Your Helm Has The Answers

The more you limit excessive helm or rudder drag, the faster you go and because of this, you need to evaluate what your helm is telling you. If you have excessive helm, the driver is working against the boat’s natural course and each movement of the tiller is creating drag. Helm on different boats varies quite a bit but one thing is consistent across them all and that is excessive helm equals drag and drag is slow.

There are 3 factors that contribute to excessive helm and these are:

  1. Sail Trim: The jib pulls the bow down away from the wind and the mainsail, when trimmed in, pushes the bow up into the wind. Using this knowledge, you must set your boat up in balance to eliminate drag by getting each sail to work with the other. Adjustment of each sail will affect helm, trim the main in and helm will increase, ease it and the helm will decrease. Using this information, consider other powering up and powering down factors such as vang sheeting, outhaul adjustment and traveller movement up or down. These too will affect helm so when you or your crew make these adjustments communicate with reference to the effect the new trim has had on the helm and thus drag and make adjustments to renew balance.
  2. Heel and Fore & Aft trim: Heel induces tug on the tiller and many boats load up quicker than others. Communication again is very important and you need to discuss the effect that sideways heel and fore and aft trim are having on the helm. Generally the flatter a boat is the faster it will go but you need to establish the transition point between windward and leeward helm, that’s the sweet spot and where you should aim to be. In light winds, you may need to establish a little windward helm to generate a little lift off the blades and this can be achieved by heeling slightly to leeward. As the breeze kicks, you will feel the helm load up so flatten the boat to reduce the rudder drag.
  3. Centreboard Position: In classes or boats where you are able to adjust centreboard depth or rake, pay particular attention to the effect that board position has on the helm. In boats where the board can be raised, by pulling the board up you move the centre of lateral resistance back which reduces helm and therefore drag. As a guide, when sailing in waves, a little bit of board up will ease the helm and alow you to steer more effectively around waves.

You should always be thinking about helm, by easing the mainsail, adjusting the centreboard or depowering you will be balancing the boat and achieving the best upwind performance

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