Skipper’s Tip – Light Air Sail Trim

When I go sailing the San Francisco Bay in the light winter winds, I get so excited because I get to make adjustment to the sails and improve the boat’s speed. I have always liked to tinker with the sails and see if the boat speed can be better. I like the flat water with 5 to 15 kts of breeze.  It can be fun to max out the boat speed while sailing by others who seem to be standing still. I get to use my light air tricks and skills that I learned when I used to sail on the lakes up north. This is a great time for you to try some different sail trim techniques.

Here is what I do in light air.   Let’s talk about sails and how they are cut. They are cut to be on boats healed over to about 15 to 25 degrees depending on the boat when you are going to weather. First, sit and move your body weight to the leeward side so the sails can hang from the mast at about a heel of 15 degrees. Second, I ease the sheets of the jib out and move the jib fairlead or jib blocks forward a couple of notches until I have a full draft at the bottom of the jib sail. Next, I fall off a few degrees from close haul to create more boat speed and  increase apparent wind speed. Most sailors over-tighten the jib. Slow and easy is the light air sailor. When in doubt, let out slowly and then trim in, “when in doubt let out”, the old saying goes. Do this with a mind set of “an inch at a time.”

Now the main sail.   Raise the main halyard with the idea of having it loose to maybe a wrinkle or two in the luff. You can tighten it as the wind increases. Secondly, I would loosen the out haul an inch or two to give it a fuller draft. I personally like to move the traveler to windward a little bit and leave the main sheet a little longer. When the wind increases I move down and tighten the main sheet. I do not use the boom vang in light air until I get up to hull speed of the boat I am sailing.  This usually takes 8 to 14 kts of wind speed. Remember, we are going for increasing apparent wind speed so we can come to a true close haul. As I increase speed I start to put back all my adjustments to meet the new wind conditions and heel of the boat.

One more secret is that I feel the speed of the boat thru the hull and over the years I have trusted that feeling of when she was fast. When you feel it, you will know that you have maxed her speed out for the conditions you are sailing.

Go out and try some of these tricks and your skills will improve. Enjoy the sail and have a great time. It beats mowing the lawn any day.

Butch Florey

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1 Response to Skipper’s Tip – Light Air Sail Trim

  1. Erik Engstrom says:

    Great advice Butch, thank you! I’ve had a couple of outings now in light breeze and still seas and I’m able to get the boat to double her speed over initial trim. I’ve been practicing by making adjustments then going up and feeling the flow under the jib and main. Keep the good advice coming, please!

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