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FoolishSailor | Misadventures in Sailing, Travel and Food

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Current Boat List for Taniwha

Ahh, the dreaded To Do list for Taniwha

Project Tasks/item
Anchor winch Re oil and fix plugs
Sort out spacer
Fix bow roller that is bent
Forward hatch pin Source material or cut from stock
Connect brace on pullpit Measure and buy u-bolt
Clean Anchor/Sail Lockers Wash out and remove all mud and materials
Go through All gear and decide what to keep
Remove rubber and reseat
Secure/remove any wires
Caulk and seal any leak point to convert to watertight bulkhead
Clean sails and lube hanks
Sew covers for hatches
Sew covers for winches
Measure and build hard bimini Build template with 4mm ply
Design better Bimini connection to dodger Weld new slots
Waterproof cover for starter panel
Seal the throttle properly
Develop sliding windows in dodger
Electricall Isolate engine for floating ground Install vetus k40 flexible engine mounts
Mount and install separate starter solenoid
Wire solenoid energiser wire from starter solenoid to new solenoid
Remove negative isolation switch and wire across solenoid instead
Install Ample power 4023i alternator
Install AmplePower Smart Regulator
Order new belts
Check sensors and replace if not two wire
Order new spring for jerk pump
Have new spindle made for waterpump
Install hot water exchanger for shower
Make or order led tricolor light White led replacement light
Used tricolor case
Used tricolor case
Purchase silver chloride electrode Mcmiller model 13100
Install second rd30
Secure all electronics
Determine isolation transformer ability for multi voltage. If not then sell and replace?
Check all 220 wiring
Look into re-running 220 away from dc
Buy and install victron inverter Phoenix inverter c 12/2000
Check and replace GPS on davitt
Replace current coax for awg #10 wire for SSB
Setup Sattelite Phone
Setup Pactor Modem
Fix wind generator
Sails and Rigging
Rebuild Reefing System Cams Install garhauer quad clutch
Re drill existing plate to fit clucth
Design build rigid vang Order 4-6 74mm bearing sheaves
4' piece 63.5 od stainless
3' piece 50.83od
Fix gooseneck Drill larger hole in boom for thicker bolt - check engineer for ratings
Weld plates on male fitting on mast to ensure snug fit
Recut lazy bag to accommodate reefing lines
Reattach slider cars on sail
Restitch torn batten pocket
Grind plates to be flush with mast track slot
Inspect spin poles
Restring spin bag
Inspect and patch spinny
Rebuild/clean all winches
Build covers for winches
Whip all lines
Measure for sure and replace all bad halyards or lines
Inspect mast base
Fix shaft tube Strip hull to bare metal
Drain and purge fuel tank
Cut panels from hull
Remove existing tube
Design new system
Design brace to stop banging centreboard High density plastic
Clean and repaint watertank
Paint Deck Sand/Prep surface
Tape everything or remove
Strip all paint on gunwales
Resecure hydraulic system
Redesign hydraulic mounting system Cut off plate
Cut measure high density plastic mount
Drill mounting holes
Add backing plate
Replace Tiller and shim
Repair trim tab Remove tab
Remachine new teflon bushings
Refair and repaint trim tab
Develop better method to secure trim tab
Design and install wind vane steering
Convert pantry back into bunk
Strip and restrain cabin sole near companion way
Sand and re spray sole in master
Shower Sand flush surface
Fill all holes with epoxy
Cut waterproof cabintry into shower area
Remove and redesign cabintry into wet room
Add fold down teak seat
cover plywood with trim
Finish install of grey water waste system
Add foot pedal control to water flow
change sink system
Add teak windo surround to both windows
Cut ceiling out and extend shower up to deck
Sand and refinish drop boards
Sand refinnsh hatch
Rebuild fridge smaller

Sail Trim For Cruisers - a work in progress...


Sail Trim for Cruisers

There are stacks and stacks of articles and books on sail trim written from every possible perspective. One would be foolish to hope to cover it in any depth in a single article, but hey when did we ever stop because something seemed a foolish endeavor?

Table of Contents

Sail Controls
Sail Aerodynamics
Angle of Attack
Understanding Draft
Understanding Twist
Balance of Forces
How to Use Telltales and Controls
Basic Trim Tips for Head Sails
Basic Trim Tips for Mainsails
Quick Solutions for Weather Helm
Sail Plan Concepts
Effects of Rigging Tension on Sails
Light Air Solutions
Dealing with Heavy Air
Bringing Life into Old Sails
Wrap Up
Resources for More Information
Download Sail Trim Cheat Sheet

This article will cover all the major concepts on sail trim and theory but only on a level deep enough to empower you to sail your boat faster, more comfortably, and to deal with heavy weather in a more effective manner.  The primary goal is to dilute the theory and practice to very simple steps that will help you understand sails, sail controls and how to optimize sail trim, speed and balance for your boat as a Cruiser.

The Table of Contents for this article is listed here.  Understanding all the basic concepts of aerodynamics and sail theory wont necessarily make you a better sailor, but understanding these allows you more ability to problem solve for yourself since you will have an understanding of the forces involved in making your boat move and how to effectively harness them.  That said, if you understand the terms and terminology of sails, controls and shape you can jump right to the Sail Trim Cheat Sheet to see simple, clear and effective step by step approaches to make your boat faster, more efficient and safer.  

I welcome any and all feedback on this article, it is intended as an "Evergreen" article that will be continually updated and improved over time and hopefully with the feedback of those who have read it.sail-plan-for-cruisers


Now time to jump right in...

Sail Layout

Before we can proceed we need to ensure we are using the same terminology to mean the same things so lets cover the basic terminology of the parts of a sail.

There are three sides and three corners to a Mainsail and Headsail.



Next: Sail Controls


Sail Controls


Most controls have more than one effect and understanding what these effects are for each control and how to utilize them is critical to understanding and executing effective sail trim.

In the previous section we show that all headsails and mainsails have a leech, luff and foot.  There are controls for each of these sides that loosen or tension the side affecting the shape of the sail and the air flowing over it.

Below are a list of the controls on mainsails and headsails.





