Striking a Balanced Helm
Striking a Balanced Helm
Finding the best heel angle for your boat is easy. Maintaining it across the wind range requires constantly adjusting your sail trim and crew weight.
Anticipate, don’t react
When we’ re on our game, we anticipate the change and make the adjustments as it happens. In lighter winds, if I hear the countdown, I expect my team to start leaning out a little more just before we hear, “Puff on.” But, if we’re already hiking full, and I hear “puff in 3, 2, 1,” I would expect no movement from the team. Instead, my trimmer and I will start easing our sails an instant before the puff hits.
Feedback from the driver is equally as important. With the helm in hand, I’m the first to feel if the boat is off neutral, and I immediately let the crew know. When there is a transition between fully hiked and not, they need to know if we are in the new mode, but I’m the only one on the boat that knows exactly when that happens. When the wind builds enough that I need to start depowering, I say, “Full-hike mode.” When I say, “Fully trimmed,” the team knows they need to transition from fully hiked to balancing with body movement. If I need help heading up, I will say, “Heel up,” and I will say, “Over flatten,” if I want to bear away. We try to keep the phrases consistent so everyone on the team knows exactly what to do.
Paying close attention to the helm feedback for perfect heel and steering with your weight may just be the “magic” you need to take your sailing to the next level. Go sail blindfolded, rudderless (if you can). Start to understand what neutral helm feels like and then experiment with different angles of heel. You don’t need to know why a specific angle works, you just need to note what heel is fastest for your boat in each condition. In lighter winds, empower your team to balance your boat. In heavy wind, pay close attention to your feel on the helm and work with your trimmer for balance. And in all conditions, have your team pass you concise information, and then return feedback on how the boat is behaving. Work together as a team so you know what you need from each other to sail balanced and keep a constant heel.
1 Crew Postion: The crew should be constantly moving to keep the boat flat.
2 Sail trim: Since the boat is underpowered, trim for max speed, independent of heel.
3 Rudder Angle: The boat heels and
becomes unbalanced, causing drag on the rudder.
4 Heel Angle: The forward crew should move outboard to flatten the boat.