Upwind Sail Trim


Dave Cattle's Response to a Question about pointing with a J/29

Try a couple of things. Remember that you will need to practice these things to get a good read. Look at all the parameters, headstay length and tension, rig tension, main trim (traveller and sheet) and headsail trim, not forgetting weight positioning, bottom cleanliness and fairness of foils.
  1. See how the boat performs and points with different headsail sheet tensions. As an example In flat water we can almost crank the sail onto the lower shrouds around 1” off, and with judicious juggling of the main traveler get the boat up to target speed (above 6 knots) with considerable point. YOU CAN CONTROL BOAT SPEED WITH THE TRAVELLER, EASILY….
  2. In chop you will need to ease the sheet and move the lead forward to power up the headsail, if you drop the traveler down a little you will build speed which will get you back into point. Trygve Roberts is very good at this, and he has always been adamant that SPEED is the most fundamental platform for point. The target speed is around 6.2 knots in anything from 7 knots to 20+ knots. Get there !!
  3. If you were using the backstay at all then an alternative would be to add some tension on the shrouds, maintaining luff curve (pre-bend match). Shortening the headstay may also give you more point without sacrificing any power. Long headstays are good for powering up the gennie and giving you weather helm. Long headstays that sag too much won’t let you point. Try shortening it 10 turns.
  4. Get the weight spread about the rail nicely, we found that having weight too far forward slowed us in the chop (having not enough weight is even worse)
  5. I am going to assume you have the bottom cleaned before every race and have nicely faired foils
  6. We just raced a J/29 masthead in winds from 10 to 22 knots. With the right crew and a #2 sheeted tight we would point a lot higher and be just as fast upwind. Downwind if he got ahead we could sit about 10’ off his transom all the way down the leg. They had 8 really good crew on board, we had 3 regulars (including me) and 2 beginners who have never sailed and weighed 180 lbs between the both of them…….. we won 2 races, the 29 won 2. We did tighten to headstay 10 turns from our normal setting.

In light air you should be able to really hurt a J/29, that baby is FAT !

Trygve Roberts Additional Comments

I am a great believer in getting basics right first - then start fiddling with other things like shroud tensions and headstay length - but do them one at a time and make notes of everything you change. If it doesnt improve the situation, put the setting back where it was and move on to the next thing.

Assuming the basics of the rig are set up correctly, my advice would be to practice the following. This really works for us. I have a mainsail trimmer on my boat who is a professor of hydrodynamics and he taught me this (very patiently!!).

  1. When starting make sure you have at least two boat lengths between your boat and the next boat to leeward. Use that space to foot off and get the J up to speed as quickly as possible. REMEMBER THAT HEIGHT IS A BY PRODUCT OF SPEED. The very worst thing you can do is pinch for height in this sort of scenario. No matter how alien it feels to sail low, just do it - the rewards are worth it. You sort of have to retrain those old habits. -- Sometimes it's not possible - for example, when you have a boat close to leeward, you have to pinch to keep clear or tack away (if there is space), but by employing a sound starting strategy, we are able to mostly avoid those scenarios.
  2. After tacking, bear well down (a fetch angle is OK) until the boat is at 6,2 knots, then start tightening up the sheets and traveller to get your height. It often feels that other boats are pointing higher than us, but we always get to the weather mark first - and we often beat much bigger boats including Mumm 30's and most 34 foot boats in our local fleet.
  3. Practice these two things over and over, till you get it right and I guarantee your pointing will improve. The golden rule is do not go for height till you have your target speed. If you can get a copy of one of the AC races, you will see clearly that all the top skippers do this - even on 80 ft racing machines.
  4. The only exception we make to this rule is when we have under-stood a mark. We will then sacrifice speed for height and pinch to get around a mark, which is usually better than having to put in two extra tacks.

If you have a chart plotter or GPS on board, you should examine your track. After each tack your track should show a distinct scallop to leeward before getting onto normal height. If you do not see this, then you are not dropping off enough. Get a crew member to time how many seconds it takes to get to target speed after a tack and you can experiment with how optimal your headings are, till you find the one you are happy with. Then make it a habit.

In choppy water, we tend to foot off most of the time, whilst the opposition tend to sail much higher than us, but as usual, we are at the mark first. The boat needs speed to punch through waves.

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