Cunningham or Downhaul
Boomvang (Kicker)


Downhaul (on some boats)
Fairlead Position


Multiple Effects

Most sail controls have a more than one effect on the sail shape.  There can be overlapping actions from different controls as well.  Some examples below illustrate the complexity of the effects a single sail control may have.

Example: Backstay

The backstay, when tensioned, de-powers the sail plan.  It does this by bending the mast forward in the middle and aft at the top.  This has multiple effects:

  1. Bending the middle of the mast forward decreases the draft in the mainsail (flattens the mainsail by taking some of the curve out of it).  Less draft = less power.

  2. Pulling back the top of the mast:
    1. Opens up the upper third of the mainsail's leech which falls to leeward spilling air and pressure.  This is called "Twist" and will be covered in detail later.  Increasing twist has a powerful effect on reducing heel since the effect happens mostly near the head of the mast where the wind exerts the most leverage.

    2. Tightens the headstay and headsail halyard which flattens the headsails draft and shifts it forward, depowering the headsail and changing its center of effort.

Example: Main Sheet

The mainsheet also has a multitude of effects. It does not simply bring the mainsail towards and away from the centerline of the boat, it also has a vertical component to its effect.


The mainsheet is connected to the boom and when you tension or ease the mainsheet the boom moves towards or away from the centerline of the boat.  This changes the angle of attack of the main sail.

Angle of Attack is the angle between sail's chord and the wind.


When you sheet the sail closer and closer to centerline you are also increasing the downward pressure on the boom. The closer the boom is to the centerline the more the downward pressure is exerted. At a given point, depending on the wind pressure, any additionaly tension on the mainsheet no longer moves the boom towards the center but only pulls it down - increasing tension on the leech of the sail and decreasing twist.

It is this complex and frequent overlap of effects that prevent many cruisers and sailors from fully understanding what is happening to their sails, how it affects their boat speed, and what to do to optimize sail trim.


Sail Controls and Their Effects

Below are a list the the main sail controls and the effects they produce on sails when adjusted.  In the following sections we will discuss twist and draft in detail and then on to the specifics of how to trim your sails.

Lines attached to boom that are used to change the sails angle of attack (move the sail towards or away from the centreline of the boat). An additional effect is that they also change the tension in the leech of the sail which changes the amount of twist in the sail.
Jib Sheet
Lines attached to the clew of the headsail that are used to change the sails angle of attack (move the sail towards or away from the centreline of the boat). An additional effect is that they also change the tension in the leech of the sail which changes the amount of twist in the sail.
Fairlead Cars (Headsail Only)
Fairlead cars are movable blocks attached to the fairlead track that move forward and aft. The jib sheet is run through them and by moving the fairlead car forward or back you change the vertical angle that the sheet pulls on the headsails, this changes the amount of downward pressure on the leech which in turns changes the amount of twist in the sail.
Line used to raise a sail. It is also used to change the tension on the luff of the sail which moves the draft of the sail forward or back
Line with one end generally attached to the transom of a boat and the other to the top aft end of the mast. When tensioned it has multiple effects: It bends the middle of the mast forward decreases the draft in the mainsail (flattens the mainsail by taking some of the curve out of it) and pulls back on the top of the mast increasing twist and increasing forestay tension which also flattens the headsail and moves the headsail draft forward.
Cunningham / Downhaul
Generally only on the mainsail but can be found on headsails as well.  Serves the same purpose as the halyard by increasing or decreasing tension on the luff of the sail and moving the draft forward and back.  It is a more efficient method of doing so than adjusting the halyard and can be run with a significant amount of purchase (as much as 20 to 1) so that it can be adjusted easily from the cockpit.
Outhaul (Mainsail)
Line to the clew of the main sail that tensions the foot of the sail.  This control has a greater effect on the lower part of the main than the upper and is designed to reduce draft.
Boom Vang / Kicker (Mainsail)
A block and tackle or hydraulic based device that controls the booms vertical angle. Increasing or decreasing boom vang tension increases or decreases the amount of twist in the mainsail in a similar manner to the mainsheet.
Traveller (Mainsail)
A track on the deck of a boat that stretches from port to starboard that the mainsail block and tackle connect to. It is used to move the sail in or away from the centerline without changing the tension on the mainsheet and therefore maintains the sails shape while also changing the angle of attack.  This is the first option to use when a boat has to much weather helm.


Next: Sail Aerodynamics

Sail Aerodynamics

We have covered the terminology of sails and the controls that change sail shape now we will cover how sails work and basic aerodynamics.  The following section should illustrated the importance of "Attached Flow", keeping the flow of air moving uninterupted across the surface of the sail to maximize life and power.  In the following section we will talk about how to manage that power.

To help with terminology and understanding about why minute adjustments to sails can make such a big impact on sail performance as well as comfort on a boat we will touch on some basic sail aerodynamics and theory.

Sails work with wind in two manners:  Attached Flow and Stalled Flow.


Stalled Flow

Sailing dead downwind or nearly dead downwind is utilizing stalled flow for power.  Stalled flow as a form of sailing has been around for millennia and is basically the process of letting the wind push the boat, the manner in which the old square riggers would primarily use for sailing. Boat speed in this type of sailing is a direct result of the amount of surface area of sail presented to the wind.  Approximately 90% of the force applied by the wind is translated into effort and the combination of this force and the drag present by the sail and hull shape will give you your maximum speed.

Attached Flow

For the purposes of this article we will be focusing primarily on attached flow. 

Attached flow is the process of air moving over both sides of a sail to generate lift.

Sails work on the same principles as airplane wings.  Both are airfoils and generate lift in an identical manner as explained by the Bernoulli Principle.


Bernoulli Principle:

Where the velocity of a fluid is high, the pressure is low.
Where the velocity of a fluid is low, the pressure will be high.



As you can see from the illustration the wind has to travel a longer distance along the curved part of the wing than it does the flat part of the wing.  According to Bernoulli there are two things at play here:

1.  Imaginary Particle A and Imaginary Particle B arrive at the leading edge of the wing at the same time in the flow of air.  They must also depart the trailing edge at the same time if the flow of air is uninterrupted along the surface of the wing.

