Spring Refresher: Basic Sail Trim


There is an abundance of books and articles out there written about the single topic of sail trim.  It occupies every sailors mind at some point – regardless of whether you identify yourself as a racer, cruiser, daysailor or simply just a sailor.

I recently sat down with Koralina Pior, J World Annapolis Coach and the Chesapeake Boating Clubs’s Baltimore Fleet Manager. I wanted to see how she talks to her students about sail trim.

KB:  Koralina, sail trim is a fairly broad topic.  In your opinion, what is the most basic way to understand sail trim?

KP:  “I often asked myself “how can I ever master such a complex skill?” Every time I go sailing I learn a little more about sail trim which leads me to believe mastery is over-rated, and learning is continuous. None-the-less I have learned a plethora of tips, tricks, and acronyms, over the years, to keep it all straight.

The most common phrase related to sail trim is simply:

“When in doubt, let it out”

In my experience it’s a great place to start; however I’ve altered this long time saying to read “When in doubt, let it out- If it’s luffing, it must come in”

KB:  I love that phrase and use the same one.  It works from Opti’s to ocean cruisers.  When I teach the same concept I say “when in doubt let it out.  If you are often in doubt you are rarely in error.” But “letting it out” is a pretty gross trim concept,  how can you use it to refine trim?

KP: “It’s easier to explain and understand if we break it down into two parts:

  • Main trim: “When in doubt, let it out- If it’s luffing, it must come in” works excellent here. As we get more advanced we learn that when we go up wind keeping the boom running along the center line of the boat will give us the greatest amount of lift towards the wind.  As we head down off the wind we want to keep easing the sail to the brink of luffing as we turn. You can make sure you have the appropriate trim by easing your mainsheet and few inches and seeing if your sail luffs. If it does then pull it back in and you know you have the right trim. If it does not luff then you know it’s over trimmed and needs to be eased out some more. Generally speaking at the run/broad reach angle we want the sail just off the shrouds. This technique will prolong the life of your sail by not creating a “wear spot”.
  • Jib trim: “Outside tell-tale, let it out- Inside tell-tale, pull it in” The basic idea here is you want to trim or ease the sail to the “tattling tell-tale”.  If you are thinking “Huh?” Let me explain: If you’re sailing on the port tack (wind is coming over your port side, the sails are on the starboard side) the outside tell-tale is the one on the starboard side of the sail, closer to the outside of the boat. The inside tell-tale is the one on the port side of the sail, more inboard. The term tattling refers to the tell-tales tendency to wiggle, or sway uncontrollably.

So if your sailing along on the outside tell-tale is tattling you would want ease the sail out toward that outside tell-tale.  Thus I like the saying: “Outside tell-tale, let it out- Inside tell-tale, pull it in”

KB:  Are there any good tricks for remembering proper jib trim?

KP:  “Yes! Using the tell-tales is the easiest way to get perfect jib trim every time. The tell-tales are your “tell tale” symbols on your jib to help you refine its trim when sailing on a beam reach or above. Usually they are pieces of yarn colored red and green on either side of your jib (but not always I’ve seen blue instead of green).

So you’ve picked your direction and set your sails (using the tips above to help) and now you want to sit back and drive your boat to that trim. This is often what we do when we are sailing close-hauled or just out for fun with friends.  It’s easy and only takes small adjustment of your wheel or tiller to keep your boat cruising forward.

  • Tiller driven boats: “Tiller towards the tattling tell-tale” This means if your starboard tell-tale is wiggling around push/pull your tiller to starboard side until that tell-tale settles down and streams aft (towards the back of your boat).
  • Wheel Steered Boats: “Turn away from trouble.”  This means if you starboard tell-tale is wiggling around you want to steer to port.  Be careful though, if you steer too far you will cause your port telltale to wiggle.
KB:  These are some great tips to get us thinking about sail trim.  If someone was interested in learning more what would you tell them?

KP: “I really hope you found this helpful. At J World we fully endorse a life of learning, amongst our staff and our students. So, if you have any questions feel free to comment below. We would be happy to explain anything further. We also cover this material in 1hr, 3hr, and full day formats under the title of “Sail Trim and Balance”. Just e-mail us for more information on the full length version.”

