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Fair Wind Sailing School Sailing Lessons: Intermediate Sail Trim

Aug 17, 2007
In this lesson I will present a detailed perspective on sail trim, introducing the use of tell-tales and more sail controls, while keeping the relative time spent on sail trim to a minimum.

Novices begin sail trim with the mainsail. More advanced sailors start sail trim from the most forward sail on the boat. For a typical Bermuda Sloop, the most common rig today, that means the jib or foresail. We will also introduce sailing by the tell-tales -- the little pieces of green and red yarn, cloth or ribbon hanging in about the middle of the sail. To begin, we put our boat on a steady course and while on that course we sheet the sail to the "all the way in" position. At this point, the "inside" tell-tales, those closest to the centerline of the boat, should be pointing straight back in line with the motion of the boat and parallel to the water, while the outside tell-tales will be flopping about. To properly trim our headsail, we will ease the sail slowly out. Eventually, the tell-tale movement will change with the inside tell-tales flopping about and the outside tell-tales flowing back in a straight line parallel with the water. When you have reached this point, stop easing the sail and gently (and slowly) trim in until both sets of tell-tales are streaming aft. This is the ideal trim position. One final note on headsails, many will have several sets of tell-tales and it can be difficult to get all sets streaming aft simultaneously. For our purposes, we will trim to the bottom set of tell-tales when there are two sets and to the middle set when there are three sets of tell-tales.

Now, let's turn our attention to the mainsail. We will still use just our mainsheet for trimming our mainsail at this point, continuing to avoid adjustment of the boom vang and traveler car. We will center our traveler car amid ship and leave it there. At this point, with the headsail already trimmed, you are likely to see a big "bubble" along the luff of our mainsail where the headsail has turned the wind into our mainsail if the mainsail is trimmed out. The goal of mainsail trim is to get the mainsail tell-tales, located on the leach of the sail, usually along the battens, to stream back parallel to the water. The procedure is similar to headsail trim above: start with the mainsail all the way in and gradually ease the sail out until the tell-tales are streaming aft. As with the headsail, they may all not stream aft simultaneously. Try moving in and out -- slowly -- if you still can't get them all flowing, concentrate on the tell-tales from mid-sail to the top of the sail -- that is where you will find the strongest wind.

Lastly, let me point out that there are conditions such as very light winds, wet sails, heading dead down wind, etc., when the tell-tale trim method may not work. When you are sailing in these conditions, my advice would be return to simpler rules of trim until you are ready for the advanced trim methods.
About the Author
Captain Dave Bello is the President of Fair Wind Sailing School, offering sailing lessons and sailing charters in the BVI, US Virgin Islands, Florida and the Chesapeake Bay.
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