2.  Since both imaginary particles must start across the leading edge of the wing and leave the trailing edge of the wing together and Particle A has a longer distance to travel, then Particle A must increase its velocity.  To do so the airstream "thins out" and creates at low pressure bubble on the curved part of the wing.  This acts just like a vacumn and pulls the wing towards the low pressure.  In the case of an airplane it pulls upwards, in the case of a sailboat it pulls it forward.  Well, it pulls it slightly forward of perpindicular to the sails chord and the forces of the keel compensate and pull the boat forward but we will cover that in the upcoming section; Balance of Forces.  For now lets agree that it pulls the boat forward.


Sails and Lift

sail-aerodynamicsTo the right is a diagram of a sail. You can see that the shape is basically the same as the wing but this is a thin foil - there is no bottom flat surface as there is on a wing.  By comparing the two images you can see that the differences in distance traveled by the split airflow over a wing's surface are greater than the differences in distance traveled over a sail's surface.  These differences illustrate the differences in efficiency between a sail and a wing, a wing generates substantially more lift than a sail even though they both operate almost identically. 

In general a sail generates 2/3 of its lift from the low air pressure on the leeward side and 1/3 from the direct wind pressure on the windward side.


Draft, Lift and Drag

sail-camberBoth an airplane wing and a sail have the ability to increase or decrease the amount of lift they generate and they both do it in generally the same manner - they increase or decrease the draft of the airfoil.

Given that an aircraft wing is constructed out of rigid aluminum they are unable to change the shape of the wing itself, instead they utilize flaps that change the length of the chord of the foil and the draft of the foil.  This has the effect of increasing lift but also increases the amount of surface presented to the wind and increase drag.  For an airplane they only want enough lift to keep the plane moving horizontal to the earth at a given speed.  As the speed increases they require less lift, as speed decreases they require more lift. 

Increased Lift = Increased Drag

shallow-sail-draftFor an airplane too much lift and drag equals excessive use of power and fuel to maintain a given altitude and speed.  For a sailboat too much lift means the boat will heel excessively, too much drag means the sail plan is not optimized for the given wind speeds and will underperform. 

In the diagrams to the right you can see the differences in a sail with a shallow draft and one with a deep draft.

deep-sail-draftSimilar to an airplane, a sailboat only needs enough lift to reach its optimal hull speed.  Excess lift in a sailboat manifests itself as excessive leeward drift and heeling.  Lucky for us our airfoil is made out of soft material and to change lift is simply a matter of changing the draft of the sail itself using the tools at our disposal.

How to modify draft and increase or decrease lift and drag to meet given wind conditions is one of the 3 Elements of Sail Power one must understand to optimize sail trim.


3 Elements of Sail Power: Angle of Attack, Draft and Twist

We have discussed the tools that control sail shape and basic sail aerodynamics and how sails work to generate lift and power.  Now we are going to cover the 3 Elements of Sail Power and how they each work together to maximize speed and comfort; Angle of Attack, Draft and Twist.  Once you understand these and the concept of Balance of Power you will be ready to take this knowledge into practice and we will switch gears to discuss the use of telltales, heel, and helm as tools to inform you how to apply this knowledge.

Next: Angle of Attack

Angle of Attack

sail-angle-of-attack-diagramAngle of Attack (AOA for the purposes of this article) is the easiest of the 3 Elements of Sail Power to conceptualize.  Any sailor who is able to move their boat upwind to a destination is utilizing AOA to generate power.

As mentioned in the previous section, AOA is the angle between the direction of the wind and the chord of the sail.

Changing your AOA is as simple as changing the boat's orientation to the wind by changing course or changing the sail's orientation to the wiind by using the mainsheet.

Lets look at three examples of AOA:

  • AOA Too Large- Over trimmed Sail
  • AOA Too Small - Under trimmed sail
  • Proper AOA - Correct trim for wind angle

Angle-of-attack-over-trimAOA Too Large

When the sail is trimmed too close to the centerline of the boat for the given wind angle then the wind is unable to flow along both the windward and leeward sides of the sail.  Initially as you increase the AOA beyond optimal trim the air flow begins to detach along the leeward side of the leech, on the mainsail this can be seen by the leech telltales flowing backward behind the sail.  As you continue to increase the AOA further a seperation bubble will be created along the leeward side of the luff of the mainsail.  This is extremely detrimental to the sails ability to generate lift and power.

Angle-of-attack-under-trimAOA Too Small

When the sail is trimmed to far away from the centerline of the boat for the wind angle then the wind begins to detach from the inside near the luff creating a separation bubble and also detachs from the leech.  This can be seen by the well known effect of "Luffing".  Luffing starts along the luff and gradually more and more of the sail begins to luff as the sail's AOA gets smaller and smaller until the sail is pointing straight into the wind and luffing like a flag on a pole.  There are times where the front 10-30% of sail will invert with the pressure of the separation bubble.  This is not as detrimental to boat speed as over-trimming and we will discuss in later sections how to utilize this effect depower the sails in heavy weather conditions.

Angle-of-attack-idealProper AOA

Attached flow of air across the entire surface of the sail begins with trimming the sail to the correct AOA.  The correct AOA will vary from sail to sail, will change as you change the shape of the sail, and will change with different wind speeds.  Luckily it is relatively easy to identify the proper AOA using your telltales and is simply a matter of taking in or easing out the mainsheet or jibsheet which will be covered in upcoming sections


Next: Understanding Draft

Understanding Draft


As we mentioned previously in the section on Sail Aerodynamics, Draft is the amount of camber, or curve, in your sail.  More draft depth generates more lift. 

Quite simply; Easing the halyard, cunningham/downhaul, outhaul and backstay increase draft.  Tensioning these same controls decreases draft.  However, there is more to draft than just changing the depth of your sail.  


How Changing Draft Changes the Sail

Essentially there are two general conditions that require us to change the draft on our sails - too much power and too little power.  In light airs we want to carry as much draft as possible so that we can reach hull speed and in heavy air we want to remove as much draft as possible to remove the excess power that manifests as weather helm, heel and excessive leeward drift.  You can also adjust the draft position fore and aft to change the center of effort of the power in the sails to assist in balancing the boat and minimizing weather helm.

