Trimming for Speed. To win a sailboat race you must sail fast and smart. When you have a speed advantage, tactical decisions are easier.

To be fast you have to work at it, your rig needs to be tuned, the hull needs to be fair and smooth and the sails set and trimmed efficiently. By no means less important is the ability of the crew to work together.

The rig needs to be not only set up for the conditions but also for the sails that you have chosen and this is where you need to consult with your sail maker.

No two sailmakers cut their sails for your class exactly the same. That’s why its important to work with them to develop a trimming chart to suit different wind strengths and sea conditions.


The Mast – Trimming For Speed

Set your mast up as straight as possible but once again consult your sail maker who may advise some mast bend to suit the luff round that he has built in to the sail. Make sure that the mast is central in the boat athwartships and check that the rake is correct for the conditions.

To introduce pre-bend, add chocks in front or behind the mast at deck level. Place chocks behind the mast to induce bend and in front to straighten the mast. For a deck stepped mast, use a mast strut or inner forestay for the same effect. 

Spreaders control mast bend when you are sailing. In the initial set up, the spreaders should be positioned to hold the shrouds where they would be if there was no spreaders.

Pushing the spreaders forward moves the tip of the mast forward and pushing them back has the opposite effect.

Balance – Trimming For Speed

To get your boat balanced perfectly, the aim is to get the centre of effort directly over the centre of resistance.

A boat should also sail on the angle of heel that allows it to sail fastest through the water. In an offshore boat, the objective is to sail upwind with a long waterline. Keeping the water flowing evenly off the stern.

If you heel excessively it will cause the keel or centreboard from acting efficiently and providing the lift it was designed to create.

Fore and aft trim also has an effect and on a boat with a speed indicator, practice moving crew weight to give the greatest speed.


 Reducing Weather Helm
  • Flatten the main and jib
  • Move crew weight out and forward
  • Flatten the boat by pinching and/or dropping the traveller
  • Raise the centreboard or rake it if possible
  • Move the mast forward
  • Reef the main
Increasing Weather Helm
  • Heel the boat by moving the crew weight in
  • Move crew weight aft
  • Power up the main and jib
  • Move the traveller up
  • Add mast rake or move the mast back to move the sail plan aft
Sail Trim – Trimming For Speed

After preparing your boat properly, sail trim is the next most important factor in attaining top boat speed.

Adjust your sails constantly to work with the ever changing wind and wave patterns. Avoid cleating sheets because you will not be adjusting the sails to suit what is going on.

The secret of sailing fast is changing gears by constantly adjusting the sails. Wind bends around the sails and causes a vacuum on the forward leeward side of the sail. This moves the boat forward to fill that vacuum. 

The use of telltales when correctly placed on the sails, assist with setting them properly for the conditions. Upwind in light air, trim the sails so that both the windward and leeward telltales stream horizontally.

In medium air upwind, it is acceptable for the weather telltale to be flowing upwards at about 45 degrees some of the time. In heavy air, the windward telltale may spend a lot of the time at 45 degrees or more.


It is all about trimming your sails for balance and ease of handling in the conditions you have.