by David Dellenbaugh
Move your body for
balance and turning. Your crew weight can play a
big part in boat performance, especially in lighter
air and on smaller, lighter boats. Therefore, if you
want to get the most our of your boat, donít be a
slug. Move your body around to make the boat turn,
minimize drag, reduce pitching and get the right
amount of helm. It can help on any boat.
I know from experience that most skippers sit on the
windward rail and donít move around too much.
Therefore, you and the rest of your crewmates must do
a lot of the work when it comes to balancing boat trim
To figure out the optimum location for your weight,
you need to think about where you are in each of three
1) Side to side (athwartships);
2) Fore and aft; and
3) Up and down (vertical).
Lets look at the factors you must consider when moving
your weight in each of these directions.
sailing downwind in breezes, spread your weight
to both rails so itís easier to control
athwartships heel. Keep your weight far enough
aft so your bow doesnít plough. By sailing on
the hullís flatter aft sections, the boat will
be more stable and plane or surf more easily. In
waves, you canít ooch (slam your body forward
and stop abruptly), but you often have to move
your weight fore and aft fairly aggressively to
keep the boat sailing on its proper trim.
The position of your weight from side to side is
critical for turning the boat, achieving the proper
amount of helm and for maximizing stability.
Since rudder movement causes turbulence and drag,
steer the boat as much as possible with weight so your
skipper minimizes rudder motion. As you can see from
the sidebar, heel makes the boat turn. So you must
move your weight back and forth across the boat to
induce or reduce heel and thereby help steer the boat.
The further you move away from the keel or
centerboard, the more of an effect your weight
movement will have on the boat. Thatís why, on a
wavy reach or run, dinghy sailors sometimes sit on
opposite rails (instead of in the middle). This way
their body movements have more influence on the heel
of the boat, which makes it easier to steer up and
down the waves with weight.
One of the most important reasons for moving weight
side to side is maintaining optimum helm. Upwind,
every boat has a certain amount of windward helm
(roughly 3 to 5 degrees) that produces the best
performance. Your job is to move back and forth, as
the wind changes, to keep the right feel (the skipper
must let you know about this). Downwind, a neutral
helm is usually fastest, and this requires precise
athwartships weight placement too.
Increased stability is another reason for moving side
to side. When youíre in overpowered conditions, get
your weight as far from the centerline as possible. Go
for short bursts of max hiking (e.g. on a one-design,
straight legs and arms over your head) at critical
times like coming off the starting line.
Fore-and-aft weight placement
The question of how far to move forward and aft is a
matter of sailing the boat on its lines, reducing
drag, minimizing pitch and optimizing the amount of
helm you have.
In general, most boats
are designed to be sailed so the knuckle of the bow
and the bottom corner of the transom are just kissing
the water surface. This gives the boat its most
efficient underwater shape. However, other factors
sometimes override this. In light air, for example,
move farther forward to lift the flatter stern
sections out of the water and reduce drag. In heavy
air and waves, move aft a little to keep the bow from
Especially when there
are waves, the skipper and crew should all be
positioned very close together (in the fore-and-aft
dimension). This concentration of bodies keeps weight
as far as possible from the ends of the boat, which
reduces pitching moment.
placement can also have a significant effect on helm.
When you want more wind-ward helm, such as in light
air, you should move your weight forward. To reduce
helm, which is usually desirable in a breeze, move
Up-and-down weight placement
Pitching is also affected greatly by your vertical
location in the boat.
Consider how hard some
sailors work to get ounces of weight out of the mast.
They know that if you concentrate weight down low, you
will reduce pitching in a seaway.
It works the same way
with crew weight. It you sail upwind in waves with all
your crew sitting on top of the cabin, your boat will
hobby-horse a lot, and youíll be slow compared to a
boat with everyone lying on the cabin floor. So keep
your weight as low as possible in waves. If you like,
bring a book, some cookies or any other entertainment
for those extended light-air spells down below.