Sailing Faster

Table of Contents

At the Inland Championships at Bewl Valley last year, someone was heard saying to his crew – Why are those blokes at the front going so much faster than we are? Well lots of things can be done to improve your performance.

Rig Tuning

See full article The boat will go better if set up as the designer intended!
Length from mast to shroud, 17. Distance from back of mast to a straight line between the spreader tips, 8.
Mast heel:
Pre-Hartley boats. Distance from back of mast heel to forward surface of the aft locker 7 2. For Hartley boats, back of mast heel should be immediately forward of the bolt in the mast step.
Mast rake.
With medium rig tension, e.g. 275 lbs. Pre-Hartley boats, from masthead to rear edge of traveller track 22 2. Hartley boats to centre of transom, 22′ 5. Repeat the exercise for light and heavy conditions, e.g. 200 lbs rig tension (light) and 350 lbs (heavy). Mast rake in each case, 22 2. Note of highfield and shroud adjuster settings for each wind strength.
Tension main halyard and hold it to the mast at gooseneck height. Distance at spreaders from back of mast to halyard should be approx. 1 .

Now check out your tuning!

Go afloat and sail upwind. The boom should be as close as possible to the centreline of the boat, kicker set so that the upper leech telltale curls under 20% of the time. The jib should be sheeted in fully and then eased an inch. If you have got the set-up right, there should be virtually no back-winding of the main by the jib. Also, on luffing, all the inner jib telltales should lift simultaneously. If you have significant back-winding of the main by the jib, and if the telltales do not lift simultaneously (especially if the top one lifts first), check the angle of the jibsheet. With rig tension on, take a suitable pole – a spinnaker pole will do. Sheet the jib fully in and cleat it. Stand away from the boat and, holding the pole in front of you line it up with the jib sheet. The point at which the pole appears to intersect the luff (front edge) of the jib should be a about a foot below the mid-point of the luff. Higher, and the leech (back edge of the sail) will be too tight, choking the slot. Lower, and the leech will be too slack, losing power. If the jib leech is too tight, consider moving and/or raising the jib fairlead. The rules require that the fairlead is fixed and wholly within the limits of the thwart. But within that limitation it can be fixed where you wish. With a jib furler in place, experience indicates that if the fairlead is set a couple of inches aft of the centre of the thwart, and put on a riser, the correct sheet angle can be achieved. The height of the riser is limited by the rules, and the uppermost point of contact of the sheet with the fairlead must not be more than 60 mm from the surface of the thwart (40 mm in Hartley boats). Another possibility is simply to remove the furler when racing. This will open the jib leech. Add a strop or rigging link to the head (top) of the sail, leaving the upper swivel in place. When you have fiddled around, check it out again! There should be virtually no back-winding, and all jib telltales should lift simultaneously.

Recording and Calibrating

Keep a record of all your settings. Also take a permanent marker and crawl over your boat.
  1. Mark the luff of the jib at half-height.
  2. On the deck by the mast, mark the highfield lever and shroud adjuster settings, mast rake and rig tension, for light, medium and heavy weather.
  3. Sheet in the jib hard, ease 2, and mark the jib sheets, port and starboard.
  4. Mark the kicking strap and boom outhaul so that settings can be repeated.

Going Fast to Windward

Drive and point.

Coming off the line, and after each tack, before trying to point, head off 5 degrees and with sheets eased slightly, drive the boat hard to get up to speed. Then sheet in and head up.

Keep her flat!

Sail the boat bolt upright. There are about 10 reasons why a boat with her mast pointing vertically at the sky goes quicker than one with even a slight heel. Almost certainly when you think you are upright, you are not! If you feel as if you are heeling to windward, the helm feels dead, and the boat seems to be coming over on top of you, the mast may just be vertical. Heeling is slow!

Avoid drag

Both helm and crew sit well forward, right against the shrouds. This raises the stern and reduces drag on the transom. Dont move aft (and then only 6) until, with both sitting out hard, you are having to spill the main occasionally. Use as little helm as possible. Steer primarily by moving body weight in and out rather than with the rudder. Each time the rudder is off the centerline it produces drag. You should be able to let go of the tiller (well, momentarily at least) without the boat altering direction. Using the rudder is slow!

