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post #1 of 28 Old 11-10-2017 Thread Starter
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Light air sailing

I recently read an article in the Australian "Cruising Helmsman" magazine about a very experienced cruising skipper who had a mainsail made from 1.5 oz spinnaker cloth, which he used in light airs.
Combined with a Code Zero, this kept his relatively heavy cruising boat sailing in the merest zephyr.
When the wind picked up again for it to be sailable again with his normal main, he simple dropped it and slowed it against the boom, where it takes up almost no space and stows to a tiny bundle. It is loose footed and loose luffed and just seemed such a brilliantly simple concept.
He reported that it absolutely slashed his diesel consumption. Grateful to hear of any other similar experiences, or ideas.


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post #2 of 28 Old 11-12-2017
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Re: Light air sailing

When I sailed my tri in the Med it wasn't a rare day when I would be sailing, albeit slowly, when all the other boats were powering. But that boat weighed only 5 tons even though she was 37' X 22'. I don't think the weight of my main sail would make much difference on my present 77,000# boat.
If it were me, I'd put the money into headsails instead. Sailmakers used to produce 'drifters', headsails specifically designed for very light air sailing.

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post #3 of 28 Old 11-12-2017
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Re: Light air sailing

That's an interesting idea. I'd like to hear more about it.

Tom Young sailing a 1961 38' Alden Challenger, CHRISTMAS out of
Rockport, Maine.
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post #4 of 28 Old 11-12-2017
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Re: Light air sailing

Just makes sense to me.
He probably uses in conjunction with an A sail.
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post #5 of 28 Old 11-12-2017 Thread Starter
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Re: Light air sailing

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Just makes sense to me.

He probably uses in conjunction with an A sail.

A Code Zero actually, as per the original post, but his point was that without a main slatting back and forth loudly and spilling its air every time the boat rolled, it allowed the two sails (ie light airs main and code zero) to work far more effectively.


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Re: Light air sailing

I think it depends on a combination of tolerances for moving/not moving in light air, willingness to make sail changes..and $s.

I've read many reports of people waiting for 'some' wind...for days.

There's also the drive and interest in finding new and different ways. I like that.

Run engine, fine.
Play with sails, fine.
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post #7 of 28 Old 11-12-2017
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Re: Light air sailing

Generally, a race committee will start a race if the windspeed is at or above about 3 kts. At or above that windspeed, with good light air sailing techniques, you can fill the sails and sail a boat with an ordinary dacron jib and mainsail. On a boat up to about 35' LOA, it helps if you have two or three crew to use as movable ballast. So, a light weight mainsail might only be helpful in a wind range between about 2 1/2 to 3 kts. Below 2 1/2 kts there just isn't enough energy in the air movement to lift sailcloth and drive a several thousand pound boat. Above that range, an ordinary dacron mainsail will work. I think that range is too narrow to be of much use for most boats, with the possible exception of long distance cruisers.

I agree with Capta that a drifter would probably have a broader useful windspeed range. It would probably lift in a little less windspeed, and would probably generate more power and consequently more boat speed due to its more powerful shape for light air.
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post #8 of 28 Old 11-13-2017 Thread Starter
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Light air sailing

I've never known a race committee to start a race in 3 knots of wind. 4 or 5 maybe, but not 3. But for heavy cruising boats that's all pretty incidental - most are more optimised for lots of wind than not much and barely move in anything less that 6-8 knots. Lots need 10 knots.
Indeed, most cruiser skippers I've sailed with hit the starter button on the motor when the boatspeed drops below about 4 knots so they never really develop much skill at very light weather sailing, which can drive you nuts if you've ever done much racing.
I like the idea of a very easy to use (easy hoist and easy stow) light weather main to go with your light weather headsail.


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post #9 of 28 Old 11-13-2017
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Re: Light air sailing

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Originally Posted by PaulBKal View Post
I've never known a race committee to start a race in 3 knots of wind. 4 or 5 maybe, but not 3. But for heavy cruising boats that's all pretty incidental - most are more optimised for lots of wind than not much and barely move in anything less that 6-8 knots. Lots need 10 knots.
Indeed, most cruiser skippers I've sailed with hit the starter button on the motor when the boatspeed drops below about 4 knots so they never really develop much skill at very light weather sailing, which can drive you nuts if you've ever done much racing.
I like the idea of a very easy to use (easy hoist and easy stow) light weather main to go with your light weather headsail.


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I sail a lot in light air. You're right about the 4 knot threshold: That eliminates light air sailing for most. If the clock in your head measures miles covered, light air sailing isn't for you.

You don't see many boats sailing at lower boat speeds, except racers (who are concerned with going faster, not miles). For a light air sailor, 2 knots of boat speed can be very satisfying. 3 knots can be exhilarating!

Light air is usually accompanied by flat water. 2 to 3 knots of boat speed on flat water in light air is fantastic for a light air sailor. It's my favorite way to sail. I have the time and don't usually care as much about my miles covered.

More effective would be getting rid of weight but it's not easy to 'lighten up' a long distance cruising boat. As well as weight, racers pay attention to the boats bottom which is also tougher on a distance cruiser.

In order to get a heavy boat going in or just under 5 knots of wind, the light weight main might work by allowing a more effective shape; if you have a cruiser that enjoys light air sailing, and lower boat speeds.

I suspect this guy is rare.

Tom Young sailing a 1961 38' Alden Challenger, CHRISTMAS out of
Rockport, Maine.
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Last edited by TomMaine; 11-13-2017 at 06:03 AM.
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post #10 of 28 Old 11-13-2017
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Re: Light air sailing

Exactly how fast do you think you can go in a 3 knot breeze with any kind of sail? When wind is that low your speed in the water has more to do with drag than lift you'll probably get better results sanding a little longer in the spring than spending 3 grand in the fall at the boat show. I already carry 4 head sails no storm or code 0 I have no idea where I could put another spinnaker sized sail for a sail that what will let me go 1.5 /3 knots? Not to mention trying to get a sailmaker to make you something like that.
Generally in any kind of wind I can get my boat to move and in the 1 to 5 knot range I can get it to match wind speed at certain angles of sail. When I'm on passage I don't mind those days only doing a knot or two being a solo sailor its a good time to catch up on sleep. At that speed you can pretty much can hit anything without hurting the boat.
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