During most of the races we did this summer, we experienced periods of little to no wind. The beauty about this whilst racing is you can’t simply turn on the engine and head for home. You need to learn to make the most of it, and be (very!) patient. Here’s how to get the most out of light air.

General principles

  • In light winds slacken everything (but don’t over-do it).
  • Maintaining momentum once moving is vital. Sailing on a close reach (45° to 60°) is your best chance as you’ll harness most power of the apparent wind (remember, the faster you go the stronger the apparent wind, so the faster the boat goes, the more wind it gets and the faster it goes). Don’t be tempted to sail higher (closer to the wind) once you pick up some speed, you’ll slow down.
  • There’s more wind at the top of the mast than the bottom, as even flat water creates surface friction (this effect is called “wind shear”).
  • Keep everyone on board still, forward and to leeward. Weight on the low-side encourages the boat to heel and gets more of it out of the water so there’s less to drag along.
  • Don’t be tempted to turn the rudder left and right in an attempt to power along. It works for fish 🐠 but it won’t work for you as it increases friction.
  • Steer as straight a course as possible, with minimum movement on the helm.
  • Tide also plays a role (see the the Yachting Monthly article below).
  • If you do have different foresails, change to your lightest and biggest.
Here are some quick pointers on how to setup your boat.

Ease

  • Ease the backstay (if you have a fractional rig), this makes the jib sag and creates more draft.
  • Ease the main and jib halyards until you see a few horizontal wrinkles in the luff.
  • Main: Ease the cunningham, kicker/vang and outhaul.
  • Jib: Ease the sheets, but keep the sail full (if it looks saggy, you’ve gone too far).

Trim

  • If you don’t have telltales, buy some 😊.
  • We covered sail trim in issue 14 if you need a quick refresh.
  • A quick reminder on the telltales – the bottom lot are steering guides, the top set inform sail twist.
Start with the jib: Get the bottom telltales streaming aft, either by adjusting the sheets or your course (remember, aim 45-60°). Then focus on the top set, which are likely doing something different (due to wind shear). If it’s drooping move the jib car forward, a bit at a time.
Then the main: Twist is the thing to focus on as having the sail too baggy (by easing it too much) won’t help. Work the mainsheet and traveler to get the bottom telltales flying – ease the main, bring the boom to the centre with the traveller then check the angle of the top baton by looking up at it from under the windward side, it should be about parallel to the boom. If it’s too far up to windward, keep moving the traveller to windward. Work the kicker and topping lift to get the top telltales flying.

More reading and something to watch

So, next time you’re wondering whether it’s worth bothering, get out there and start practicing!

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