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Up to Speed & Smarts: Make Your Jibes Efficient

By David Dellenbaugh

Speed & SmartsJibing is one of the most complex maneuvers you ever make on the race course. To get good at it, you must be skilled and practiced in your boathandling and sailhandling skills. These almost always make the difference between a mediocre rounding and a fast one where everything clicks.The key is adjusting the trim of your boat and sails as you jibe amidst a fleet of boats. It’s not easy because you have to focus on your own crew work and keep your head out of the boat at the same time. Here are some suggestions for smoother, more efficient jibes.

Turn with crew weight

As I’ve said many times, the key to fast turns of any type is minimizing the use of your rudder and the associated drag. While this may be a challenge when you’re avoiding other boats, try to use other turning methods as much as possible.

One good way to help turn your boat is by moving crew weight from side to side. When you want to start bearing off into a jibe, for example, hike out and heel the boat to windward (or at least minimize leeward heel). This will help the boat carve a turn to leeward. As the boom comes across and you settle on a course for the second reach, move your weight to the other side to flatten the boat. Using your weight for turning is especially important in light air when your sails are not much help.

The epitome of using your weight to help turn the boat through a jibe is a “roll jibe.” This technique works best in light to medium wind and lighter boats with round bottoms that are easily “rolled” by the weight of the crew. It’s also particularly effective for reach-to-reach jibes. However, if you are flying a spinnaker, it’s difficult to do a big roll jibe – I suggest you make spinnaker handling your priority; when you perfect this, slowly work on adding some roll.

A roll jibe is similar to the jibe we just described using your weight, except the rolls to windward and back up again are more aggressive and pronounced. The basic idea is to roll your boat as far as possible before the jibe and then flatten it sharply after the boom comes over. If done right, this will help you eliminate the speed lost in a normal jibe. Remember, how- ever, that although roll jibing is a kinetic exception permitted by rule 42, you are not allowed to come out of a jibe faster than you went into it.

Turn the boat using sail trim

Speed & Smarts JibeAnother important method of turning your boat is by adjusting your sail trim. When you want to bear off into a jibe, for example, you should ease out your mainsail. This relieves leeward pressure on the aft part of the boat and allows the bow to turn away from the wind more easily (without using a lot of rudder to make this happen).

When you’re preparing to jibe from a broad reach to a tight reach (or vice versa), make other sail adjustments before you get to the mark.  © Stephen Cloutier/photogroup.us

Unfortunately, easing the mainsheet when you start into a jibe is the opposite of what often happens. Many skippers begin a jibe by bearing off and simultaneously trimming in the main. This is wrong for at least two reasons. First, trimming the main makes the boat want to head toward the wind, not away from it, so this means you must use more rudder to bear off. Second, the best way to keep going fast as you bear off is to ease the main out farther so the wind keeps pushing on it; if you trim it in you lose power.

When and how to pull the main across

Getting the main and boom across the boat can be a critical part of any jibe, especially in strong breeze when bad technique or hesitation can cause a broach or capsize. The key is knowing exactly when to start pulling the main across and then doing it assertively.

There are several signs that tell you when it’s time to pull the mainsail across. One is a fidgety mainsail leech, which shows that the wind is just starting to flow around the other side of the mainsail. Another clue is reduced pressure on your mainsheet. This may be subtle, but it’s a good indicator that the main is ready to change sides. Once you know when to pull the main across, the only question left is how best to do it. There are at least four techniques you can use, depending on the type of boat you’re racing and the jibe you’re planning:

  1. The helmsperson grabs all the mainsail parts together and pulls the boom across. Advantages: It gets the boom across quickly and ata precise moment. The boom goes out quickly on the new jibe, which is good if you’re on a run. Disadvantages: Not great when you’re jibing to a reach because the main goes out too far. Not easy to trim the main in after the jibe.
  2. A crewmember grabs the vang or the boom itself and throws the boom across. Advantages: Same as above. Works well when helmsperson is too busy to pull boom across. Disadvantages: Same as above.
  3. Skipper trims mainsheet through the block. Advantages: Good for a reach to reach jibe because you can trim the sail as it goes across the boat. Easy to trim main after the jibe.Disadvantages: Takes longer to pull the sail in far enough to jibe. Less precise timing of when it crosses.
  4. Trimmer uses a winch to grind in the sheet. Advantages: Only way to get boom in on big boat in breeze; can hold boom in middle of boat during jibe and ease it out slowly on new jibe. Disadvantages: Takes a lot longer to pull the sail in far enough to jibe. Usually requires two people.

This article originally appeared in David Dellenbaugh’s Speed & Smarts, The newsletter of how-to tips for racing sailors. If you want to sail faster and smarter, log onto SpeedandSmarts.com.

A resident of Easton, CT, Dellenbaugh was tactician and starting helmsman for America3’s successful defense of the America’s Cup in 1992. He’s a Lightning World Champion, two-time Congressional Cup winner, seven-time Thistle National Champion, two-time winner of the Canada’s Cup, three-time Prince of Wales U.S. Match Racing Champion, and a winner of the U.S. Team Racing Championships for the Hinman Trophy.


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