by Michael Tamulaites,
The Jib-trim Series, Part I
The first elements of sailing are raising and trimming your sails. If
you're a hardcore racer who thinks you've got this step licked, I'll see
you on the race course, but for most of us there is always something to
I'm going to start explaining sail trim where it begins, the jib. Many
sailors try to trim the main and jib as separate entities. Aerodynamicists
know, however, that for best overall sail trim you have to start with the
jib and then go to the main. The airflow relationship between the two is
key. In order to trim the jib correctly it has to be raised correctly.
Step 1-- halyard tension: There are two jib/forestay combinations on
most boats--jib hanks on a bare forestay, or a luff tape/boltrope that
slides into a headstay foil through which the forestay leads.
Hank-on system: Once your jib is hanked on to the forestay and you're
in open water, raise the halyard. Tighten the halyard until there are vertical
wrinkles along the luff of the jib, right behind the forestay. While sailing
on a close-hauled course, with the jib trimmed for upwind sailing, ease
the halyard (make sure it has at least two wraps on the halyard winch before
uncleating) until the vertical wrinkles just disappear. You've eased the
halyard too much if the sail begins to "scallop" between the jib hanks.
If you've eased to much halyard, ease the jib sheet a couple of feet or
more and ask the helmsperson to sail close enough to the wind to luff the
front half of the jib and then re-tension the halyard with the halyard
Headfoil system: Again, start by pulling the halyard up until vertical
wrinkles appear and sail away on a close-hauled course. Ease the halyard
until the vertical wrinkles just disappear. If horizontal wrinkles appear
behind the forestay, the halyard has been eased too much so you need to
ease the jib sheet, have the helmsperson head up and re-tension the halyard
and start again.
The Jib-trim Series, Part II
Last week I explained how to properly tension the jib halyard with either
hank-on or headfoil jibs. This week I'll explain why we start with the
halyard tight and then ease it and if we have to adjust the halyard while
sailing, why it's better to pull the halyard back up all the way with the
front half of the jib luffing and then ease it back down to proper tension.
When working with any load, it's best to make the load as light as possible.
The least amount of load on the halyard in any given breeze is when the
sail is luffing. So when you first raise the sail is the best time to tension
the halyard to its maximum height which occurs when vertical wrinkles appear
behind the headstay. The maximum load on the luff of the jib occurs when
you are sailing close-hauled. In order to decrease this load to adjust
the halyard it's best to ease the sheet, have the helmsperson head toward
the wind, and then with the front of the sail luffing, tension the halyard.
The second reason you over-tension the halyard then ease it down rather
than set the sail with too little halyard tension than try to raise it,
is friction. If when you are sailing on a close-hauled course in a decent
breeze and you see horizontal wrinkles appearing in the sail behind the
forestay, you know the halyard needs to be tensioned. If at this point,
you wrap the halyard around a winch and crank merrily away, you will only
tension the top portion of the sail. The wind pressure on the sail, combined
with friction between the sail and the headstay makes it nearly impossible
to evenly tension the whole luff without putting undue stress on the top
of the sail and the winch. What you end up with is luff in the top of the
sail being way too tight while the luff near the bottom of the sail is
still to loose. The sail with this sort of luff tension is not pretty and
it certainly is not fast.
If you don't want to ease the sail to tension the halyard, their are
three solutions. In light winds, under 10 knots, try to simply raise the
halyard. If the horizontal wrinkles disappear along the luff evenly, not
just the top ones first, you're all set. Also in light winds you can overtension
the halyard until there are vertical wrinkles, then ease it. Otherwise
do what racing sailors do, tack. Set the winch up with at least three wraps,
and be ready to tension the halyard. As you tack, and while the fib is
going from one side to the other, it's luffing, so cranking the halyard
up is easy. On the new tack, you can ease the halyard if necessary, to
properly tension the luff.
When you ease off from a close-hauled course to a reach, there is less
wind pressure on the sail so vertical wrinkles may appear again along the
luff. Ease the halyard until the wrinkles just disappear. Remember, that
before you head back up to a close-hauled course, over-tension the halyard
so that you can ease it to proper tension after the jib is trimmed in.
