Steering into light winds, the basic rules for not slowing down

Upwind in light winds on the Mylius 60 CK. Giuffrè Photos – Sailing Newspaper

It is said, with good reason, that the best helmsmen are seen when the wind is really light, say under 8 knots. Indeed, in these conditions it takes sensitivity and technique to always keep the boat fast, and on the right angle to the wind especially upwind. So what are the tricks to try to steer the boat best in light winds?

We will not deal with adjustments this time, but focus on the role of the helmsman.

Light wind, how to best helm

A good helmsman when there is little wind tries to move the blade as little as possible and minimize course corrections. In fact, every touch on the rudder is a brake on speed, and when the boat is barely moving under these conditions, it becomes critical not to slow it down. For this reason, the helmsman can never lose sensitivity with the direction of the wind; the eyes of the leader must remain fixed on the jib threads and not be distracted with anything else.

Every second spent with the boat too “pointing” into the wind will be paid for dearly. In light winds, in fact, speed is lost immediately as soon as the boat holds too tight an upwind, and recovering it is instead a slower and more laborious process. In fact, in such cases, if we sail upwind, it will be better to prioritize boat speed rather than angle to the wind. Better to keep an upwind line just a little wider than necessary and not force the heave too much than to risk losing several tenths, or worse, of speed.

So watch out for the jib fillets, and the luff of the sail: avoid keeping the fillets “shot” upward, and pay close attention if the sail deflates close to the forestay, it is a sign that our angle to the wind is definitely too tight.

The crew will be arranged downwind, from the middle of the boat forward, to try to give a minimum of heel to the hull and reduce the wetted surface. The helmsman must “feel” this lurch, and adjust to it. Whenever this is reduced it means that the boat is too tight to the wind and the pressure on the sails is reducing further.

Mauro Giuffrè




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