Join Date: Jun 2006
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I'm just amazed SD isn't here chastising everyone for reviving a five-years-dead thread.
For me (and for a lot of people), their boats exhibit a very definite point of heel that I and others call the "slot" or the "rail" or "laying her down".
This is usually the point where a full hoist of No. 1 and unreefed main is pulling superbly (about 16-18 knots apparent in boats under 40 feet) and the heel is about 20 degrees. For my skinny '70s boat, it's about 22-24 degrees (yeah, I've checked). For my full keel steel cutter, it's 25-28 degrees, probably due to the staysail/yankee interaction and the greater relative boom length on the main.
Experiment confirms this "sweet spot" and a close review of hull shape, ballast ratio and other fairly esoteric elements of your particular boat's design parameters will tell the skipper where this spot is, and what its limits are in real conditions (sail set, wave action, gusts at mast top all play a role).
Every boat is different and every boat has a sweet spot where it is happy, the ride is steady and the sails look like drawings of ideal sails. The environment is ever changing, however, and the window in which a certain amount of sail will pull effectively without excessive heel is quite small on some boats. This is why "reef early, reef often" for the non-racer is the mantra: you can always shake out a reef, but you can't always take one or three in if it gets squirrelly.
Even racing on sad little Lake Ontario, I've seen dismastings, experienced nasty, dangerous broaches, and been present when they've brought the dead guy ashore from a crash gybe gone horribly wrong due to (maybe) having excessive sail up with insufficient boat beneath it.
Find your boat's limits. Your personal limits can be worked on later.