I'm having a hard time sailing on a reach. It seems as if my boat (a 16-foot daysailer) wants to topple over. What are the best ways to control the boat while the wind is hitting me broadside?
Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your question. Without knowing exactly what you mean by "topple over," I'm guessing that one of three areas needs attention. Either you don't have your sails trimmed properly, or your crew weight is improperly placed for the angle you're sailing, or your ballast (centerboard in this case) isn't deployed properly.
With the wind on the beam, you'll need to make sure that your crew weight is placed mostly to weather on the boat (and not too far forward) so that you counteract the heeling moment of the boat and help to translate the wind's energy into boat speed. This is particularly true in stronger winds. You'll also want to make sure that you're using enough centerboard so that the boat isn't sideslipping or heeling too much. (I'm assuming that your 16-footer has a centerboard and not a fixed keel.)
Also, it's important that your sails not be overtrimmed. If the boat has a tendency to "topple over," it's likely that you need to depower the sail plan. To do that, make sure that the mainsheet is sufficiently eased. What about your jibsheet tension? If you indeed have a jib, make sure that it's not over-sheeted, but just loose enough to keep the sail from flogging.
Each of these adjustments should keep the boat moving along smoothly and help it avoid the tendency to "topple over." Remember, sailing properly on a broad reach is just like sailing upwind or on any other point of sail: it requires that you respond to the fluctuations in the wind and water. So you'll need to make adjustments relative to the behavior of those two mediums. Try experimenting with the three adjustments I mentioned and you'll begin to get a better handle on how to control your boat while broad reaching.
Also, depending upon what other adjustments you have available, you can do some other things to depower the sail plan. First, make certain that your halyard(s) is tight so that the sail isn't too full for the given wind conditions. Generally speaking you want the halyards to be slightly eased for lighter winds and very tight for heavy winds. If it's breezy, make sure that you also have maximum tension on the outhaul on the mainsail. If your boat has an adjustable backstay, the same concept applies there: in general you want it to be tighter for stronger winds. And if your boat is fitted with a cunningham for the mainsail, you want that tensioned in the stronger breezes. The final control that can assist you is a vang, but it's unlikely that your boat is fit with one. If it is, make sure you have a fair bit of tension on that before you ease the sheets. Then, if your boat is still toppling over, and the mainsheet is eased, ease the vang.
For more indepth information on these sail controls, have a look at one of several articles that we've published here at SailNet: Mainsail Controls for Performance by Dan Dickison, and Basic Mainsail Trim for Racers by Pete Colby.