Mainsail Traveler

While the mainsheet controls both the amount of tension on the sail and the overall plane of the sail relative to the wind, the main traveler actually offers a more effective way of adjusting the angle of attack, or "relative plane" of the sail when the boom is close to the centerline, since you can do so without changing leech tension, as is the case when you trim or ease the main. At its most basic, the mainsail traveler is an athwartships track that sits under the boom and is mounted either on the deck or coach roof depending on the design of the boat. The mainsheet is attached to an adjustable car on the track, which is controlled with a set of lines and blocks, the amount of purchase dictated by the size of the boat. The car can be pulled to windward of the centerline of the boat, or it can be lowered down the track. Pulling it to windward narrows the angle of attack of the mainsail, while lowering it widens the angle of attack. A narrow angle of attack allows you to point higher, while the opposite is true for a wide angle. If the mainsail is in a header you can have the boom at or above centerline without the sail stalling, and in order to do this you have to use the traveler.

In heavy air the traveler can be especially helpful since the car can be eased down the track whenever the boat is overpowered, thus alleviating any excessive weather helm created by the stronger winds and the heel of

A block and tackle system with cleats allow the main traveler on this boat to be easily adjusted.

A block and tackle system with cleats allow the main traveler on this boat to be easily adjusted.

Two examples of boom vangs. The one on the left is a hydraulic vang, and the one on the right has a rigid tube to serve as a topping lift while the block and tackle is used to tension the vang.

the boat. Again, by adjusting the mainsail with the traveler rather than the mainsheet, you can keep the leech of the sail working while fine tuning the amount of weather helm. In fact, on a racing boat, a good mainsail trimmer will be in constant communication with the helmsman to make sure there is just the right amount of weather helm, something that can be easily controlled by the traveler. If there is too much the helmsman will have to turn the wheel excessively to compensate, and the water flow will separate from the rudder. Too little or neutral helm will make it hard for the helmsman to get a "feel" for the boat, and for water to attach to the rudder and provide lift. Cruising sailors, of course, are not as concerned about the fine line between lift and power. They certainly do not to want to spend their days tending the mainsail controls in a never-ending effort to get in a "groove" like their racing counterparts. Still, it makes sense to find a happy balance, bearing in mind the points mentioned above so that you can sail that much more efficiently and easily. Then, once you find that balance you can cleat the sheets and go back to what you were doing.

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