The Jib-Trim Series, Part III
Now that you know how and why you adjust your jib halyard, it's time
to learn the same for jib leads.
A sailboat under sail depends on its sails for power--that much is obvious.
To give your boat as much power as possible in light to medium winds, say
0 to 12 knots, or to decrease power above 12 knots, you need to use the
jib leads. They are your throttle as far as the jib is considered. Of course,
as the wind picks up you may change to a smaller headsail, but you'll need
to know how to control the power for that sail as well.
Start with telltales. They are the pieces of nylon, cassette tape, or,
traditionally, yarn, near the luff of the jib. The best location for telltales
are three sets of two (one on each side of the sail, starboard just above
port so that you know which one is wiggling) located one-quarter, one-half,
and three-quarters of the way down the luff of the sail from the head to
the tack, and about two feet behind the forestay. With telltales in place
and while sailing on a close-hauled course, it's easy to know where the
jib leads need to be.
For maximum power you want both the starboard and port telltales in
each set streaming toward the back of the boat, aft. If while sailing upwind,
they are streaming back, your jib leads are in the right position, so have
a nice sail.
If they're not streaming, here's the test. While sailing upwind, ask
the helmsperson to head closer to the wind than close-hauled. As the inside
telltales ( the starboard telltales when on starboard tack) start to lift,
flutter upwards, notice which ones lift first. If the top telltales lift
first, move the jiblead forward a hole or two on the track and try again.
If the lower telltales lift first, move the jiblead aft a couple of holes.
When all inside telltales lift at the same time, your jiblead is correct.
Once the jibleads are in the right position, meaning all the telltales
streaming aft, and the jib halyard is correctly tensioned, your jib is
set for maximum power while sailing upwind. Next week, I'll explain how
to depower the jib and change jiblead postion while racing.
The Jib-Trim Series, Part IV
As the wind increases, you will want to depower your sailplan for the
most comfortable, and in general, the most efficient sailing. Without changing
your jib, here's how it can be depowered.
Physics I: When the jib leads are in the correct position, all telltales
are streaming aft, the sail is at its most powerful--it's taking as much
of the wind's pressure as possible and turning it into forward driving
g force. The fastest way to depower your jib while maintaining your course
is to ease the jib sheet completely. The sail will blow out so that it
is luffing, much like a flag blowing in the wind. The pressure is released,
the jib is providing almost zero power. As you start to trim the jib sheet
you will see that the sail looks full first at the clew, then as you trim
it in, the sail fills from the clew forward with the leading edge of the
sail, the luff, the last part to stop luffing. Easing the jib sheet to
depower is effective, but it is not efficient.
Physics II: The wind pushes on the jib which pushes the boat over, makes
it heel. Imagine a model sailboat sitting in a bathtub. If you push on
the top of the mast, the mast will act as a lever arm and heel the boat
over a certain amount. Now if you push on the middle of the mast so that
the lever arm is much shorter, with exactly the same pressure, the boat
will heel much less. So another way to depower your jib is to cut off the
top half. That way there will be less pressure (zero)on the top of the
mast from the jib. Cutting the top of your jib off to depower is effective,
but is not only inefficient, it's expensive.
The Jib-Trim Series, Part V
There are predominantly two jib-lead systems. Most racing boats and
a growing number of cruiser/racers and even cruising boats, are equipped
with a nearly friction-free jib lead (whether using hard nylon inserts
or roller-bearings) running on a matching track with a block-and-tackle
or winch system that allows you to adjust the jib lead under load. These
systems are commonly called adjustable jib leads, but of course, most jib
leads are adjustable, just not as easily. This is the fastest and most
conveient method of moving jib leads.
It's also dramatically more expensive than the traditional system that
incorportates a jib lead with a piston, either spring-activated or screwed
into place, used on a T-track with holes to receive the piston and lock
the lead in place, evenly spaced along its length. Each systm has its advantages
and disadvantages. Choosing is a personal preference, but here are some
The adjustable system allows you to easily move the jib leads while
racing for the perfect trim, or for a sail change.
