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DON'S LOG: stories, experience and advice

Improving Reaching Performance

When sailing the Windwards and Leeward the majority of the time is spent on a close, beam or broad reach. To maximize the time on a beam reach the sailor should study the tidal information on the back of all Imray Iolaire charts.

If interisland passages are made so the open water part of the trip is made during a weather going tide the course sailed to stay on or to windward of the rumb line is 15 to 20 degrees lower than if the same passage is made with a lee going tide. This often means that the passage is an eased sheet reach rather than being strapped down hard on the wind spray flying in all directions and crew getting seasick.

Sailors should also note what was said in the Norie and Wilson 1879 Sailing directions to the West Indies. This pilot served as my guide until I wrote “Cruising Guide to the Lesser Antilles” in 1966. In the Norie and Wilson pilot it is stated “when sailing to leeward of the high islands in the Caribbean, stay within two pistol shots distance of shore or seven leagues off”

This is still true today. Boats should sail, or motor sail, or motor along the lee coast within 100 yards of shore. Even if no wind, it will be smooth sea and the crew will be able to enjoy a close up view of the shore side scenery and activities.

At the ends of the islands the boat should follow the coast around to the east until the sea and wind build up to make sailing, motor sailing or motoring difficult. At that point bear off and cross the passage. By following the coast as far east as possible you gain distance to windward maximizing the chances of and eased sheet reach.

Iolaire, built 1905 and still going strong, is 46’ long, heavy displacement, narrow and deep.She should not be particularly fast on a reach but ask anyone that has raced against Iolaire and they will certify that she is a reaching fool. This is achieved by opening the slot between head sails and main, re trimming the genoa or yankee (number l jib topsail) to the end of the boom, moving staysail sheet out to the rail cap, and carefully trimming the main, adjusting BOTH boom vang and main sheet.

That correctly trimming greatly increases speed is perfectly illustrated by Iolaire’s delivery to UK after I sold her at the end of 52 years two months of ownership.

The new owner wanted me to skipper her on her trip to UK from Ireland. I said “no you bought her, you are owner skipper, I will happily go along as sailing master”. We sailed out of Glandore very early in the morning in light airs, so I went to bed.

I woke up a couple of hours later, realizing the wind had filled in, she was sailing rail down, but having sailed Iolaire for more than half a century I could feel, lying in my bunk that things were not right.

When I arrived on deck, I discovered Guy, the new owner, had so much weather helm the tiller was up under his chin. She was rail down, but doing only 5 kts. I organized re trimming, moving jib sheet to end of boom, staysail sheet to outboard reaching lead, eased main, hardened up on the boom vang and played with trimming and re trimming everything.

Within an hour we were doing 7 ½ occasionally 8 kts with NEUTRAL helm. We had a glorious beam reach across the irish sea, almost dry decks, huge full moon that night. The delivery trip was so good that I never want to sail on Iolaire again as no matter how good the sail would be it would be down hill after our wonderful delivery trip.

To sheet the headsail to the end of the main boom make up a combination reaching sheet and main boom preventer (CV guide pg 138 ) Secure a becket block to a bail on the end of the boom (photo CV pg) a wire or high strength line , dynema or similar secured to the becket on the becket block. The wire or line should be slightly shorter than the length of the boom, secured to the gooseneck via a light lashing line. This line is used as a main boom preventer when sailing broad off of dead down wind. Rigging this will be described in a subsequent article. A reaching sheet should be lead thru the becket block and both ends tied off at the gooseneck.

If you do not have a bail at the end of the boom that can be used to secure the becket block, all is not lost. Make up an endless loop of line(photo CV pg 138) secure the ends together with a double sheet bend and mouse the ends of the knot. Then loop the line around the end of the boom, past it back thru itself, pull tight and secure a becket block to the loop(CV photo pg 139)

Once sheets are eased attach one end of the reaching sheet to the clew of the headsail, run the other end forward to a block on or near the rail cap then back to a winch. Take up on the reaching sheet, throw off the normal sheet and re trim the headsail. The slot will be opened and you will be able to ease the main, the boat will come up on her feet and begin to really travel.

