Efficient Sailing = Safe Sailing = More Fun!


This article has twice appeared in the Whiffle, but I feel that it is worth posting since it can remind all of us about a few essentials!.


Until Tim France and Don Davis invited me to speak at the Guelph Seminar, I had always considered that I was mostly coaching the few that race. To address day sailors and cruisers, I re-discovered some basics and a few little tricks that I have picked up over my forty plus years of sailing and racing.


This article will deal with these main topics:

1.    the why and how of setting your sails properly

2.    the why and how of correct sail and boat trim

3.    a few special tricks


Setting the Sails


There are three main benefits of doing a proper job of setting your sails:


You get better performance and longer life from your sails. And, best of all, you look as though you know what you're doing!


THE GENOA/JIB: We hoist this first. It is smaller and easier to deal with while the main is still down. It is essential to good upwind performance to have the jib halyard up tight enough so that the leeward shroud does not hang loose when you sail close-hauled. If there is too little jib halyard tension, the jib luff develops a hook that makes it impossible to point well.

Most racing Wayfarers use a tensioning device such as a "Magic Box" or a Highfield lever and a halyard that is stainless steel wire (1/8") between the head of the sail and the place where it hooks onto the tensioning device. N.B. Beware of over-tensioning the jib halyard as this may flatten your jib luff entry in a way that narrows your "groove" to the point where performance suffers drastically as well. The rule of thumb is: Tension the halyard until the leeward shroud is just on the edge of losing its slack.

Without the aid of a mechanical advantage, it is difficult to get adequate tension, but you can get closer by having someone hang over the bow off the forestay (to pull the mast forward) while the other crew member hoists and cleats as tightly as possible.


Other needs for the jib are good cleats and soft braid jib sheets that will cleat well and be kind to your hands.


THE MAINSAIL: Unless you have a main that is much smaller than the rules allow, you should host your main virtually to the top of your mast (to the "black band"  if you race!)  This sounds simple but can easily become impossible, unless you remove any forces that may cause the main to get stuck as you hoist. On W3854, we always do the following as we hoist the main:


1.         hold the boat head to wind with the centreboard fully raised to allow the boat to stay head to wind easily

2.         take the boom off the goose-neck

3.         make sure that both boom vang and mainsheet are quite slack

4.         hoist as high as the sail will go (or is allowed to go)

5.         pull the boom down and re-insert into goose-neck

6.         vang on as required


other needs are:                

ˇ         battens that fit well

ˇ         a boom vang to bend the mast and de-power your main upwind and to reduce twist in your main off the wind in a blow. Reducing twist on a windy run is especially important since and overly twisted main makes gybing difficult and can cause the top of the mast to be pushed to windward which is the source of the infamous "death roll" capsize.

ˇ         a good mainsheet swivel cleat with the cleat set up so that it is difficult to accidentally cleat the main

ˇ         a mainsheet that is thin enough to run freely through its various blocks

ˇ         a cunningham to tension the luff of the main, pulling its draft forward on old sails and sails that have been flattened via mast bend (draft forward shape is more forgiving!)

ˇ         a reefing system (unless you race) that does not require removal of your boom vang


Correct Trim


There are two kinds of "trim": boat trim and sail trim. Both are relatively easy to achieve and maintain. Both are crucial to performance. Boat trim particularly, is important to sailing safely.


BOAT TRIM: The basic rule of thumb is to keep the boat level - both fore and aft, and sideways. This allows the boat to perform as intended.


Fore and aft: Neither the bow nor the transom should dig into the water. Distribute your weight accordingly. On racing boats,  the helm and crew usually sit next to each other on either side of the centre thwart. This means a good 3-foot-long extension tiller is very helpful as it permits the helm to sit forward and/or out.

N.B. On a windy reach or run when the boat wants to plane, sit well aft (even on the back tank!). Keeping the bow up, allows the boat to sail on its flatter aft sections, which is much more stable, i.e. not as capsize-prone!


Sideways: The basic rule of thumb is to sail the boat flat - except in very light airs where some heel to leeward may help to keep the sails from flopping around.

How much heel is too much??? - If your tiller demonstrates more than a slight pull to leeward, you are heeling too much!

Why is too much weather helm bad? - You are using the rudder as a brake while slowly weakening it for the day it will finally give in to years of unnecessary strain. The helm also wastes energy, wrestling with the tiller while trying to keep the boat on course.

How to correct weather helm caused by too much heel? - Hike out and/or flatten your mainsail with lots of vang. If this is not enough "rag" the main (or reef) as much as is necessary to make the excess heel and weather helm go away.


SAIL TRIM: All sails perform best when trimmed to the edge of a luff. This means steering to the edge of a luff when close-hauled, and letting the sails out until they start to luff, off the wind. IF IN DOUBT, LET IT OUT!

A sail that is luffing loses power roughly in proportion to how much of its area is luffing. BUT, a sail that is in too tight STALLS entirely. The boat won't crash like a plane but the power loss is nearly total in short order! ESSENTIAL to judging good sail trim are 10 to 15 cm lengths of wool called various names - "tickers" on our boat. These indicate the quality of the air flow over your sails.

On SHADES, we have three sets on each side of the jib luff (1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 height), plus one each about 3/4 up the leech of the main and jib (see diagram)

The wool should be threaded through the sail with a needle. This way, you need only one 20-30 cm. length of wool for each jib luff pair of tickers which is fixed in position by means of an overhand knot close to each side of the sail.

The leech tickers are also threaded with a needle out the back of the leech after a Figure 8 stopper knot has been put into the end of the 15 cm. length of wool that will end up between the folded layers of cloth at the trailing edge of the leech.

