We have all been there when big breeze or a big puff loads up the boat sending the leeward rail into the water. This is usually followed by big smiles or big eyes of fear, but is it fast to be heeled over this much?
The simple answer is no, a flat boat is a fast boat… and a more fun/safe boat overall.
The keel provides righting moment, ballast, and lift against the force of the wind on the sails. When the force of the wind builds, the boat will heel to leeward and take the angle of the keel to windward. While some heel is good, when the keel loses it’s “depth” the boat will slide to leeward in addition to having less righting moment. This is one reason a flat boat is a fast boat.
Additionally, when a boat heels, the mast obviously goes with it. Similar to the keel, the sails lose lift, power, and height the more they fall to leeward. This is another reason flat is fast.
So how do you keep a boat flat in the puff or strong breeze?
The easiest way is to reef your sails if the forecast is predicting strong breeze. This will reduce the total sail area and the loads on the boat.
If you find yourself in building wind conditions but not enough wind to justify a reef, you can take a couple actions in order to reduce heel. First, you can sail the boat a little higher than close hauled when going upwind. By steering slightly high you will see the luff of the jib and main start to luff or “bubble”, this is depowering the sails slightly and reducing the heel. You know you’re too high if the jib is actually luffing, you are looking for just a slight bubble in the luff. This is a great tactic when you can see a big puff is approaching.
The next option for controlling heel is with the trim of the mainsail. As you probably learned in basic sailing, the mainsail is the gas pedal of the boat and has a lot of control over heel. A slight ease of the mainsheet will open the sail and depower the boat thus reducing heel. At times, it’s okay to ease the main so that you have a slight luff or bubble in the sail while going upwind. Lowering the traveler has a similar effect on the boat. It’s important to note that you don’t ease the jib here as a full jib is actually helping keep the bow down and preventing the boat from “rounding up”.
Try these tips next time you find yourself in fresh conditions and watch as the boat is in more control, faster, and your crew feels much more comfortable.