Trim Your Jib Like a Pro
A former America’s Cup winner shares tips on getting the most from your headsail. "Seamanship" from our December 2011 issue.
If the boat’s overpowered—that is, if it’s heeling too much—consider moving the jib lead aft (above, and see more images here) so the wind spills out of the top of the sail. This reduces heeling. If the jib is too full, or round, it diverts wind into the mainsail and renders it inefficient. When you have too much of this backwind in the main, I recommend one or more of the following steps: Ease the jib sheet, moving the lead aft to reduce the power in the sail; use a snatchblock to move the jib lead outboard; change to a smaller sail; or, as Mr. Cronkite suggested, simply roll up some of the sail.
When sailing on a reach with the sheets eased, it again helps to move the jib lead outboard to open the slot between the headsail and the mainsail. Move the sheet lead forward to keep the jib telltales flying evenly.
Another helpful reference tip is to keep the leeches of the main and headsail close to parallel. Jibs are built with internal cords on the foot and the leech. If the edge of a sail is flapping, pull these cords tight until the sail is taut. Flapping sails are slow and can damage the leech.
Remember, sailboats go faster when you bear off only when you ease the sheets. Whenever you change course, or the wind shifts, a crewmember should always be ready to trim the headsail. If you’re altering course to steer clear of anther boat, a trimmer should always have the headsail sheet in hand, ready to make a quick adjustment as the helmsman changes course.
Always alert the crew well in advance of making a turn. Sailors like to be part of the action. Give everyone a job. When tacking, the helmsman should turn the boat slowly so the trimmer has time to trim the sail. I like to ease the windward sheet well before a boat is head to wind. It’s important to be sure that the old sheet continues to be cast off throughout the turn so there’s no tension on the sheet that’s been released. This helps the trimmer pulling the sheet in on the new tack. When trimming the sail during the tack, start with two turns on the winch. When the tension on the sheet increases, add two more turns, then grind it home. If the sail is well out, the helmsman can help the trimmer by steering up into the wind. This is important on boats with a small crew. Be careful not to allow too much slack in the windward sheet because it can flap and injure a crewmember.
Downwind, I like to fly the jib wing and wing in tune with the mainsail. This works when sailing directly downwind so both sails fly. It helps to keep one crewmember stationed by the shrouds to hold out the sheet. Adjust the sheet so there’s even tension on the leech and the foot of the sail. A whisker pole or spinnaker pole can also be used to set the sail to windward; this is an excellent setup.
Jibing is easy with a jib. Simply ease it out and trim in the new sheet just as the main is moving across the boat. It’s important to control both sheets during a jibe.
With good care, a headsail can last a long time. Wash the sail periodically. Keep it out of the sun. Roller-furling jibs should have an extra layer of cloth on the leech for protection when furled. Look for chafe or wear on a sail. Patch or sew small holes or cuts. Periodically check spreader patches and the corners of the sail. Minimize luffing during turns, and furl or fold sails that aren’t in use.
I often cruise under jib alone, with the mainsail doused, and I’m always pleasantly surprised by how fast and well a boat can sail in this configuration. At times, I use a staysail with the jib for extra power. The key is to keep the staysail well aft of the jib. Check to see that the leeches of both sails are parallel. Adjust the leads of the staysail just as you would with the jib, so it luffs evenly on the leading edge of the sail.
A good headsail is every sailor’s friend. They’re fun and rewarding to trim properly, and these sails are an essential component on a well-sailed boat.
Gary Jobson, a CW editor at large, is the president of US Sailing and the author of his recently published autobiography, Gary Jobson: An American Sailing Story (Nomad Press, available on amazon.com).