There are many indicators we use as sailors to help us navigate the wind. We’re constantly scanning the sails, the tell tails, the mast head fly/wind indicator, the electronics, flags on land, and even other boats. One major but often overlooked indicator however, is the boat’s heel angle. But what does the angle tell us?
The wind is very rarely constant in direction and speed which means the boat can flatten and heel over sporadically even with a constant compass heading. To compensate for these changes and to sail upwind as effectively as possible, simply “Sail the Heel.” Try to find a good heel angle both you and the boat are comfortable with and stick to it. If the boat begins to feel overpowered and the heel angle increases, gradually head up into the wind to reduce the angle but also make sure your jib is trimmed properly as not to luff the sail. The opposite is true if the boat begins to flatten out and feel stalled- simply bear away or turn down to increase power and heel angle but keep in mind these course changes are about 5 degree. When you find the groove your tell tails will all be stream horizontal towards the stern of the boat. As you practice this more and more, you’ll begin to anticipate what the boat is going to do before it ever happens- slight adjustments heading up or heading down will correct for wind variations and help you maintain a constant and very efficient track sailing upwind. Get “in the groove” and stay there by sailing the heel!
The boat pictured is clearly overpowered and needs to head up towards the wind to flatten out. Once flattened out the boat will actually pick up speed (no longer going sideways) and become a more enjoying ride.