downwind sailing catamaran

How To Sail a Catamaran Upwind or Downwind (Complete Guide)

downwind sailing catamaran

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Catamarans are the perfect backdrop to a relaxing fishing excursion, with sails in the wind as you reel in 50-pound striped bass. But when the gusts pick up and shift directions, you’ll find yourself weathering uncharted territory where reefing and speed are unlike a classic monohull. Sailing a catamaran upwind and downwind requires a skill set much different from the classic one hulled sailing.

To sail a catamaran upwind, maintain high speeds, center the mainsheet, limit angles to 45-60°, lose unnecessary weight, upgrade to Kevlar sails and daggerboards. To sail a catamaran downwind, maintain 160-170°, use asymmetrical spinnakers, reef when winds exceed 15 knots, and jibe.

Downwind gusts can help a catamaran surf down waves, something that is extremely exciting. However, facing those dreaded upwind breezes (especially without daggerboards) can signal the end of a soothing Mediterranian adventure. To learn how to sail a catamaran upwind or downwind, read on!

Table of Contents

How Sailing a Catamaran Is Different Than Monohulls

Multihull vessels like catamarans respond very differently to rough surfs, gusting winds, and shallow waters. If you’re still questioning, “What’s the difference?” here’s your answer.

Compared to classic monohull boats, catamarans are:

  • More stable — at sail and when anchored — and less likely to heel or rock from side to side.
  • Less responsive to waves and winds (detecting these requires keen observation skills).
  • Likely to struggle when sailing into the wind.
  • Harder to tack (high speeds are essential to avoid losing momentum)

Traditional yacht enthusiasts quickly learn that sailing a catamaran is smoother, though stiff headwinds and choppy surf are more challenging to overcome. Learning to master upwind and downwind catamaran sailing is essential to get the most out of your trip

If there’s one debate looming over the sailing community, it’s the age-old catamaran versus monohull discussion.

What is the difference b e tween cats and monos?

The UPWIND Catamaran Sailing Guide

downwind sailing catamaran

Sailing upwind means you’re cruising your catamaran toward the wind (i.e., Traveling east against westward-blowing gusts). This added wind resistance makes it more challenging to reach your destination swiftly and safely, as upwind journeys could come with:

  • Relentless sail luffing (fluttering like a bedsheet on a clothesline)
  • Slowed speeds and VMG (velocity made good)
  • Deep-digging bows in waves
  • Bridge deck slamming

Preparing for an upwind journey means taking the path of least resistance and the “long way home.” To survive your next upwind sail unscathed, follow these tips:

Maintain High Speeds

Thirty-knot gusts at-sea, high speeds, and a Leopard 44 might sound like a recipe for disaster. But a catamaran’s multihull design allows for lower capsize risks and less heeling in rougher conditions. It’s far gentler on the vessel to maintain momentum than to build throttle against heavy winds. 

Sailing a catamaran upwind requires sail, chart plotter, and daggerboard monitoring. The video below discusses upwind sailing tips as your catamaran’s bow faces 20-knot gusts.

Limit Angles to 45–60°

A straight line is undoubtedly the shortest pathway to your on-shore destination, but sailing your catamaran directly into the wind will land you in the dreaded “no-go zone.” That is, sailing into 15-knot wind gusts directly, draining all forward momentum (unless motoring), and being unable to steer responsively.

The point of sail “sweet spot” for catamarans sailing upwind is between 45 and 60°. This tight range will keep the bow headed in the right direction — toward a particular cove or dock — without cutting throttle (too direct) or over-inflating the sails (too perpendicular). 

An onboard flag can help you accurately detect your current point of sail (there are of course electronic aids as well). You should adjust the sails intentionally to ensure the perfect angle:

  • Slowly let out your sail.
  • Wait for the telltale to begin luffing (flapping in the wind).
  • Gently tug it back until the telltale flapping stops.

Upgrade to Kevlar Sails

Catamarans are impressively resistant to heeling where dainty monohulls might capsize. But instead of “giving” with the wind, a catamaran’s classic polyester sails will resist 30+ knot gusts almost entirely. Even the highest-tenacity Dacron sailcloths will develop wear and tear, performance-reducing distortions, or irreversible breakage in heavy winds.

Investing in heavy-duty Kevlar sails can create stiffer and more damage-proof sails that can better handle upwind excursions. Upgraded catamaran sail cloths can help you travel a crisper pathway at a close-hauled 45° without overcompensating at the wheel.