If you have a high cut headsail, with the clew so high it is difficult or impossible to reach the clew, all is not lost. Sheet the headsail for going to windward, mark the sheet about four feet above the deck. Then roll up the jib, cut the sheet at the mark and tie the two ends of the sheet together with a double sheet bend and mouse the end with tape(in the old days we moused the ends of knots with Italian tarred marline).

When sheets are eased secure the reaching sheet to the normal jib sheet, above the knot, use either a snap shackle or two half hitches. Then as described above, re sheet to end of main boom photo pg 141 note the reaching sheet is attached to the jib topsail sheet ahead of the knot(sal the photo is miss labled , the sheet is to the jib topsail sheet, if it were to the genoa it would be attached to the clew. and re trim both headsail and main.

If the boat is double headsail rigged, take a line, run thru a block on the rail cap, lead the line outside the shrouds attach to the clew of the staysail, take the load on the reaching sheet and throw off the normal sheet. On Iolaire, this third sheet was always coiled in a gasket coil and hung on the life line ready to use.

Trim the headsails so that the tell tales on both the lee and windward side of the headsails are streaming aft. If the windward one is lifting the sail needs to be trimmed, if the leeward one is lifting the headsail needs to be eased.

To properly trim the main on a reach it is essential to have a boom vang that can be adjusted. Most boats have a centreline boom vang, a rig I do not like as the loads sky rocket vs a tackle secured to the rail cap with the lead leading outboard at a 45 degree angle(sketch CV pg 140 ). Also with the center line boom vang the dinghy can not be stowed in its traditional place on or almost on center immediately aft of the mast.

To secure the tackle to the boom make a big long endless loop of line as previously described, loop it around the boom TWICE then pass the end thru itself, pull tight and secure the block for the boom vang. Looped twice around the boom it will not slip.

Play with trimming the main, eliminating or minimizing the twist in the main by altering tension on the boom vang.

To properly trim the main you should have four tell tales secured to the leach of the sail, one by each batten, or if there are no battens, just evenly spaced up the leach. If you have ribbon cut It in lengths suitable for the size of your boat and sew on to the leach of the sail. If you do not have nor can find ribbon all is not lost.

Go to the nearest sail maker, ask him to sell you the length of spinnaker rip stop tape necessary to make four leach tell tales. Take the rip stop tape which is 2 “ wide, fold in half sticking both sides together making a ribbon 1 “ wide.

Secure this to the leach of the sail. Then start playing with the sheet and vang until you get all four of the tell tales flying. Once you have achieved this, the main is perfectly trimmed. If you get three flying you are doing well. If only one or two are flying continue to play with sheet and vang.

For the fine points on mainsail trimming consult the NORTH U, videos, dvds brochures, or talk a hot shot racing man or girl- the females are excellent at sail trimming as a females attention span, concentration is longer than the males!!! to go sailing with you and demonstrate how to get all four tell tales flying.

After I retired Iolaire on her 80ieth birthday from racing other than in Classic Regattas, I sailed for many years on various boats as rock tide and wind pilot. I often introduced crews to the idea when reaching , of sheeting the genoa or yankee to the end of the main boom. On every boat, when speed was checked it was discovered that the boat was faster with the sheet to the end of the main boom than it was when sheeted to the deck.

On a number of boats, the sheet rigged thru the end of the boom was referred to as the “street sheet”.

On a reach if headsails and main are properly trimmed, helm should be neutral, boat fast and easily handled.

Missen staysails, sailing broad off or dead down wind, main boom preventer, will all be discussed in a future article

Sal regarding photo graphs, I have written steve palvaldis and asked him to send to you the photos that are in the cape verde guide

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