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Tips on sailing in a breeze

Sailing in a breeze discussion in the aftermath of Richmond Midwinters #2

This discussion is excerpted from the Fleet 62 Yahoo Group in January 2014.

It starts with an observation by Bruce Prickett:

We got out to the course on time for the first race, but found the gusty winds to be more than we wanted to deal with. Some gusts we let the main all the way out, then had a wind shift of more than 90 degrees…. Regarding dealing with the gusts: I had my outhaul pulled all the way out, but still felt the sail was flogging a lot when I let it out in the gusts. These sails are at least 3 seasons old, I'm getting new sails this spring and will compare the new to the old to see how much stretch we've got on the old sails. I also think my boom was a little high, will make sure it is as low as allowed so I can crank on more downhaul.

Joe Doering responded with some advice, referencing an article he authored in 2002:

I wrote an article for the Windjammer back in 2002 about how to sail in Heavy Air, and, although I would probably say a few things differently today if I had a better memory, it still is worth reading and thinking through.  Here you go, if you care to partake:

Lido Tips: The Trick to Sailing Up wind in Heavy Air

I thought I'd start a column of advice on sailing Lidos that might allow our Lido sailors to exchange some of the technical information that some of our skippers have been asking for without having to do it at Fleet Meetings or separate gatherings. After last Sunday's puffy and blustery conditions, I'm thinking that a discussion of how to sail to weather in heavy air might be in order.

Here are some basic sail and boat trim considerations for sailing to weather in heavy air:

1.Tighten the jib halyard just firm to remove all wrinkles. Don't over-tighten, it causes a hook in the front of the sail shape and narrows the grove in which the air will flow over the sail effectively. The jib fairlead is all the way forward, as always. As the wind increases in strength, we progressively sheet in tighter until the jib foot nearly inverts and forms a straight line from tack to clew.

2.Tighten the Cunningham (downhaul) to just take all the wrinkles out of the main luff.

3.Dump the traveler in the stern anywhere up to about a foot or so off of the centered position. Here's some general guidelines to help you put this into perspective:

A. 0-7mph = centered.

B. 7mph to overpowered = 1 &1/4" off center.

C. Overpowered =dump the traveler progressively (to leeward) to hold the boat down, up 12-14” off the centerline.

The traveler controls the shape of the leech of the sail and progressively flattening it and moving it off center helps eliminate the twisting leverage of the leech to create weather helm and helps depower the sail and the boat in turn.

4.Flatten the draft in the lower part of the main with the outhaul in the same manner you did with the traveler. Again, you start with the full powered-up position (about 6-7 inches of draft, and then progressively flatten until you can hold the boat down and/ or the draft has become virtually flat along the boom.

5.Tighten the boom vang up just good and firm when the boom is fully sheeted in to go to weather and when you're in control and can hold the boat down in the lighter end of the wind speed range. In this way, when you sheet out in a puff to avoid blowing over, the leech won't rise and create more draft in the sail, which is exactly what you don't want, since it then causes more healing and further loss of control.

You can now understand why many sailors get out of control in windy conditions. If you sail with sails adjusted for full draft, you can't really hold the boat down effectively, and easing the sheets to avoid dumping causes greater problems as the puffs come through.

Pinching is not the answer, either, as it is very slow, and a freeing puff can knock you down before you can either pinch up further or uncleat. It is, however, a precursor to a capsize and then a swimming excursion outside the boat for those who can't master the trick of sailing to weather in heavy air.

The real trick, then, is to change the sail shape by flattening the sails as mentioned above, and then DRIVING THE BOAT AT FULL SPEED WITH THE JIB PULLING YOU TO WEATHER. The main has been reduced to a balancing sail to keep the helm neutral and to keep the bow pushed up into the wind. Don't pinch!! Keep the airflow as indicated by the jib telltales flowing freely and the sail powered up. The jib alone will take you to weather nicely in 15-20 mph of wind if you balance the boat with the correct mainsail shape and trim. Set together with the crew to minimize windage and to allow the boat to work freely up and down in the chop with the weight centered on the gunwale. Of course, as the wind has increased, you've gradually moved your weight towards the rear of the boat.

Next, and very importantly, sail the boat as FLAT AS POSSIBLE. It keeps the sail plan pulling more effectively and the centerboard/ rudder and hull work MUCH better too. You don't have to raise the centerboard if you can keep the boat flat by the above methods. You'll be surprised how easy it is to sail to weather in a blow once you know how to set the boat up.

Following, are some things that will make sailing in these conditions more difficult:

1.Blown out sails that you can't flatten effectively.

2.Controls that don't work effectively and adjust easily.

3.A soft boat that twists and flexes and wastes energy rather than driving forward at full speed.

4.Overly light total crew weight, which makes it impossible to hold the boat down. Super lightweight crews and single-handers are at a distinct disadvantage here. Finally the beef in the total crew weight is worth something!

Lastly, all of this really works and sounds pretty simple, but you'll have to practice it to get comfortable with it and be able to do it under pressure and with ease so you can think clearly in heavy air. . Like all of the rest of sailing, all of the technical understand-ing does no good if you haven't actually done it enough to do it easily when the real race is on. Get your crew and go out and enjoy a blow and stay out there until you get comfortable with it! Next time it really blows during a race, you'll be glad you did!

Also, if you've never capsized and need to get over the fear and get comfortable with your ability to survive and rescue the boat, you'd better practice it a few times to get yourself over that issue, as it inhibits feeling comfortable sailing your best in these conditions.

Steve Klotz added:

Bruce, as you described your sail trim, I doubt sail stretch is a factor in your boats performance.

Ease the main only as a last resort to prevent excessive heeling.

Set your traveler for the lulls and, if you need to, feather the boat in puffs, i.e., sail high on the telltales. Ease the mainsheet as a last resort, but only momentarily. You can often dump the main when the puff first hits and quickly trim  before the puff dies - an effective pump that keeps the forestay tight. Mainsail leech tension is what keeps the forestay/jib halyard tight with the loose Lido 14 rig. When you ease the main, you add sag to the forestay and draft to the jib - exactly what you don't want…. offshore winds tend to be puffy and shifty and make you think there's more wind than there really is. I used a little traveler and only a little vang tension to windward. Also, we trimmed the jib very hard. I don't think I saw winds higher than 12-15 mph. No trouble going downwind or jibing. But I did flatten the main with the outhaul. (Throw the tuning guides out over this. Flatten the main as much as you need to - that's the first thing I do when setting up for windy conditions.)


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