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Summary of Basic Sail Controls

This article is an attempt to describe the basic control lines used to trim (adjust) your sails for optimal performance. Entire books have been written on the subject, with which this basic summary can not hope to compete. See the reference section for more details on the subject.

Mainsail

  • Mainsheet

    The mainsheet is used to adjust the angle of attack of the mainsail, adjust leech tension which implies twist and sail fullness adjustment and the position of maximum draft. It also modifies the jibstay sag, and will therefore modify the twist, fullness and maximum draft of the jib.

  • Traveler

    The traveler is used to adjust the mainsail's angle of attack while sailing upwind. It will also modify the twist in the mainsail.

  • Boom Vang

    The boom vang is used to control the lower mainsail's fullness, leech tension, and jibstay sag. It is also used to adjust the mainsail's twist while sailing downwind.

  • Cunningham

    The cunningham is used to apply tension to the mainsail's luff when halyard tension may no longer be applied due to rule restrictions. It determines the position of maximum draft of the sail.

  • Outhaul

    The outhaul is used to control the tension in the foot of the sail. This determines how full the lower portion of the sail will be.

  • Main Halyard

    The halyard is used to adjust the tension of the sail's luff, and therefore the initial position of maximum draft.

Jib or Genoa

  • Jib sheet

    The jib sheet is used to adjust the leech tension. It will modify the sail's twist, fullness and position of maximum draft.

  • Jib Car adjustment

    The jib car is adjusted to control the twist and fullness in the jib.

    The rule of thumb is is the bottom tell-tails are breaking first, the jib car needs to be pulled aft until all the tell-tails are breaking evenly.

  • Jib Halyard

    The halyard is used to adjust the tension of the sail's luff, and therefore the initial position of maximum draft.

  • Backstay

    The backstay adjusts the mast bend, and therefore will modify the tension in the forestay, controlling the jib sag. It is therefore used to adjust the jib's position of maximum draft, the fullness and twist.

Spinnaker

  • Spinnaker Sheet

    Same as mainsheet and jibsheet.

  • Spinnaker Guy

    Properly called the After Guy, although seldomly used. The guy adjusts the fore/aft location of the spinnaker pole

  • Topping Lift

    The topping lift is used to lift the pole tip. It is used in combination with the foreguy to maintain the pole tip at a fixed point in space.

  • Foreguy

    Counter acts the topping lift so the pole tip remains a fixed point in space.

References

  • Walker, Stuart H.; A Manual of Sail Trim; W. W. Norton & Company; New York, N.Y.; 1985;
  • U.S. Sailing; Start Sailing Right; United States Sailing Association, Portsmouth, R.I.; 1997;
  • Smith, Lawrie; Tuning Yachts and Small Keelboats; Fernhurst Books; Arundel, West Sussex, England; 1988;

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