INTRODUCTION TO THE VERSA

Andrew Simmons.

This information is intended to introduce you to your Versa, and help you get the best from her. There are hints and tips on sailing the Versa, but it is not intended as a “how to sail” book.

Before taking to the water, the following points should be remembered: –

  • Everyone should wear a buoyancy aid that fits correctly.
  • Choose a sheltered stretch of water, with no strong tides or big waves.
  • Avoid a busy area with lots of boats and moorings, but do not sail if you are the only boat and no one else is around.
  • Even if the wind is moderate, furl the jib or even reef the mainsail if you are a beginner. This will get you used to handling the Versa without the complications of two sails.
  • Do not overcrowd the Versa. Get the hang of it on your own or with just one other.

RIGGING THE VERSA

You will find it easiest to raise the mast when the Versa is just on its trolley, without a jockey wheel fitted and stern to wind.

Fit the wind indicator, if you have one. If using a spinnaker, put the spinnaker halyard through the block on the mast and tie the ends securely together. Check the mast area in the boat is clear of ropes etc, lift up the mast and insert it into position. Let the mast lean forwards in its mast gate.

Untie and unravel the shrouds and forestay. Tie the forestay to the front deck eye and with a couple of hitches, this forestay can be quite slack.

Turn the Versa head to wind and out the jockey wheel on if you have one.

Fasten the shrouds to the U bolts making sure the spinnaker blocks (if fitted) are in front.

Carefully untie the forestay but, without letting it go, tie tightly to the deck eye with a triple purchase and several half hitches.

Wind up the furling drum anticlockwise, but leave a bit “spare” at the cleat.

Clip the top swivel of the jib furling gear to the forestay and fasten the jib to the top swivel and the furling drum.

Hoist the jib, hook the loop in the halyard onto the Highfield Lever and lower the lever to tighten. Pass the jib sheets inboard of he shrouds and through the jib sheet fairleads from the outside. Put a knot in the end of each jib sheet. Fully furl the jib.

Put the rudder on making sure the retaining clip “clicks”. Raise the rudder blade with the rudder uphaul rope.

Tie each end of the mainsheet horse to the eyes on the transom with two half hitches, making sure the lower mainsheet block is positioned midway and about 6” above the tiller.

Move the dinghy to the waters edge and position head to wind.

Shackle the mainsail halyard, feed the sail into the luff groove and hoist the sail. When the boom is nearly up to the gooseneck put the mainsail halyard into the cleat, put the boom onto the gooseneck and tighten the halyard. (Be careful not to over tighten the Dyneema/Spectra halyard.)

Thread the end of the reefing line through the front eyelet on the sail, down through the lower eye on the mast below the gooseneck. Tie a knot in the end.

Thread the mainsheet through the centre mainsheet block and tie a knot in the end.

The rigging of the mainsail and reefing lines.

LAUNCHING THE VERSA

Check the bailers are closed, all the drain bungs tight, hook the rudder shockcord to the end of the tiller and make sure the mainsheet and tiller are free to operate.

Depending on the direction of the wind relative to shore, the Versa is pushed or pulled into the water. In a strong on-shore wind it may be necessary to pull the dinghy into the water. Alternatively, launch the Versa without the mainsail hoisted, then holding the boat into wind, hoist the sail and unfurl the jib.

The crew should hold the boat head to wind by holding the Versa by the windward shroud. The helmsman gets in first and lowers the rudder and centreboard a bit and tightens the kicking strap.

Bearing in mind the wind direction and whereabouts of any other dinghies or boats on moorings, the crew should point the Versa in the desired direction and get aboard.

Sail into deeper water and lower the rudder and centreboard.

LIGHT WIND VERSA SAILING FORCE 1 0-3 KNOTS (3.5MPH)

A reasonable sail area combined with an easily driven hull shape gives the Versa the potential for excellent light wind performance considering its size. However as always, there are certain basic rules that will allow you to get the best out of your Versa.

Beating

The crew should be sat in on the centre seat facing forward with the helmsman sat to windward on the side seat. In all cases the helmsman should endeavour to sit as far forward as possible. This digs the boats’ bow in, and lifts the transom thus reducing the wetted area of the hull. The boat should be allowed to heal to leeward helping the sails fall into the correct shape. The wetted area of the hull is also reduced.

The boat should be sailed as smoothly as possible especially in really light winds, tiller movements should be as small as possible and tacks should not be as fast as in strong winds, or hard won boat speed and momentum will be lost. The crew should be careful not to sheet the jib in too tight.