In the section on Sail Controls we explored the concept of Multiple Effects.  With the exception of the outhaul, all the controls that affect the depth of the draft on a sail also have other effects to the sail plan.  Much of what we will cover in this section will apply to all other aspects of sail shape in addition to draft.


Elements and Ratios of Draft

To discuss sail shape and how changing the sail controls that relate to draft change the shape of the sail we need to use the correct terminology.  There are three elements that are used to generate two ratios related to calculating the aspects of Draft in a sail.  We will use these in detail in this section to explain what happens to a sail when the sail controls that affect draft are manipulated.


The length of an imaginary straight line drawn from the luff to the leech of a given section of sail.
Draft Depth
How deep the curve of the sail is in relation to the Chord.  The Chord is an imaginary straight line drawn from the luff to the leech.
Draft Location
The distance from the luff of the maximum depth in a sail along a given section .  It is written as a percentage of the distance from the luff to the leech.


Draft Position = (Draft Location/Chord)%

Camber Ratio = Draft Depth / Chord


Draft and Sail Shape

Lets look at some examples where a mainsail is adjusted for Light Air and Heavy Air.  In the following illustrations the changes that would occur to the sails has generally been exaggerated for the purposes of clarity.


Light Air

deep-sail-draftIn conditions where your boat is not reaching hull speeds more draft is always better - up to a point.  This is where one of the ratios comes into play, the Camber Ratio.  Maximum lift is acheived with a camber ratio of approximately 20%.  If the depth is increased any further the wind speeds on the leeward side of the sail increase to the point where they detach, stall or even flow against the prevailing apparent wind, causing a loss in lift.

See the following example.  A section of the sail has a chord of 300cm and a depth of 60cm, the camber ratio is 20%.  This type of depth would be more likely found on large genoas than on small head sails or main sails. 

To maximize lift you want a flat entrance angle on the luff of your sail in addition to a deep draft.  To acheive this you shift the draft as far aft as possible.  As we mentioned in the section on Sail Aerodynamics increased camber and a large angle of attack (AOA) increases lift. 

Mainsail Set for Light Air



In this illustration we have set the sail to generate as much lift and power as possible:

  • Maximize AOA: Draft Position is shifted as far aft as possible which flattens entry angle and maximizes AOA for any given trim angle
  • Maximize Draft: The sail is set as full as possible and in the process the leech is hardened decreasing twist (to be discussed in the following section)

Heavy Air

shallow-sail-draftWhen your boat is overpowered in strong winds we want the sails as flat as possible and the draft location shifted as far forward as possible, this decreases the lift in the sail and broadens the angle of entry of the sail to allow the sail to be further away from the centerline for a given wind angle (smaller angle of attack) and still maintain airflow.  The overall effect by decreasing angle of attack and decreasing lift when the boat is overpowered is to reduce heeling moment and weather helm.

Mainsail Set for Heavy Air



In this illustration we have set the sail to minimize lift and power:

  • Minimize AOA: Draft Position is shifted as far foreward as possible which broadens entry angle to allow sail to be eased off which decreases AOA and spills power
  • Minimize Draft:  The sail is flattened as much as possible and in the process the leech is also opened up increasing twist to spill additional power from the top part of the sail (to be discussed in the following section)  
Why is there a difference in entry angle and camber ratio as you move up the mast?

Velocity Header

Wind is very sensitive to friction and turbulence.  On a 40' sailboat with a 60' mast, the wind speed can be 30% faster at the mast head than at the foot of the sail.  This is due to the friction present when the wind blows over the water.  The increased wind speed creates what is known as a velocity header as you move towards the tip of the mast, with an increasing angle of attack the closer one moves towards the tip of the sail.  AOA at the foot of the sail may be 20° while at the head it may be 45°.

Wing Tip Vortex

The modern marconi or bermuda rig, what most of us sail, utilizes a triangle sail plan that is similar in shape to an airplane wing.  Like an airplane wing it experiences an effect called Wing Tip Vortex.


As you near the tip of the sail, similar to the tip of an airplane wing, you being to see the angle of the wind change.  The angle changes both horizontally and vertically.   First, the closer you get to the tip of the sail the more the wind flows towards the tip instead of directly across the sail surface.  Near the tip it can be flowing as much as 45° above horizontal - this is known as upwash.   This compounds the effects of the velocity header and can change the effective AOA by over 30°.



  • discuss draft position and depth changin up the sail and why
  • minimize draft depowers to a point - next step - twist lead into next section
  • show how down haul/cunningham/halyard affects draft depth and position
  • show how outhaul affects draft position
  • show how backstay affects position on jib
  • understand about optimizing draft based on maximizing lift when beneath the boat and sails optimal wind speeds and optimizing  draft when exceeding this speed - i.e. maximize lift and power versus spilling power while maximizing drive


  • show sail control effects
  • Show AOA changes due to Vortex and Velocity Header



Light Air Controls:  XYZ

Heavy Air Controls XYZ

If you take anything away from this section think

Draft = Power



Next: Understanding Twist

Understanding Twist

  • What is twist
  • Discuss wind and surface friction - gradient wind
  • Explain how trianglular sails twist the wind up to 25-30 degrees as you go higher up the mast
  • understand about optimizing twist based on maximizing lift when beneath the boat ans sails optimal wind speeds and optimizing twist and draft when exceeding this speed - i.e. maximize lift and power versus spilling power whil maximizing drive

Twist is not just about spilling powerIllustrate twist with image showing aft view of leech


  • show two sails from rear showing heavy twist and less twist side by side comparisons
  • show sail control effects

Next: Balance of Forces

Balance of Forces

Discuss the vectors of different boat parts - balance of head sail force and main sail force with keel force and rudder

Illustrate CE and COF with vector drawing

Next: Telltales



telltales-image-sail-trimUnderstanding what your sail is doing is not magic.  Racers, who make a series of seemingly obscure minute adjustments to their sails, aren't magicians  - they are using cues to tell them what is happening.  The main tool at their disposal are telltales.

