Many cruisers tend to over-trim their sails when sailing to weather in light conditions. They dial in the same narrow headsail sheeting angles they normally use when sailing in stronger conditions, get frustrated by the lack of boat speed and quickly decide it’s time to start motoring. Next time the wind goes soft, instead of submitting to this self-fulfilling prophecy of slow-going, try opening up the slot between your mainsail and headsail.
Use your traveler to pull the mainsheet’s attachment point well to windward of the boat’s centerline. This will allow enough room to ease the sheet a bit and still keep the main boom at or very near the centerline. By easing the sheet, the outhaul, the main halyard and the backstay (if you can), you’ll impart a fuller, more powerful shape to your mainsail. With the boom on the centerline, you’ll also have room to ease the headsail sheet a bit and increase that sail’s power, too. You’ll be surprised to see how well you can sail “close-hauled” with a lot more space between your main and genoa. In the photo you see here, we were sailing at an apparent wind angle of 30 degrees, maintaining speeds of 3-5 knots in 5-9 knots of apparent wind. It’s much nicer than motoring, I assure you.
Photo by Charles J. Doane