Four boats with roller-reefing systems, adjustable jib leads allow you
to easily move the leads as the sail is rolled or unrolled to maintain
a good sailshape.
Adjustable leads are relatively expensive and if the control line breaks,
the leads will shoot aft. Most companies, however, have stoppers that can
be slid behind the lead once it is sent to prevent the lead from shooting
aft if the line breaks. Adjustable leads require a bit more maintenance
in that there are more parts involved.
Traditional jib leads are less-expensive, but much less convenient.
The load must be taken off the lead in order for it to be moved.
Long-haul cruisers might like the security of knowing that the lead
will stay in place with no control lines to break.
Traditonal leads also require less maintenance and help to minimize
on-deck equipment that could trip you.
If your boat is equipped with "non-adjustable" T-track jib leads, there
are a number of tricks to moving the lead, without luffing the sail. I'll
tell you how in next week's Sailing Tips.
The Jib-Trim Series, Part VI
There are a number of ways to move T-track-style jib leads. In light
winds, say 5 knots or less, the load on the sheet is minimal, so you can
just move the lead. As the wind increases and the load gets to the point
where it's not easy to move the lead (remember, the bigger the boat, the
faster the load will increase) you can ease the jibsheet until the sail
luffs or working in concert with the helmsperson you can ease the sheet
some while the boat is turned closer to the wind to make the sail luff.
Either way, with the sail luffing there is no load on the jib lead so you
can move it. This method should not be used in winds much above five or
six knots or boats much over 35 feet, because when the sail is luffing,
the jibsheet is thrashing around. The thrashing sheet not only makes it
hard to move the jiblead, the sheet may hit you which could be dangerous.
With the wind increasing beyond five or six knots or if you're sailing
a bigger boat, safety is the primary concern when moving the jib lead,
not speed--but there are some methods that provide both. If you're on starboard
tack, and the jib lead is in the wrong place, the simplest and safest way
to adjust the jib lead is to tack. This method is also best if you are
racing around the buoys because you can wait to adjust the jib lead until
your tactics say you should tack. Before tacking, move the new jiblead,
in this case the one on the starboard side of the boat, to where you think
it should be--one or two holes forward or aft of the jiblead in use on
the port side of the boat. Then, after tacking, take a look at the jib.
If you like the way it looks, the jiblead is in the right place. Now move
the jiblead on the port side of the boat to the same position as the one
in use on the starboard side and then tack back to starboard tack if that
sends you in the direction you want to go.
If you don't want to tack, and can move an extra jiblead to the same
track as the jiblead in use, whether forward of the working jiblead or
aft, you can safely change the jiblead. Tie an appropriately-sized extra
line to the jib's clew and lead it through the extra jiblead. Make sure
that the extra jiblead is in a position that will allow you to move the
working jiblead to where you want it. Then lead the extra line to a turning
block and then to an extra winch, or just to the winch. If you don't have
an extra piece of line you can use the bitter end, the tail, of the working
jibsheet. If a winch is not available, lead it to an appropriately strong
cleat and cleat it off. If the extra line is on a winch, trim it so that
the working sheet goes slack. If the extra line is on a cleat, slowly ease
the working sheet until it is slack. With the working sheet slack you can
safely move the jiblead to where you want it, and then retention the sheet.
Look at the jib and if you like the way it looks untie the extra line you
were using so that if you want to tack it won't get in the way.
There are other ways to move T-track style jibleads, but these two methods
work well and are safe. Remember, that a jiblead under load looks passive,
but as the wind increases, the strain on the line increases. Always be
careful when working with and around sheets under load.
In what will probably be the last piece on trimming the jib, next week
I'll address various forms of changing the jiblead for proper sail trim
when reaching and running downwind.
The Jib-Trim series, Part VII
When reaching, trim the jib nearly as you would when sailing close-hauled.
