Trimming the sails

Trimming the sailsIf two people are sailing off the wind, and steering equally well in equal boats with apparently the same wind, their boats do not have to go the same speed!

Why is this? Apart altogether from the act of steering, one might be better than the other in sailing a Yacht "off the wind". It is not a matter of steering, but a matter of sailing, when the boat is off the wind. We mean the increase of speed the only possible increase of speed which can now be obtained is by trimming the sails, that is by checking and hauling upon the sheets.

We should, perhaps, remark that the crew should always trim the boat properly, that is to say they should be placed so that their weight tends to keep her upon a level keel and not bury her head, and they should not shake the boat by moving about.

When they tend the sheets the work should be done, if possible without rocking the yacht. The beginner having absorbed the elementary instruction upon steering to windward next finds himself turning his attention to sailing or trimming his sheets when the vessel is off the wind.

The actual steering (in fairly smooth water) now becomes so easy as to be monotonous. On the other hand, the art of sailing and trimming the sheets, now that the vessel is oft the wind, becomes very difficult and is most interesting. The novice can now leave the tiller and give it a rest and turn his entire attention to the trim of the sheets, for by this chiefly will he learn the art of sailing a yacht off the wind.

We consider this trimming of the sheets, and particularly the sheet of the mainsail, the biggest sail, when the vessel has the wind about the beam, or about the beam, one of the most difficult things to learn in sailing a yacht.

The speed of the yacht depends upon it, and upon little else, because our course is straight from A to B. The steersman is doing his part. He is keeping her nose upon B.

We now have to manage the sails. We have got to teach the beginner how far off to let his sheets. Of course, if the wind is dead astern it is not difficult.

Square the main boom as far off as ever it will go and so present the widest possible area square to the wind that is simple. But our difficult question is to decide how far off the sheets should be supposing the wind is abeam or on the quarter. It is not easy, when the yacht is moving, to detect or determine exactly the real direction of the wind. This is especially true if the wind is light.

The novice need not be ashamed to wet his finger and hold it up to the wind and feel the cool side indicating the direction. Young yachtsmen are sometimes afraid of doing so for fear of being laughed at and thought landlubbers! You can tell, however, in this way little variations of the wind when it is more aft or more ahead.

After very long experience of sailing instinct seems to tell us how far off the sheets ought to be. This, however, is very little help to the beginner!

A practical advice for the beginner is the following:

"Slack off the sheets until the luff of each sail just begins to lift, then pull them all in six inches, and you have perfectly trimmed sails."

This piece of sound advice will convey more to the young sailor than any diagrams drawn upon paper. Diagrams showing or attempting to answer this question are unsatisfactory and misleading.

The flow of the sails should be made to vary in accordance with the strength of the wind, and in a strong wind which puts a belly in the sails it is not necessary to let the sheets off so far as in a light breeze. The besetting sin of all sailors, both amateur and professional, is that they trim their sheets too tight when sailing a yacht off the wind.

Now, when the young sailor has trimmed his sails by this method he must not imagine that his job is finished, and that he can sit down and smoke his pipe and take no further interest in the sails. The wind is ever changing in direction. The constant changes in the direction of the wind were easily detected when the beginner was steering the yacht closehauled. They were frequent. He kept on getting "luffing puffs " and "breaking off puffs", but then he was steering by his sails and by the feel of the yacht and not by the course, consequently he instantly detected these changes. He luffed or bore away accordingly. He kept on altering his course so as to be always full and by.

Now he is off the wind and simply steering a straight course he cannot so easily detect these changes in the direction of the wind, but he must remember they are occurring with just the same frequency. He must, therefore, keep on trimming his sails, onstantly altering his sheets. This is the secret to beating your opponent off the wind. Always be on the look out and always trim your his sheets.

The trimming of the sheets off the wind with exactitude is a fine art of yacht sailing, and too much constant attention cannot be given to it. When sailing off the wind in strong winds great speed is attained, indeed, with the wind just abaft the beam, the greatest of all speeds.

Endeavour to keep the sheets eased off far enough to decrease the angle of heel. If the boat buries her head it is a sign the sheets are too close-hauled. As they are eased off her head will spring up. When the wind is well over the quarter the yacht should sail her best nearly on a level keel.

If with the wind in this direction a yacht is seen to be heeling over, or is felt to heel over, as if with a sudden effort, or sudden puff, which makes her tug at her helm as if she were a living thing trying to increase her speed straining "like a hound at the leash", then this indicates she wants her sheets eased.

It may not he an easy thing to ease it in a strong breeze, and good command must be kept of the sheet when in a small boat, but "ease off" till the fierce pressure is gone. Then, when the heaviest weight of the puff is over, trim by hauling in again till it just takes the weight nicely and no more.

It is in the lighter winds, however, that the difficulty of ascertaining the amount the sheets should he allowed to flow will present itself when sailing a yacht off the wind, and then is the time to remember the maxim for the perfectly trimmed sheet.