Sail Trim for (Singlehanded) Cruisers

February 14, 2015 at 10:16 am

I’ve never been on a racing yacht (well only tied to the dock at a boat show), and I never really did dinghy’s… To say I’m not that competitive is probably a bit of an untruth, but more likely the thought of going backwards and forwards ’round the cans’ is pretty boring to me.  I like the adventure and freedom of sailing, of travelling to new places or at least seeing places from a new perspective.

However, one of the disadvantages with this lack of “discipline” is that I’m aware that my sail trim is definitely not as sharp as it could be. I know how to trim the sails with the sheets according to the tell-tales on the luff of the genoa and mainsail, but the finer points of sheet car and mainsheet traveller positioning have eluded me. When I had the UV strip replaced on the genoa last season, the sail maker replaced the luff rope and I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know what it was for…

It can’t be that complicated, surely? I reckon I’ve a pretty good ‘feel’ for how the boat is sailing and can definitely tell when the boat is ‘in the groove’, it’s just finding it has always been a bit of a lucky accident so far!

But there’s loads of info out there… I bought the RYA Sail Trim for Cruisers Handbook at the end of last summer which was very illuminating, with lots of clear diagrams.  It will definitely stay onboard with me, but it does seem quite complicated, with lots of jargon, and I think lots of differences for different boats. It definitely seems more of an art to ‘tuning’ the sails, than a science.

Sail Trim for Cruisers

Recently I’ve also found a series of videos on Youtube and I’ve found it really helpful to see it all in practice. I warn you, they are a bit ‘Howards Way’ though, made back in the 90’s clearly before roller reefing and lifejackets were invented. (And try not to get distracted giggling at the historic technology like I did either…) But I’ve watched them all a couple of times and it’s definitely making more sense to me now.

Final note though, at the end of the last video on trimming the mainsail, the presenter is shown in charge of the mainsheet traveller control continuously trimming it, in continuous communication with the helmsman. In my defence, there’s a lot more to do and think about when you’re singlehanding so I think that level of perfection is a bit unobtainable.

Can’t wait to put all this new knowledge into practice though… Anyone else got any tips?