About Telltales

It's not absolutely critical for you to have telltales on your sails. Indeed some cruising sailors scorn the idea, saying that they are gimmicks for racing sailors only. But there is no denying that they make sail trim a heck of a lot easier when sailing to windward, and if you are just starting out it's a good idea to have them installed.

At their most basic, telltales are simply short pieces of light fiber that are attached along the luff of a head-sail and along the leech of the mainsail to indicate how the wind is flowing in these vital areas of the two sails. I say "fiber" because there is an ongoing debate among sailors as to what works best. Some sailors prefer strands of wool, even though it has a tendency to catch on rough spots like seams. Other sailors like thin strips of nylon spinnaker material. But these are not perfect either since they tend to stick to the sail when they get wet. I was once told by a well-known Olympic sailor that Angora wool is the best for the telltales on the leech of the mainsail. The mass-to-weight ratio of Angora wool means that it flies easily in even the lightest winds.

On genoas and jibs the telltales should be installed down the length of the luff about 5 to 8 percent of the way aft from the front of the sail. Depending on the size of the sail you should have between three and six sets of telltales on either side of the sail and at staggered heights so you can easily determine which telltale is lifting without having to rely on their color. On mainsails they should be

attached to the leech of the sail at each batten. You can also install them down the luff in the same way you did on your headsail, but they will be less effective there because of the way air flows around a mainsail and the disturbance caused by the mast.

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