Light Wind Tactics

by Stan Storwick

At the last Canadian Nationals held in Osoyoos we had two days of “light wind” sailing.  I did well at this regatta and at times finished appreciably ahead of the remainder of the fleet.  What did I do differently from others?  What secrets about the lake did I use?  Or… was I just lucky?

 I believe that about a third of the races I have sailed in over the years were in light wind conditions, sometimes with a wind so light that the bugs swimming on the water’s surface were going faster than me.  Light wind, with no ripple on the water or patches of ripples indicating wind but not where you are, can be more than frustrating. Frequently many people reach the point where they just give up.  So how does one cope with this challenge?

 Too often people go for a sail when conditions are comfortable, with wind in the 8 to 15 mph range.  The Sea Spray moves well in these conditions, and something has to be radically wrong with the boat or the trim of the sails to not be within sight of the rest of the fleet when racing.  But how often do people go for a sail in the “extreme” ends of wind strength?

 The wind in Osoyoos is fickle.  A variety of conditions can be found on every sail, and I may end up sailing in any wind strength, from particularly light and shifty to really heavy and survivalist.  I will not rig my boat in extremely heavy winds to go for a recreational sail.  I have also been known to sit out a race especially with wind blowing at the range found in survival conditions.  Light winds, however, seldom deter me.

In light conditions, I usually try to do a number of things.  You probably do as well, but you can check out the points below and maybe add to them.

  1. Try to stay clear of other boats.  There is a wind shadow of about 2 ½ times the height of an obstruction.  With a Sea Spray that works out to approximately 55 feet.  If there are two or more boats, they act as a wall.
  2. Avoid dead areas.  There are a few on Lake Osoyoos that in light conditions act as parking lots.  Generally any land projection, house, building, or tree will affect the wind.  For some reason, it seems that the center of Lake Osoyoos has less wind than around the edges, about 300 feet from shore.
  3. Watch your body weight placement.  I usually lie close to the mast support tube with some weight forward of that tube.  This lifts the sterns and creates less drag from the hull.
  4. Don’t run the main too tight.  Ease things off a little and watch the ticklers on your jib to the point that you are visually checking the ticklers every few seconds.  If there are no boats around, focus mostly on the ticklers.
  5. Take advantage of shifts in wind direction.  Sometimes the wind can swing 180 degrees at Osoyoos.  Prior and during the shift, things can go crazy.  You may be sailing backwards before you recognize the shift, if you are not alert.
  6. If you have Hyfield levers, try easing the windward one off.  This will allow the sails to fill a bit more easily, especially if you are on the downwind side.
  7. Move your body as little as possible and do same with sail adjustment.
  8. If you really can’t feel any wind movement, try holding the boom in your hand to adjust it.  It will be a bit more sensitive than the main sheet.
  9. Tie a couple of pieces of light angora wool on the side shrouds and bridle wires for additional wind indicators as even the slightest breeze will be indicated.
  10. Practice in light winds, if possible with another Sea Spray.  Then try some of the above to see if you can improve.
  11. Patience and concentration are vital.  One of our former Sea Spray sailors (Dave West) was a master at these.  He would sometimes light a cigarette and watch the smoke as it was dispersed by the wind.  It seemed to help.

I hope this gives you food for thought.  There are likely other tips out there that could be useful, so please don’t hesitate to share.  Hopefully we all will benefit.

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