Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Alameda, San Francisco Bay
Thanked 60 Times in 59 Posts
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I congratulate and commend you for going out and racing last weekend! You have turned a corner. Not only did you go out in snotty conditions that previously would have kept you tied up at the dock, but you are now looking for techniques to improve your skill set rather than writing off the whole experience as an exercise in survival. Bravo for you!
There has been a fair amount of good advice on this thread and certainly there have been numerous books written on the subject of sail trim. What follows are some thoughts and ideas that works for me and my Catalina 34. I sail in S.F. Bay where winds 20-30kts are the norm during much of our sailing season. Others may disagree, but these techniques helped me win my national championship in 2002. Most notably when we adjusted better than the others for higher winds building up during the crucial third race.
Both sails will offer you a better balanced sail plan. Furling one or the other is going to change your center of effort away from CG. You can certainly sail that way, but the boat can behave better if you make it balanced. Think of both of your sails combined as one gigantic wing – trim the whole wing, just don’t chop one part off. Old sails are baggy and will bag even more so in strong winds. I’d replace them if the opportunity presents itself. Arimids and Pentex are stronger and less stretchy with the added benefit of being much lighter (“a pound aloft is worth ten pounds on deck”). Dacron halyards and sheets also stretch. For example, we run T-900 and Spectra instead of Dacron. Don’t worry about not having anemometer, there are plenty of ways that your boat will tell you how strong the wind is and what you should do. Remember that in strong winds, there is more air blowing by your boat than your sails can convert to forward speed so your goal in trimming is to make them as flat as possible, allowing them to shed the portion of wind that is making you heel over on your ear while converting the rest into the best possible boat speed for the conditions.
Sail selection: Some people say that they can carry a 155 in 25kts of true wind. I’m not one of them. I have multiple sails all designed to be optimized at a certain wind speeds. These are your tools. You need to go out and find out which combination works best for you. Generally speaking, a large jib goes best with a large main. Small jibs will work better with a reefed main than a big one. Experiment, try different things. Our rules on sail selection are flexible, but we do have rules.
Working from the bow aft: You want lots of halyard tension (remember that it will creep over the course of the race). Over tension is when you see a vertical wrinkle along the luff. Once this is set, you can fine tune the tension using your draft stripe(s). Normally you want power, but today you want to bleed it off. Move the fair leads aft. This twists off the head and bleeds air. Normally you want the jib sheeted in closest to the boat’s centerline. But if you absolutely need to open up the slot between the jib and main (best for reaches, not so good for beating). Move the jib sheet to the outside track. We will clip in the spinnaker guy to the jib and trim that as the sheet rather than physically moving the jib sheet around. Think of both sails as one gigantic wing. Trim for the aft portion of the main. Don’t stress if you see a “bubble” develop in the luff region that is just excess air in the slot compressing on the main. The “lifting” air off the outside of the jib is “connecting” with the air on the back of the main which is giving you the lift. On our mast head boats, the backstay tensioner really doesn’t bend the mast back. It is really there for taking the “sag” out of the headstay. In strong winds the helmsman will notice that the headstay will bow out or “sag” to leeward in relation to the straight mast. Use the tensioner to move it back. Fix your tensioner if it currently doesn’t do its job.
Like the jib, for the main, you want lots of tension on both the halyard and outhaul. Same wrinkle and draft stripe rules apply. Note that the main halyard is more effective in keeping the top part of the sail tensioned and flat (lots of friction on those sail slugs!) The Cunningham is used to put tension on the lower luff and because it is offset, it will also flatten the bottom better. A flattener (a cringle like the Cunningham on the leech) will flatten the lower aft portion of the sail. These controls go away once the first reef is set. After reefing, you still want maximum tension on the luff and you want the new toe and clew to be on the boom. A clew lifting off of the boom puts belly in the main so I use a piece of spectra webbing (with Velcro) to help hold the clew on the boom. I use “maximum” mainsheet tension and adjust the angle of attack with my traveler. Use maximum vang tension too, so if you “blow” the mainsheet, the boom will stay low and the sail flat. Moving the traveler to leeward will twist off the top of the main and will relieve the heel. My other indicator is I don’t want any more than 5-10 degrees of weather helm. Speaking of which, if you have done all these adjustments, there shouldn’t bee much weather helm to speak of.
Driving: When in a beat, feather! That is steer up in puffs and down in lulls. A gust will move the apparent wind aft so take advantage of it! If the rudder is loaded up with weather helm, the driver doesn’t have the opportunity to “drive up” in puffs. So racing in heavy wind is at cross purposes. You want to power up the sails so you can accelerate and go fast, but heeling over on your ear is way slow. Find some rail crew! It is amazing what even one or two people will do on the rail. Once we’re set on a course, I have all but one person go to the rail. That remaining person does all my fine tune trim adjustments. Even I, as helmsman, will sit and drive from the high side (40 inch destroyer wheel has its advantages!) One of the “rail crew” has the responsibility of blowing the traveler if we get knocked with a really big gust. In fact, Freya is set up for cross sheeting so when we’re double handing, everybody can sit on the high side!
All of a sudden, this is starting to look too complicated like a golf swing (and I probably forgot a half dozen things too!) Don’t worry about not getting everything all at once. Keep working at it and before too long you’ll bee looking forward to windier races as you will be the one with all the tricks up your sleeve.