With my morning coffee…

Every morning I like to read through the latest sailing news.  In addition to the many blogs I read, I love to scan Tom Sitzman’s Sail1Design email.  This morning’s issue included a good article on the mental game of sailing.  Check out out below and consider liking them on Facebook or signing up for their emails!

Honing Your Mental Game

by Dr. Tim Herzog, Mental Skills Coach

Sailing is a unique sport with many facets.  Success comes from overall training plan encompassing development of technical expertise, boat speed, strategy, boat handling, tactics, physical training, and mastery of the mental game.  In interviews with Olympians, professionals, or other top athletes, successes or failures are often attributed to cognitive or emotional experiences.  Elite sailors control as many controllables as possible, and yet…  sometimes mental skills are sometimes left up to chance.

You wouldn’t go to a big regatta expecting to consistently go fast without having first worked on boatspeed.  How could you expect mental consistency without having first trained the mind?

Training needs always vary from sailor to sailor, and the first step to honing any skill is too build awareness.  Awareness in boatspeed could mean tuning into components of the experience like degree of heel.  Likewise, noticing your thoughts moment to moment enables greater influence toward more consistently helpful thought patterns.

A good frame of mind can lead to time “in the zone” (as media labels it) or experiencing “flow” (as researchers call it).  You can’t make a flow state occur, but you can set the stage such that falling into it becomes more likely.  Understanding concepts and knowing your own strengths and weaknesses allows for a more intentional setting the stage.  Skills that I often dive into with clients include: goal-setting, clearing cognitive clutter, energy management, mindful attention, mental imagery, and effective communication.

Winning events or medals are obvious carrots to chase after, but thinking about trying to win (or dwelling on fear of bad performance) usually has nothing to do with tasks at hand (like observing sail shape or having a solid tack).  I often work with athletes on setting goals centered on processes in the NOW.  Similarly, our brains are often filled with chatter that is adaptive or maladaptive.  At times when thoughts are actually helpful, it’s akin to riding a good wave- you want to allow it for as long as possible.  But when thoughts are maladaptive, it is like Laser sailing in the trough of a wave that is sending you into a pitchpole… that wave needs to be rolled.  I work with athletes on rolling past less helpful thoughts, sometimes with hard counters, and more often utilizing mindfulness techniques.

An athlete’s energy management is influenced by some of these same factors, plus lifestyle choices, and through psychophysiological techniques like developing an optimally paced breath.  This makes a difference on and off the water, especially in the midst of stressful tactical situations.  Energy management techniques can also contribute to more flexible attention.  Demonstrating that we usually can’t “control” attention, I often tell sailors “don’t think about pink elephants.”   Close your eyes for 10 seconds and try it.  Your brain is likely already filled with pink elephants.  We might not be able to control attention, but we can be mindful about steering it directions that are more helpful, creating attention habits through good routines.  Mental (movement-focused) imagery can be a useful to sailors and other athletes across situations such as: preparing for certain regatta sites, honing a boat handling skill, spontaneous usage on or off the race course, or by combining it with traditional coaching techniques such as video analysis.

With coaches and others, I often work on good communication skills.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not a pre-requisite for teams to get along socially.  “Task cohesion” is much more important than “social cohesion.”  Sailors need to know that they can count on important people like their coaches or their crew.  And when everything else (including trust) is in place, good social relationships can add a synergy to the package.  It makes the experience fun and can fuel motivation.  Whether communicating task needs or social needs, learning a balance between a directive and collaborative style can make all the difference…and making sure that the other person feels heard.  Cliché but true, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason!

Formats for the work I do with sailors and athletes can vary.  Ideal training can involve ongoing individual consultation for coaches and/or sailors, and can incorporate in-person meetings for teams.  Given that I currently live in ski country, coming to Montana can be a great get-away for teams that want to ski by day and learn mental skills by morning and night.

Folks can get a taste of the work by joining a six-part webinar series that I am beginning this Friday.  Log into http://reachingahead.com/index.php?page=about&family=coaching&category=02–Optimal_Sailing&display=76 for more details, or go directly tohttps://www.surveymonkey.com/s/sailingwebinar to sign up!

