Skip to main content

Crack the jib to point better in high wind!

Geoff from North Sails Toronto gave Lazy Sheet and me a private tutorial on one of our bigger challenges when up against the J35s:  pointing in high wind.

You know the situation:  the wind is strong, we’re flying the #2 or #3 headsail, the gusts are knocking us down, the traveler is low and the mainsail is inside out and water is coming over the rail!

Fun, but not fast.  Especially when a gust catches us by surprise and we round up, stalling out and giving up precious boat lengths.

Meanwhile, Top Gun keeps climbing higher and higher on the ladder rungs, leaving us in their dust.

The solution:  ease the jib!

It’s counter-intuitive, but Geoff explained the logic to us:

  • Pointing comes from the keel
  • To maximize pointing, we need to do two things:
    • keep the boat flat
    • keep the boat moving fast
  • With the jib in too tight:
    • the main is not powering the boat
    • the bow is pressed down into the water
    • the keel is not effectively engaged
    • the boat is slipping sideways — too much leeway
  • With the jib eased:
    • the main (flattened) can contribute power the boat
    • same net power is achieved, but the bow is not pressed down as far
    • the keel is more effectively engaged
    • less leeway -> more pointing

And how to steer?  Pointing mode, and feather in the gusts (ie: turn even further upwind).

So, if pointing is when the windward tell-tale is vertical and the jib is just starting to luff, what does feathering look like?  A luffing jib and a full mainsail!

Aha:  so we are looking to create the opposite situation to what we typically observe in the gusts!

Can’t wait to try it 🙂

Tell tales 2.0

So a couple weeks ago at the first Winter Series session, we focused on changing gears: how to adjust the sail trim to build speed and power, or to maximize VMG, or to maximize pointing for tactical advantage.

I already summarized the details on how to adjust each control in a previous post.  Today, I’m coming back to the biggest aha — that I’ve been reading the tell-tales wrong!  It came across in the RaceQs podcast (#24: Shifting Gears Upwind), and I summarized it with these diagrams:

The aha comes from the fact that I’ve been steering to always have both tell-tales streaming back (like in the starting/power gear).

I have to admit, I’ve been a bit skeptical about this new learning, until yesterday at the boat show.  Lazy Sheet and I attended a North U seminar on upwind sail trim, and then chatted with the instructor later in the day.  He reinforced the same lesson:

  • For power, or footing, stream them both backwards (and the sails should be deep)
  • For maximum VMG, the windward tell-tale should be lifted (and the sails should be flat)
  • For maximum pointing, the windward tell-tale should be vertical, the front of the jib just starting to luff (and the sails very flat).

This last point he hammered home in the lesson by explaining that stall on the jib starts at the leech and works its way forward.  By the time it has reached the leeward tell-tale, the entire jib is stalling.

Putting this together, I have been steering wrongly:  by trying to keep both of them streaming, there is a 50/50 chance that any bad steering will lead to a stalled jib and loss of speed.  But by steering a slightly higher course, with a bit of windward tell-tale lift, we will get more speed, more pointing, and less risk of stalling.  Love it!

Can’t wait to practice on the course.  Just 100 days until our first practice race 🙂

Winter series session 2: Using Wind Shifts

Last night seven of us tucked into a generous helping of jargon to decode the mysteries of the shifting wind, so we could use it to our advantage on the race course.  Chapter 13 of Walker’s book us just a few pages long, but there is a lot in there.  To bring the lesson home, we watched some raceqs videos, remembered the kinds of things we’ve seen out on the water, and looked at some specific examples sketched out on paper (and laid out in tape on a table!).

At the risk of oversimplifying, the main takeaways were:

  1. If the wind direction is constant, then you sail the same distance to the windward mark no matter where you tack (so long as you don’t overstand the layline).
  2. The wind direction is never constant.
  3. Sometimes it changes to a new direction during the race (Persistent Shift)
  4. Other times it shifts back and forth in direction (Oscillating Shift)
  5. The way to take advantage of this is quite different, as summarized in this table
Upwind Downwind Comment
Persistent Shift Sail toward the shift Sail Away from the shift Start your leg on the disadvantaged tack or jibe to position yourself for better gains later in the leg
Oscillating Shift Tack on the headers Jibe on the lifts Wait until the wind direction has oscillated through the median direction before tacking

And to try to cement the lessons we had a few ‘races’ on the ping-pong table as the wind oscillated randomly. Great fun!

The good news is that we’ll come back to each of these kinds of wind shifts another time, diving deep for a whole lesson.  See you there!