Telltales feed you information about how the air is flowing, or not, across your sails.  Understanding how to interpret your telltales, and more importantly to adjust the sail based on what they are telling you is the key to proper sail trim.

Telltales can consist of many materials from coloured yarn to strips of old magnetic cassette tape.  For cruisers you want material that will last longer and storebought telltales made of coloured thin sail cloth or nylon will last the longest and are very inexpensive.

Now, before you go run out and cover your sail with telltales lets talk about their positioning and use.


Where to Install Telltales on Sails



Create a 3 x 3 grid of telltales on each side of the sail. Ideally you want to use different colors on each side of the sail such as red/green to avoid confusion - especially if your sail has windows designed to allow clear vision of the telltales.  When using red/green it is recommended to install the telltales on the same sides as their corresponding navigation lights - red on port and green on starboard.

Each set of telltales has a Top, Middle and Bottom telltale.  They should be placed as follows:

25% of the way down from the head of your sail
50% of the way down from the head of your sail
75% of the way down from the head of your sail
Set 1
Place your first set of tell tales 1' aft of the luff of your head sail and space them as indicated above
Set 2
Place this set of telltales mid way between luff and leech
Set 3
This set should be 1' forward of leech


You should attach one set of telltales to the leech of the main so that they are streaming aft of the mainsail.  They should be spread vertically in the same manner as the telltales on the headsail.  This is the only set that should not be in pairs.

If you have battens in your mainsail then each batten should have a telltale.  They should be attached to the leech end of the batten pocket. Be careful how you attach them so that there is no bias to the way they stream - this will make it difficult to read them in light airs.


How to Read Telltales


In the examples below we used red and green telltales and placed each telltale on the same side of the sail as their respective navigation light.  Red on port and green on starboard.  This makes it is easier to identify which telltale needs to be adjusted.

When observing your telltales remember the 4 "T"s:

"Trim Towards The Telltale"

Simply put, the sail needs to be moved towards whichever telltale is not streaming aft, horizontal to the water. 

If the telltale is not streaming aft on the leeward side then the sail needs to be eased out, if it is not streaming aft on the windward side the sail needs to be taken in. 

It is really that simple.

What is more complicated and something we will discuss further on is the need to adjust different parts of the sail independently of one another to get air flowing over the whole surface.


Here are some examples of telltales:

Properly Trimmed Telltales


This is an example of a properly trimmed set of telltales seen through a "trimming" window that would be found on high performance sails.  As we mentioned earlier the green telltale is on starboard and the red telltale is on port.  In this case the green telltale is on the windward side and the red telltale is on the leeward side.  Note how the windward telltale "green" is streaming slightly lifted above horizontal. This is indicative of perfect trim.

Telltales Without a Window

telltales-sailtrim-proper-trim-no-windowThis is how you would see a majority of your telltales.  The one on the leeward side will be seen as a shadow through the sail.  Generally it is quite easy to see the telltale - unless you are one of those with tanbark sails - but for the rest of us it is not problematic.


Note how the telltales are attached slightly apart vertically, this makes it much easier to see the flow of the leeward telltale.

Improperly Trimmed Telltale

telltales-sailtrim-luffing-starboardThis is an example of a telltale that is not streaming aft.  Air is still flowing across the sail but it is disturbed and the telltale may lift or flutter.  The untrimmed telltale is on the windward (starboard) side of the sail, using the 4 "T"s what action should be taken?


(see below for answers)

Improperly Trimmed Telltale, pt. 2


Another telltale that is not streaming aft, this time it is the leeward (port) telltale. Air is not flowing and has detached from the backside of the sail causing the telltale to stall or drop.  Using the 4 "T"s on this example what action should be taken?


(see below for answers)

That is the guts of how to trim telltales.  They are remarkably effective as a tool and are the primary way to adjust your sails.  Understanding how to use them is all you need to optimize your sails.  Now lets look at each of the sail controls that let us adjust the sail as a whole and adjust each part of the sail individually.



Improperly Trimmed Telltale:  Trim the sail in until the windward telltale starts to stream aft. This moves the sail towards the telltale and towards the wind.

Improperly Trimmed Telltale, pt. 2:  Ease the sail out until the leeward telltale starts to stream aft. This moves the sail towards the telltale and towards the lee.

Next: How to Use Telltales and Controls

How to Use Telltales and Sail Controls

Next: Basic Trim Tips for Headsails

Basic Trim Tips For Headsails

All 3 sets on both sides should be streaming aft. Ideally the ones on the windward side should be just “lifting” – ie pointing just above horizontal. Ease the sail towards the tales that are not flying.

To get them all flying you will need to adjust the fairlead. Trim the sail until the bottom tales are flying. If the top tales on the inside are not flying then move the fairlead forward until they do., if the ones on the outside are not flying ease the fairlead back until they do.

Next: Basic Trim Tips for Mainsails

Basic trim tips for Mainsails

Basic trim tip for main upwind:

Tip 1: You want the telltales that are streaming off the leech to be flying 50% of the time. That means you don’t want them streaming hard aft instead you want them to fly, drop, fly, drop about 50% each. This gives you your optimal attached flow and entry angle for the main.

Tip 2: Once you have the tales flying you can optimise the sheet and vang tension based on the angle of the aft end of the top batten.

In light airs (0-8kts) it should point 5-10 degrees to weather (0degrees would be parralell to the boom, this can be seen by looking up the sail from under the boom and once you get used to it you can spot it easily from the helm)

In Med Airs (10kts -15kts) it should point parallel to the boom

In heavy airs 15kts+ it should point to lee of the boom.

Triming the main pulls the batten to weather (once already close hauled) and easing it opens to lee

Tip 3: Use your traveller

To get the above right your traveller needs to be involved. You always want your main as close to the center as possible until it creates too much weather helm. Generally in light air you will have the traveller all the way up on the windward side of the boat and the main centered and in heavy air you will want the traveller all the way down on the lee side of the boat.