N.B. Be careful to position tickers so that they  are in the least possible danger of catching on seams or curling around the front of the jib luff! !! How to read the luff tickers?    When a windward ticker starts to flicker upwards the sail is starting to luff. This sail trim is just about perfect. If the upper ticker lifts before the lower while you sail close-hauled, the top of your jib is twisted off too much and you can sheet in some more. The reverse also applies, i.e. ease sheet to avoid lower ticker lifting first.


How to read the leech tickers

ˇ         Upwind, sheet in until the ticker starts getting sucked behind its sail

ˇ         Off the wind (main only), tighten boom vang until ticker starts getting sucked in behind the leech.




Trim without tickers

ˇ         Main: sheet in and/or vang on until the top batten is parallel to the boom (best sighted from directly below boom!)

ˇ         Jib:  (upwind) sheet in until you start to backwind the main, except in a breeze when you deliberately luff the main to keep the' boat flat.



A REMINDER ABOUT THE Groove: A looser jib halyard = rounder jib luff entry = lower pointing if overdone. The flatter the luff entry, the narrower the groove!!! It is only possible to sail effectively in a narrow groove on wave-less water in a nice steady wind, and even then, you need a very fine touch on the helm since your sail needs to be angled almost perfectly to the wind all the time. Otherwise there will be a major power (= performance) loss. As soon as conditions are less than ideal (waves, puffs, disturbed air, relaxed helm) you must widen your groove by reducing jib halyard tension (which will make your jib luff entry rounder and more forgiving. This allows the jib to function quite well even when it is not flawlessly trimmed. If in doubt, reduce halyard tension! !!


Miscellaneous Manoeuvres


(a) EMERGENCIES such as rudder loss or shroud breakage. On SHADES, we do two things immediately:

1.         luff all sails completely

2.         raise the centreboard all the way


This causes the boat to naturally assume a stabilized angle sideways to the wind. If you lose your rudder on a run, heel the boat gently to leeward and the boat will luff up and slow down. Once forward momentum is lost, the boat will become quite stable, provided the board is full up and the sails are left to luff.

At this point, you can open a beer and consider how best to cope with your challenge.


(b) SAILING WITHOUT A RUDDER: Here is a skill that is fun to practise and that may really save you and your boat some day, especially if you are sailing in an area where no immediate rescue is to be expected. Remembering that you can kill forward momentum and relax even without a rudder by luffing your sails and raising your board, pick a light to medium air day and uncrowded surroundings in which to do your practising. Come to "emergency trim" as per [a] above. When forward momentum has been killed, remove your rudder and put the board down about half way. Slowly sheet in both main and jib while keeping the boat level.  (I do this by

standing in the boat while holding both sheets - for which I have both hands since none is now needed for the tiller!)

On a Wayfarer especially, the main turning effect comes from heel - if you want to go straight sail flat; if you want to luff up, heel slightly to leeward; if you want to bear away, heel very slightly to windward unless you're eager to gybe. Be ready to heel to leeward and raise the board full up, if you feel you're losing control, so that you can start fresh.

The sails too, can help to steer the boat. Using one sail more efficiently than the other, causes the boat to pivot about its underwater centre of resistance. Jib in, main luffing, therefore causes the boat to bear away (relatively slowly, compared to the effect of windward heel!) By luffing only the jib, you will make the boat luff up.

Remember that, especially when the boat is moving at a good clip, heel has an instant and severe steering effect, while the sails are the things to use as a fine tuning device.

N.B. If things start to get hairy: sails out, board up, slow down. Collect your thoughts and start over again!

P.S. You CAN steer with a paddle but the above is essential even then!


(c) HEAVING TO is a very useful procedure that allows you to relax even in fairly wild wind and waves so that you can have your hands free to have lunch, open the wine, light up, whatever.

How? - Heaving to is a step up from the "emergency position". It is easier on both your nerves and your sails (which should not flog while you are hove to.

1.         start in the "emergency position" (sails ragging, board full up, little or no forward momentum)

2.         sheet the jib in to windward. Then sheet the main about half way in. Push the tiller to leeward to be on the safe side. Vang on such that the leech will not flog.

3.         As the boat stabilizes in this position, you should be able to release the tiller which will stay to leeward due to the sideways motion of the boat. To play it safe, we also heel the boat a bit (to leeward) to reinforce the necessary tendency to luff up.

4.         Leeward drift can be reduced by using about half the centreboard but then the tiller normally needs to be tied to leeward. Especially in puffy conditions, I feel safer with the board full up.


(d) APPROACHING A PICK-UP POINT such as a dock, another boat with beer, etc. is best done at reduced speed and close-hauled (where speed is easily controlled, and you can put the brakes on effectively by pushing the boom out and backwinding the main).

P.S. In my experience, a boat-to-boat pick-up in a breeze is best done by having the boats luff up head-to-wind side by side almost simultaneously. This has numerous benefits, not the least of which is both boats slowing down!


(e) HEAVY WEATHER TRICKS that may come in handy are:

1. In addition to sitting well aft on a run, you can also reduce death roll potential by sailing with your board half down (except during a gybe).

2. In a blow, the S-gybe is essential. Bear away until the boom starts to come over. At that moment, briefly push the tiller as if you wanted to abort the gybe. This lets you come out of the gybe facing downwind instead of continuing to turn which causes heeling, a tendency to keep turning and often, a dump.

Once the boat has steadied away on its downwind course, get the board down

and slowly head up as required. Medium air practice would help here, too.

3. If you'd rather tack than do a wild gybe make sure you don't head up too fast but do trim your main to keep your boat moving through her tack.