Join Date: May 2002
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As you pointed out, it’s hard to answer questions like this, because there’s so much information that we don’t have. I agree that anything that detracts from boatspeed and pointing ability contributes to jrwright’s problem, including trimming the sails either too full or too flat.
While a boat is turning from one tack to the other, the sails are luffing and the boat is coasting. Therefore, when you start to tack, the boat has to have enough speed and momentum to carry it across the wind. If the boat loses its forward momentum before the bow crosses the wind, the boat will fall back onto its original course.
The most likely reasons why a boat won’t point or tack in strong winds are because the sails aren’t well-trimmed, and because of poor helmsmanship. If the sails aren’t well-trimmed, the boat won’t have enough speed to carry it through the tack. If poor sail trim prevents the boat from pointing as high as possible, the boat will have to coast through a wider arc in order to complete the tack, and that means the boat will have to coast a greater distance, with luffing sails, in order to cross the wind. In high winds, the waves smack against the bow and kill the boat’s momentum more quickly. The windage of the boat’s hull and fluttering sails also contributes to the boat’s loss of momentum. Therefore, to tack the boat successfully in those challenging conditions, you have to point as high as possible without pinching, keep the sails driving as long as possible, keep the speed up, and put the helm over smoothly and smartly, so that you force the bow to cross the wind before the boat loses all momentum. In moderate winds, you can get away with imprecise sail trim and helmsmanship, but in strong winds, you have to sail the boat much more efficiently, and there is much less margin for error.
If we could be on jrwright’s boat in these conditions, we could probably figure out the problem pretty quickly, but absent that, we have to guess. Although there are other possible causes, I’d bet the main reason why he is having trouble pointing and tacking in those conditions is because his jib is too full. His sail selection (100% jib and reefed mainsail) sounds OK to me, but if the jib is too full, that would seem to be the most likely cause of his problems (grossly excessive weather helm and won’t sail to windward and won’t tack across the wind). If the mainsail isn’t trimmed correctly, that could contribute to the excessive weather helm, but it wouldn’t cause the bow to bear off the wind. That’s why I am suspicious of jib fullness.