Setting the Sails

There are three main benefits of doing a proper job of setting your sails:

  • You get better performance and
  • longer life from your sails
  • and, best of all, you look as though you know what you're doing!

The genoa/jib:

We hoist this first. It is smaller and easier to deal with while the main is still down.

It is essential to good upwind performance to have the jib halyard up tight enough so that the leeward shroud does not hang (very) loose when you sail close-hauled. If there is significantly too little jib halyard tension,  the jib luff develops a hook that makes it impossible to point well.

Most racing Wayfarers use a tensioning device such as a "Magic/Muscle Box" or a Highfield lever to tension a low-stretch halyard. N.B. Beware of over-tensioning the jib halyard as this may flatten your jib luff entry in a way that narrows your "groove" to the point where performance suffers even more. 

The rule of thumb is: Tension the halyard until the leeward shroud is just on the edge of losing its slack while you are sailing close-hauled. If you find that your jib luff tickers are too jumpy, i.e. they indicate you are luffing and stalled (too far off the wind) at virtually the same time, your jib luff entry is too flat and you must reduce jib halyard tension until the problem with the tickers is resolved (in very bouncy conditions this may mean a slack lee shroud!)

Without the aid of a mechanical advantage, it is difficult to get adequate tension, but you can get closer by having someone hang over the bow off the forestay to pull the mast forward (see photo above) while the other crew member hoists and cleats the halyard as tightly as possible. But be a bit cautious on this - I bent a CL16 mast once, using that method.

for the jib are good cleats and soft braid jib sheets that will cleat well and be kind to your hands.

The mainsail:

Unless you have a main that is much smaller than the rules allow, you should hoist your main virtually to the top of your mast (to the "black band"  if you race!)  This sounds simple but can easily become impossible, unless you remove any forces that may cause the main to get stuck as you hoist. On W3854, we always do the following as we hoist the main:

1. hold the boat head to wind with the centreboard fully raised to allow the boat to stay head to wind easily
2. take the boom off the gooseneck which on SHADES is fixed at black band level
3. make sure that both boom vang (kicker) and mainsheet are quite slack
4. hoist as high as the sail will
(or is allowed to) go and hook or cleat the halyard
5. pull the boom down and re-insert into goose-neck (but if this stretches the luff of the mainsail because your sail is under max. size, it is better to hoist a bit less and lose the stretch which causes a big bag in the main just aft of the mast when winds are light)
6. vang on as required


  • battens that fit well
  • a powerful boom vang to bend the mast and de-power your main upwind and to reduce twist in your main off the wind in a blow. Reducing twist on a windy run is especially important since and overly twisted main makes gybing difficult and can cause the top of the mast to be pushed to windward which is a source of the infamous "death roll" capsize. NEW!! For upwind sailing in wind strengths that require you to ease the main to keep the boat fairly flat, a thoroughly tensioned vang that keeps your top batten parallel to your boom makes a huge difference to how well you will be able to point
  • a good mainsheet swivel cleat set up so that it is difficult to accidentally cleat the main
  • a mainsheet that is thin enough to run freely through its various blocks (1/4" is ample and much cheaper!)
  • a cunningham to tension the luff of the main (and one for the jib, depending on your sailmaker), pulling its draft forward on old sails, and on sails that have been flattened via mast bend (draft forward shape is more forgiving!)
  • a reefing system (unless you race) that does not require removal of your vang (kicker)

for those who want more depth to their sailing experience,
the spinnaker is discussed elsewhere

boat & sail trim
miscellaneous manoeuvres
return to Efficient Sailing contents