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Sailing Tip: How to Handle “Puffs”

September 5, 2010

In the colder months, the strong south wind days on Lake Union usually bring a lot of “puffs” – blasts of bigger wind. You can see them on the water  if you look in the direction that the wind is coming from – they are just patches of darker, more ruffed-up water coming toward you. These puffs can really heel you over, especially when you are sailing closehauled at 45 degrees to the wind.

There are 2 ways of handling those big puffs on a Blanchard or any sloop-rigged keelboat. Here is one of them – stay tuned for the second method in the weeks to come!

Option 1: Playing the mainsheet.

To prevent too much heeling in big puffs, and to avoid the spin-up into the no-go zone, the driver will be ready to ease the mainsail out a little, or more than a little, when the boat is hit with a strong overpowering puff. Letting the main out sharply (a foot or two of boom travel) will luff the mainsail some, which depowers the sail plan, so that the boat doesn’t get heeled over so far from wind pressure. With the main eased in a puff, the boat stays heeled at a good angle of heel but not too much. The driver can now easily steer straight with only light-to-moderate weather helm.

In this technique of easing the main in puffs, it’s critical that the mainsail gets trimmed back in to closehauled quickly as the puff starts going away, so the boat doesn’t end up with the opposite problem – not enough wind power in the sails. This means that on a day with a lot of puffs up and down, the driver/main trimmer gets a great work-out!

Tip number two will be featured in October’s e-newsletter, and will be posted here on Bearings as well.

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