You want all of the telltales streaming aft. But when you ease the jibsheet
for a reaching course, you are effectively changing the location of the
jiblead. It works like this. When the jib is trimmed in for closehauled
sailing, the jibsheet pulls aft on the sail and down on the sail. By easing
the jibsheet, a lot of the downward force is removed and the wind pressure
on the sail causes the clew to rise and the leech of the sail to open,
to become less tight. Without easing the jibsheet, moving the jiblead aft
has a similar effect because the downward force on the jibsheet is decreased.
If you don't move the jiblead while reaching, all the sets of telltales
will not stream aft at the same time. So as you ease the jibsheet you need
to move the jiblead forward until all of the telltales flow aft at the
same time, which indicates the best jiblead position, and therefore, the
best sail trim. Remember previous sailing tips on how to safely move the
As you sail further away from the wind to a beam reach and broader,
you will want to move the jiblead outboard, to the rail, if possible, so
that you ease the mainsail. Moving the jiblead to the rail will help to
keep open the slot between the jib and the main to help maintain proper
airflow. If your boat is equipped with an aluminum toe rail with holes
in it, or a steak rail with a T track mounted on the top the task is made
relatively easy. If your boat doesn't have such a toe rail you would need
to mount a padeye in the appropriate position.
Use a block with a snapshackle or even a regular shackle and attach
it to the aluminum rail or T track a little forward of where the jiblead
is located. Tie an extra piece of line at least as strong as the jibsheet
to the jib's clew, run it through the block on the rail and then to spare
winch. If you don't have a spare winch, you can ask the helmsperson to
luff the jib by steering closer to the wind, or you can luff the jib by
easing the jibsheet and then lead the extra jibsheet to the primary cockpit
winch. If the wind is strong, say above 10 knots, don't luff the jib to
change the leads. Either tack and then relead the original jibsheet through
the block on the rail and tack back, or drop or rollerfurl the jib and
lead the extra jibsheet to the primary cockpit winch. You could also lead
the jibsheet through the block on the rail and then to the primary winch.
As you turn downwind, you will not be able to trim the jib according
to the telltales. Basically the jib will just hang limp and useless behind
the main. Unless, of course, you sail wing-and wing, which is next week's
The Jib-Trim series, Part VIII
When sailing within five to ten degrees of sailing dead downwind, the
most effective way to trim the jib is to sail wing-and-wing, which means
with the mainsail trimmed to one side of the boat and the jib trimmed to
the other. Here's how you do it. To sail wing-and-wing, ease the mainsail
to its downwind position which is as far as possible without the boom resting
against the shrouds. When the mainsail is trimmed correctly, use a preventer
to hold it in place.The most common preventer is a block-and-tackle system
that leads from the boom to the rail forward of the boom and pulls the
boom against the mainsheet. The preventer "prevents" accidental gybes when
With the mainsail taken care of, pull the jib to the opposite side of
the boat. It is sometimes difficult to get the sail to fill this way and
the easiest and safest method of sailing wing-and-wing is using a whisker
pole. In general, a whisker pole is a spinnaker pole with the jibsheet
led through the outboard end. Many sailors use the topping lift which raises
the pole, and the downhaul, which pulls the pole against the topping lift
to hold the pole in place.
With the jib on the proper side, opposite the mainsail, lead the jibsheet
through the outboard end of the pole and the inboard end of the pole on
the mast, raise the pole until it is parallel to the water and then tighten
the downhaul to hold it in place.
Now trim the jib until it is spread as wide as possible, then you can
pretty much cleat it. The goal when sailing downwind is to present as much
sail area to the wind as possible. The sails downwind don't use shape to
create force like they do when sailing on a reach or upwind. The more sail
area presented, the faster the boat will go. The person steering needs
to maintain as steady a course as possible, but the jib trim is set.
There are many good books available on sail trim, so walk through the
nearest bookstore or library to learn even more about how to trim your
boat's jib. Well, it's time to move onto a new subject. I hope you've learned
what you need to know about trimming the jib.
