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Laylines & Getting Them Right.

Windward mark layline mistakes, unfortunately, are very common and can be extremely costly.

One of the most common things that sailors get wrong is getting to the layline too early. If you get to the layline too early, you can no longer play the shifts and you also lose tactical options.

More often than not it is really hard to judge laylines without a good visual reference and wind changes, dirty air, waves, or current are all outside factors that you need to take into account. 

Problems that can be created by getting to a layline too early:

  • A lift or increase in wind velocity causes you to overstand and sail extra distance.
  • Other boats that were below the layline may now be fetching the mark.
  • A header favours the boats inside the laylines, since they are closer to the shift.
  • In an approaching lull, you have fewer options to sail towards more pressure.
  • Boats not on the layline can tack on your air, leaving you with few options.

As you get about two-thirds of the way up each beat, work out your relative distance to the port and starboard laylines and consider your plan accordingly.

Are you a lot closer to one layline than the other? If so, make sure your strategy is sound. You must have a really good reason to keep going toward the closer layline so continue to evaluate all possibilities.

When considering tacking for the mark a simple test is that if you have to look back over your shoulder to see the mark, you’re probably on or past the layline.  

It is extremely important to know your boat’s tacking angle which is the difference in headings on each tack. 

Different conditions such as wind strength, sail trim, waves and dirty air will affect the tacking angle and in light air and the difference in light to heavy air could be as much as 30 degrees.

Learning your boats tacking angles comes from practising in various conditions and it does no harm to record these numbers on the boat for quick reference and to aid your memory in pressure situations.

Drawing tacking lines on the boat are one way of helping to call a tack.

Other boats are a great clue when judging laylines but just make sure that the boats you are referencing are trimmed on and sailing hard, they may have overlaid and are reaching down to the mark or they may have underlaid and are pinching to try to get up to it.

Even if you are very close to the layline there are a few reasons why you may delay your tack or you may even decide to tack early and they are:

  • There is a favourable shift coming.
  • There is more breeze coming as more breeze lifts you and decreases your tacking angle.
  • There are tactical reasons relating to other boats in your immediate vicinity.
  • There is an unfavourable shift coming.
  • You are heading into a lull.
  • There is no clear air on the layline.
  • If there is a big wave coming, perhaps delay until it passes as a tack right on it may stop the boat and cause you to underlay on the other tack.  

There are things you can do to practice judging laylines, but make sure you practice in varying conditions.

One drill I have found to be particularly useful is to use a fixed mark and tack at it from various distances with the aim of getting to it fully powered up, close-hauled and to pass within half a boat length.

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Headstay Sag and Why it Matters

Headstay sag affects everything from boat speed to pointing ability.

Sailboats with headstay sag often point higher and maintain boatspeed better in light-air conditions and one of the key methods to power up a sail is to induce sag in the forestay.

Dinghies obviously only have one jib and many sailboat classes limit the number of jibs that a boat may carry so the ability to be able to power up and down is very important in changing conditions.

When the headstay sags, it not only sags to leeward but also sags aft, which puts the luff closer to the leech, thereby adding depth to the jib. The key controls for manipulating headstay sag are shroud tension, mainsheet tension, and in some cases, headstay length.

In light air, the number one adjustment for headstay sag on boats with either deck-stepped and keel-stepped masts is varying the shroud tension. More tension effectively pulls the mast aft (assuming the chainplates are aft of the mast)

The other way to induce headstay sag is to minimize mainsheet tension. If the mast is stiff, trimming the mainsheet will quickly increase headstay tension and reduce sag. Ideally, in light and puffy conditions, when you ease the mainsheet in a lull, you’ll see the headstay sag to leeward, powering up the sail.

Easing off the rig isn’t the only way to increase headstay sag, chocking the mast at the partners, using a mast ram (if your class allows this) or moving the mast butt aft are other methods of achieving the desired sag.

When you sag the headstay, the maximum draft in your jib moves forward. To compensate and keep the draft aft, ease halyard tension, which also creates additional power. If you increase headstay sag but the halyard remains too tight, you’ll get a knuckle in the front of the sail and an entry that’s too deep, so you won’t gain the overall power you’re looking for.

A major effect of increased headstay sag is that it rotates the middle of the sail, changing the angle of attack causing the mid-luff of the sail to move to leeward as well as aft. At the same time, the mid-leech rotates slightly inboard, similar to the effect of weather-sheeting, which increases pointing ability.

With too much headstay sag the leech will rotate inboard too far, becoming extra sensitive to sheet tension and stalling too easily. Equally problematic, the entry angle becomes too extreme; when you bear off to rebuild speed, you have to sheet out too much to power up the sail.

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