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February 1, 2016 “When sailing downwind in a whitesail only fleet, is it faster to broad reach up and down or (as I read recently) sail wing and wing directly at the mark, slightly by the lee?”

Scott Nixon

December 8, 2015 Quantum Expert Answer

Great question! The type of boat makes a big difference in downwind sailing style. Heavy, slower boats tend to sail very deep all the time and lighter displacement boats change their angle downwind often because they can easily boost speed. Normally in moderate-to-heavy air, it is very fast to sail dead down wind or by the lee. This way you are making max VMG to the mark while still maintaining good speed. In very light air, it is sometimes hard to get the sail to stay all the way out so heading up a bit is your best option. This will increase your speed quite a bit but you will be sailing a little more distance. 

In really heavy air, by the lee is sometimes very tough. The boat tends to wipe out to windward. To prevent this, over sheet the sail some and head up just a bit. As always, in all conditions, little movements of the helm will get the boat up in the lulls and off in the puffs and will help you sail as fast as possible. Windward heel helps get the sail up in the air and reduces wetted surface downwind, which is very fast. Keeping the boat on the edge is always fast but scary! 

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