Changing Sails

Those of you that have purchased and sailed the new A rig know one thing for certain – it is not very forgiving when the wind starts to get to its upper range of 8-10 knots.

The A rig was designed to power the RC Laser to new levels of performance in very light winds – and that it does. However, just like the B sail, when the A rig gets near the upper end of its wind range, it develops a pronounced weather helm (drives the boat into the wind – sometimes overpowering the rudder), and submarining downwind becomes common.

To windward, the answer to this problem is boat speed. It is critical to keep boat speed up so that the rudder has maximum effect. This is done by making quick, complete tacks, and slacking the sail slightly after a tack to bring the boat up to maximum speed again. Only then can you afford to trim for windward sailing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, you are not falling off to a beam reach, just a slight slacking of the sail after tacking and pointing a few degrees lower than you would expect to make good to windward, and you will regain your boat speed. By the way, this is the same method used with any sail when tacking to get your boat back to speed. Remember that the cat rig needs to sail fast through the wind in order to develop its maximum pointing angle. Just remember boat speed, boat speed, boat speed – the faster you go, the higher you can point.

So you screw up and get in irons – now what? There is only one way out – and the maneuver is even more pronounced with the A rig. Hold the rudder full over, and keep it there. Don’t worry about which way you have turned the rudder, just pick a hard over position and hold it. The boat will start to back out of irons. At the same time slack the sail all the way out.

As the boat turns backwards, the sail will be flapping out to the beam. For the A rig, it takes a full beam reach (perpendicular to the wind direction) to regain control. So when your boat is beam to the wind, SLOWLY trim in the sail. SLOWLY!!! The boat will start to move forward, and soon you will have developed rudder control once again. As speed increases, trim the sail more until you are back sailing at speed to windward.

If you trim the sail too quickly, the sail just drives the boat right back into the wind because you have no rudder action to stop it. Then you get to start all over again.

Finally, and the ultimate determining factor of going to a smaller sail is your downwind performance. Most sails can be feathered to windward, but there is practically no way out when you turn downwind.

First of all, when the bow starts to dive, you need to steer back and forth rapidly. The change of angle of the bow, allows the lee bow to lift the bow and keep it afloat. If the wind is steady, this technique can keep you going, and the added speed developed will do even more to keep your bow up. However, when it is gusting, the approaching gust will often bury your bow before you can get your boat up to speed. Again, it is speed – a fast boat has more lift in the bow.

To recap, just about everything discussed here has to do with boat speed. To windward, keep the boat moving at all costs. Tack fast, slack momentarily, regain speed and then trim for weather sailing. If you get caught in irons, rudder hard over and hold, sail all the way out. When on a beam reach, trim the sail very slightly to get the boat moving, and regain steering control. Downwind, wiggle the bow to help with lift. When rolling out, or diving, is all you do, change down in sail size. And smile – it could be worse, you could be aboard the real thing!

This article was written by Steve Lang of