Sailing fast when the winds are slow

Published on March 3rd, 2015

Despite how random the conditions are when the winds are light, some people are just better. Here are some tips on how to sail fast when the winds are slow…

David Dellenbaugh, Speed & Smarts: When you’re racing in light air, a three-knot increase in wind velocity might improve your boat speed by 30% or 40% (and you will point higher, too). But in heavy air, the same wind increase might improve your speed only 5% to 10% (and it probably won’t help your pointing).

What this means is that puffs are a lot more valuable, relatively, when the wind is light. So, in those conditions, try to look for and sail toward better velocity. This will usually help your performance much more than finding good shifts in wind direction.

Brad Russell, North Sails: In air under 6 knots the air has a laminar-type flow to it. At 6 it becomes turbulent. There is not changeover, it’s like a switch.

In light air you always want to sail for pressure. The differences in wind speed are so great that going 20 degrees the wrong way is worth it if you’re going twice as fast.

Look for the puffs and try to ‘connect the dots’ on your way up the course. If it’s not quite that light, look for the closest path to the next pressure and take it.

You need a lot more twist in your sails in light air because the air is flowing at a different speed at the top of your mast than the bottom. This is caused by the difference in apparent wind. The apparent wind up top is much more to windward than the bottom, which is why you need more twist in your sails.

Make sure you’re flying your top tell tale and aren’t over trimmed in the light air.

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