Winter series session 1: Shifting Gears Upwind

Five of us enjoyed a virtual night on the boat yesterday evening (in the basement with fireplace on) to work through the notions of clear air and shifting gears.  A summary table doesn’t do justice to the thoughtful discussion, but here it is nonetheless:


Starting/ Footing Go-gear Pointing Low Leeway
Sail Trim Goals Windward Telltale 45˚ 90˚
Boom Wide Just below Midline Midline Wide
Mast Bend Minimal Moderate Increased Marked
Main Twist Marked Minimal Very little Moderate
Main Draft Full Moderate Decreased Moderate
Draft position Forward Aft Aft Foreward
Controls (relative to go-gear) Backstay Eased Moderate Harder Hardest
Traveler Lower As needed Lower Lowest
Mainsheet Eased As needed Harder Eased
Jib Car Forward Breaking evenly Aft Aft
Jib sheet Eased As needed Harder Moderate
Outhaul Eased As needed Hard Hard
Cunningham Tighter Moderate Eased Tighter

I think the big aha was that we have been sailing 2018 in a sail trim that can best be described as “trimmed for pointing, steering as if we are footing”.  As a result we almost certainly sacrificed speed, pointing and leeway. In 2019,  for clear air we should be using go-gear settings that are slightly more relaxed and a steering angle that lifts the leeward tell-tale a bit.  From there the table summarizes what we need to do to each control to shift into footing mode or pointing mode.  In light wind, heavy air, or a heap of traffic, we should shift to low-leeway mode.

I’m sure we’ll need to come back to this table many times to remember it all!

A couple of flakes

Afterguy and I took all the sails to the church gym to re-flake them for winter storage.  He kept going to the other end of the sail.  I thought he was doing that so we could see how big the fabric was…but then I caught him lying down on the job.

It’s amazing to see how much extra depth there is in the spinnaker.

2018 Season Analysis

I just got the formal report back from PHRF that gives a race-by-race breakdown of how well we sailed relative to our PHRF handicap.

On average, for the season, we performed equivalent to a rating of 76, whereas we are rated 73.  So, on average, we are almost sailing PERSPECTIVE to her rating!  That’s big progress for us.  Here’s a breakdown for the rest of the fleet:

Boat Rating Performance Net ST/Dev Comment
PERSPECTIVE 73 76 +3 11 Near our potential, not as consistent as we’d like
Battlewagon 72 82 +10 15 Off the pace
Sandpiper 75 78 +3 13 Same as us
Remarkable 72 70 -2 3.9 A model J35
Legacy 72 67 -5 12 Faster but less consistent than Remarkable
Top Gun 72 54 -18 13 Outperforming the fleet
Sabotage 63 20 -43 23 Ummm….I guess we knew this already, but it’s still overwhelming

So of course, I had to look deeper.  PHRF provides a “Net” value for each and every race.  The numbers above are the median values over the whole season. I went back through my notes to look at the wind for the night, which sails we set, and whether we had a good start and a clean race.  Here’s what I noticed:

Light wind: don’t fall into a hole!

Median: +8

ST/Dev: 15

We had some of our best results and some of our worst results in light wind.  The biggest difference was whether we fell into a hole (+17) or not (-7), and the best result came when we also had a good start (-21).

Heavy wind: avoid being overpowered!

Median: +9

ST/Dev: 15

On these nights, when we were overpowered, we did poorly.  When we weren’t, we did very well.  This improved a lot as the season progressed, essentially once we learned to harden the shrouds.  Early in the summer we averaged +30, whereas late in the summer we averaged -2 in the same conditions!  The other major factor is picking the wrong (too big) headsail.  The data shows that we fared better when we erred on the side of caution.  With the new #3 headsail (much flatter), let’s dial down earlier.

Medium wind: it’s all about putting in a clean race!

All Races Clean Races Races with mistakes
Median +3 +2 +11
ST/Dev 7 0 2

The data here are really interesting.  When we put in a clean race, we are perfectly consistent, and sail right near the boat’s potential, but blunders cost us.  There really two kind of blunders that come up:

Missing the layline costs us time and usually leads to a delayed hoist.

A tangle after the douse fouls our first upwind tack.

Summing it up

We’re doing great! With some more focus on just a few things we will consistently sail PERSPECTIVE at her speed potential (and win more flags).  Here’s a sort of prioritized list:

What to focus on What it’s worth (approx)
Balance in high winds (shrouds & sail choice) – 30
Avoiding holes in light winds – 20
Hitting the layline – 10
“Clear to tack” after a douse – 10
Getting a good start – 5

The Storm (His Wind)

Original poem composed by Gil, recited at the Squirrel send-off.


Up at Dawn
Coffee and scone
Down to the bayside shore
There she lay
Lashed to the quay
The boat he calls MERLOT

Lines to tend
The jib to bend
Stays taught aft and fore
Cast off young man
Firm tiller in hand
To search for wind once more

They steamed as one
Towards the sun
The bridge too began its rise
Out t’ th’inland sea
There some breeze
Sails hoist, MERLOT alive

Falling off, making way
Sheets firm, not strained
Distant clouds a welcomed sight
Steering t’wards them
Anticipation on the helm
Ready to meet natures might

A sudden fresh blow
Fills his searching soul
Too late to reef the main
She’s fresh and she’s wild
Sometimes harsh, sometimes mild
Not one that he can tame

Hardening up he points high
Plunging forward, heeling by
Gunnels drowned, white spume galore
This gale long in wanting
Now proves somewhat daunting
As he spies the looming lee shore

Maneuvers are needed
Helms a lee, jib sheet cleated
As she settles on the portside tack
Disaster averted
Seamanship asserted
Confidence growing as he makes his way back

Docking lines made
Sails flaked, safely stowed
A smile as bright as the day
He’s found his true wind
His wind it still blows
His wind he calls Renee