Light Wind Sailing Tips

Learn to sail like a pro with these sailing tips for light wind sailing. Use these easy tips for light air sailing in the gentle winds of dawn’s first light or the ghost-like breezes of a moonlit night.

Keep Your Boat Moving Forward

Imagine that you have your foot on the accelerator of your car, moving ahead at a slow speed. All of a sudden, you run out of gas. You need to find a place to pull off to the side of the road. You see a spot way up ahead about a half mile. Your car slows down more and more.

You will need to use every trick in the book to keep your car’s forward momentum going to make it to the pull-off ahead. You could try to keep the wheels straight to provide less resistance, look for inclines to build up a bit of speed, keep the tires on the smooth part of the road, or steer as straight as possible. All of these could make a difference in the acceleration or deceleration of your “out-of-gas” auto.

You can use these same techniques in super light air in sailing. For this article, we will concentrate on winds of 0 to 5 knots. Some sailors call these winds ‘zephyrs’ or refer to this type of sailing as ‘ghosting’. Your #1 goal will be to maintain forward momentum at all times. Just like the opening scenario, you want to keep moving to reach your objective. Slow down too much or stop and it will be difficult to get her going again. Follow these five fast tips to maintain momentum in light air sailing.

Use Smaller Sails to Fill and Go

You might think that light wind means you need a bigger sail to catch all the wind you can. But sails have weight–lots of weight–and weight won’t keep your boat going forward. Use a little-known strategy and go for a smaller sail on a super light air day. Choose sails that are smaller, lighter weight to help your boat maintain forward motion in zephyr winds.

Under Trim Your Sails

Wind flows onto both sides of your sails. Your objective will be to keep that wind attached from the luff to the leech as long as possible. In light air, you will have more wind near the top of the mast. That’s because less surface friction allows the wind to flow without resistance. Ease your sails more than you think necessary. This will cause the upper part of your sails to ‘twist’ just a bit to help the wind stay attached longer. Use the magic of under-trim in ghosting conditions and you will often be rewarded with better performance.

Move Like You Whisper

Ask your crew to move fore and aft along the center-line as much as possible. Keep the boat level to prevent loss of speed. If they need to shift to the other side, move at a slow pace. This will help keep the boat flat with forward momentum.

Sit Forward and to Leeward

Sails have a tough time in light air. The weight of sailcloth can cause them to flap like clothing on a line. Shift the crew weight forward and to the downwind (leeward–pronounced “loo-ward”)side. Weight forward lifts the stern a bit, which means less hull friction; weight to leeward will help the sails fall into their natural shape through gravity and prevents ‘slatting’ (flapping in light air).

Use Swooping When Beating to Windward

Use swooping to maintain forward motion when your destination lies upwind. In light air on a close hauled course, your speed may drop off quite a bit. When it does, fall off to a close reach course. Wait for the boat to build up speed again. Use a slow, smooth motion with the wheel or tiller to ‘swoop’ back up to your close hauled course. Keep sailing close hauled until your speed starts to drop off again. Then, fall off the wind to a close reaching course to build up speed; then swoop back up to your close hauled course. Repeat this swooping sequence to keep your boat moving with good forward motion when beating in super light air.

Learn to sail like a pro with these light wind sailing tips. You will experience more speed, power, and performance in the gentle breezes over the water-wherever in the world you choose to sail!