Your Helm Has The Answers

The more you limit excessive helm or rudder drag, the faster you go and because of this, you need to evaluate what your helm is telling you. If you have excessive helm, the driver is working against the boat’s natural course and each movement of the tiller is creating drag. Helm on different boats varies quite a bit but one thing is consistent across them all and that is excessive helm equals drag and drag is slow.

There are 3 factors that contribute to excessive helm and these are:

  1. Sail Trim: The jib pulls the bow down away from the wind and the mainsail, when trimmed in, pushes the bow up into the wind. Using this knowledge, you must set your boat up in balance to eliminate drag by getting each sail to work with the other. Adjustment of each sail will affect helm, trim the main in and helm will increase, ease it and the helm will decrease. Using this information, consider other powering up and powering down factors such as vang sheeting, outhaul adjustment and traveller movement up or down. These too will affect helm so when you or your crew make these adjustments communicate with reference to the effect the new trim has had on the helm and thus drag and make adjustments to renew balance.
  2. Heel and Fore & Aft trim: Heel induces tug on the tiller and many boats load up quicker than others. Communication again is very important and you need to discuss the effect that sideways heel and fore and aft trim are having on the helm. Generally the flatter a boat is the faster it will go but you need to establish the transition point between windward and leeward helm, that’s the sweet spot and where you should aim to be. In light winds, you may need to establish a little windward helm to generate a little lift off the blades and this can be achieved by heeling slightly to leeward. As the breeze kicks, you will feel the helm load up so flatten the boat to reduce the rudder drag.
  3. Centreboard Position: In classes or boats where you are able to adjust centreboard depth or rake, pay particular attention to the effect that board position has on the helm. In boats where the board can be raised, by pulling the board up you move the centre of lateral resistance back which reduces helm and therefore drag. As a guide, when sailing in waves, a little bit of board up will ease the helm and alow you to steer more effectively around waves.

You should always be thinking about helm, by easing the mainsail, adjusting the centreboard or depowering you will be balancing the boat and achieving the best upwind performance


Roll Tacking – How and Why

Tacking the boat is one of the first things that we learn when we start sailing. We also learn what head to wind is and that most boats sail upwind at about 45 degrees to the wind. This is basic knowledge but is not something simply to be learned and never revisited.

Perfecting a roll tack is not easy, and has many parts to it. 

However, when perfected, your advantage over other boats is significant.

One of the biggest differences between a good roll tack and a great roll tack is the timing of the roll. 

Unless it is very windy, rolling the second the jib backwinds is not ideal for effective tacks.  Many sailors get really excited, and roll before the boat is ready.  It’s natural to think that the faster you start your roll, the faster the tack is.

 By rolling too early, you will get less help from the sails to turn the boat, and will actually steer the boat down with your weight while turning up with the tiller.  This creates a lot of friction with the rudder and the water, and you will have to steer much more to turn through the wind, slowing your boat down.  

Backwinding the jib helps the boat turn during a tack significantly, therefore, the longer you allow the jib to backwind, the less rudder you will have to use to steer through a tack.

As a general rule of thumb, you want to wait till the boat is at or just past head to wind before rolling the boat.  Waiting until this point will allow you to use less rudder, and will also allow you to use the wind to help roll over the boat.  

If you go earlier, you will roll the boat against the face of the wind, forcing you to use much more effort to roll the boat over.

There is no exact time to wait before rolling the boat over, and it will change depending on the wind.  For example, in light air, you want to wait a relatively long time before rolling over the boat, as it will take longer for the sails to help you steer through the wind.  

If it is really windy, you may want to cross sides quickly, as soon as the jib backwinds.  As soon as both sailors are hiking, you should not roll at all.  

Instead, you should still use the sails to keep power in the boat the entire time, and simply switch sides and start hiking, when the jib backwinds.


  • To initiate a roll tack, heel the boat to leeward to initiate the turn into the wind.
  • Steer smoothly into the wind and squeeze in on the mainsheet.
  • Uncleat the jib and be ready to move, as the boat reaches head to wind, both crews stay on the windward side. 
  • The sails will depower – the jib will flap first – and the boat will roll on top of you.
  • Remain on the (old) windward side until the boat has turned through the wind. 
  • Back the jib until the boom comes over and ease the mainsheet a bit as you begin to move
  • Keeping the steering smooth, centralise the tiller as both helm and crew now move to the new windward side.
  • Time your movements to be at the same time with the helm and crew hitting the new windward side at the same time.
  • Bringing the boat flat helps you to bear away onto the new tack without needing to over-steer.
  • Sheet in on the mainsheet as you flatten the boat; this is where you feel the speed gain. Set the jib for a fast mode then squeeze on once you’re up to speed.