Select a Daggerboard Catamaran

Daggerboards are retractable vertical keels attached to a catamaran’s underbelly. These large, below-deck protrusions can prevent or limit any leeway in exceptionally windy conditions. 

Daggerboards vs Centerboards explained!

In other words, daggerboards will keep your catamaran from drifting with the wind or falling off course. The $30,000 higher price tag is undoubtedly off-putting, especially when proper tacking technique might render them useless. But the benefits are substantial:

  • Sailing 1-2 knots faster than a standard keeled catamaran
  • Traveling 5-7° closer to the no-go zone
  • Reaching your upwind destination quicker and with less dramatic tacking

Catamarans with daggerboards installed are more reliable and accurate when traveling upwind. But these built-in keels require proper care to prevent grounding or lurching into a reef. Until your sea voyages bring you upwind, keep your daggerboards raised.

Clean Hulls

Aside from trimming the sails and staying in the close-hauled zone, there’s only so much you can do onboard to better tackle an upwind voyage. But what about beneath the water’s surface? A dirty underside can wreak havoc on your catamaran’s all-around performance — cutting RPM by 1,000, draining fuel efficiency, and slashing your maximum speed by several kts.

Keeping your catamaran hulls free of barnacles, grime, and fouling can make your upwind travels far less treacherous. Revive upwind sailing potential by:

  • Spraying the bottom clean with an on-land hose
  • Scrubbing the slimy waterline with a soft brush or sponge
  • Dislodging caked-on algae with a plastic putty knife
  • Applying a fresh coat of antifouling paint

Scrub your catamaran’s underbelly clean at least four times a year, though monthly is preferred for maximum performance. You’ll quickly notice a swifter, cleaner, and smoother journey the next time you take your catamaran up the coast.

Trim the Sails & Center the Mainsheet

“Trimming” the sails is a beginner’s catamaran cruising skill designed to improve speed and better catch the breeze. By changing the angle of the sails and adjusting line tension, you can evade sail luffing and add several knots to your voyage — especially upwind. It takes practice to adapt your sails to the wind speed and direction, so here are the catamaran sail trimming basics:

  • Lock the mainsheet and position the boom so that it’s somewhat leeward (further away from the wind gusts).
  • As you veer away from the wind, slightly ease the traveler and monitor the telltales.
  • Start slowly easing the mainsheet when you’re on a beam or reaching (when the catamaran is at the right angle to the wind).
  • Keep an eye on the telltales and watch for differences between leward and windward side (bluffing or flopping). 

As you go through the classic trial and error process, don’t forget to keep the mainsheet centered — or as close to the center as possible. Otherwise, turning the winches in 18+ knot winds will require superhuman strength to get back on track, complicating your sail.

downwind sailing catamaran

Steering clear of the no-go zone (straight into the wind) will keep your catamaran from stalling and your sails from flapping around and potentially increasing wear. But you’ll never arrive at your coordinates if you’re staying on a strict 45° path in one direction. This is where skilled catamaran sailors begin “tacking”, the art of turning your boat with the wind on your bows.

When you tack on a sailboat, you’re forcing the bows into the wind’s direction (no go zone). Tacking redirects the bow to the opposite 45° angle — from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock — and creates a zig-zag formation or subtle 90° turns through the water. Proper tacking requires a skilled crew on larger catamarans but can be a solo pursuit. Here’s how to do this maneuver carefully:

  • Start by sailing as close to the close-hauled territory as possible (within 40-45°).
  • Choose a heading 90° away as your turn “destination.”
  • Alert the crew to the tacking (if applicable).
  • Slowly release the loaded jib sheet and begin pulling the lazy sheet inward.
  • Steer the catamaran into the turn while maintaining speed (don’t speed up or slow down).
  • Allow the sail to backfill to assist with the pivot.
  • Release the jib sheet (watch your fingers, as the line releases quickly).
  • Tighten the jib sheet on the opposite side and feel the wind start powering the boat.

Tacking is a challenging sailing concept to master. But it’s also the only way to sail upwind efficiently.

Turn On the Motor

A traditional, motor-free catamaran cruise can be soothing if there’s no destination in mind. However, the sails become inefficient against 15-knot winds when your preferred snorkeling spot is several miles directly into the wind. The best way to sail upwind is by turning to your catamaran’s twin diesel engines and hitting the throttle. Even cranking the engine to half-speed can ignite your speed by 1-2 knots and improve the course by up to 20°.