The mainsail should be set with no Cunningham (downhaul) tension and with only enough halyard tension to make sure the sail is fully hoisted. The outhaul should not be tight but not too loose! If the sail is too full you will not be able to point high and also the airflow cannot stay attached to the surface of the sail. The kicking strap should only really have enough tension to prevent the boom lifting. This will allow the sail to twist a little. The boom needs to be pulled towards the centre of the boat, but without a lot of downward pull on the sail.

The boat should be steered so both windward and leeward jib tell-tails are streaming. It never pays to “pinch” the boat in really light winds, it is important to keep the boat moving at all costs.

When sailing without a jib only pull the boom in so the boom is above the corner of the transom, and raise the centreboard a little to lessen any “pull” or weather helm on the tiller.

Reaching

The centreboard can be raked aft to maintain the balance of the boat and to reduce wetted area. The crew will probably sit to leeward but the helmsman will still sit well forward. Heel the boat to leeward to help the sail set. The crew eases the jib and is usually making constant adjustments keeping both tell-tails streaming.

In light winds the apparent wind direction can change quite a lot requiring changes to both sails if a straight course is maintained.

The relationship of the jib to the mainsail and vice versa is vitally important in all wind strengths. Generally the mainsail should be eased until it just begins to luff then pulled in a fraction. (Luffing is when the wind gets around the front of the sail causing the front area to flap, a jib will luff when the boat is pointed higher to the wind than the sail angle suits.)

Running

Keep the crew weight well forward and raise the centreboard for low drag. It is better and more comfortable for the helm and crew to sit on each side seat rather than share the centre seat. The helm can control the tiller extension more easily and have better visibility, and the crew can hold the boom out to the shroud if required. The jibstick comes in handy for light to medium winds helping to stop the sail from collapsing but this can still happen in really light winds as the boat can occasionally end up going faster than the wind when the wind suddenly drops!

MEDIUM WIND VERSA SAILING FORCE 2-3 4-10 KNOTS (4-12 MPH)

As light winds increase into medium winds the crew will move to windward with the helmsman sat up on the side deck if the wind strength requires it.

On all points of sail, the boat should be kept as upright as possible and particular attention paid to the centreboard position to give just a bit of weather helm to the tiller. (Weather helm is felt as a pull against you on the tiller, if you let go of the tiller the boat will round up to windward. Lee helm is the opposite when the tiller pushes and the boat bears off downwind when the tiller is released.)

On a reach the mainsail outhaul might be eased a bit to give more power to the sail. The kicking strap will also need to be tightened to stop the sail twisting too much, but otherwise the same rules about tell-tails and luffing sails apply as with light winds.

HEAVY WEATHER VERSA SAILING FORCE 4+ 11 KNOTS + (13 MPH+)

Beating

First, I’ll assume you are sailing with full sail beating to windward. The helm should be sat on the side decks and using the toestraps, with a crew doing the same if required. The mainsail should be set flat to de-power the sail with plenty of outhaul, kicker and downhaul.

Sailing upwind in a breeze requires a bit of teamwork. What I do is to sail and steer the boat using the jib tell-tails, keeping the jib in tight, and steer the boat so the windward and leeward tell-tails are streaming aft. If you come too close to the wind the windward tell-tails will flutter, and the boat will quickly slow.

When the boat is hit by a gust, keep the jib in tight and ease the mainsheet, the mainsail will luff (wind gets around the back of the mast and the sail flaps in the luff area.) The jib will keep you sailing to windward until the gusts eases and you can sheet in the mainsail.

It is best to ease the mainsail first as this causes the most heeling and keeping the jib in provides some power to keep the boat going.

Reaching

On a reach the centreboard will want moving back (handle forward!) The helm and crew also move aft to help the boat get on the plane. As the boat accelerates up on the plane then you need to pull the sails in a bit to keep those tell-tails streaming. Sometimes you can’t see the leeward tell-tails so you just have to ease the jib now and then to check that the windward tell-tails are only just streaming.

The golden rule for beginners is that as much wind goes around the back of the sail as around the front. This applies to all points of sail except downwind. So often you see people making hard work for themselves by pulling the sails in too much.

Running

When running, in theory, the centreboard could be fully up but I would leave some down in heavy wind for stability. Straight downwind, it is still best to get the jib out the opposite side rather than let it flap behind the mainsail.

Reefed Sailing

If beating with a reefed mainsail but with the jib as well, the centreboard should be left fully down and the boat sailed with a bit of heel, to prevent lee helm (the tiller seems to push you.) There won’t be the need to ease the mainsheet in most of the gusts. When reaching whilst reefed the centreboard should stay down further than it’s position for full sail.