Heaving To" Technique
I don't care what anybody says, like: "Chartering/sailing in the Abacos
is easy, smooth protected waters, caressing trade winds, island-hopping
by visual navigation...bla bla bla..."
One day, you will need to take action to protect yourself and your vessel
against an unexpected strong squall, higher seas, etc! And you better know
what to do! Or more commonly, after beating hard for 3 hours in the St
Lucia passage, you will need to take a break to go to the loo, refresh
your cold coffee or simply before your wife starts to threaten with divorce.
What to do then? Well... you heave to! Blue-water confirmed sailors
know this relatively simple technique well, but charterers do not use it
often, because they just don't know what in the world I am talking about
here. OK here it is.
1. What is "Heaving to"?
When a sailboat is set in a heaving to position, she slows down considerably
and keeps moving forward at about 1 to 2 kts, but with a significant amount
of drift. The drift creates some turbulence on the water, and that disturbance
decreases significantly the sea aggressiveness. The pounding felt when
going upwind in strong seas almost miraculously disappears and the boat
does not heel as much. This is MUCH more comfortable. It's a little bit
like "parking" the boat on idle speed. The limitations of this technique
are: a)you need enough sea room because of the important drift; and b)
beyond a certain level of wind, other measures need to be taken (we won't
get into this here since not too many charterers get caught in 50kts winds.
2. How To Do It
Let's say you've been beating hard upwind for quite a while on a port
tack in 4 to 6ft. seas, no reef on your sails, the wind is about 16kts.
You're the only one on board to be able to steer and you want to take a
break. Or you're hit by a squall with 30kts wind gusts, and you would be
more comfortable waiting until it passes. Here is what to do:
Sheet in the main sail tight. You're already going upwind so you may
just have to give the main sheet a few turns on the winch.
Tack the boat but do not touch anything on your head sail, jib or genoa
(I know, this is the weird part.) It is a good idea (unless you know exactly
what you are doing) to make the initial tack very slowly: head into the
wind until the speed has really come down before finishing the tack.
When you finish the tack, you're now on a starboard tack, your main
has switched side (normal) but your headsail is now in a position you have
not seen before: the head sail is set against the wind with its clew is
to windward instead of leeward as usual, meaning that even though you're
now on a starboard tack, the clew is on the starboard side of the boat.
Note: If you do not know what a clew or a starboard tack are, do yourself
a favor, take on roller skating and forget sailing :-)
Lastly, turn your steering wheel all the way to windward and lock it.
To make things clear, since you are now on a starboard tack, turn your
wheel all the way to starboard. If your boat has a tiller, push the tiller
all the way toward your main sail and lash it.
You now notice an uncanny change in the boat attitude (obviously!):
the pounding against the waves has stopped and the boat is slowly moving
and drifting in a smooth and comfortable behavior, at about 45°off
the wind. Isn't this the greatest thing since sliced bread?
Now, one bit of caution: not all boats react the same way to a heave
to position. So if you intend to use this technique, we suggest you try
it in smooth waters with moderate winds.
3. Some Other Ideas for Use of This Technique
Heaving to can be useful for reefing (or dropping) the main. In fact,
if conditions are rough or you don't have an autopilot, heaving to whilst
reefing comes in pretty handy.
When you want to have lunch in more peace & quiet, and you are
not up against a particular schedule, heaving to can be very pleasant,
and lets the helmsman enjoy the meal as well.
It can be also used it when rendezvous-ing with the dinghy (if you
are single handed sailing whilst crew were ashore in dinghy) - it made
getting the crew back on board a snap. For this you obviously have to have
enough sea room clear of a lee shore and the conditions need to be settled
or you may lose some of the crew!
4. How to Get Out of It
When you are ready to resume your normal course, do this.
Unlock your wheel or unlash your tiller.
Turn it all the way to the other side (it was locked to starboard,
so turn it all the way to port.)
The boat will turn almost to a complete 360° and you will find
yourself back on the port tack you were on before the beginning of the
This is not rocket science. It is a very simple maneuver, which every
self-respecting sailor should know for his/her safety and comfort.