The DOWNWIND Catamaran Sailing Guide

Sailing downwind means you’re cruising in the same direction as the wind’s blowing (i.e., Journeying north alongside north-blowing winds). This extra momentum can generate higher speeds on a run, though the consequences of unpredictable downwind exist. Spinnakers becoming tangled around forestays or spinnaker collapse are looming concerns in high winds.

Downwind sailing is the catamaran sailors’ favorite direction, and thats why most people circumnavigating the globe is travelling with the tradewinds going west!

How to circumnavigate the world

Downwind trips are much more straightforward for novice sailors, but there are techniques for building speed and learning more about your boat. To better handle your next downwind sail like an expert, follow these tips

Use a Screecher or Asymmetrical Spinnakers

Spinnakers are a special type of sail ideal for downwind runs. Unlike a mainsail or jib that luffs in the wind, spinnakers inflate like a balloon and give maximum power at around 90-160° angles. These ultra-lightweight, colorful sailcloths come in two varieties: Asymmetrical and symmetrical. Most yachters attach asymmetrical spinnakers or screechers to their catamarans because they:

  • Work well in close-hauls, beams, and broad reaches
  • Boost speed by about 2 knots
  • Resist damage in 25-knot downwind gusts
  • Are quite versatile

The latest spinnaker tends to have more volume when tacked to the windward bow. These new designs allow them to catch more wind and pick up speed at nearly all deep, downwind angles (except directly at your aft). 

Sailing a catamaran downwind isn’t quite as simple as easing the sails and cruising. The video below explains the catamaran difference when traversing the sea with the wind at your aft.

Choose the Right Angle

Sailing a catamaran directly downwind sounds like a decent strategy for picking up some momentum. But because catamarans travel faster with the wind at their sails, a less direct point of sail can maximize your velocity made good (VMG). 

The proper point of sail for downward cruises is in the broad reach position — ideally between 160 and 170°, though up to 90° can be somewhat effective. This 10-20° off-center angle is slight but can boost your maximum speeds by a few knots.

Reef at 15 Knots

Though catamarans don’t heel or spill wind like monohull ships, the high wind pressure cues are more challenging to detect. Sailing behind 15 or even 20-knot gusts can overpower even the sturdiest sails when you jibe. Reducing your sail surface area and allowing more wind to flow through — reefing — will reduce speed(usually) and increase safety.

Always keep an eye on your anemometer while sailing downwind in windier conditions. Once it’s registering 15-20 knots, here’s what you should do:

  • Reduce the mainsail’s pressure by loosening the mainsheet and repositioning the traveler leeward (away from the wind).
  • Take the pressure off the boom vang.
  • Lower the main halyard and hook reefing point #1 on the proper hook.
  • Pull the reefing line manually (or with a winch).
  • Put more tension back on the halyard and boom vang.

Time is of the essence while reefing downwind, and one reef might not be enough if you’re sailing into a squall. Be prepared for a second or third reef when winds measure 25 and 30 knots, respectively. If winds exceed 30 knots, remove the jib entirely and use the mainsail as you return to the marina.

These numbers above are general numbers and since cats don’t heel much it is very important to abide by the wind speed reefing table on your boat.

Why do catamarans capsize?

Jibe (Gybe)

Jibing (gybing) is the downwind version of tacking, meaning you’ll be heading off on another zig-zag 90° journey as you sail out of the bay. But unlike tacking, where you forced the ship’s bow toward the wind, now you’ll be guiding the boat’s stern away from the wind. Here’s how to jibe a catamaran safely and quickly:

  • Make sure the traveler is in a center position (or close to center).
  • Trim the sail to prevent the boom from swinging in mid-jibe.
  • Angle the catamaran so you’re traveling a few degrees off from directly downwind.
  • Choose a location in the distance that’s 90° from your current location.
  • When the mainsheet feels lighter, bring the boom toward the ship’s center.
  • Wait for the leech to rise (the sail’s rear edge).
  • Release the mainsheet again.

While jibing can help you stay on course and pick up some speed, it comes with some risks. An uncontrolled boom can rapidly swing and crash into a crew member, cause unpredictable heeling, or damage the rig. Make sure all crew members are ready to jibe before beginning the process.

Reduce Speeds

The physics behind sailing is quite complicated and misconceptions about venturing downwind are common. Thanks to choppy waves (water resistance) and sails (lack of wind resistance), it’s impossible to sail downwind at faster speeds than the wind directly at your aft.

Sailing a catamaran upwind or downwind is more complicated than a calm, Caribbean sailing expedition. Prepare for your next windy escapade by:

  • