With the high price of diesel at the fuel dock these days, we all have to think twice about how often we run our motors and how far we can go before we have to fill up. Those of us with sailboats already have a green alternative to running an engine in our sails. But what to do on those light air days? You can still sail and make miles if you put a little effort into sail trim and add a touch of patience. Going slow can be a drag, but if you can make your boat go well even in the light stuff, you’ll become a much better sailor. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of light air.
1. Make sure your bottom is clean. Having a clean bottom and a folding or feathering propeller will really help in the boat speed department and can add as much as a knot through the water when compared to either a fouled bottom or a three-bladed fixed prop.
2. Sail trim is the key to good boat speed in all conditions, but is really critical in light winds. In general, you want the sails to have power so you should ease the halyards to increase draft and ease the cunningham, outhaul and vang to give the sail a full shape.
Upwind, you don’t want to trim too flat or you will kill sail power, and you don’t want to pinch too close to the wind or the boat will stall. Also, if your boat is light enough, move all the crew to the leeward side to help the sails fall into and maintain their full shape.
3. When tacking, maintain momentum with a nice even turn through the wind and then head off slightly on the new tack to build boat speed before hardening up to the best close-hauled angle.
4. Off the wind, use your spinnaker or reacher if you have them to build speed. You will find that you can heat up the boat by reaching and then as boat speed increases and the apparent wind moves forward, you can head off to sail a deeper angle. You may need to use light sheets to keep the big sails from drooping under the weight of heavy sheets.
If you are running dead downwind, set the boat up to sail wing and wind with the genoa set out to windward and the main to leeward. A whisker pole makes this much easier. Setting the rig up this way will be slower than broad reaching and jibing downwind, but will allow you to make a dead downwind course if you need to.
5. Keep steering to a minimum. Each time you turn the rudder you are creating drag, drag causes turbulence and slows down your boat. Keep your helm as steady as possible for even water flow across the rudder.
Instead of firing up the iron-genny, employ these light air sailing tips and you’ll be amazed at the speed you can get from your boat.