Ask SAIL: Too Much Weather Helm

Author:
Publish date:
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

190219NEEL51

Video Tour: Neel 51 Trimaran

At this past fall’s Annapolis Boat Show, SAIL magazine had a chance to corner Neel Trimarans founder Eric Bruneel and have him give us a tour of the accommodations aboard the new Neel 51, winner of the “Multihull over 50ft” category in the 2019 Best Boats contest. For a complete ...read more

IMG_0173

Electronic “Flares” for Cruisers

The United States Coast Guard requires that all boats operating in coastal waters or on the high seas carry a selection of visual distress signals. Almost invariably, such signals include the pyrotechnic type, either handheld or fired from a flare pistol, but surely there are ...read more

M2-HOOK-TOP-AND-CHAIN-1

Gear: M2 Chain Hook from Mantus

Stay Hooked Chain hooks on anchor snubber lines tend to fall off when you least want them to. Not so this latest example from Mantus. The M2 Chain Hook is secured to the chain by a simple elastic strap, so it won’t come off when the snubber loosens. Made from corrosion-resistant ...read more

shutterstock_349918991

Successful Surf Landings with Wheels

“Ready to take the dink ashore?” Never had those words invoked as much anxiety as when my husband, Jeff, and I first moved to the Pacific Coast. Why? Because we had exactly zero experience with dinghy surf landings, and the possibility of being flipped upside down along with our ...read more

Sail2010_597

How to: Find Good Values on Charter Vacations

So, you want to find a great deal on your next charter vacation? Sure, you can scour the internet, hope for Black Friday deals or ask friends. But an even better way to find good prices on charter boats is to go to a boat show. Not only do charter companies like The Moorings, ...read more