Approximately eight years ago, as I was starting to sail a lot of different boats, I began sitting down after each event I sailed, evaluating what worked and what didn’t, and then writing detailed notes. Today, I simply e-mail notes to myself. To organize them, I’ve set up folders for different boats. One of my most important in-box folders, though, is one that’s full of ideas and concepts that I find apply all the time and to almost all boats.
1. In waves, keep the bow moving in a circular motion to windward
When you’re sailing upwind in waves and heeled, you want the bow to come out of the water on the top of the wave and to move slightly to windward before landing in the water. If you are on starboard tack, for example, the bow would be making a clockwise circular motion.
**2. In waves, stay attached to the water **
Snowboarders and motocross racers know that if they’re going for speed, they need to avoid catching a lot of air on the jumps. There’s more drag created by popping up in the air and then coming back down. The same is true for boats. The more you can keep the hull in the water, the faster you’ll go.
**3. Stay in the right gear **
The area to which you sail on the jib (or genoa)—lower, middle, or upper telltales—determines how much power you’ll get out of the jib. When underpowered, sail in first gear, which means sailing so the lower telltales flow correctly. This is when the jib will be most powerful, and because the bottom of the sail has the most area to work with, you really want to keep the lower telltales working.
As you start to get overpowered, shift to second gear and focus on making the middle telltales flow correctly. You’ll notice that when the middle telltales are streaming straight back, the lower telltales will be floating up.
When you’re well overpowered, shift to third gear and sail so the front few inches of the jib are luffing. The maximum amount of luff you’d ever want to carry is where the luff extends back to the telltales. Third gear is basically a way of depowering without changing your jib, such as on an Etchells where you have two jibs and get caught with the wrong one, or on a boat with a genoa, such as J/24, where you might sail with six inches of your genoa luffing in 18 knots of breeze.
**4. Anticipate the puffs
**In marginal hiking conditions, hike before the puff hits. Think of swinging a racket at a tennis ball—you don’t start the swing when the ball is at your racquet; you start as the ball is approaching. Similarly, don’t wait for the boat to heel before you begin to hike.
5. Maintain a constant angle of heel **
Watch the headstay angle against the far shore or against the horizon, and do what you can to maintain that angle.
When the wind lightens, the person who has the job of making the boat go faster at that moment should always come in off the rail first. He or she can go down and get a better look at the jib, and that will make it better. The last one to go in should be the helmsman. Conversely, as the wind increases, the helmsman goes out first, and the trimmer last.
**6. Stay on the low edge of the plane **
On planing boats, the best VMG is found by sailing as low as you can while still maintaining a plane. You might be able to sail higher and go faster, but your progress to the leeward mark will not be as good.
**7. Vang sheet in puffy conditions **
The more puffy and/or shifty the conditions are, the more you should play the mainsheet. If overpowered, tighten down the vang so the main does not get deeper when you ease the mainsheet (aka vang sheeting).
**8. Listen to the jib trimmer in light air **
In light air, the jib trimmer should ease the jib when lifted, then coach the helmsman back up to the new course as the jib trimmer brings the jib back in to full trim.
**9. Make sure you can mode **
Try to sail in bow-down, fast-forward modes. If you can do this comfortably, the boat is set up well for the conditions. This is good especially when tuning on your own.
**10. Never ease the spinnaker clew past the headstay **
If you ease the clew too far, the spinnaker will pull the boat to windward and not drive it forward enough. Typically, the right amount of ease is when the clew is just to leeward of the headstay.
**11. Vang and spinnaker pole go together **
The vang tension and pole height should change in unison. If you bear off, typically you raise the pole and ease the vang. When you head up, do the opposite. In stronger winds, if the boat is rocking too much, tighten the vang and pull in the boom slightly.
**12. Sag for power **
The mast should sag slightly to leeward, making the sail more powerful, until you are in a full hike. Once you can no longer hold the boat down by hiking, straighten the mast.
**13. Pointing problems? Look at two possibilities **
Think of the main and jib as one large wing. The front of the jib is the leading edge of the wing, and the main leech is the back edge. If you’re not pointing, the root of the problem is most often found in one of those two areas.
**14. As conditions change make multiple adjustments **
If you’re well off the pace in the new conditions, don’t make just one large adjustment on one control—such as easing two feet of mainsheet or moving the mast butt three inches. Instead, try a few clicks on the mainsheet, maybe coupled with a small change in the outhaul.
**15. Surfing—do up-turns early **
The best downwind wave sailors don’t necessarily record the highest speeds; they just maintain a consistent speed longer. One key to doing this when you’re surfing is to turn up before the bow hits the next wave in front of you.
**16. Carry the most power in light air **
In light air, the first team to power up enough to get weight on the rail is usually the fastest. But be careful: As the wind increases, the next step after that is to stop going for power and hiking and instead focus on making the boat go forward.
**17. Move diagonally **
In light air, you’re on the leeward side and well forward to get the stern out of the water, reducing wetted surface. As the wind increases and you move to windward to keep the boat balanced, don’t just move straight across. Move diagonally, to windward and aft. The reason for that is, once you move to windward and start hiking, you want to take advantage of a full waterline length. Of course, as the boat gets more powerful and begins planning, move even further aft.
**18. Jib trimmer goes in first **
When you become underpowered and need to take someone off the rail, send the person in who will make the biggest difference. This connects with tip No. 9. The jib trimmer can see the jib a lot better when on the leeward side and instantly adjust the sail for the changing conditions. By the same token, the jib trimmer should be the last to move to windward.
**19. Steer with your weight **
This is one of the most basic, but most important, of all the rules. Any time you’re turning the boat to windward, you should lean in, and any time you’re turning down, hike out, regardless of wind speed. It’s very obvious in a dinghy in light air, but even on big boats we delay windward-mark spinnaker hoists all the time to help turn the boat down. This is accomplished by keeping the crew weight on the rail as long as possible. At the leeward mark, get your job done but don’t go right to the windward rail. Instead, lean to leeward as the boat turns up. Then hike out to flatten the boat just before the bow reaches the new course.