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How I Improved Sailboat Upwind Performance

By Edited Aug 15, 2016 0 0

Yacht Racing in Singapore

Sailboat Racing

I sail a custom Duncanson 30 trailerable keelboat which features a vertical lifting keel and transom-hung, lifting rudder. When racing in the local fleet at our local club in Singapore, it has been apparent that when sailing upwind our ability to point close to the wind was considerably inferior to our competitors by three to five degrees.

We race as part of a mixed design fleet of sailboats under a handicap system and I do understand trailerable keelboats will generally not perform quite as well as their fixed keel cousins, but it was plainly obvious that something was wrong with the basic setup when sailing on a beat, even though she may not have such an effective foil for a keel to create 'lift' and avoid excessive leeway. But off the wind, reaching or running, she will keep up with many of the larger boats.

The Duncanson 30 is a fractional rigged sloop and has a 135% genoa fitted on a roller-furler. The furling headsail setup will be slightly less efficient, but for me and my crew the convenience of a furler outweighs the slight reduction in performance, and I do not believe the penalty in performance would compromise our ability to point to the extent we were experiencing.

We sail in a variety of conditions and across a range of winds, but in all situations we were not able to point effectively, even after making adjustments in halyard tensions and draft of the sails. So I finally sat down to research the issue extensively and having read through volumes of material I narrowed it down to two simple but key things that I would try:

1. Adjust the forestay to pull the mast forward by a few inches at the mast-head (reducing rake).

2. When sailing upwind, be more aggressive with the boom-vang tension to reduce twist in the leach of the mainsail. In the past, I had believed the traveller and mainsheet were the primary controls when close-hauled to control twist so would just pull the vang hand-tight to take out slack. But with my set-up, it was never possible to take out twist at the top of the sail completely, and line up the top batten with the boom which is important. So cranking on the vang would in theory help to achieve the desired sail shape and also reduced the effort required by the mainsheet trimmer to pull the boom down.

We applied the above, and the improvement in pointing was definitely noticeable and I also believe the boat now also handles the gusts better; where before we would frequently need to dump the mainsail in puffs to avoid rounding up. So the boat was better behaved overall, sailed 3 or 4 degrees closer to the wind and the crew and I will experiment with and refine the boom-vang tension during future races to find the optimum setup for different wind strengths.

In conclusion, I had in the past focused way too much on headsail setup alone to improve pointing but it now seems the real problem was with the mainsail. Different boat designs will require a different approach but I hope the above adjustments that I made and that helped in our performance might just work for you too if you have pointing issues when sailing upwind

Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Sailing
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