If the wind is so strong, to require the jib to be furled upwind, beware of oversheeting the mainsail. Only pull the boom in to a point above the corner of the transom. The Versa is now effectively a singlehander like a Comet or Laser, without the aerodynamic benefits of a jib. Keep the centreboard raked aft a bit more than for full sail. When sailing with just a reefed mainsail keep checking you are not oversheeting by easing the mainsail until it luffs, then pulling it in until it just stops luffing.

SAILING THE VERSA WITHOUT THE JIB FITTED

If the jib is removed, it is better to fasten the forestay to the eye the furling gear is on. (Let the furling gear drop back onto the deck.)

When beating upwind without the jib the Versa is better balanced if the centreboard is raised by pushing the handle forward a few inches.

When beating upwind do not pull the boom in closer than above the corner of the transom.

REEFING THE VERSA

It is often sensible to reef the mainsail as well as furl the jib in strong winds. If you are light or inexperienced and don’t want to hike right out, you might find yourself sailing a bit faster than if you had full sail and were struggling to keep the boat even upright all the time.

To reef the mainsail, head the dinghy in a closehauled position with the wind coming from the starboard or right side. Make sure the centreboard is fully down and let both sails flap. If you need to, furl the jib as well.

Loosen the kicking strap right off and pull the reefing line at the front end of the boom and cleat it.

Uncleat the mainsail halyard and pull down on the other end of the reefing line until the reefing eye is just above the boom and cleat it in the downhaul cleat on the mast. Tighten the mainsail halyard.

Tidy up the foot of the sail by hooking the shockcord under the boom and onto the hook the other side of the sail. Be careful not to trap the mainsheet under the boom on centre mainsheet boats.

Note that best practice is to not include the boom in the elastic for holding the reefed foot of the main. Just elastic either side of the sail

Unreefing

To unreef the mainsail, let the sails flap in a closehauled position. Loosen the kicking strap. Undo the shockcord. Uncleat the reefing line on the mast and raise the sail with the halyard.  Uncleat the reefing line on the boom and lower the far end of the boom.

CAPSIZING THE VERSA

You should always be prepared for a capsize and your crew should know how to handle the situation when it happens.

Ideally it is best to practice this on a hot summer’s day and then you are well prepared for when it happens for real.

Usually after a capsize you will find yourselves in water. Firstly, always remember that if you cannot get the boat back up and begin to get tired, you must stay with the boat. Never try and swim for shore however close it looks. A dinghy that stays on its side for more than a few minutes will inevitably attract attention.

If the spinnaker was set when you capsized it is best to uncleat the halyard and bowsprit outhaul and get it back in the bag. In extreme conditions the jib can also be furled before righting.

The crew should float alongside holding on to the centre seat and wait to be “scooped up”. If the helmsman has trouble getting on to the centreboard the crew can make the Versa lie a bit lower in the water by standing or sitting on the cockpit side though there may be more water in the cockpit when it is righted. As the Versa comes up the more agile sailor might be able to get straight back in but usually the crew helps the helm back in after the boat in up.

Check the mainsheet is not caught underneath the rudder and open the bailers if not already open. A scoop bailer can also be useful!

In accordance with EU Recreational Craft Directive the minimum necessary crew mass is 60 kg.

In simple English, we recommend that the weight of the person on the centreboard should be at least 9 stone 6lb to be able to right the Versa from a capsize. 

RIGGING THE ASYMMETRIC SPINNAKER

Raise the jib but then furl it.

Pass the spinnaker tack rope and spinnaker pole forwards under the crossbeam, through the hole in the bow.

Pass one end of the spinnaker halyard through the right hand or starboard deck block, forward to the swivel block on the end of the black pole outhaul line, back through the other deck block, tie a knot about 12” (30cm) from the end, put the rope through the eyelet in the spinnaker bag and tie a knot in the end.

Passing the halyard outside of the left (port) jibsheet, tie the top of the spinnaker (easily identified as it’s the sharpest corner) on with a bowline.

With the pole “in”, pass the tack rope coming from the outer end of the pole, pass the left (port) side of the forestay and tie it to the tack of the spinnaker. 

Pass one spinnaker sheet around the forestay, underneath the spinnaker tack rope and put it through the ratchet block in the direction of the arrow on the block. Put a figure of eight knot in the end. Repeat this on the other side.

It is often best to check the spinnaker is rigged correctly whilst on dry land. Position the Versa on a beam reach with the wind from the right (starboard) side. Make sure none of the pole swinging ropes are cleated. Pull the halyard to hoist the spinnaker, even if the sail is fully hoisted keep pulling to make sure the pole is fully out. The spinnaker pole will swing down to leeward but you can still check that the sail is rigged correctly. The sheets can easily be swapped around or untwisted if necessary. Be careful if it’s windy that the Versa does not blow off the trolley!

