Heading Up by Lee Huddleston

In last month’s Good Old Boat magazine the editors did a review of the O’Day 25. And, yes, they really did contact me to get my opinions. Most of the comments in the article were fair and accurate. They rated the O’Day pretty highly except for one deficiency according to their experience. They found that the boat they were testing had trouble pointing up into the wind as much as they would have liked. That was definitely contrary to what I told them. I explained that I had been racing my O’Day for over 37 years and winning numerous club races and a few Club Championships and regattas (including my class in the Kentucky 100). One of the factors that enabled me to win those races was the ability to point my O’Day higher than most other cruisers against whom I was sailing. So, it is time to share my secrets with you.

One of the “go fast” items that I added to Orion was an adjustable backstay. Orion is a “mast-head rig,” that is, both the forestay and the backstay go straight to the head of the mast. (Many other designs are fractional rigs, where the forestay only goes about 3/5 of the way up the mast.) With Orion’s mast-head rig, if I tighten the backstay, it tightens the forestay. When you look at Orion you will notice a block and tackle system between the stay and the stern. That allows me to put a lot of pressure on the backstay, which, in turn tightens the forestay “piano wire tight.” Without pressure on the backstay, the forestay will sag and curve to leeward. Sometimes you will want it to be tight and sometimes curved.

When the forestay is tight, the luff of the foresail is like a knife. It makes it possible to point up much closer than you ever have before. There is one warning, however, the “knife blade” is not forgiving. You have to pay attention to the luff at all times. One second you will be doing fine, and the next second you will be headed. But for those with a good attention span, a “knife blade” can put you way ahead.

Why would you ever want a more rounded luff? Sometimes watching the luff like a hawk can wear you out and require more effort than you want to dedicate to beating to windward. Another reason is that a slightly more rounded luff can still point without being so sensitive. There is a wider window where the boat is still sailing. Third, remember that curves equal power. If you are beating to windward against waves or a chop, a slightly rounder luff will help you power through the resistance. And finally, when you round the weather mark and head back down wind you will want the luff as loose as you can get it.

Couldn’t you just tighten the halyard? First of all, the halyard should already be tight enough to eliminate any horizontal wrinkles in the luff but not so tight as to produce vertical wrinkles. Yes, it would help, but most sailors don’t think to tighten and loosen their halyard on different points of sail. And you usually cannot tighten the halyard nearly as much as a backstay adjuster without producing a lot of wrinkles.

What if you have a fractional rig such as a San Juan 21? You are in luck, the rig us designed to tighten the forestay automatically when you beat to windward. The rig is initially set up with the forestay being slightly loose. When the boat heads up to beat to windward, you will naturally bring the boom to the centerline and haul in on the mainsheet. As you pull down on the sail with the sheet, it pulls the top of the mast aft which helps tighten up the forestay (or so they tell me)

What other things can you do to help yourself point higher? Adjust the athwart ship location of the fairlead (I dealt with the fore and aft adjustment in my last article). Also pull the foresail in tighter. Ideally, the foot of the foresail should run along the top of the gunwale. I often see sailors racing with their foresail way out from the boat. When I race Orion and use my working jib, I run the sheets between the shrouds so that when I have it pulled in tight, the sail is much closer to the main. When I use the genoa, the fairlead is all the way aft of the cockpit. I tighten it until the sail “kisses up against” the spreader arm. Just don’t go too far and punch a hole in your sail. I admit that it takes a lot of cranking on my big winches to bring the sail in this far if I haven’t brought it in before getting fully on the new tact.

As with all of my advice, this is just a way to do things; not the way. See you on the Lake. Lee


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