We’ve gathered a few SailZing Aha! Insights and Race Course Notes that highlight thoughts on how to optimally sail the inevitable lull in wind pressure. What often seems instinctive is to ease your sail and bear off to attempt to maintain boat speed and react to what you’re seeing in your sail telltales. Below, we uncover several expert sailing lulls tips for performance and some of the reasons why they work.
Keep It Up In Lulls
Andy Burdick told us that maintaining the proper angle of heel is the “#1 thing”, that is leeboard vertical at about 15-18 degrees of heel. Anticipate puffs and lulls and adjust controls (vang, cunningham) in anticipation of the changing pressure. Power up in lulls with vang and cunningham eased or off. Be quick to shift your weight to maintain that heel and do so before the boat flattens.
Andy also pointed out that in lulls, he doesn’t really ease or bear off. At least, he didn’t during his win at the ILYA MC-Scow Invitationals on Lake Beulah. In lulls, he powered up, shifted his weight and held his point. This allowed him to maintain his line above other boats below and when the new breeze came, he could accelerate.
Pinch Through The Lulls
I found this great quote from Mike Ingham from Sailing World that describes how Mike corrected his tendency to bear off in the lulls.
I fought my instinct to bear off, and instead, allowed the jib tales to stall while the boat decelerated over the next few boatlengths. We did ease both the main and jib sheets just a little to keep both leeches from hooking in with the decreased pressure. I waited until I felt we were down speed before I readjusted my steering angle to match the new lighter wind. It worked! We were now able to keep our height as we transitioned into the lull with little loss in forward.
Mike advocates “pinching through the lulls” and once the boat speed has adjusted to the new, lower pressure, he can use smaller, subtle steerage to optimize air flow and speed. To understand why this works, he has some good diagrams that explain how the apparent wind shifts forward as the hull speed wind effects are retained longer than the true wind speed. Your telltales will mislead you until both the hull speed and true air speed adjust.
Image Source: Sailing World, Mike Ingham
Ease and Squeeze. Let The Sail Breathe.
Dave Davenport points out that so much of sailing is keeping the boat moving, speed…keeping it going. He similarly hints at keeping boat heel steady with flow over your leeboard and rudder consistent to allow the boat to “drive”. Skipper and crew need to communicate to anticipate upcoming lulls and act ahead of pressure changes.
Dave does believe in some ease of the sheet. He recommends a big ease and then squeeze back in to renew the air flowing over the sail. He finds it fast to combine the communication, anticipation, proactive adjustment and ease & squeeze to keep going fast.
Connecting The Lulls
A sailor / blogger named Yarg wrote an interesting article titled “Connecting the Lulls“. He made the following point about puffs and lulls:
Sailing in the puffs was routinely 10% faster and occasionally 50% faster than sailing in the lulls. Although it was difficult to stay in a puff for very long, even downwind, those who connected the puffs the best were consistently ahead of those who didn’t.
His title was making a “tongue in cheek” reference to his laser sailing team seemingly missing all the puffs and sailing from lull to lull.
I think connecting the lulls was caused by a combination of impatience and confusing lulls with headers. When other boats were sailing higher and faster in the puffs, it was hard to accept that their puffs might soon subside or their wind might shift and remember that the best we could do was sail to the next puff within our own reach. The lull started to feel like a header (a boat going slowly can’t point as high as a boat going faster), so there was an irresistible temptation to tack. That subsequent tack in the lull was very laborious and after completing it, the sailors found themselves still going low and slow. Having completely lost sight of finding a puff, they thought, “It must be another header!” and they desperately tacked again. Instead of sailing through the lull toward more wind, they ended up spending needless time in the lull. With a little patience and clarity, they might have spotted the next puff and sailed toward it.
Yarg highlights much of what Mike Ingham was trying to help us to avoid by pinching through the lulls. The idea though of connecting the puffs and maintaining your angle of point in the lulls to get faster to the next puff is a good one.