When the Going Gets Light: Top Tips for Sailing in Light Winds

For many sailors, the dream of owning a boat is born alongside notions of endless blue waters and perfect tranquillity – the power to take things slow and be at one with the sea. And most will tell you that this alone is worth the work which goes into care, maintenance, and preparation. You can read our article on basic boat maintenance for more information on this.

For others, the allure of sailing lies in the promise of speed and adventure, the sheer exhilaration of harnessing the elements and pushing the limits.  

Regardless of your motivation, there are times when you will need to get moving but sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t have the same ideas. So, how do you maintain a reasonable speed and stick to your schedule when there’s barely the ghost of a breeze around?

Fortunately, there are plenty ways to keep a boat moving in light winds. Today, we’re going to show you a few of the best.

Exploit the Tidal Wind

The great thing about tidal streams is that they create a kind of makeshift wind, so when you’re struggling for speed, you can use them to give the boat a gentle push. While a four-knot tidal wind isn’t really enough to completely overtake the tide, it will give you back some control until you can find a more suitable airstream. If you are beating across the tidal stream, keep it on the lee bow for maximum impact.

Go Back to Basics

While chartplotters are a valuable tool, there are times when they simply cannot beat a little mental maths. Even if your chartplotter includes tidal data, you’ll probably find it hard to use this for working out an optimum course in light winds. So, go back to the only tool which never fails: your brain. The One-in-Sixty Rule is a quick way to determine which direction you need to be sailing in for optimum speed:

Tide Speed x 60 ÷ Boat Speed = Course Correction

Also, don’t forget to adjust your fuel calculations to match your speed and sailing conditions.

Invest in Lightweight Sheets

There is no technical need for heavy sheets while sailing. Lightweight materials perform just as well in most conditions. Heavier sheets tend to favoured because they’re easier to manoeuvre and they grip the winch better, but they can make gentle conditions a bit of a challenge. That extra heft reduces control and pulls the sails in towards the boat. So, it is worth carrying a set of lightweight polypropylene or genoa sheets for sailing in very light winds.

Carry a Lightweight Headsail

Similarly, swapping out your regular headsail for something much lighter is a great way to exploit those barely-there breezes. If you can get your hands on one, it is always worth carrying a spinnaker sail as spare, or for light downwind sailing the parachute is a great sail to utilise.

Reduce Appendage Drag

There are at least five different kinds of drag and none of them can be eliminated. However, there are lots of little things that you can do to reduce them and give yourself the best shot at catching a light breeze. For instance, appendage drag is increased every time that you rudder. In light wind, use the minimum amount of rudder and encourage passengers to sit still for a time. If people are constantly moving, the flow of water around the keel will slow you down.

Multihull Solutions is highly experienced in every facet of buying, selling, maintaining, and sailing multihull vessels. Call +61 (0) 5452 5164 to speak to a representative today.


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