If you always wonder how to best set the boat rigging and improve your sailing performance when you are in a downwind position, here are some insights and tips:
The wind strength seem to decrease when sailing downwind, due to the effect of apparent wind. You will be sailing with the waves and not have to balance the boat so much. With the sails eased out fully and the wind blowing from behind the boat, there is no heeling force to balance against. The helmsman sit on the windward side while the crew move to leeward to balance the helmsman weight.
Downwind course involved mainly the broad reach, training run and dead run positions.
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TIP #1: Adjust the rigging
Did you know that when sailing downwind, the rig can be eased forward to allow more fullness of the sails?
Release the backstay, vang and main outhaul, ease the jib and main halyard slightly, and release the main sheet fully.
Downwind settings recommendations
- Always let the rig forward when sailing downwind
- Ease off the backstay (and slightly ease the jib halyard to pull the rig forward, when in use)
- The main traveller can be kept high with the sheet and vang trimmed on to keep the main from flogging
- Adjust the vang tension as the boat is picking up speed by easing it slightly
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TIP #2: Controlled gybing
Maintaining a course downwind is challenging!
A sailboat gybe when changing direction whilst sailing downwind. The boom is fully let out and must be controlled during the gybe.
Any sudden wind change or steering mistake can cause the boom to swing dangerously across the boat triggering an accidental Gybe (or change in tack)
You can check the boom safety during a gybe from our previous article “Beginners need to be aware of sailing risks and safety precautions”.
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TIP #3: Adjust sails trim to your point of sail
From a ‘beam reach’, the skipper bear away to sail on a ‘broad reach’ position.
The crew eases out both sails until they set correctly, watching the luff and telltales to achieve optimum
trim. In strong winds, a broad reach is likely to be the fastest point of sailing. From the broad reach, the helmsman bear away to a ‘training run’ so that the wind comes over one stern quarter and ease the sails out as for as possible. The jib should be set using the telltales or by watching for a shaking luff. Depending on the strength of the wind, the crew should sit in the middle of the boat or to leeward to balance the weight of the helmsman who is seated on the windward side.
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TIP #4: Goose-winging the jib
Once you have gain confidence on a run, you can try ‘goose-winging’ by setting the jib on the opposite side of the mainsail.
When sailing downwind, the jib may stall. By projecting the jib out of the mainsail ‘wind shadow’, the sail can fill and stabilise. The use of a pole to hold the headsail out will increase the sailing angle and performance. ‘Goose-winging’ is when the crew set up the jib on the opposite side of the mainsail.
This increases the speed, helps balance the boat and make it easier to steer. To goose wing, the boat bear away to a dead run so that the wind is coming directly over the transom. This makes the jib collapse as it is now in the wind shadow of the mainsail. Pull it across the foredeck using the other jib sheet until it fills with wind and set on the opposite side of the boat.
To maximize performance running downwind, the jib can be poled out to expand the sail area exposed to the wind, or replaced by a spinnaker.
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TIP #5: Jib pole versus spinnaker
These are the pros and cons of having a Jib pole versus a spinnaker set up.
- For simplicity and convenience, a deployed pole allows the jib to add power or speed but the sail is relatively small and heavy
- The spinnaker can be almost two to three times the size of the jib, which is one of the reason why it improves speed
- Spinnakers are light and work very effectively, but are a lot of work to set, trim and take down
- Deploying a pole or a spinnaker varies depending of the wind direction or point of sail
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TIP #6: Spinnaker safety
Make sure you check the weather forecast on a regular basis, so you can be prepared for whatever the weather might bring. We recommend an amazing free application called windytv with their ‘easy to use’ animated weather map.
Sailing downwind can be challenging since the sail area is increased by the spinnaker and the various manoeuvres require skills. A safety limit of 20 knots for flying a spinnaker is recommended, since a simple mistake in heavy winds could put the boat and the crew at risk. Consequently a crew with limited experience might consider staying under jib or Genoa as true wind increases over 15-20 knots.
Symmetric spinnaker sails can be hoisted to the top of the mast (‘masthead spinnakers’) or above the forestay ((‘fractional spinnakers’).
These are smaller in size and more suited for heavy conditions or close reaching.
- Fractional: Fitted above the forestay
- Masthead: Fitted to the top of the mast – with a longer pole
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Sailing tips by www.prepsail.com
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