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Old 09-24-2000
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Jon Shattuck is on a distinguished road
Good Light-Air Boats

Reviewers often hasten to criticize light-air performance but rarely praise it—just what makes a good light-air boat?

Jon Shattuck responds:

Having sailed on Lake Michigan for years (lots of light air), I have a great appreciation for a good light-air boat. While all boats sail well in medium air, the same is not the case in light air. (I have often heard boats that are slow in light-air referred to as being "sticky.")

I can think of four factors that make a good light-air boat:

1. Light to Moderate Displacement—The heavier a boat is for its size, the more it gets pushed down into the water, and the more wetted surface it has. The more wetted surface it has, the more drag it experiences.

2. Hull Shape—Again, a modern fin keel/spade rudder underbody is more hydrodynamic than an older style full-keel beastie.

3. Sail area/wetted-surface ratio—The more horsepower your sails generate versus the drag your boat creates, the better performance you will experience in light air.

4. Crew and skipper—Anyone can sail well in average air, but the more experienced boats walk away from the fleet in light air. My favorite boat in light air is a Frers 38 I crewed on out of Milwaukee 10 years ago. While everyone else was doing the slow spin, we'd just go and go and go! Don't forget your light-air spinnaker sheets!

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