Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sail Trim Rant

My blog, my opinions. Some I can support, but I don't need to. I love a good rant.

When I started my career 30 years ago, my supervisor was a hard working man with only a few business classes. He did very well for himself, using hustle and dependable common sense to drive our business to more dependable success than our generally better educated and better financed competitors. After assigning a particularly thankless job to a laborer or contractor, or after watching some failure of common sense, he often proclaimed that he was "glad he paid attention in school." In fact he was very well educated by the school of careful observation. The primary reason I can pass practically every sailboat I meet--there aren't too many racers in the area, but there are certainly many much larger cruising boats--is because I pay attention. To me, that art and science of converting wind into motion is much or what makes sailing worthwhile.

My rules of boat speed.

Sail Trim
  1.  Don't over sheet reaching. The most common fault on a reach, is for everything, more or less, to be sheeted in. Embarrassing proof to everyone that you don't know how to sail.
  2. Don't over sheet to the weather. While a racing monohull with good foils and flat sails--the kind of guy that writes manuals on sail trim--will carry the traveler above the center line and boom on the center line, that doesn't mean the is correct for a cruising boat. You're going to have to experiment, pacing other boats, but cracked-off just a hair is generally faster for boats with more drag and lesser foils. The more you can sheet out, the more drive is forward.
  3. Twist. There is never a reason that main should not twist to match the wind; less hard on the wind, more off the wind. By proper application of traveler and vane, lead and barber hauler, working sails can always be twisted to match. Wind speed, and thus direction, on deck and aloft are different.
  4. Barberhaulers and outside tracks. Add the hardware that is needed, for other wise 1/2 of your sail area is wasted through improper trim. Look at other boats and don't be afraid to drill holes.
  5. Flogging sails. The wind came up a little, so they luff the sails to reduce power. Oh dear. Reef!
  6. One-sail in a blow. This isn't seamanship, this is laziness, and it results in shortened sail life. Often the sail is pressed far beyond its recommended wind range, because the force is not spread across 2 reduced sails. Instead of stowing one sail, reduced both; the result is faster and better balanced. Jib-only can also endanger the rig in some boats (mast support improper), and forestay tension (luff sag) generally suffers (on many boats mainsheet tension is a major contributor to forestay tension).
  7. Do NOT keep the topping lift so tight the sail never takes the load. Leach stretch is NOT reduced by keeping the topping lift on; this is pure urban legend. It can, however, be made worse, since when reaching the load is not carried across a taught sail but just on the leach and battens. Other sailors see the tight lift and snicker. (Very light winds can be an exception, when the lift can support the boom and allow twist, but most cruisers are motoring then).

Clean Bottom
  1. Best paint. Given what you pay for the boat, slippage, and hauling, bargain shopping for paint is pound foolish. For multi-season soft paint, I've tried many and like Micron 66 best; you do need ~ 7500 ppm salinity for it to stay on, making Deale about the northern limit in the BAY. I have no experience with hard paints or single-season paints. If it says West Marine on the label, you've made a mistake.
  2. Don't buy a low VOC paint because you think you have too. If it doesn't last longer and save fuel, it is not environmentally better, not over a full life cycle.
  3. Swim. You are going to have to clean the bottom, at least occasionally. If you aren't comfortable in the water I can't imagine why you took up sailing. I'm sure there are good reasons, I just can't imagine them. If the water is cold, get a wet suit for emergencies (rope around prop, hull damage, MOB, anchor stuck, some groundings). Take it easy on soft paints; frequent sailing is better than cleanings.
  4. Use it up (soft paints). Toward the end of the paint's useful life, give it a scrub or 2. This will minimize the need for sanding and improve bonding. Try to scrub in an area with a good tidal flush and few sensitive receptors; the harbor is not the best place, a river-mouth sand bar is probably better, depending on local geography, of course. If it seems like hard work, think of it as good exercise.
 Loose the Weight

  1. Go through the cabinets every spring. Never know what you will find, perhaps something that's gone missing.
  2. Spares. Are you really going to fix that item while on cruise, or would you wait until you are home? Then take it home. To much junk at home already? Pitch some. Stop buying stuff.
  3. Calculate the cost of carrying junk. It will embarrass you.
  4. Think of weight with every new project. Can it be lighter? Is it worth the weight, windage and complication?
 Good Sails. Obviously important going to the weather (doesn't really matter off the wind), but if you can't afford or justify new canvass...
  1. Downhaul hard. This will help move the draft forward by stretching the luff.
  2. Flatten with outhaul. I've met sailors that didn't know it was adjustable. Just pitiful.
  3. Flatten the genoa with an outboard lead (barber hauler or traveler). This will reduce twist a bit, but the reduction in draft is generally worth it up-wind.
  4. Recut. Sometimes tightening just one or two seams will work wonders. Read up on sail making and/or ask a sailmaker. Stiffer battens can help and increasing batten tension supports the luff. Sailmaking is not a black art, and every sailor should understand how design relates to sailing.
  5. Reef earlier. Stretched sails have more draft and thus more power. Reefing also can help flatten sails, but that is variable.
  6. Take your lunch to the office in a bag. Soon you will save enough for new sails.

  1. Pace other boats. There is no substitute for measuring your speed against another boat on the same course; variables of sea state and wind even out.  Is your speed less or about the same? Good. Now start pulling strings--more twist or less, tighter and looser--until you start going faster. It's not a race, just the best way of seeing what is better and what is not. I'd been sailing fast cats for years and I had to adjust my sail trim quite a bit for the PDQ.
  2. Build a speed polar. Perhaps this is overkill for most, but how do you know what is good for the conditions? Write it down, when you think you've got the trim just right. Compare with next time.
  3. Watch course over ground (GPS) more than compass; you may be going more sideways than you think. For areas with strong tides, this is much more complicated. Hope you remember trig and physics.
Engine. No I will NOT suggest power is the best way to windward. A car is much faster.
  1. Use the fuel. You might as well use at least one tank each year. Whether gas or diesel, whether you use a stabilizer or not, it needs changed, just like the oil. Since most engines die from dis-use rather than use, the hours to burn one tank annually is actually a contribution to good maintenance.
  2. When the wind is just a little too noserly to sail with many tacks and you really have somewhere to be, motor straight to windward, then sail when the angle is better or the wind has come up (afternoons are often better). You might just get a little more sailing in that way. Boy will it seem quiet.
  3. Read a book. Makes motoring more fun.
Fear of Spinnakers
  1. If you don't fly the chute, when the conditions are reasonable, you just aren't a sailor. Sorry, it's part of the art. Kind of like skiers that stay on the greens. Why bother.
  2. If the sail is hard to fly, perhaps the rigging is wrong. Spinnakers vary in design and fullness, so what is best for one may be quite wrong for another. Try many wind angles and rigs until you find what she likes.
  3. Learn both inside and outside jibes. Read up.
  4. Don't sail with one sheet (lower to jibe). That's lame.
Boats with better trim go faster with less heel, are lighter on the tiller, track straighter, and handle better and more safely when things kick up. Learning to sail a boat to the limits of its capabilities is key when lee shores and capsize threaten. A faster sailor can be a safer sailor.


I don't always care about speed. Some days I'll just drift around, not much caring. That's good too.

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