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Can a couple of inches make a big differnce?
Two years ago I bought a Pearson 30. I was new to sailing and learned a great deal the first year. During that first year the boat had a significant amount of weather helm. Most of the time it was not much of a problem, but when the breeze kicked up or during a gust the boat was hard to control. I first thought it was my inexperience - I read about different ways to fix weather helm but nothing worked. Since I had no experience on other boats I figured it was the normal feel of a sailboat that size and I would have to live with it.
Between seasons I removed the mast step to fix a leak that was running down the compression post. The compression post had been replaced by a previous owner because of this very reason. I noticed that only the last 2 inches (aft) of the mast step were over the compression post and that the forward part of the mast step was crushing the cabin top.
I measured the distance from the stem fitting to the mast step and it was 4 inches off. I glassed over the hole in the cabin top for the wiring and rerouted the wires outside of the mast and installed the mast step directly over the compression post.
Last season the excessive weather helm was gone! I notice this immediately the first day I sailed. Now I have a slight weather helm, she accelerates faster and I have a greater top speed in less wind. During a gust I have control.
Is it possible the moving the mast step 4 inches can have this great effect on sail balance?