EXPERT ON BOARD
Balance, control and planning are key to surprise-free, effective downwind sailing, says Duncan Wells
How to tame your downwind sails. Expert tips and tricks to run with the wind with balance and control
Last month when sailing to windward, we were using the sails ‘aerodynamically’. This month, sailing downwind, we will use the sails ‘stalled’. So how should we trim our sails to get the best out of them when the wind is abaft the beam?
With some justification, many yachtsmen are nervous about sailing downwind. At the front of their mind is the fear of an accidental gybe and the rig failure that can result from it. For some though, it’s lightweight downwind sails that cause anxiety, ensuring they rarely see the light of day, remaining buried under a berth for the duration of ownership. The drama that often unfolds on the foredeck of racing yachts does nothing to help with our perception of what flying the most colourful item in our wardrobe actually involves. The end result though, is missing out on some of the most satisfying sailing there is.
Taking the fear and anxiety out of going downwind is about first considering how differently us cruisers actually go about everything on deck. Specifically, we have time on our hands. We can be methodical, reduce the risk of it going wrong and set up on one course for a longer period of time.
Downwind sailing is an exercise in balance and control. We are going in the direction the wind wants us to go, so a lot is already to our advantage. However, this means we must balance our sails carefully so we’re not overpowered and don’t start to roll constantly. Practice makes perfect, and experimenting will deliver satisfying results.
A balanced sail setup is at the crux of making good progress downwind Duncan Wells is principle of Westview Sailing, author of Stress-free Sailing and creator of Moblifesavers.com