Straining: how to prevent it (and how to come out of it)

straorza-spiIn the hands of every helmsman, the sensation of the boat starting in oversteer is well present. It is only a few seconds that separate this impression from the thought of “now it is done.” Control is lost, and the hull takes off at heave propelled by a force over which we feel we have no power. The boat swerves and the rudder is out of the water unable to respond to commands. How to remedy this? What are the ways to recover once we are in this situation? The purpose of the next few lines will be to provide you with some useful tips that can help you in remedying a situation in which you already give yourself up for “doomed,” as well as to understand what are the ways to prevent a strake, not only by sailing under spinnaker, but also if you are cruising under white sails and suddenly the wind strengthens. Everyone who has a modicum of experience in sailing knows that one of the most difficult conditions is sailing in gusty winds, whether upwind or to portals. “Incoming gust,” how many times have we heard this warning shouted on board, followed by the well-known consequences? Before any technical thoughts about how to helm or adjust the sails to the gusty wind, we need to keep our eyes wide open: proper observation of the water surface is the best way to guard against the increased incoming pressure and to try to anticipate our reaction so that the gust catches us as little unprepared as possible.

Keeping the boat on course when we are caught up in a gust is often a difficult task, especially if we are sailing at the carriers under spinnaker. The precursor signs of a strake are often the arrival of a particularly powerful gust or finding ourselves in the wake of a boat that is sailing ahead of us (an occasion that often occurs during regattas). In an attempt to maintain control, the first things to do are. Firmly let go of the mainsail sheet and completely let go of the vang (to open the mainsail up), as well as giving a few firm taps of the rudder to prevent the blade from stalling due to turbulence created by the water. However, these cautions do not always achieve the desired result, so it is good to have some alternative and effective solutions ready to remedy when the boat is close to “lying down.” After making sure all the crew is still on board, here are three useful moves to “save the day.”

Directions on how to take action should be given by one person, not necessarily the helmsman; it is best to rely on the most experienced person on board.

If the decision made is to let go of the halyard of the spi, be sure to let go just enough that it loses power but not too much that the spi falls into the water. The best way is to mark on the halyard the exact point to have this balance. Letting go of the halyard will reduce the heeling of the boat.

Never leave the boom beyond the forestay to prevent the spi from ballooning, even if you have let go of the halyard. Be careful then when you decide to re-island. Do not be hasty, study the maneuver, because it will be different from a normal hoisting.

In high winds one solution may be not to haul down the jib, which will help you lean in the event of a squall. This system can be difficult in gybing if you have rigged the spi; it will be more practical if you are sailing with an asymmetric.


If we are sailing upwind and our sails are hit by a refresh, the boat’s immediate reaction will be to set off to heave: this is the self-defense of our hull, which quickly heads upwind to foil the sails. It is not necessary to counter this trend with the rudder, but rather to anticipate it. As soon as we notice the gust coming, we heave slightly until we bring the headsail to the edge of the dead angle. When the refreshment arrives, the sails will thus be more unloaded and the boat will react less nervously. In case it is a “good” gust, we will take advantage of the refreshment to gain windward water.

In case the intensity of bracing is too high, the mainsail needs to be worked on. Preliminarily we flatten the sail as much as possible by curving the mast and caulking the halyard and base. As soon as we notice the incoming gust we let go of the mainsail gear downwind, giving our boat a chance to absorb the reinforcement without losing control of it. If even this is not enough, it is time to let go of the sheet: an operation that should always be done a moment in advance of the arrival of the gust. Ѐ very important to act before the reinforcement: hemming or letting go of the carriage and sheet, should always be done a moment before the wind arrives, without waiting for the violent heeling of our hull.

The instinct to let go of the jib as well, to lessen the skidding, should not be immediately indulged. In fact, the headsail helps the boat lean back to get back on course. If you have “overstretched” while leaving the undercarriage and mainsail, once “lying down” leave the jib as well, lest in case of a sudden turn it remains at the neck.



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