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5 Ways To Improve Sail Trim

Dec 14, 2016

Author: Fin

Fintan Hartnett is the Principal and Chief Instructor at Topmast Maritime Training and an RYA Yachtmaster Instructor as well as Sail Canada and ASA instructor.

Sail trim is easy. Okay, no-one thinks it’s easy, not even seasoned sailors. It’s one of the things about sailing which makes sailing such a challenge. It can get to be ridiculously technical and at the Yachtmaster level I’m not above throwing out lines like “let’s discuss the PHYSICS of sail trim” just to see the panic in my students eyes. For now let’s just begin with the question: what is sail trim? Simply put, sail trim is the art/science of adjusting the sails so that they drive the boat in a given direction efficiently. Grasp this concept and you have a fighting chance of getting somewhere (pun intended).

If you don’t end up in my classroom or in the cockpit of sailboat wondering what I’m doing waving my hands around, then I’ve prepared a little cheat sheet to help the process along. It’s not definitive by any stretch of the imagination and it’s short on long-winded technical explanations but it may help.

When In Doubt, Let It Out
Too many sailors think winching the sail nice and tight is good – it isn’t. Learn to ease the sail (Jib or Main). The best way to do this is to ease the sail out until it just starts to luff and then bring it in a touch. Try it, it works.

Let Telltales Talk
When sailing upwind use the telltales. These are the little ribbons on the sails. On the Main Sail it’s best if they are all streaming backwards parallel to and in the direction of the deck of the boat. On the Jib the best look is if the ribbon on the outside is pinned to the sail (also parallel to the deck) and the ribbon on the inside is tilted towards the sky at an angle (hint: you can touch the inside of the jib from the foredeck – you would get wet of you tried to touch the outside of the sail). Think of the letter ‘V’ lying on its side and that’s what the ribbons should resemble.

Steer to the Trim or Trim to the Steer
If you’re steering and the goal is to trim the sails efficiently (think close-hauled) then PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD steer a course which suits the sail trim. If the goal is to steer a certain course then trim accordingly. You would think this one would be a no-brainer…

Over-Pressed Does Not Impress
Learn to reduce sail. Being heeled-over with the rail in the water is exciting, it’s just not efficient. Like a lot of things in sailing it’s counter-intuitive to think LESS sail can make you faster but it can. Either ease the sails per 1. and 5. or reef. Reefing is better.

Travellers Must Travel
The mainsheet traveller is a really good way of not sacrificing sail shape (trim) when adjusting the Main Sail. In general, ease it out in heavier winds, bring it up in lighter winds and somewhere in the middle for average winds. Conversely, the jib car traveller is a good way to change the shape of the sail to suit the conditions. To make this work move the car forward or backwards until the telltales (2.) look about right.

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