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Three Ways Helms Can Help Improve Spinnaker Trim

The art of good trim lies in three simple points: balance, communication and awareness. Master these, and your downwind performance is sure to accelerate.

By Mike

Every racer knows the impact of good spinnaker trim. Sailing efficiently under these vast sails can transform your downwind performance. But success doesn’t just rest on the trimmer’s wide shoulders – every crew member is responsible for increasing a yacht’s downwind performance. So, what can helms do to help harness a spinnaker’s full potential? Let’s delve into three helming techniques to refine your spinnaker trim.

1. Find the sweet spot

Every spinnaker is designed with a distinct flying shape. If the spinnaker displays a smooth, well-powered appearance, you’re on track. But if it’s sagging or appears overly taut, adjustments are needed.

Picture this: You’re sailing at a consistent 8 knots, and a gust approaches. The objective? Prevent a speed drop. Adjust your course as soon as the spinnaker shows signs of reduced tension. This equilibrium between slackness and tension is your target, ensuring maximum sail efficiency.

2. Prioritise Team Communication

Teamwork is paramount when trimming the spinnaker. The synergy between the helmsman and the crew determines the success of any adjustment.

For efficient helming, the crew’s weight distribution plays a pivotal role. A lean to leeward helps steer up, while a shift to windward assists in bearing away. Ensuring the alignment of steering and weight movement is vital to avoid conflicting manoeuvres. But, even more critical is maintaining an open dialogue between the trim team and helm. Communicating how the helm is feeling, and if (and when) helming adjustments are being made ensures that the trim team can make their own adjustments, keeping the sailing smooth. But remember, this is a discussion and rarely an order! I find that teams with the best helm-trim team synergy are on the whole the fastest downwind.

3. Don’t Forget About Wind Shifts!

Just as it is when sailing upwind, understanding and reacting to wind shifts on the run is crucial for optimal spinnaker performance. A curl in the spinnaker’s luff without a trimmer’s easing indicates a header. In this situation, a timely gybe can maintain the sail’s desired shape and keep the Velocity Made Good (VMG) high.

On the other hand, if the trimmer can’t induce a curl despite easing off, it signifies a lift. In such instances, adjusting your direction is key. Especially if you’ve been considering a gybe, or if the lift is substantial, it’s the right moment to act.

Recognising these shifts and responding accurately can transform your sailing performance. These wind variations might seem minor, but they profoundly affect your sail’s efficiency. Keep a razor focus on the VMG and if it starts to drop, adjust the course, or pop in a gybe.

In conclusion

Helming well under spinnaker can take your race experience from good to great. Focus on maintaining its optimal shape, ensuring seamless team communication and managing wind shifts adeptly. By mastering these elements, you’re equipped to make the most of your spinnaker trim.

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