Intro to Sailing Downwind in Heavy Air
Sailing downwind in strong winds can be a real challenge. The laser loves to be upside down in these types of conditions. The most important thing to understand about heavy air downwind sailing is that the faster the boat is going the lower the pressure is on the sail.
Sail Settings for Heavy Air Downwind Sailing
At this point in the wind range, adjusting the outhaul is a low priority since the sail already has plenty of power. However, the outhaul can be eased to a depth of 6 inches at the outhaul cleat. The outhaul will gain some fullness as the cunningham is released. It is important to release the cunningham and the vang just before rounding the mark. The cunningham will cause excess twist in the leech of the sail causing a capsize to windward.
Heavy Air Downwind Sailing Technique
The mainsheet should be sheeted in to around 70 degrees which will help stability since the top part of the sail will be around 90 degrees. The sailor should sit back as far as possible holding the tiller close to the extension joint for better feel on the rudder. The boat should be sailed on a by the lee or broad reach course for speed and stability. If the boat starts rolling to windward, sheet in the mainsheet by about 3 feet. Easing the sheet or altering course will make the boat unstable and out of control. The daggerboard should be raised a maximum of 6 inches. If it is raised too high it is possible for it to slip out of the trunk on a capsize. There is a point where it will be impossible to avoid skipping over waves and burrying the nose into the backs of waves. It’s best to hold on tight and try to keep the boat moving in the same direction. The pressure in the rig will increase as the boat slows so remember to hold the mainsheet tight. Be sure to keep the autobailer open to drain the wash from the cockpit. Draining the cockpit will help keep the boat stable.