FROM THE EXPERTS: Tips to launch the spring season


Sailing Scuttlebutt caught one of our favorite racing pro’s for an article recently.  If you don’t subscribe to the free daily sailing news… you are missing out!  Here is an excerpt of a recent article published in Scuttlebutt:

Born into a sailing family, with a father who was one of the founders of Annapolis’s Severn SA (SSA), and having crewed with his family at a young age, Jonathan Bartlett had a leg up on sailing long before he started teaching it at SSA as a teenager and then working at North Sails in the mid-1980s. Now co-manager with Will Keyworth at North’s Eastport office, Bartlett sails with multiple winning crews personally and professionally.

Most recently, he served as tactician on Robin Team’s J/122 Teamwork for the crew’s third victory in PHRF 1 at Quantum Key West Race Week. In the March edition of SpinSheet, he shares some insights for Chesapeake racing sailors as they launch their spring seasons.

SB: What are the top three things you see successful race teams do before a regatta even begins?

JB: “1) Organization. Everything comes out of that. 2) Keep equipment (including sails) perfect. 3) Practice.”

SB:  Can you list a few drills a sailing team can do for practice?

JB: “I like to see a team practice stopping the boat and then get going again. Practice going from a dead stop to maximum speed. As Wayne Bretsch noted (in the Chesapeake Racer Profile in the January issue), so many boats end up parked at the start… Also, if you have a chance to do drills with a coach, utilize that outside set of eyes. If you go to Key West on the Melges 32 course, for example, you see so many coach boats out there. It doesn’t have to be the best coach or even a coach at all; it has to be someone observant. Video is great, too. It gives you so much basic information, such as how a boat sits on its lines.”

SB: Any tips on nailing the start?

“Have someone set a start line, and have him watch the line as you sail to it. Get your bowman to raise his hand when he thinks you’re on the line. He’s usually a boat length off. Then practice until the bowman has it right.”

SB: Is there a common mistake you see out on the race course when it comes to sail trim?

“Jib leads are often way too far forward.”

SB: Do you have any tips on overall communication onboard?

JB: “Have a crew boss, generally not the skipper or navigator. Discuss upcoming maneuvers. Delegate responsibilities, and share the workload.” – SpinSheet, read on

Spring Refresher – Rules of the road

Every spring thousands of sailor pull the covers off their boats, rig the lines and hoist their sails for the first time.  Even the most seasoned sailors should consider taking a few minutes to review their fundamentals, safety gear and standard

Rules of the road

procedures to ensure the season starts off right.  Over the next few weeks we will be looking at a series of topics designed to get you refreshed and ready to sail.

If you sail in a busy area, like Baltimore’s Inner Harbor or the mouth of the Severn River in Annapolis, knowing the rules of the road will arm you with the knowledge to safely navigate what can be a daunting maze of zipping powerboats, tacking sailboats and working boats like tugs and taxis.

I recently had a conversation with veteran J World Annapolis Coach and Chesapeake Boating Club Baltimore staffer Koralina Pior, and asked her to tell me a little about how she teaches (and remembers herself) the rules of the road.  Below is an excerpt from that conversation.

KB: The rules of the road can seem daunting to even seasoned sailors.  What are the basics that people need to know before they hit the water?

KP: “Before we get started lets briefly define some helpful terms-

  • Stand-on vessel: The stand on vessel is the boat that has right-of-way. The Stand-on vessel is required to maintain course and speed.
  • Give-way vessel: The give-way vessel is the boat that must keep clear of the stand-on vessel. The Give-way vessel is required to make a clear and obvious change in course to alert the stand-on vessel of their intentions.”
KB: The definitions are helpful, but is there any sort of pecking order to who has right of way when two boats come together head to head, in crossing or overtaking situations?

KP: “In fact there is!  Remembering the pecking order is important, because it will quickly answer the first question about who is the stand-on and who is the give-way vessel.  Simply put (and worth memorizing), the hierarchy of right-of-way is:

  • Overtaken vessel
  • Vessels not under command
  • Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver
  • Vessels constrained by draft
  • Fishing vessels engaged in fishing, with gear deployed
  • Sailing vessels
  • Power driven vessels

Each of these terms is defined in the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.  For instance a “fishing vessel”, is defined any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls, or other fishing apparatus which restrict maneuverability, but does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing apparatus which do not restrict manageability.  So the guy in the runabout with the planer boards is a power driven vessel and not a vessel engaged in fishing.”

KB: OK, so the “pecking order” makes sense, and clarifies that sailboats have “right of way over powerboats” how can you easily remember who is the “stand on vessel” and who is the “give-way vessel?” when two boats meet?