Drop the sail by uncleating the halyard, gathering the sail down and then pulling the sail and bowsprit in and passing it outside the jibsheet, put it in the bag. Put the halyard back into the clip.

SAILING WITH THE ASYMMETRIC SPINNAKER

The optional asymmetric spinnaker can offer extra performance and excitement as well as provide a new challenge for the crew.

To start with, you should get thoroughly used to the Versa with two sails before trying it with three! The Versa’s asymmetric isn’t anything like as big or powerful as one on the new breed of racing dinghy but can still be quite demanding and unforgiving at times.

Try the spinnaker in light winds first, get used to hoisting it, dropping it to windward and leeward, tack and gybe with it. See how close to the wind you can carry it when sheeting in tight and also see how close to downwind it will go. Try all this with the jib furled to start.

The Versa spinnaker is unusual in that it has a swivelling pole, which allows the pole to swing to windward which allows more wind to reach the spinnaker when sailing well downwind. The pole should only be swung to windward if you are wanting to sail downwind i.e. racing to a downwind buoy. It can also help to ease the halyard a bit to make the spinnaker fuller and bring the centreboard up to balance the helm (the feel on the tiller, no lee helm just a bit of weather helm). For reaching, it can be better to ease the windward swinging line so the pole moves down to the middle straight ahead position and fully tighten the halyard. This helps stop the spinnaker luffing. The centreboard would certainly need to be right down to stop any lee helm.

Hoisting the Spinnaker to Leeward

Sail on broad reach with the wind coming from the right hand (starboard) side. If the sail is stowed on the left hand (port) side then this will be a leeward hoist, which is easier than a windward hoist.

Make sure both swinging lines are uncleated.

Pull the halyard until the sail is up and the pole is fully out.

Pull the windward swinging line to move the pole to the centre or to windward.

Pull in the spinnaker sheet just enough to stop the front of the sail luffing.

Hoisting the Spinnaker to Windward

When racing you may find you want to hoist the spinnaker on a particular tack but the spinnaker has been recovered or put in the bag so it is now on the windward side.

While the crew pulls the halyard, the helmsman can help the spinnaker around to the leeward side by pulling the leeward sheet. Do not pull the sheet too tight or it will be difficult to raise the spinnaker all the way.

Sailing along on a broad reach the spinnaker should have increased the boats speed and if the same course was maintained the apparent wind direction will move forward. The boom should be pulled in a bit to match this wind direction.

Often in light winds, the broad reach that the Versa sails with the mainsail and jib turns into a close reach when the spinnaker is up! Keep the dinghy on a steady course and constantly adjust the spinnaker to suit the changing apparent wind direction. You will soon notice that there is an optimum course relative to the wind where the Versa seems to come alive and perform best. If you are just out for fun, hang on to the angle and enjoy the ride.

If you are racing and the course set has a directly downwind leg, the fast racing asymmetric dinghies will shoot off on a series of broad reaches with gybes all at a vast rate of knots! These boats cover a much greater distance than a conventional spinnaker dinghy going straight downwind but their extra speed more than makes up for it.

As the Versa has a much smaller asymmetric and is a lot smaller than those hot new dinghies, a slightly different technique must be used. The Versa needs to sail the most direct route it can to the downwind buoy.

Centreboard Position

In any breeze the centreboard will need to be kept fully down to balance the dinghy, but in light winds on a deep broad reach it could be usefully raised a bit. If you haven’t got enough centreboard down you will soon know about it with lots of lee helm. (The tiller will seem to push you.)

Tacking and Gybing the Spinnaker

The spinnaker tacks and gybes just like a normal jib, but with the extra task of swinging the pole.

Just before the tack or gybe, release the swinging line as well as the sheet; the pole will automatically blow down to leeward, cleat the other swinging line tight before the spinnaker fills on the new tack. Sheet in and away you go!

Dropping the Spinnaker to Leeward

The helmsman continues on a broad reach and the crew releases the swinging line and the spinnaker sheet, leans over and grabs the leeward sheet just forward of the block, releases the halyard and pulls the sail down by the leech. When it’s all down and in the boat the sail is pulled back bringing in the pole with it.

The sail must be brought in and put in the bag outside of the jibsheet. Keep pulling down on the halyard until it’s tight and put it in the clip.

The helmsman does not seem to have much to do so he or she can help by trailing the loose spinnaker halyard back to check it’s clear before the spinnaker is dropped. There is nothing worse than getting the spinnaker half down only to find a tangle jamming in the cleat.