Being fast upwind is usually the key to winning and tacking well is an essential component of this upwind speed.

As is always the case with sailing, there is no limit to how often you can practise tacking and still improve.

Even at the highest level of our sport, this basic manoeuvre can be the difference between victory and defeat.


Getting Value From a Coach

Using a sailing coach to get better does not have to be expensive. Coaching is an investment that will pay dividends whether it be to work on a particular aspect of your sailing or to prepare for a club, national or world championship regatta.

There are a number of steps that you should take to gain the greatest benefit for the time and money you will invest:

  1. Find the right coach: you need a coach who will be an expert in the areas that you are weak in and not someone who gives you the answers but someone who guides you in the process of improvement and who can help you find the answers from within yourself. Be open to change, sometimes you need a coach whose personality is different to yours but the biggest changes come about from coaches who can spot your weaknesses.
  2. Questions: Don’t arrive at a training session with a blank sheet of paper hoping to be lectured to and the off chance that the coach may touch on something that you believe need improvement. Every sailor will achieve more from the session if the coach can address what the individual or team is interested in.
  3. Come to the training session ready to learn:  Many sailors come to training and treat it as a necessary chore, come with an open mind and be ready to learn something new. You need to keep your emotions under control, you are not there to show the coach how much you know, you are there to add every bit of knowledge you can.
  4. Know all roles on your boat: You are being coached to improve your sailing in your chosen position but knowing what is expected of your teammates will help you to work more efficiently together. You should pay attention when the coach is talking about a manoeuvre that doesn’t involve you.
  5. Debrief: Have a get together with your teammates after the coaching session to talk over what you have each learnt and then formulate a plan to implement and practice to make those new techniques second nature.
  6. Make notes: One of the best ways to guarantee that new ideas are remembered is to write them down. Have a notebook and put down what you have learnt in your own words. Don’t be afraid to make sketches if that helps you to remember better.
  7. Video and voice recording:  Get your on-water sessions videoed, even use your mobile phone to record as much of the session as possible. When you are having the debrief with the coach and then the debrief with the crew, at least record the sound and then rewatch or relisten at a later date. You will be amazed at what extra benefit you will gain by hearing and seeing it all again.
  8. Further ways of learning to get better: Watch videos of sailing events with your team and critique them. Sail with your fellow competitors from time to time and see how they sail and manage their boat. Attend seminars run by clubs, sailmakers and other class associations. Attend training clinics with other sailors not necessarily run by your chosen class, there is plenty to be learned from those sailing in differnt boats than your own.


Trimming Sails Together

Generally, on boats that are going slow, one sail will be much looser or tighter than the other or conversely, it might be flatter or fuller than the other.

Fast boats have similar depth in the main and jib as well as similar twist profiles. It is worth noting though that even if conditions don’t dictate flat sails, flat sails trimmed well and together will still be faster than mismatched sails. Matching sails keeps the slot a similar distance apart from top to bottom.

The best way to match your sails is to talk in terms of power, and the main trimmer or the helmsman usually make that call.

The main trimmer should communicate power to the jib trimmer as an example say, “Perfect power”, that lets the jib trimmer know we are trimmed to the sweet-spot, if a lull comes and you have to trim harder to get more power, communicate that and if the wind lightens off call “searching for power” which alerts trimmers that it is time to adjust controls such as outhaul and jib cars to create more depth and power in both sails.

Other controls that have an effect on power are the vang and cunningham and as the wind lightens off both will need to be eased. The reverse is true as the breeze increases, the controls that were eased when you were powering up need to tightened to depower but as always the contols for each sail need to be adjusted in unison.

Helm load information is another way to talk about coordinating sail trim. If the boat is heeling too much and the helmsman is feeling too much helm, they should mention it to the main trimmer so they can depower the main, which reduces heel angle and reduces helm.

If the main trimmer needs help from the jib trimmer, for example, if the backstay is already tight and the traveller is down, that information gets passed forward.

Communicating what’s happening with the backstay and traveller queues the jib trimmer to adjust the jib to match the new mainsail twist profile.

Small changes to the backstay and traveller need not be communicated but big changes warrant adjustments of both the main and jib sheets.

It doesn’t make any difference which person makes the call as long as the sails are adjusted together, you’ll be faster.