Thursday, October 30, 2014

Light Air Heel

When I was at an RYA training center (note that I spell the word correctly) this summer, I was told by one of their dinghy racing instructors that on beats in light winds it is good to heel the boat about 5 to 10 degrees to leeward which should allow you to point slightly higher. Most of the Laser books say much the same and a quick Google search shows it seems to be the standard advice.

Since then I have tried it several times, but frankly have not noticed much of any difference.  Of course this could be faulty technique.  At the Masters I didn't notice any of the good sailors trying it on light wind days.  Recently in our Club races we had light winds and I tried it and thought maybe it was helping me point just a bit higher but I was not sure. 

Does it really make much of a difference ? If so, is it only because of less wetted surface and perhaps helping the sail to keep some shape or does it do something else also?


  1. As far as I know there are three reasons that people recommend a slight leeward heel in light winds.

    The first two are the reasons you mention - sail shape and reduced wetted surface. Personally, I don't think either of these are good reasons for leeward heel unless it is really, really light - i.e.drifting conditions, or if there is a chop that is shaking the sail out of its natural shape. If a slight leeward heel helps the sail hold its shape in these conditions then I'll use it.

    The third is to create a small amount of weather helm. This improves "feel" on the tiller. Some top sailors even change their grip on the tiller extension to the "frying pan" grip, instead of the "dagger" grip, as they believe it also increases feel on the helm.

    I grew up sailing in light winds and flat waters quite a lot. I aim to keep the boat flat in almost all conditions. I only heel slightly if their is next to no wind, and aim to get flat as soon as the boat is moving with any grip over the foils at all.

    I'm interested to hear what others think.

  2. Yes, if it is really light heel to leeward and sit as far forward as you can, even in front of the cockpit to leeward of the centerboard. If you have a little more wind try to heel to weather, it helps the hull and centerboard track to weather.

    1. In a chop with light wind you have to keep that sail shape. It also feels good to me. I can keep the rudder straight and have that weather (kind of) helm feel. In Lasers. But also keelies.

  3. I learned the same thing sailing boats in the Vanguard fleet, but never noticed a difference. A friend and I recently completed a hundred mile trip in in two 18 foot sail and oar boats of the same design. We were on the water for some eight hour days with consistent winds, so there was a lot of time for experimenting to see who was faster. Boards up, down, sails adjusted in various ways. Bottom line (for us) was that slight differences could be found, but seldom enough to matter over the long haul. -Bruce


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