The helmsman is often the one who adjusts the swinging line as the crew might be sat to leeward and can’t see the spinnaker luff.

Dropping the Spinnaker to Windward

The spinnaker can also be dropped and put in the bag on the windward side. You might want to do this because it will be on the correct side for the next hoist. Uncleat the swinging line, let go the leeward sheet and pull the sail around the forestay with the windward sheet.

As soon as the corner (clew) is around the forestay the halyard can be uncleated and the sail pulled down and brought in. Do not forget to put it in the bag by passing it under and outside the slack windward jibsheet. It is even more important to make sure the halyard is clear of tangles on this type of drop.

A Few Golden Rules

  • Get confident with two sails first and start in light winds.
  • Avoid crowded waters. Remember the visibility is very restricted when the spinnakers up. Even if you’re just cruising, have someone on “lookout duty” down on the leeward side.
  • Don’t make hard work for yourself by oversheeting (pulling the sails in too much). Continually “play” the spinnaker by easing it out and keeping it on the verge of luffing.

TRANSPORTING THE VERSA

Trailers

Most small trailers will suit the Versa but the Bramber Versa Combi Trailer is designed specifically for the Versa. If the trolley ever needs adjusting, make sure the weight of the Versa is taken on the centre roller with the side supports adjusted to stop the Versa rocking.

Whenever the Versa is recovered from the water on its trolley, always check the keel is on the centre roller.

MAINTENANCE AND WINTER STORAGE

The Versa requires very little maintenance but what little there is can keep your Versa looking new.

After sea sailing rinse the whole boat including ropes and sails (if you’ve had a capsize.) If you have to pack the dinghy up whilst it’s still wet, it’s better to flake the mainsail loosely so it can drain under the cover.

It is better for the jib if it is unfurled and rolled up when not in use.

When you sail inland, mud can be a problem. If you capsize and get the top of the sail muddy, rinse it as soon as possible.

Occasional washing with warm water and car shampoo is beneficial. Use a soft car washing brush on the smooth areas, its OK to use a stiff scrubbing brush on the non-slip patches. Stubborn stains and marks can be removed with a mild abrasive cleaner such as Cif, but do not use any that contain bleach.

When towing on the road it is advisable to use an undercover to protect the hull from stone chips etc.

When laying the boat up for the winter, it is best to remove the battens from the sails and store the sails and rudder at home in the dry. Make sure the Versa is dry but keep the bailers open before you fit the cover.

It is inadvisable to keep an undercover fitted for long periods as any damp can get trapped between the hull and the cover and possibly damage the gelcoat finish.

If your sailing club has tie down points it is sensible to tie a rope from the bottom of the shrouds. 

OUTBOARD MOTORS

With the optional outboard pad, any small outboard up to 4hp can be used on the Versa although 2hp is more than enough.

The rudder can still be used when motoring, it enables you to sit further forward to trim the boat better if you are on your own. If you do this, clamp the motor in the dead ahead position and check the rudder does not foul the propeller when turning sharply right.

Most modern outboards have a “kill cord” which should be put around your wrist. If you fall out of the boat an empty dinghy would move quite fast and can come around to hit you with the propeller. The “kill cord” would stop the engine as soon as you fall out.

You can sail the Versa with the motor raised up. Be careful when tacking to keep the mainsheet tight and not tangling with the top of the motor. Avoid gybes if you can, and after all, I assume you are “just cruising” so sail without the jib out and reef if windy. A capsize is not recommended for the motors health!

IMPORTANT SAFETY POINTS

Do not overload the Versa.

Everyone should wear a correctly fitting buoyancy aid.

If you capsize stay with the Versa even if you think you can swim to shore.

Make sure the hatches are closed and secure when at sea and the rear drain bung is in tight.

Repairs

In the event of any damage or failure of any part, contact Comet Dinghies in the first instance who will offer advice on the repairs and replacements or recommend suitable repairers.

Modifications

Contact Comet Dinghies about the possibilities of what you can do by yourself and more importantly what you should not modify. You could loose your warranty and endanger your own safety.

SOME FINAL HINTS AND TIPS

Don’t oversheet by pulling in the sails too tight. Why give away speed and heel unnecessarily? Keep easing the sails until they luff.

Adjust the centreboard especially when sailing without a spinnaker. Although the Versa is happy to sail with the centreboard down all the time, you will find the Versa lighter on the helm and more ready to plane.

Above all have fun, but be prepared to learn from your experiences. One of the joys of sailing is that no two days are ever the same and there is always something new to learn.