KP: “Right – sail over power is the most common right of way scenario.  Of course if you are a sailboat but you are using the motor – you are actually a powerboat.  AND if you are a sailboat that is overtaking a powerboat, you have to give-way to the powerboat.  Between sailboats, there is an additional pecking order.  One of the best ways to remember your Right-of-way rules between sailboats is to remember this simple acronym


S = Starboard over Port: A boat on a starboard tack is the stand-on vessel. Thus a boat on a port tack must give-way to the starboard tack boat.

L = Leeward over Windward: If two boats are sailing on the same tack the boat that is more leeward is the stand-on vessel. Thus the boat that is more windward must give-way to the leeward most vessel.

O = Overtaken over Overtaking: This rule applies to boat sail boats and power boats. If a boat is approaching another boat from clear astern and is moving faster than the boat ahead, that boat is the give-way vessel. The boat which is being overtaken is the stand-on vessel. Please note even if a power boat is the boat clear ahead, it is the responsibility of the sailboat to give-way.

When I teach rules of the road, I also like to add a “W” to the acronym.  In my teaching system “W” stands for “Working.”  In many cases a sailboat would technically have right of way over a powerboat (for instance when a sailboat and a water taxi are in a crossing situation) but sometimes it pays to defer the right of way.  Some consider this an act of deference and some consider this operating under the “rule of gross tonnage.”

W = Working over leisure: A commercial boat that is working (e.g.: crabbing boat, military, tanker) is considered the stand-on vessel. The boat which is sailing for leisure is the give-way vessel. Please note this rule also applies to both sailboats and power boats.”

KB: Koralina, this is great information.  Are there other resources people might use to learn more about the rules of the road?

KP: “Right-of-way rules are important to every sailor to insure everyone’s safety on the water. To learn more about right-of-way rules you can visit the Boat US website at: http://www.boatus.com/foundation/guide/navigation_1.html and of course we cover right of way rules along with dozens of other topics in our sailing fundamentals and basic keelboat courses.”

J World Wins 33rd Heineken Regatta!

Heineken Winner
While east coast sailors are preparing this week to dig out of another winter snowstorm, nine J World Annapolis clients are wondering just why they boarded the plane to leave the Caribbean behind.
As part of J World’s winter racing and cruising training programs, two teams competed in the 33rd running of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta on March 1-3. After finishing 1st and 4th in the 13 boat Bareboat 4 division aboard Moorings 43.4’s, the sting of sleet on sunkissed cheeks might be too much – if not for all the amazing memories.
With only three days of racing scheduled – along with music, parties, sun and fun – the program kicked off with three days of race training, cruising and exploring in St. Barts. Most of the participants in this event came from cruising and daysailing backgrounds and were attracted to the healthy mix of experiences and the allure of some “real racing.”
Tuned up after the St. Barts training, the two teams match raced back to Simpson Bay. Stopping midway at the deserted Isle Fourchue for debriefing, snorkeling and a croissants and cheese lunch – the pace and expectation for this adventure was set.
Three days of close racing (five teams held or shared first place) in incredible conditions, sandwiched between huge concert parties, and delicious crew dinners culminated in a final windy race where four boats had real shots at first place.
The two J World boats battled one another for the pin and rounded the short windward leg in the top four. For the first time, the more than 200 registered boats shared the same race course. Excitement built as Gunboats traded tacks with Bareboats and big boats ducked cruising cats with dinghies on davits. After a long and windy battle J World Two finished more than three minutes ahead of the top pack and secured first place while J World One, finished in a very respectable fourth.
We’ve identified that in order to keep our returning customers happy we have to continue to provide new opportunities for them to learn and experience performance sailing. The Heineken Regatta is a great example of a program that is perfectly tailored to customers that have done our racing and cruising programs and are looking for new challenges or “bucket list” events.
The coolest thing is that we’ve done the Heineken Regatta before. We’ve done it with Grand Prix boats – and we will again – but the response from our clients has been that because we raced and cruised they felt that this was the most complete sailing experience of their lives. Serious fun!
First published in Scuttlebutt.  Scuttlebutt is published each weekday with the support of its sponsors,
providing a digest of major sailing news, commentary, opinions, features
and dock talk . . . with a North American focus.
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