Tip 4: Weather helm is dangerous, hard on your equipment and slow – fix it to go fast

When racing you never allow more than 5degree of weather helm going up wind and it is a good idea to stick to that as well when cruising as it will save wear and tear and power drain on your autopilot as well as slow you down.

Next: Quick Solutions to Solve Weather Helm

Quick Solutions to Solve Weather Helm 

 1. “Drop” the traveller – lower the traveller to lee until the helm feels more balanced

2. Ease the vang, ease the sheet, or tighten backstay – this opens up the leech at the top of the sail and depowers the top of the sail. As this is a long way from the center of effort the power up here creates a lot of heel and even a small depowering by opening up the leech works wonders.

3. Shift the draft of your sails. By tightening the luff of your sails you move draft forward by easing you move it back – you can work this one out on your own boat

Next: Wrap up

Wrap Up

Core Concepts

  • Don't think of your sails as two separate sails - think of them as one large sail
  • Flatter in heavy wind, fuller in light wind

Number One Tip: Look at what you are trimming.

If you look at the sail when you are adjusting it you will clearly see what is changing. For example if you look at your main when it is sheeted really hard in and you ease the sheet even a couple of inches you will see a dramatic change in the position of the leech and it is clear what adjusting that line, even a bit does.

FoolishSailor is a Certified USSailing and RYA Instructor and has taught sailing, racing and cruising skills to children and adults for over 20 years in locations as diverse as Japan, San Francisco and Ireland.


Next: Sail Trim Resources for More Details

Sail Trim Resources

So you want more information?  Great!

Below are some links that goes into incredible detail on everything from sail design to the physics of sailing, enjoy!

Sail Theory

Sail Shape and Theory







Next: Sail Trim Cheat Sheet Download

Sail Trim Cheat Sheet











































































































































































Boom Vang / Kicker (Mainsail)
A block and tackle or hydraulic based device that controls the booms vertical angle. Increasing or decreasing boom vang tension increases or decreases the amount of twist in the mainsail

Hot, hot and getting hotter...

Brazil is probably the hottest place I have lived in, Kuwait was hotter but a drier heat and I was only there for business. Even Malaysia was cooler than here. It is a steady 35-40 degrees Celsius (95-105  Fahrenheit) and miserably humid (regularly over 90%), so the sweat is  nonstop. Even nights can get up to 40 degrees.

When we arrived, poor Saoirse got such a bad heat rash all over her body and face that people avoided her in the streets, thinking she has some sort of disease!  The boat is regularly above 40 degrees when the hatches are closed (if we are out shopping etc.)


JC spent days on end sewing awnings for shade over the front of the boat area and that has helped keep the boat much  cooler. Even with the fans  running and hatches open, the measly wind  rarely eases the discomfort.  I suppose we are all more acclimatised now  and Saoirse's rash is gone,  but like most pregnant women, I am running  hotter than normal and I am  positively melting most of the time.  I would hate to do the full 9 months is such a climate.


January saw rain most afternoons/evenings - that violent rain that caused all those houses to collapse and those poor people to die - it was on the international news. In Ilha Grande alone, one Pousada (hotel) collapsed and 25 or so people were killed on New  year's Eve. The only good thing that happened in Angra where dozens were killed, was that it  was NYE, otherwise hundreds of people could  have been at home in their  beds and died, rather than out partying...


The daily rain and accompanying thunder and lightning was nothing I am familiar with (and being Irish I KNOW rain) - so violent and constant. One particular storm went right overhead us and the noise of the thunder must have equated bombs exploding.  We were caught in the club house for that storm and decided to ride it out there.  While we watched the bolts striking all around us in the bay and all over Angra, entire areas would go pitch dark from losing electricity. The sound of  ambulances was  everywhere - very eerie given what had happened just days before.

Angra is small so that everyone here has been affected either directly or through family/friends and the sadness is tangible.   I have to admit I  was more than nervous during that storm with the pounding of the rain and the exploding thunder right above us. Incredibly, Saoirse slept  through the whole thing!


Saoirse befriends people wherever she goes. All the staff at the club bar/restaurant know her. She especially loves 12 year old boys(which is  more than a little scary)! Those who don't speak to her in English she speaks to them in "whale" anyone who has seen the film Finding Nemo will  appreciate that one!


There are a bunch of kids that hang out at the pool (it is summer holidays here still, so many families have been  coming down from Rio and renting houses) and they all know her name!   There are also a huge number of Argentinian people here who keep their boats at the club and fly up a few times a year to holiday. We met a lovely family from Buenos Aires with whom we were very friendly (Saoirse even called them Abuelo and Abuela = grandad and grandma!). They had a daughter Marli and her 4 year old girl Morena with them on the boat and Saoirse played a lot with them. One day Morena and Saoirse were playing in the grass when Saoirse started screaming. Marli got there first and carried her to me. I thought she had fallen and was just whinging when I  spotted her feet were covered in tiny ants. We quickly  washed her feet  in the pool's shower and that is when I realised that  they had bitten her badly. I counted about 50 bites on each foot.  Between her heat rash spots all over her body and her red spotty and swollen feet she really  did look diseased, poor mite!


January also saw my Godmother, Anneke, and her husband Siep come and visit us from Holland. We met them in Paraty and they spent the next 5  days or so on the boat with us, mainly around Ilha Grande. They were fabulous with Saoirse, who adored them in return. We swam in the sea, did some walking, drank the infamously strong Brazilian drink Caiperinha (Anneke will remember that experience!) and ate both out and on the boat, where JC as usual excelled in his cooking.

He discovered palm hearts, which he ate in a fancy restaurant, so decided he had to make it on the boat for us. He bought fresh palm hearts (looks like cane sugar or a stick of bamboo) and prepared the dish from scratch. Yummy - like a tasty asparagus sauted in onion infused olive oil dressed up with various herbs.


Fresh crunchy bread dipped into the marinade oil finished off the simple but amazing dish.

I think Anneke and Siep were impressed with the comfort level on the boat. They were gracious and unobtrusive visitors and Saoirse still talks about them.

