Intro to Reaching in Heavy Winds
Heavy air reaching requires excellent boat handling to keep the boat on plane. Trim - including body weight and heel angle will allow the boat to sail fast and in control rather than an out of control capsize. Controls are much less important in these conditions, sailing fast is key since it reduces the load on the rig. The Vang is the most important control to release before rounding the windward mark because it will make bearing away very difficult if not impossible.
Sail Settings for Heavy Air Reaches
The boat will easily get up on plane so the outhaul should be tighter than in medium wind. The upwind outhaul setting usually works pretty well for heavy air reaches although the outhaul can be eased 4-6 inches. The higher the wind the more power in the sail, so less draft in the sail is needed. The Cunningham should generally be off unless the boat is very overpowered or when sailing on a tight reach. The vang setting on a heavy air reach is a compromise between the boom skipping on the water and twist in the sail. When overpowered ease the vang to allow the boom to rise spill excess power from the top of the sail.
Technique for Heavy Air Reaches
On a heavy air reach we want to attain maximum vmg. A slightly loosened kicker can help with steering by reducing weather helm. Constantly trim the boat and maintain a constant heel. This is accomplished by simultaneously moving your body and sheeting the main. The tiller control is also crucial - heading up with leeward heel and heading down with windward heel stabilizes the boat and the opposite acts as a brake, slowing the boat. The boat is most stable at full speed so any trim or steering that slow the boat will risk a capsize.
Remember that the faster the boat goes the less pressure is on the rig, so sailing faster makes it easier to keep the boat stable and in control. When you reach a gybe mark keep the boat moving as fast as possible, again to reduce the pressure in the sail. It’s important to fully commit to the gybe, any hesitation will cause a capsize. Avoiding a capsize on a reach is important since it's one of the fastest sailing angles, in extreme conditions simply avoiding a capsize can be the boost needed to finish in the top of the fleet.