North Sails NEWS

March 5, 2018


How to sail as deep as possible while still keeping your speed up


We often see teams get a little too relaxed when sailing downwind, even though this is where you will make the largest gains (and losses) when racing your J/105. You are trying to get to the bottom mark as fast as possible, so you need to sail as deep as possible while still keeping your speed up. Since the J/105 is primarily a displacement boat and doesn’t plane easily, the key is to coordinate several critical elements as you sail through velocity changes.

Puffs and lulls

Sailing with the wind, you will only see about half as many puffs as you did sailing upwind, so it is critical to designate one crew to call the breeze. A constant stream of verbal puff and lull communication will help keep your team in sync and anticipate the next change in velocity.


The goal for the helm is to minimize rudder movements while steering the boat downwind, using crew movement and sail trim to steer the boat. Make sure you are in a comfortable position with good visibility. We often see the helm trying to sit too far forward, which makes it difficult to steer accurately. As a driver, you are going to be working hard all race, so get comfortable!

Kite Trimming

The spinnaker trimmer and helm should maintain a continuous dialogue, discussing the pressure on the spinnaker and the correct angle to sail. “Up in the lulls and down in the puffs”…right? Yes, but make sure the angle changes are slow and smooth. As the breeze starts to drop, begin to “heat” up slowly—before the boat speed crashes—until you reach the angle that will keep your speed up in less breeze. When the puff returns, bear away and gradually build speed until you reach the new lower target angle.

In non-planing boats like the J/105, the goal is to get the spinnaker to rotate to weather, which increases its projected area and gets the sail out of the disturbed air behind the mainsail. To accomplish this we use both heel angle and tack line ease. In all but very light wind, keep the boat flat (or even slightly heeled to weather). This will also help the boat sail deeper in the puffs with less helm movement. Generally speaking, you can ease the tack line of the spinnaker as long as it goes straight up or to weather; if it goes to leeward when eased, keep it tight.

Weight placement

The J/105 is very responsive to weight placement, and moving crew weight to help turn the boat will minimize the amount of rudder needed.To head up, the crew leans to leeward; to head down, the crew hikes/leans to windward. In light air, we like to keep only the helm and main trimmer behind the cabin top winches; put the rest of the crew at the shrouds. As the breeze picks up, we move weight back just enough to keep the bow from digging in.

At least once a season, we like to completely empty the boat of EVERYTHING. This is a great way to see how much excess weight is on board, as well as an opportunity to pare back to the bare necessities.

Stabilize the rig

Keeping the rig from bouncing around in puffs and waves will mean the sails are pulling the boat forward and not just moving the mast. Apply enough backstay tension to make it “just snug”, and tension the jib sheets after furling to take the “slop” out of the headstay.

Four Modes of Downwind Sailing

Light air VMG

In VMG mode, the apparent wind will be around 90 degrees. Make sure the trimmers are easing sails in the puffs so the driver can work lower. The crew will be sitting forward and to leeward in the light spots, moving to the centerline and even up to weather in the puffs to help steer the boat down. Constant communication between the trimmers and helm is critical!

Moderate air running

The crew sits just behind the shrouds, heeling the boat to weather to help rotate the spinnaker out from behind the main. Ease the tack line as much as possible while keeping the spinnaker stable; don’t let the tack fall to leeward.

Heavy air running

The crew slides aft to help grind in the spinnaker and to keep the bow from digging in. If you are having a hard time steering straight, there is too much weight forward.

Wing on Wing

Sailing wing and wing can be very beneficial, especially for tactical reasons. Our recommendation is to sail conventionally, unless the water is very flat or you need to dig low for tactical reasons. A winged-out spinnaker is not as stable, and recovering from a collapse is very slow.

When all of these variables work in harmony, huge gains can be made by continuously sailing lower and faster and smoother than the boats around you. By working on these elements in practice and then applying what you learn on the race course, you can definitely “up your game.”


10 knots of wind. Crew forward and to weather to help the spinnaker rotate to weather. The tack line is eased to increase luff windward projection. Two people looking aft to ensure that we get into and stay in the puffs.


Crew forward and to weather with good spinnaker rotation.


Wing on wing in FLAT water. Crew forward and to weather with spinnaker trimmer holding sheet out to ensure that it is not affecting trim. Crew looking aft to help find puffs.
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