Whether you’re racing or cruising, speed is key to either performing at the top of the fleet or getting to our next port of call quickly. The sail setups are the same across both type of sailing. Here are some key concepts to improve performance!
Quite often we tend to overlook the very basic skills, instead gravitating more towards the highly technical concepts. We need to make sure the basic concepts are clear and perfected first, before we can progress forward to more fine-tuned adjustments. It’s no different than building a house: the foundation needs to be strong for the whole thing to remain together.
Our sport is an equipment-based pastime, with lots of myths and mystics, mostly generated from the good old Aussie banter. The first step to improving is making sure we first use the facts, not the myths. I have compiled a few key simple notes from a recent Etchells coaching session that all members can use to increase performance on a range of vessels.
Angle of heel
This is our key indication to power: if we’re heeling too much, then we need to reduce power by making the sails flatter. Alternatively, we can steer higher or, as the last resort, we ease the sail out. When we sail the boat with less angle of heel, the keel and sail profile are both more efficient in providing the right kind of lift; the old saying “flat is fast” holds true!
Sailing a keelboat in strong winds, if the speed is good you can actually sail partially luffing the jib to keep the angle of heel to a minimum. Next time you are out in a race, cruising or training session, luff the jib on the front edge of each puff and see how the boat reacts.
The basic concept of “depth equals power” is key when setting up your sail trim for racing or cruising. If we’re sailing in light winds, we want to have a deeper sail profile to increase power.
In strong wind we’ll instead try to have our sails as flat as possible: we do this by adjusting mainly the outhaul, backstay, cunningham, jib car position. The backstay is the most powerful control when it comes to reducing and increasing power. Backstay on to reduce power, backstay off to increase it. Make sure it has at least 8 marks on it that are reproducible. Also make sure that, when the wind blows, we move the jib cars back to flatten the headsail.
The modern way of thinking in any sailing craft is to hold the tiller or wheel as steady as possible, which locks the rudder blade central: this allows the boat to accelerate more and more easily. That’s because moving the rudder constantly introduces a lot of additional drag, so the boat never gets the opportunity to hold or increase speed. Steering behind our back with the tiller locked off on the deck is a perfect technique to gain the speed advantage. Ideally, we’d be measuring the tiller movement in arcseconds!