I think our biggest gains were made downwind. … The boats really like to be sailed with some twist at the top of the sail, sailing by the lee, and heeled to weather … This, combined with zig-zagging downwind to stay in front of the next puff really allowed us to extend. Kenny Wolfe interview following 2013 MC Nationals
Are you working hard enough to sail faster downwind, using the techniques that Kenny mentions above? Let’s break down his thoughts to get inspired to do more than just hydrate and rest on the downwind legs.
Effectiveness of Puffs – Upwind and Downwind
… Wind velocity changes last much longer and have a much larger effect on speed on downwind legs than on upwind legs. Frank Bethwaite, Higher Performance Sailing
Bethwaite’s quote should inspire you to work harder to stay in pressure downwind. He estimates that puffs are 3-4 times more “powerful” and last 4-5 times longer downwind than upwind. He gives a numerical example of the difference in this excerpt from Higher Performance Sailing. Simply stated without numbers, puffs are more “powerful” downwind because they change your apparent wind speed more. They last longer because you are sailing with the puffs, rather than against them. Similarly, downwind lulls reduce your speed more and the effect lasts longer.
By The Lee: Fast and Flexible
Sailing by the lee is a fantastic way to catch and pass boats downwind. It also gives you the lateral movement that you need to position yourself to catch the right puffs and stay in the pressure. Doug Peckover, Butterfly Fleet 20 Racing Blog
Doug Peckover races Lasers and Butterflies, coaches sailors, and writes about sailing techniques in Improper Course. He has won the Laser Masters World Championships. Several years ago, he wrote a series of ten articles about downwind sailing for the Butterfly Fleet 20 (Dallas, TX) blog.
By the Lee – Fast
In Downwind-Part 5: Speed – Sailing By The Lee, he shows us why sailing by the lee is fast and makes the point that you have to practice hard to get the feel of it. Read this post to understand:
- The effects of flow across the sail on speed
- Why using the leach as the leading edge of the sail (i.e., by the lee) makes the flow more effective than using the luff of the sail as the leading edge
- How to play the main to get the most drive from the sail by the lee
- Why steering up and down is an effective way of pumping when by the lee
- Setting your vang so the leech breathes
- Stability when sailing by the lee
By the Lee – Flexible
In Downwind Part 6: Staying in Pressure, he reinforces the importance of “connecting the dots” downwind to stay in pressure. Read this post to understand:
- Sailing extra distance to catch puffs doesn’t cost you much (assuming you catch them)
- The importance of looking behind you early and often
- Sailing by the lee gives you a tool to steer down for puffs without jibing
By the Lee – Does it Work for Your Class?
Your SailZing editor has little experience in different classes. We’d love to hear your comments on the effectiveness of sailing by the lee in your class.