The  boat is finally out of the water and JC is busy every day fixing  things on the boat that could not be done while she was in the water. My job was to try and get accommodation for us while the boat is out, as the boat yard is an industrial yard with zero facilities, so not at all practical for us to live there while the boat is on the hard.  Brazil is, as I have said before, an expensive place. With so many displaced people whose own houses either washed away or have serious structural damage, any of the cheaper places were long gone. To rent by the day was costing about USD 200 and given that we could be out for 2 or 3  weeks - that kind of money was simply not an option.  At last I managed to find a 2 bed house very close the yacht club for USD 750 for a  month.  Even if we did not stay for the month it was still a better deal than anything else I had found.  It came with no furniture except 2 beds and 2 sofas. Literally nothing else. I reckoned for that price we did not need tables and chairs and we could bring our own crockery and cooking things off the boat. It was situated in front of a jungle with monkeys living in the trees (although I have not seen any yet). It also has the most stunning views over the entire bay and I can even see the boat yard that JC motors to every day in the dinghy.


I have to admit I  was excited about moving into a house with a bed that did not rock.

God, was I in for a shock...

The house has neither air conditioning nor fans, so by evening time on the first night, it was stifling hot. We had no choice but to open the windows and close the lace curtains to try and stop the insects from flying in. That first night was the worst night of my life in a long  time. We had no cot, we had to put Saoirse on the floor lying on a mattress, which we put in our room. There wasn't a puff of wind so the room temperature must have been in the high 30s. I walked into the kitchen only to be attacked by what I thought was a bat, but in fact, was a giant moth with a wing span of what seemed to me to be at least a foot! JC heroically got it to fly out the window using only a broom. I managed  to get over that shock and was engrossed in watching "Heroes" on our computer (there being no TV) when I suddenly saw (and practically heard) the galloping of a cockroach across the floor. Again JC sprang to the rescue and managed to get it outside. It was then we noticed that  the door to the outside had a 1 inch gap between it and the floor, so any nasty creature of the night could just waltz in and scare the beejezus out of me. I was completely spooked by this stage and it took  all of JC's skills to talk me off the cliff.  

When it was bed time we lay down sweating, JC from the heat and me a mixture of fear of what  would jump out at me and the heat!  I fell asleep at 5am.

Saoirse cried every hour or so and would kick her legs wildly in her sleep beating her hands on her body. It was only the next day, that we realised she had been eaten alive by mosquitos - way worse than we had been.  JC counted 150 bites on her little body. I cried for ages. That is why she had been beating her hands on her body and kicking her legs. The "great deal" I got, suddenly looked shitty.  The small swimming pool in the garden I realised was not clean and was a breeding ground for midges and mozzies. I managed to get a fan from a  neighbour (whose son is dating a Leitrim girl!) and another kind woman married to a Dutch man lent me a second fan and a mosquito netting to hang over her mattress on the floor.

The 2nd night was a much better experience as we had learned which windows to open to cool the house and the judicious  use of a mosquito coil in the bedroom before we went to bed to kill all  the mozzies.  Saoirse did not seem to have any more  bites (though with  that many on her body it was hard to tell). It is day 3 and I am  beginning to accept that all houses in this part of Brazil  have  insects, cockroaches and mosquitoes, irrelevant of how clean they  are -  it is part of living beside a jungle/water with this kind of  intense  heat. Being from Ireland and not being a "camping type", I have  never  had to deal with sharing my living space with creepy crawlies. As far as Saoirse goes, I was terrified that she might have gotten Dengue   (which is present here - luckily no Malaria though), but she has shown no signs of fever and is in great form. JC and I scratch wildly at our   few spots, but she has not once touched her 150. I wonder is scratching psychological????

Well, my bump is certainly growing - I am 24 weeks  now. Not sure if I wrote that we got a scan done and it is another girl? Saoirse seems to get that she has a sister growing in my tummy  and talks to her now and  then. It looks like we will be here till end  of February so hope to see  many of you in early March. 

P.S. Can't wait  to get to the cold!

End of 2009 update

Well it has been a while since I have updated my blog entries on AND it is already 2010, (HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!), so thought I had better give you all an update as to where we are in our (sailing) lives. A lot has happened since I last wrote...


My parents arrived from Ireland in August and we had a fabulous time. The weather was perfect, shorts and t-shirts during the day and something a little warmer at night. We collected them off the bus in Angra where the boat is and took them, to their surprise, by dinghy to our boat! It is easier to get around by dinghy than by bus or taxi...


We had booked their first few nights in a local pousada beside the marina so that was handy for all. We then sailed to the World Heritage village of Paraty where we had again booked a few nights stay for them. Saoirse, JC and I stayed in a local marina.

Paraty is beautiful with its cobblestoned roads, historic stone buildings and perfect view over the water.  It was one of the main landing areas for the slavery ships of the 16th to 19th centuries and the wealth this trade generated is evident even today in the grand houses with their distinct Portuguese architecture. 


While in Paraty we did a small part of the "Caminho do Ouro" or Gold Trail. In 1696 the richest gold mines in the world were discovered 1,200 KM inland in the mountains of Minas Gerais and Paraty, which was the nearest sea town, became an export port for gold to Portugal. The Caminho da Ouro was constructed to help the thousands of miners, slaves and mules used to bring the gold back from and supplies to the camps. The trail has been mainly reclaimed by the forest now, but some of it has been rediscovered and parts of it (like near Paraty) can still be hiked.  One can still see donkey/mule hoof shoes littered all over the massive stones which cover the route, and various bones, both animal and human have been found along the way. After many pirate attacks of gold laden boats bound for Portugal, a new safer route was made directly from the mines to Rio and in the late 1700s, the gold ran out and Paraty's golden era declined.


