Skip to main content
Updated:
Original:

Ask SAIL: Too Much Weather Helm

Drop the traveller in gusts to maintain control while retaining good sail shape. Photo courtesy of Dufour

Drop the traveller in gusts to maintain control while retaining good sail shape. Photo courtesy of Dufour

Q: When the breeze builds above 16 or 17 knots my 31-footer gets hard to handle and has significant weather helm. The autopilot does not like breezes above 10 knots. Recently it was brought to my attention that the boat has an offset backstay and this could be contributing to the problem. The dealer says it’s just a matter of sail trim and that the backstay has no effect. Do I need sailing lessons or a new boat?

Mark Otis, Janesville, WI

BRIAN HANCOCK REPLIES:

Hancock-Head-shot800

The offset backstay will have little or no effect on your helm. It does skew the tip of the mast slightly in one direction, but if you are experiencing weather helm on both tacks then it’s not the backstay and is instead a matter of sail trim. As soon as a puff hits you should drop the main traveler. You want to keep the back end of the main working, so easing the traveler rather than the mainsheet is the way to go. If you don’t have a traveler, make sure that you have good vang tension so that the leech stays quite straight without a lot of twist.

Don’t forget that because of the wedge shape of a monohull, the boat tends to head up as soon as it heels. The more it heels, the more weather helm you have. I like to say that it’s the mainsail trimmer who is really steering the boat when sailing upwind. A good trimmer picks up and eases the traveler with each change in wind speed, making it hardly necessary for the helmsman to move the wheel at all

Do you have a question for our experts? Submit it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com

January 2016

Related

02-RV-WHY

Cruising: Miracle On Ice

I was preparing some tea just before heading topside for my watch. Even though it was summertime, the tea was not iced—it was hot. That’s because our boat was in the High Arctic. We were trying to complete a westbound transit of the treacherous Northwest Passage. If we ...read more

Hanse_460_Bilder_Web_Exterior_0003-promo

New Monohulls: Hallberg-Rassy 400 & Hanse 460

For all the consolidation in the boatbuilding world in recent years, there remains plenty of variety out there, as can be seen in these two new monohulls. The products of two very different boatbuilders offer two very different takes on performance-cruising, even as they also ...read more

Waterlines

The Power of Sails

I suppose it isn’t merely a coincidence that I’ve made significant changes to the sailplans of the last three cruising boats I’ve owned. The first project was the biggest. My old Golden Hind 31, Sophie, had lots of charm and character, but her sloop rig was laughably small. ...read more

01-LEAD-BahiaCobre

Charter the Sea of Cortez

Chartering and the notion of going “off the beaten path” may sound self-contradictory. Charter companies tend to put bases where demand is high and they can turn a profit, so if you’re lucky enough to find an outfit and a destination that gets away from the typical—say yes. To ...read more

22D6FB6F-AA49-4784-A3A8-960F5A7CE330

Cruising: Anchoring Skills

Watching charterers make a run for the last mooring in a cove is fun—and weird. I always wonder why so many would rather try to catch a mooring than drop the hook. Maybe charterers don’t trust their anchoring skills, but it’s harder to drive up and grab a buoy than most people ...read more

BD-TJV21_Malama_063

11th Hour Breakdown in the TJV

11th Hour Racing’s Mālama kicked off the second week of the Transat Jaques Vabre with keel problems, forcing co-skippers Charlie Enright and Pascal Bidégorry to adjust for a more conservative approach to the race’s remaining 2000 miles. “We’ve been dealing with a lot of ...read more

2021-rolex-y-of-y-email-graphic

Rolex Nominations Open

Award season is upon us, and US Sailing is looking for the next Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year. Established in 1961 by US Sailing and sponsored by Rolex since 1980, the annual Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year awards recognize individual male and female sailors ...read more

04-IMG_3448

Buying a New Main Sail

I’ve always known the importance of having good sails. As a low-budget boat punk, I prioritize making sure I can get where I’m going with the help of the wind, as opposed to under power. It isn’t necessarily my goal to be engineless, or basically engineless. It just happens that ...read more