This article was written by super coach ADRIAN FINGLAS during his time as Head Coach at Royal Brighton Yacht Club.
We have all heard the old saying flat is fast, once the boat is powered up and sailing upwind the flatter you can sail your boat the faster it will go.
A common sight from dinghy to one design keelboats is often the winning teams will always have the flattest sail set up and the least angle of heel.
Watching a world-class Etchells fleet race from a coach boat is always interesting, the fast guys are easy to find as they are the least heeled over.
Small dinghies can be sailed extremely flat and the best teams practice for hours just perfecting keeping that exact angle of heel perfect. Steering and mainsheet trim are the two controls constantly being changed and monitored in our small boats.
We have many different controls that can assist in keeping the boat flat and they all have different effects.
One control and the biggest that’s overlooked is steering accurately with the power you have – I call steering a primary control and generally had the biggest effect on power.
If you are overpowered and heeling too much in a dinghy or a yacht you steer closer to the wind luffing the jib slightly and reducing the power and angle of heel. A yacht or a dinghy that heels over makes considerable leeway (drift sideways) very quickly compared to a yacht sailed flat.
We can be losing so much distance and speed to our opponents if we are heeling too much. In stronger breeze, it is not uncommon to see the top helms luffing the first 6 to 8 inches of the jib as they sail upwind. This is keeping the power and angle of heel under control.
A boat set up poorly with too much power can be like a bucking horse – very difficult to control. Too much sail depth is the common mistake made in most setups. The sails always look much flatter onboard than from the coach boat. When you see a boat from behind you will be surprised how deep the sails are.
Our secondary controls must be pulled on very hard to stretch the sails flat to reduce power. Listed below in order of importance to reduce power on a big boat.
- Backstay on
- Traveller down
- Outhaul on hard lower mainsail shape must be flat
- Cunningham on hard to hold the draft position in the sail forward of 50%
- Jib cars aft making the jib flat in the bottom third
- Jib halyard on hard, no wrinkles, this holds the draft position forward in the flying shape
- Vang – vang in a dinghy to yacht has radically different outcomes, the vang has much more effect on the dinghy rig compared to a yacht rig.
A sail is a soft flying wing so holding the flying shape in the correct position with your controls is key.
I have an old saying – except for very light winds wrinkles are slow. Keep the sails smooth, we don’t see planes flying around with bumps on their wings.