Heavy weather sailing – wind

A few weeks ago I posted about how quickly and easily the Sage 17, Sage 15 and SageCat mains can be reefed. To continue that theme here I’ll discuss ways to sail efficiently and more comfortably in heavy wind.

The Sages are very capable sailboats being excellent in light AND heavy winds. I have sailed all of the Sage boats in winds above 20 knots with gusts above 25. The highest winds I’ve sailed a Sage were in the mid-30 knot range in a SageCat & Sage 17.

AirBorn7

Sage 17 AIR BORN sailing with a single reefed main and storm jib – winds blowing 25-30 knots!

On a Sage 17 the first thing to do is tighten the backstay adjuster. Besides lessening the boat’s heel you will also lessen the weather helm felt at the tiller. The S17 also allows you to depower & reduce the heeling by letting out, to leeward, the mainsheet traveler out to leeward.

Next is to adjust the outhaul on the main (this is true for the S17, Sage 15 and SageCat). By tightening the outhaul the foot of the main is pulled closer to the boom and the sail’s draft is reduced. As the sail has less power the boat heels less. Adjusting the main’s draft is the first thing to do on a Sage 15 sloop and SageCat (catboat).

After making the above adjustments you can also let out the sail. On the S17 & S15 as you let out the main also let out the jib … the two need to be in balance. Be sure to keep sail luffing to a minimum as it greatly shortens the life of the sail.

The Sage 15 is a three-stay rig and doesn’t have a backstay. Don’t be tempted to let the main luff. A little bit in the buffs is OK, and letting the sheet fly free in a strong gust is fine, but don’t allow much more than a quarter of the sail to continually luff. This is why:

As the Sage 15 have no backstay as the main luffs the mast bends forward causing the forestay to sag. This means the headsail balloons out, becoming fuller, and catching more wind. Allowing the sail to luff in a three-stay rig, and this is true for any three stay rig, not just the Sage 15, the boat will heel more! Yes MORE. The main sheet and the leech (aft edge of the main) are the backstay on a three-stay rig. Keep tension on the mainsheet! This is why, versus on the Sage 17, you need to reef sooner once you feel uncomfortable with the amount of heel.

Another thing … with a poorly shaped headsail the boat loses speed, drive (ability to power through the waves, and doesn’t go to weather as well (ie, more leeway).

 

So, on the S15 reef before you are luffing the main!

cody on the columbia river

SageCat sailing with a single reefed main.

Next, on all the Sages, you need to put in a reef when the boat is still overpowered. In general if you are luffing more a ¼ of the main (or more) in the puffs you should reef. The other ‘sailor’s rule’ is if you think about reefing you have waiting to long.

 

 

After putting in a reef the above discussed sail trimming methods still hold true. But if the boat is still uncomfortable the next step depends on the boat sailed –

On a Sage 15 and SageCat the next step is to put in a second reef (all Sage 15s & SageCats come standard with a double reef main).

Video of an SageCat owner reefing his boat –

When sailing a Sage 17 you need to evaluate the headsail v. wind strength. In general the first step is to reef the main. If you have a larger headsail up, like the 150% or 130% genoa, dropping the sail is the best step (all S17s come standard with a jib downhaul so no need for you to go forward). The Sage 17 sails very well under main alone.

For example if sailing a S17 with the 150% genoa and the wind comes up I would reef the main. If still uncomfortable my next step would be to lower the jib and decide if I wish to change the headsail. If sailing a S17 with the lapper or working jib I would tie a second reef in the main before lowering the headsail.

For better overall sailing performance it is better to go to a smaller jib than reefing the main. The example above outlines a compromise if you are out on the water and don’t wish to conduct a headsail change.

On a Sage 17 you can also de-power the headsail by by moving the jib sheet lead blocks aft. This reduce the sail’s draft down low, flattening the foot, and lets the head of the sail twist off a bit.

For others’ perspectives on this here are two recent articles on heavy weather sailing published in the October 2017 issue of Spinsheet magazine –

 

Following the above you will find your heavy weather sailing a much more enjoyable experience (and maybe even fun!).

NOTE: The above discusses only the wind speed component of heavy weather sailing. A second and very important ‘second half’ of high wind sailing is the water’s sea state – the height of and if the waves are breaking. Sea state is actually the greater safety concern when the wind speed increases. I’ll discuss waves in another post. Until then remember – the captain is ultimately responsible for the safety of the boat, passengers and crew. If the captain isn’t sure about ‘going out’ then DON’T!

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