Sailing downwind with mainsail and jib: halyard tensions and conducting at the helm

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sailing on the slack
Slack gait

If there is a gait that many sailors, racers or cruisers like, that one is the slack, i.e., around 100-120 degrees with respect to the wind direction: you don’t slam into the waves, there isn’t the same roll as in the transom (although with significant swell even on the slack you will “dance”), and the boat glides moderately fast. How best to adjust the sails for this gait and what is the best conduction at the helm?

Sailing on the slack – Watch out for tensions

The first thing to do in winds of less than 15 knots is to soften the mainsail and jib halyards (assuming a white-sailing gait), and also leave some backstay. This will give the sails a more powerful shape and provide more thrust to the boat. To figure out how much halyard to drop we need to watch the sail: when a hint of horizontal crease begins along the luff we will be on the correct setting.

At the same time. the jib carriage must be brought forward, if any, in order to close the top of the sail and make it carry correctly: with a trolley in the same position as upwind, at windward the leech would be too warped and the top of the jib would be in danger of being unloaded. The mainsail carriage, if any, should be placed in the center or slightly downwind for the same reason, to prevent the sail from being too open at the top and losing power due to the rather loose sheet held in this gait.

Sailing on the slack – The rudder corrections

Never keep the rudder static. Those steering the boat on the slack will need to feel increases in pressure and speed, as well as pay attention to the direction of the waves. When the boat speed is down, you will heave a few degrees to “load” the sails, wait for the boat to accelerate, at which point you return to leaning and sailing deeper, with a game that must be repeated virtually continuously, following the boat speed and wind speed.

At the same time, when we feel a wave starting to lift the transom by heeling the boat, that will be the time to lean surfing it, thus ensuring further acceleration. By paying attention to these details we will be able to gain miles more easily toward our goal, while also honing our technical skills in boat handling.

Mauro Giuffrè

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