The joys and pains of the T-keel for inexperienced coxswains


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A T-keel

There is much talk about the greater efficiency of the modern T-keel compared to the old trapezoidal keels. In terms of performance, the low center of gravity of torpedo dinghies, combined with the skinny profile of their blade, has few rivals in terms of straightening, forward and average performance a bit in all gaits. In the aspect of running the boat, however, things are a little different, and some thought needs to be given.

T-keel – The weak point

The Achilles heel of these keels is their often very narrow blade, which makes the boat not easy to steer in certain conditions. A trapezoidal keel, even if we steer the boat badly, finishing upwind against the wind and slowing it down, will be more “forgiving” because of its width. The boat will certainly slow down but the keel will remain effective, and it will only take a short time to regain speed. It is not the same with a T-shaped drift from the narrow blade.

Precisely because the drift is narrow, as soon as the boat is steered incorrectly, slow and against the wind, it will quickly lose effectiveness. The boat will increase its drift, and to get it going again it will be mandatory to lean for several seconds, wait for the speed numbers to go back up, and then return to a tight angle.

T-keel – How to avoid stalling

To avoid upwind the situation just described above, the mainsailer and helmsman must roll up their sleeves and work properly in sync. Before “splinting” to the windward, the helmsman must make the boat speed up, even above the targets indicated by the polars, slightly leaning over the narrow windward. Then a gradual hemming will begin. it will always be necessary to “top up” a couple of degrees at the rest by anticipating the boat’s deceleration when it is coming. If we rest when the boat has already slowed down half a knot or more it will be late and we will be forced to lose time before returning to correct angles. The mainsailer, when the helmsman heaves with the fast boat, will have to follow him by capping the mainsail to keep the boat’s heel constant. In medium-light breezes, woe betide hemming a T-keel boat with the mainsail down: it will mean anticipating the boat to slow down, putting the helmsman in trouble.

T keel vs. trapezoidal keel or keel with a boot

As mentioned in the first lines, there is no comparison in terms of performance: the T-keel beats them all on virtually all analysis parameters. The problem lies in leadership, which is definitely more difficult. To carry a boat with this type of keel well requires sensitivity, but also training and method to feel the boat’s reactions and anticipate them. Upwind, speed will be like a mantra, and it is crucial to heel as much as possible, otherwise it will be difficult to make proper use of the strength and effectiveness of this drift.

Mauro Giuffrè



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