need to let out the spinnaker sheet to compensate as you move away from the boat. You and the skipper should move further aft if the boat is planing. You help balance the boat be bending your knees to move your weight in and out.