How to Get the Most From Your Sails

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Finally the time has come to cast the lines off and set sail. You point the bow of your boat away from land and feel it heel to a new breeze. Dark patches on the water signal that a new wind is approaching, and it blows away the stress and troubles that come from living in a fast-paced world. Before long the traffic and jams disappear over the horizon and you are one with your boat. You sheet in the sails and feel a surge of power as the boat responds. Knowing how to trim sails is a wonderful feeling, and knowing how to get that extra tenth of a knot from the boat is most satisfying. This chapter will focus on sail trim, both for cruising sailors who want their sails to perform well while they sit back, relax, and read a book, and for racing sailors whose quest is for a trophy cabinet full of silver.

Ultimately, sail trim is all about keeping a boat sailing fast and balanced, i.e., trimmed so that you don't have to use a lot of helm to keep going in a straight line. Many people forget how important the latter is to the overall performance of a boat, but in fact balance has a direct bearing on speed. Of course, if the wind and wave conditions remained constant, sail trim would be very easy. You would be able to figure out exactly what sail combination works for a particular set of circumstances, what chord depth provides the most power, and set your sails accordingly. Unfortunately it's not that easy, since conditions are forever changing, not just day to day, but even minute to minute. By the same token, it's this constant changing of wind, waves, and balance that makes sailing so interesting. At the most basic level, the key to getting the most out of your boat lies in the way you trim your sails.

Some sailors view sail trim as a scientific exercise, and by many measures it is. The relation of wind, waves, and foils is certainly an interesting study in physics. Other sailors, however, view the process as art, since no matter how scientifically inclined you may be, if you do not have an innate sense of the wind and how it relates to a sailboat, you are never going to be a trophy-winning sailor. Some people, for example, are just born with a gift and feel the wind through the seat of their pants. Even if they can't get their heads around the scientific theory, they are still able to sail circles around the competition. For the rest of us it can be a learned process.

By the end of this chapter we will have you trimming sails like a pro, tackling the problem of sailing to windward in the first half of the chapter, and easing sheets and heading downwind in the second half. First, though, we need to do some homework, reviewing the deck hardware that is used for the purpose of sail trim and what happens when we use it to make an adjustment. Furthermore, since the way you gauge what happens when you make an adjustment is by watching the telltales, we will take a quick look at these important and extremely simple

"Ultimately, sail trim is all about keeping a boat sailing fast and balanced, i.e., trimmed so that you don't have to use a lot of helm to keep going in a straight line."

The telltales on the leech of this Farr 40 are all streaming perfectly meaning that the sail is trimmed properly.

Three good examples of telltales on the luffs of headsails. The windows help.

pieces of equipment. There's a reason they're called telltales. They tell the tale of how the wind is blowing across your sails.

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