Sailing in Strong Winds

By Sean Semmens

Dart Sails

Strong Winds
Impalas are still competitive in strong winds against similar and like size boats; but recently we find bigger and more modern boats in our class. Upwind you need to perfect the art of feathering to Windward. Once you have managed this you will be able to carry a large sail plan. Try to avoid reefing until absolutely essential, the mainsail drives the boat, change down to at least the No3 before reefing t all and virtually neve more than 1 reef. If you need 2 reefs you should go home. Use maximum halyard tension, maximum vang, maximum mainsheet (with a strong trimmer) and traveller down the track as necessary.

Backstay is a subject that divides opinion. Deploying the backstay bends the mast, depowering the mainsail and increases forestay tension. This all sounds good but it also opens the leach of the mainsail up reducing leech tension. Impalas like a very tight leech mainsail and this gives them drive and height upwind. If the helmsman can cope the best advise is to feather upwind and keep lots of mainsheet up wind and depower by feathering and easing the traveller. Tip NEVER drop the traveller below the seat, if you need to ease the main out more than that then start easing the sheet. If the helm finds it too skittish to steer in the conditions then applying moderate backstay will dampen this all down and make it easier to sail to in the puffs.

In flat water, change straight from a No 1 Genoa to a No 3. In waves a No 2 is worth using up to about 20 knots if possible. Above 22kts you will be definitely better onto the No.3. Weight should be as far outboard as possible and a little further aft. Downwind in very strong winds crew weight should be well aft (on the pushpit). With Spinnakers up steering can be difficult reaching, try pole up and aft a little most than you would expect, and downwind pole forward to keep the centre of the sail directly in front of the bow of the boa, this will dampen the boat rolling. This is not fast but is easier to steer, if this fails try a smaller spinnaker or reach up just a little.

Most broaches with spinnakers seem to happen when dropping the spinnaker, this is because
Other general tips include: – use minimum diameter rope like 8mm spectra for all halyards and sheets, the rope will run easier, causing less snags.

Launch the Spinnaker from the companion way, this will keep a crew member off the bow as much as possible. Weight in the bow is especially bad on the Impala. Sail with a heavy crew! Especially in strong winds

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