Sailing is like flying. You are free to soar with the wind and the waves. It’s great fun to ride in a sailboat but the real thrill comes from taking the helm.
With tiller in hand you are one with the wind and the water…almost!
The tiller keeps you on course but there is much, much more to sailing than steering the boat.
If the only thing you knew how to do in a car was steer then, may the Force be with you my friend!!!
The same is true in a sailboat. The rudder determines the intended direction but without knowledge of how to set and trim the sails you cannot sail successfully. So, in the chapter, we will talk about points of sail, sail trim, how to get underway, and how to return to motoring.
Points of Sailing
The Points of Sail diagram shows the general sail position for a given course and wind direction. Each Point has a specific name. The name gives you the idea of the position of the sails in relation to the hull of the boat and the direction of the wind.
Trimming the Sails
Keep in mind that you will rarely find yourself in exactly one of these positions. And this is where the finesse of trimming the sails comes into play.
As you find yourself between the points of sail it becomes necessary to make minor adjustments to the main and jib sheets. Whether it is your course or the wind direction that is not on an “exact” point of sail, you will need to adjust the sheets for optimal speed.
This process of “trimming” is a learned, touchy-feely experience. There are visual clues, like watching for luffing of the sails and there are felt clues like the heeling of the boat. But in this area there is no replacement for getting out in your sailboat and playing with the sail trim.
There are further refinements to trimming the sails that involve:
1. Out Haul – Outward tension on the foot of the sail.
2. Down Haul – Downward tension on the boom. Keeps the boom from moving upward.
3. Boom Vang – Angular tension on the boom. Keeps the boom from pivoting upward.
4. Cunningham – Downward tension on the luff of the main sail.
In the second illustration, below, I have removed the boom vang and one of the shrouds so you could see the cuddingham. It is attached via a special hook to the cunningham cringle on the main sail. The blocks allow the application of great downward force. This forces the luff to straighten.
Then there are further refinements that experienced racers use:
1. Changing the tension of the backstay
2. Changing the tension of the shrouds
Getting Underway can be a bit harder than it might seem. It’s easier if you have a motor but even that can be tricky if the wind is shifting rapidly or you are single handing the boat.
The idea is to motor out to a safe location then turn into the wind placing the boat in the “Head to Wind” positions also known as “In Irons”. This position will not put any pressure on the sails so that they can be hauled up with very little effort.
Once the sails are in position and locked down you can turn the boat to either a starboard or port tack and then kill the motor.
Returning to Motoring
Returning to motoring is similar to getting underway. You simply start your motor while sailing and then steer into the wind. Once the sails are head to wind, quickly douse the sails and then motor to your new course. This is where a jib down haul and main lazy jacks really help out. With the Jib down haul you can douse the jib from the cockpit. The lazy jacks guide the sail down and hold them out of the way while you motor to home port.
Go to Project Gallery to see how you can build items for your boat.