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Sailing Downwind

You need to spend many hours racing competitively to develop the skills in reaching and running in an effort to get an edge on your competition off the wind.

To be fast off the wind requires you to develop a "feel" for the yacht and what makes it go. A lot of off the wind sailing cannot be taught by a coach it requires you to go out and find out for yourself. A coach can help you with pumping, body position, vang tension, mainsheet position and the height of your centreboard. It is very hard to teach the skill of steering your yacht correctly, by making the most of the wind and the waves.

Body Position

Body position is very important because if the boat is trimmed properly it will always be travelling the most efficiently. This means moving backwards and forwards in the boat as the wind increases and decreases. As soon as the bow begins to drop or the stern drags too much the boat will not be driving at its full speed. Unless the boat is planing you need to try and keep the boat as level as possible fore and aft. As soon as the boat gets up on the plane you can move your body weight right back quickly so there is less wetted surface.

Centreboard Height

It is very important to pull the centreboard up off the wind to reduce drag. Flat off in light winds there should be no centreboard in the water at all.

Vang Tension

Vang tension is vital off the wind to set up correctly and to prevent the boat from getting the death rolls particularly on the run. Flat off in strong winds and a lack of vang tension can often end up with a swim when the boat death rolls. The leech of the sail gets in front of the mast if there is not enough tension applied and contributes to the death rolls and makes gybing difficult. On the flat off the mainsheet can be used to stop the death rolls by over sheeting as the yacht starts to roll. Push your centreboard down further should the yacht roll around a lot. In light winds it is better to have twist in the leech so the wind can flow off the sail easily. As the wind increases you need to use more and more vang tension so that the leech does not open up to much.


Pumping is a good method of accelerating the boat down the waves or getting the boat up on the plane or pulling the bow out of a wave. It is most effective when there is the greatest pressure on the sail.

Strategically Downwind Sailing is Like the Beats

  • Maximise your speed.
  • Sail the longer gybe first.
  • Avoid the lay lines and corners.
  • Sailing the puffs and avoid the lulls.
  • Sail the shifts.
  • Watch the current.
  • Keep clear air.
  • If boats spread out, if ahead check what following boats are doing.

Sail a Race
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