Trimming the main

Sheet in the mainsail, so that the boom is as close as possible to the centre line of the boat. Now adjust the kicker so that the top telltale is just curling under about 20% of the time. The top batten should be parallel to the centerline. This gives maximum pointing and power from the main, and a good slot between main and jib. Dont use the Cunningham (downhaul) unless over-powered. Outhaul full on.

Roll tacking

Nothing extreme is needed, but you should aim to come out of a tack no slower than you went in. A rule of thumb is: Helm, dont cross the boat before the boom goes across. Crew, dont cross the boat before the helm. Then both sheet in together and hike out to bring her upright.

Gust response

Try to spot the gusts, and whether they are lifters or headers. With practice a good crew can be saying. Gust coming in, header, 5..4..3..2..1..Now!. Sit out hard before the gust hits. Wind is your fuel!

Going Fast Offwind

On a reach

As you approach the windward mark adjust centreboard, ease kicker and outhaul. Heel to windward as you bear away, and go for speed immediately. In planing conditions, try to promote planing by bearing away slightly, sitting out hard and pumping the sheets in unison. You are allowed three hard pumps. When planing, sit back as far as possible in the boat without creating drag. Work the boat, and continually play sheets in response to shifts and gusts. Keep her bolt upright! Bear away and sit out as a gust strikes and ride it as far as possible. Luff up in the lulls to gain height and get nearer to the next gust. In waves try to head the boat down the front of a wave to promote surfing, then sheet in and move back. Crew constantly trims the spinnaker, keeping the luff (windward edge) just on the curl. Adjust pole height so that both clews (bottom corners) are parallel. The run Sail about 5 degrees up from dead downwind. Except in planing conditions, sit well forward, helm and crew opposite each other, balancing the boat. Do not crouch in the middle! Spread the spinnaker wide, the pole lined up with the boom. Pole height and trimming as for the reach.


Communicate continually between helm and crew. List and prioritise goals for improvement in each area of sailing, e.g. starting, tacking, gybing, sailing upwind, reaching, the run, spinnaker work, capsize recovery etc. etc.. PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND MORE PRACTICE. Pick a specific goal and work on that. Read some good sailing books. Winning in one-designs by Dave Perry is excellent. A lot of it is feel. Also sailing is a physical activity use your body. Dont just sit in the boat, sail her!

Strategy and Tactics?

Thats another story – but good boatspeed makes an excellent tactician!

To Gybe or not to Gybe? – That is the question

Nervous? Sweaty palms? A sudden desire for a hot shower rather than an early bath? You are suffering from gybeophobia. However! Help is at hand! Heres how to actually look forward to gybing instead of shying away from it.
  • Warn the crew Stand by to gybe.
  • Make sure the centreboard is partly raised (say to 45 degrees).
  • Approach the mark or point of gybe wide. Allow plenty of time. Dont rush it.
  • Release some kicker to put more curve into the back edge (leech) of the mainsail. This will prevent the boom barging across too violently. At the same time sheet in the main a little to bring it off the shroud. Otherwise in heavy air the boom could break a shroud after gybing. N.B. it is also good to have a thumb knot in the mainsheet to stop the boom before it reaches the shroud.
  • Bear away steadily and firmly until the boat is on a broad reach. As you do this, the crew should release the old jib sheet and cleat the new jib sheet so that the bottom back corner of the sail (clew) is pulled to the mast.
  • Hold your tiller extension near its base and without moving the tiller, flick the tiller extension over so that it is pointing away from you as you sit on the windward side of the boat.
  • Keeping the boat FLAT stand up facing aft with feet planted wide.
  • Change hands with tiller extension and sheet before gybing.
  • Say Gybing, or Gybe ho and push the tiller away smoothly and firmly, but not all the way.
  • The crew can grab the kicker and when the boom is on the point of gybe to help it across, but dont force it. As he or she feels the boom go the crew can say going or some other warning.
  • As the boom crosses duck!
  • As soon as the boom is past you, helm and crew go for the windward rail to balance the boat.
  • Sit out and immediately reverse the tiller to steer the boat back downwind under the rig. This will steady the boat and prevent a tendency to broach. When in control head up to your new course. Effectively you will have carved a W in the water.
  • Sheet main and jib to the correct point, and re-set the kicker. Then blast off for the next mark!
From the Ancient Mariner, June 2002

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