Learn to love sailing in heavy air

Sailing in heavy air


Feb 22, 2018

If sailing in strong breeze isn’t your strong suit, you are not alone.

When I was about ten years old I starting racing sailboats on Cape Cod and the sound of the wind whistling overnight through the pine trees outside my bedroom would make it hard to sleep. Even the next morning I’d have a knot in my stomach when I woke.

Forty years later, I still get the knot in my stomach with just the thought of sailing in heavy air but luckily, I’ve learned more about the technique and in turn, have become more confident when it comes to heavy air sailing. If sailing in a strong breeze intimidates you, you are not alone, but you can learn to get better at it and actually start to dominate in the breeze. Here are some tips to help shake your nerves and get you confident for that next heavy air event.

Wear a Lifejacket

Seems pretty basic, but there was a day when wearing a lifejacket was not as prevalent as it is now. As soon as the breeze comes up, put one on yourself and make it mandatory that your crew do the same. It will give you more confidence to be more aggressive in moving around on deck and when trimming/pumping your sails. And it’s the right thing to do.

Know your Settings

Once you are out on the water and it starts blowing, there is no time to be figuring out how many turns to go up on the rig. Be sure to pre-measure your rig tension and know how many turns it takes to get to your heavy air settings for each wind speed.

YandySetup your Boat so it’s Easy

In all boats, flat is fast in breeze. It’s also important to keep the boat on an even angle of heel. If the boat is constantly heeling over you tend to use more rudder which creates drag, which will eventually cause the boat to stall out head to wind.

Concepts to keep in mind:

  • Set Up for Twist. Tight leeches on the main and jib will make the boat more sensitive to tipping over each time you get a puff. To induce twist:
  • Sail with the backstay VERY firm
  • Ease the main and jib (simultaneously)
  • Vang on hard if effective on your boat. This will flatten the lower portion of the main and open the lower leech
  • Play the sails. Play the main especially to keep the boat on an even angle of heel. The smaller the boat the more you play your sheets.
  • Keep the traveller on or slightly above the centerline.
  • Try not to Hit Waves Dead-on. If you do, at least make sure the boat is flat. Back when I learned to sail the mantra with steering in waves was to “head up the face of the wave and bear off on the backside of it. Today we use as little rudder as possible to steer around the big sets. Inevitably, you will hit waves, and some straight on. When you do, be sure your boat is flat. The boat will stop, but if it is flat it will not slip sideways as much.

Have fun. Sailing in heavy air is exhilarating. Enjoy the process of getting better each time you go out in a breeze!

 Chris Snow – Chris Snow, North Sails One Design Expert, San Diego, California

Chris Snow is a career sailmaker with experience in every aspect of the business. Most recently he has been involved with the management of North Sails One Design. He has a long record of small racing success in a diverse…

Related Articles

Sylvan G3 CLZ DC: Luxury For Everyone

Sylvan’s brilliant G3 CLZ DC brings an entirely new level of performance, comfort and versatility to Canadian boaters.

By Craig Ritchie

While Canadians may have been slower to warm to pontoon boats than our southern neighbours, that’s definitely changed as we see more of them gracing our waters every year. The latest data shows pontoon boats now represent around 30% of all new boats sold in Canada and it’s easy to understand why – with their interior space and tremendous versatility, pontoons are near-perfect family runabouts.

Read More


Cruising Georgian Bay’s 30,000 Islands: Canada’s Freshwater Paradise for Boaters

By Elizabeth Wilson, “Georgian Bay Beauties” (www.GeorgianBayBeauties.org)

The Plan

It’s a beautiful morning as we perform our pre-departure checklist, fire up the engines and prepare to release our lines. And if the long-range forecast of very low winds coupled with plenty of sunshine holds, that’s exactly what we need for the areas we plan to explore on this trip! 

We are departing Midland for a week of visiting some of the islands and anchorages within Georgian Bay’s “30,000 Islands” – specifically those along the western edge. These are the less protected islands which face toward wide-open Georgian Bay, where boaters often have to depart the small craft route and work a little harder at setting the hook but are then rewarded with magnificent western views, stunning sunsets, and so much to explore! 

Read More