Small Boat Sailing
There are three basic controls on a sailing dinghy. They are steering, sail trim
and weight. All these controls inter-relate and it may be confusing for the beginner.
To learn what each control does, only adjust one at a time. For example, remain in
the same place in the boat, keep the tiller centered and adjust your sail or sails. See what happens. Start with
the wind on the side of your boat (abeam). Let the sails out until they start to shake(luffing) and observe what
happens. The boat slows down. Bring the sails in until they just stop luffing. Notice the boat start to pick up
speed. Now bring the sails in as far as you can. What happens to the speed and the angle of tilt(heel) of the
Now bring in the sails until they have just stopped luffing. Now use the tiller to
turn the boat one way and then the other. What happens to the speed and the heel?
Return to a position with the wind abeam, sails just stopped luffing and the tiller
centered. Now try moving yourself from side to side and forward and back. What happens to the heel? Does the boat
turn? Which way?
By only changing one control at a time, you will obtain a better understanding of the
effect each control has on the performance of your dinghy.
Many beginners have difficulty with the basic concept of sail trim. Often the
phrase "catch the wind" is used. The sails do not "catch the wind" but provide power by the wind flowing smoothly
over both sides of the sail. We can observe when the sail is at the correct angle to the wind by looking at the
telltales or ticklers. These are lengths of light material(yarn) fastened to the forward edge (the luff) of the
sail. When the sail is properly trimmed the telltales will lay flat on both sides of the sail.
Rules for sail trim
If the inner or windward telltale is fluttering turn away from the wind direction or bring the sail in closer to
If the outer or leeward telltale is fluttering turn towards the wind or let the sail out.
Turn the boat away from the fluttering telltale or move the sail towards the fluttering telltale.
Recommended further reading - Small Boat Sailing Instruction lens.