From Paraty we sailed to Ihla Grande and again my folks checked into a pousada on the beach where they could see our boat at anchor. We did a few smaller walks and hung out at the beach. JC made some food on the boat (we had eaten out a lot till then) and my folks were impressed with our galley (kitchen) as well as JC's excellent curry made entirely in a pressure cooker.  <br /><br />After Ihla Grande we headed back to Angra dos Reis where it was time to secure the boat, pack our things and head back to Ireland via Rio. We all spent one last night in a local pousada before the bus ride back. We stayed in a gorgeous hotel right on the beach of Copacabana, compliments of my parents (thanks guys!) and did some sightseeing together. We did the famous gondola up the Sugarloaf hill and had stunning views of Rio. We had previously done this on our arrival in June at night time, but the day time experience gave us a chance to point out our various landmarks to my parents - where we had landed, how we had tried to navigate through the islands at the entrance of the bay, where we ended up bringing the boat, where we stayed across the bay in Niteroi, where the domestic airport was, etc.  It was great to have my parents to help us with the excess luggage and Saoirse, who as usual was a good traveller.


Once in Ireland,  JC's priority was to find work and save money for our next trip to the boat planned for January, but for weeks he was unsuccessful. The economy in Ireland is so bad - in fact Ireland and Spain have been the worst hit in Europe by the global crisis. No one has money to get customised furniture made and any basic carpentry work is being sewn up by the polish carpenters working for minimum wage. JC just could not compete. He contacted all the yacht delivery companies in the UK with a view to maybe doing some paid deliveries. As he is an unknown to them, no one would give him work, despite having done all the RYA exams and changing all his US qualifications into European ones. Anyway, at last one agency, the biggest one in the UK offered him an unpaid delivery from Southampton in England to Gothenburg in Sweden. He took it so they could at least register his name on their books. While he was away, Saoirse and I went to Spain, me to do some work and Saoirse to spend time with my parents.


On JC's return my mother introduced him to a Dutch friend of hers who own a very reputable and high end furniture shop. JC wanted to ask her what, if anything, was selling furniturewise and if she might be interested in taking on some of his designs. He spent the rest of our time in Ireland designing and making coffee tables, all made of sustainable wood, naturally felled by either lightning or old age. She took on 2 pieces and put a price tag of Euro 2,000 on each  - nice if they could sell, but with the economy the way it is in Ireland, she warned they would sell slowly, but were worth that price. 

He set up a new website called (it was thought for a time that his surname Durbin was derived from the French d'bien "of the good" - in fact this was incorrect, but he still liked the name!). The website is not 100% complete, and may not be (read on...) but feel free to see the designs he made.

In the meantime, I found out I was pregnant. Bit of a shock for all concerned! Baby is due June 1st. Between the lack of money being generated and a new baby on the way, we realised we had to rapidly change our way of thinking with regards to the boat. We talked about bringing the boat back to Dublin and putting the sailing plans on ice for a few years, maybe doing shorter trips here and there...    

saoirse xmas louisiana

In December we headed over to Louisiana to meet JC's relations on his father's side. They had organised a big Christmas party on the 12th. When they say big, they mean big, with over 90 relations present - seemingly not all came!! Unfortunately we did not get to enjoy Louisiana  as much as we should have, as we were all struggling with winter coughs and generally feeling low after a ridiculously long and drawn out flight(s) to get there. We stayed with 3 families and had a lovely time despite our poor health and lousy weather. They really went full out for Christmas and that was nice for Saoirse to see all the decorations everywhere.  Christmas is not really celebrated in South Africa, so at 2 years, 2 months, Saoirse saw her first Santa Klaus - she was pretty freaked at first till he enticed her with some presents! Did not take long before she was sitting on his lap posing for photos!  We sadly saw none of New Orleans nor visited any touristy things, but it was wonderful to meet his extended family and eat their Cajun food. I understand now where JC gets his passion for cooking from - food is seen as a religion there! I walked in on Larry, JC's uncle as he was busy baking -  4 cakes  all at once!

On 18th December we flew to San Diego and stayed the first 10 days with Jim, JC's father,  and wife Kay. On the Saturday, JC's brother in law, Scott and his 2 children Chloe and Reed were baptised. That night we all celebrated Jim and Myra (JC's mother)'s 70th birthdays. That was a lovely evening with surprise visits from some of Jim's Louisiana family. The days with Jim and Kay went by very quickly. Sadly everyone but Saoirse and I got a vomiting bug, so many of the dinners had to be cancelled and even the usual Christmas dinner gorging did not happen, despite a yummy dinner made by Myra. The last 10 days were spent at Myra's house on Coronado Island. As  JC was feeling much better by that stage we did bike rides, walks to the beach and park and spent a lovely New Year's Eve with his friends in Erik and family's rented waterside accommodation.

Erik is an old friend of JC and he spent many years working for him in San Francisco. They have spoken about opening a southern branch of Erik's successful house renovation/construction company specialising in very high end homes. Given the desperate economic climate in Ireland, it made sense to speak to Erik and see if he had any work ideas/opportunities for him.  To make a long story short, JC will may be working with Erik in a new San Diego branch.

Our newly revised plans are roughly as follows: we will stay on the boat in Brazil till end of February, maybe early March depending on how work on the boat is progressing (everything here is painfully slow).  Saoirse and I will head back to Ireland and await the birth of no. 2. JC will head to San Diego until mid May to do some ground work and make some contacts.  While back in Dublin, JC will pack up and ship his tools and equipment and will probably leave a few weeks before me. Hopefully by that stage there will be some business for Erik and JC. I will more than likely head over with the 2 little uns around August /September. We are hoping to be able to live in Coronado as it is a lovely and small island (not too small!) and very safe for children to walk/cycle around. It is, however, one of the exclusive parts of San Diego, so not sure if we can actually afford to live there!

Well, as you can see our plans have radically changed, but we were always aware that life is very fluid and one never knows what is around the corner. California is very far away from Ireland and that will be hard for me especially. There are a huge amount of visa issues I need to deal with (American bureaucracy is notoriously ugly) and I know very few people, so will have to find a life from scratch, but there are many upsides too. The weather while we were there over Christmas was wonderful - sunny around 23 degrees and we were able to visit the beach and play grounds every day. That, in comparison to the snow and cold that Ireland endured for the same period. My poor parents suffered terribly as my mother has her arm in a cast and my father his foot! Neither are allowed drive or fly...

I hope our move to San Diego will mean that lots of family and friends will use us as an excuse to holiday.   I promise to write more about our present situation in Brazil and the boat soon. Happy New Year again to you all.

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