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By Captain Dave Bello
President, Fair Wind Sailing School

This sailing lesson is part of the on-line sailing lessons series from Fair Wind Sailing School – America's Best Sailing School. The purpose of these sailing lessons is three-fold. First, it is designed to supplement the on-water sailing lessons completed by students of Fair Wind Sailing School. Next, it is designed to give a sample of the high quality sailing lessons offered at Fair Wind Sailing School to those who have not taken sailing lessons with us. Finally, it is intended to assist those who are unable to take on-water sailing lessons with Fair Wind Sailing School.

In Part I of sail trim, I described a very fast and easy method for beginners to trim their sails. The beginning method allowed for trim that was “good enough” to get the boat moving well on all points of sail while permitting the majority of time to be spent on things other than looking at the sails. In this lesson, Sail Trim Part II, I will present a more detailed perspective on sail trim, introducing the use of tell-tales and more sail controls, while keeping the relative time spent on sail trim to a minimum.

In Part I we began our sail trim with the mainsail. Now that we have advanced from the beginner stage, we will start our sail trim from the most forward sail on the boat. For a typical Bermuda Sloop, the most common rig today, that means the jib or foresail. We will also introduce sailing by the tell-tales – the little pieces of green and red yarn, cloth or ribbon hanging in about the middle of the sail. To begin, we put our boat on a steady course and while on that course we sheet the sail to the “all the way in” position from Part I. At this point, the “inside” tell-tales, those closest to the centerline of the boat, should be pointing straight back in line with the motion of the boat and parallel to the water, while the outside tell-tales will be flopping about. To properly trim our headsail, we will ease the sail slowly out. Eventually, the tell-tale movement will change with the inside tell-tales flopping about and the outside tell-tales flowing back in a straight line parallel with the water. When you have reached this point, stop easing the sail and gently (and slowly) trim in until both sets of tell-tales are streaming aft. This is the ideal trim position. One final note on headsails, many will have several sets of tell-tales and it can be difficult to get all sets streaming aft simultaneously. For our purposes, we will trim to the bottom set of tell-tales when there are two sets and to the middle set when there are three sets of tell-tales. (The procedure and technique to get all sets streaming aft will be discussed in Part III – (Advanced Sail Trim).

Now, lets turn our attention to the mainsail. We will still use just our mainsheet for trimming our mainsail at this point, continuing to avoid adjustment of the boom vang and traveler car. As with the earlier lesson, we will center our traveler car amid ship and leave it there. At this point with the headsail already trimmed, you are likely to see a big “bubble” along the luff of our mainsail where the headsail has turned the wind into our mainsail if the mainsail is trimmed out. The goal of mainsail trim is to get the mainsail tell-tales, located on the leach of the sail usually along the battens, to stream back parallel to the water. The procedure is similar to headsail trim above, start with the mainsail all the way in and gradually ease the sail out until the tell-tales are streaming aft. As with the headsail, they may all not stream aft simultaneously. Try moving in and out – slowly – if you still can't get them all flowing, concentrate on the tell-tales from mid-sail to the top of the sail – that is where you will find the strongest wind.

Lastly, let me point out that there are times like: very light winds, wet sails, heading dead down wind, etc., when the tell-tale trim method may not work. When you are sailing in these conditions, my advice would be return to Sail Trim Part I rules of trim until you are ready for the advanced trim lessons.

About the Author

Captain Dave is the President of Fair Wind Sailing School He has raced and cruised for more than 20 years. Fair Wind offers sailing lessons and sailing charters in the BVI, US Virgin Islands, Florida and the Chesapeake Bay.