Latest News: Forums Technical How to deal with swell in light winds ?

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  • #3899

    Both myself and helm are relative novices with sailing and Wayfarers and would appreciate some sound advice.

    We were out yesterday in a flukey F3 N, NE wind dying off in the evening with the tide running north in Bray Bay.

    There was a few feet of swell.

    Last night however she did not seem to get moving and we were more being pushed by the swell and the tide than any wind.

    Other boats (lasers, F15) were doing okay so we are doing something wrong.

    Question: should we have sailed with the centre board up ?

    On previous trips (flatter sea) we would have the centre board up running for the wind,but mostly down on other points of sailing. Under these conditions we do tend to move quiet nicely !

    Would we give less of a target to the tide if the centre board was up most of the time given that the winds were so light ?

    Or do we always need the centre board down when tacking regardless of wind strength ?

    (kicker, downhaul and outhaul were also set, in case that makes a difference).

    Best regards,

    Boris and Alan

    Dave Barker

    Unless you are limited by the depth of the water you will find that you make much more efficient progress to windward with the centreboard right down. Without it your boat will make very significant leeway, cancelling out much of its windward progress.

    Remember also that when moving, the boat doesn’t “know” where it is in relation to the sea bed; it moves through two fluids – air and water. A tidal stream (or flowing river) will contribute to the boat’s movement through the air, adding or subtracting an apparent component to the true wind. If there is no wind at all the boat will drift with the tide whether or not the centreboard is down.

    If you are at all concerned about becoming becalmed and drifting off with the tide you may want to consider sailing with an anchor with some chain and plenty of line. Oars/paddles/outboard motors are handy in such situations too!

    I hope that helps.


    Many thanks for the reply – it does help me when some body explains from first principles the ground rules – they seem to stick better into my muddy mind !

    So it was not the centre board based on your explanation (which does make a lot of sense).

    Our problem may have been that we had the balance wrong (bow,stern) which in the light wind conditions possibly messed us up.

    The kicker was tight, perhaps too tight for the wind – I had not read yet that you need to apply as much kicker as to make boom and top batten partially parallel (3rd edition way farer book). I wonder does that apply on all points of sailing ?

    Dave Barker

    The kicker tension you refer to would be a good starting point for sailing close-hauled. In very light airs you might get better results from letting more kicker off and keeping the leech more open to let the air flow across the sail nicely.

    Off the wind you can also let the kicker off more, but don’t overdo it – use your telltales to guide you – they should stream straight back off the leech for most of the time.

    On a run in stronger winds don’t let the (upper) leech blow forward or you will find that the boat starts to heel to windward, often in the oscillating pattern known as death-roll!


    Thanks Dave – that helps me greatly ! I will be trying it next time out.

    I find I have to go through the “read, do it wrong, read again, ask ” cycle to figure things out !

    Best regards and good sailing !



    The classic error when beating in light winds is to over sheet the jib. A telltale on the leech of the jib will enable you to avoid this. Once flow has been disturbed over the leech it is often necessary to let the sheet out a long way to get the telltale flying again (the helmsman will get unhappy bout this but ignore him). Once it is flying sheet in slowly, so as not to disturb airflow.

    In light winds and a swell you need to get as much power inot the rig as possible. Don’t try to point, keep moving. It is better to moving in the wrong direction than stopped!. Within reason let off kicker out haul and halyards and don’t over sheet.


    Thanks for that advice Gordon,

    We were out in light winds yesterday morning (adult sail training), but also flat sea and had a lovely sail; might have made some Wayfarer converts !

    The sheeting in slowly (in fact all adjustments slowly) makes a big difference. If you allow the flow to establish itself for a few seconds I was pleasantly surprised how nicely things start moving (and that was with 3 adults on board).

    Also, we did sit forward and things moved nicely with “loose” jib.

    All the best,


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