In our post on Sailing Lulls Tips, we discussed why you shouldn’t bear off quickly in a lull or ease your sheet immediately. All the experts agree that bearing off to restore luff telltale flow in a lull is a bad habit. This post adds additional insight from Frank Bethwaite and recommends you consider trimming in and very slightly feathering down in a lull.
Sailing Lulls – Classic Response
Just to reiterate a few points from our previous post, bearing off in a lull to get your luff telltales streaming is a bad idea for three reasons.
- Unnecessary steering will slow you down. If you are patient, the boat will slow down due to the lull, moving the apparent wind back closer to its direction before the lull. If the lull persists, your final heading heading might be only a touch lower than your original heading. If you steer down initially, you will then need to steer up again as the apparent wind comes back to its original direction. Better to avoid the steering until things settle down.
- Avoid losing distance to windward. When you bear off, you are losing distance to windward. If you don’t bear off, you can use your boat speed to coast forward on your original heading and gain distance to windward.
- Get to new wind sooner. Following the lull, you can often expect new wind from the same direction. If you hold your heading, you are “pinching up” to this new expected wind.
The classic response to sailing lulls is to avoid steering down, get your weight in, and adjust your sail controls (vang, cunningham) as needed. We found some good videos from the International Sailing Academy (ISA), showing the incorrect and “correct” response to a lull. These are also discussed in an ISA article on gust and lull management.
What About Trimming and Steering?
Our post did not advocate any immediate responses in mainsheet trim or steering. Very few experts mention adjusting mainsheet trim and steering as part of the immediate response to a lull. However, Frank Bethwaite is a strong advocate for these steps. In his book Fast Handling Technique, he argues that the lull response should be exactly the opposite of the gust response.
- Gust response: ease and feather up, hike, and then trim to new wind strength. For more on this, see our post on MC Boat Speed
- Lull response: trim and feather down, move weight in, and then ease to new wind strength
Let’s look at Bethwaite’s reasoning:
- Trim. Bethwaite points out that you can get a little more power from the sail as the apparent wind moves forward by trimming in. This more closely matches the sheeting angle to the new apparent wind. If you get a bit more power, even for a short time, this helps prevent the boat from rolling to windward while you move your weight in.
- Feather down. If you steer slightly down – no more than 2-4 degrees – you are attempting to match the new apparent wind angle with minimal steering that won’t result in a loss of speed due to rudder movement. The combination of trimming in and minimal steering down gives you the best chance at retaining power in the sail. If the lull persists, you will likely not need to steer down any further when things settle down.
- Move weight in. This is part of the classic response. In Bethwaite’s technique, you can move your body weight in more smoothly, since the trim and feather steps help keep the boat on its lines.
- Ease. When things settle down, if the lull persists, you will need to ease your main for the new reduced velocity to keep the mainsail leech open.
In Bethwaite’s method, the first three steps happen simultaneously. All are smooth actions, and Bethwaite makes a big point of the need to practice until these movements are barely perceptible and based on feedback of the boat. The movements may become more marked if the lull is extreme.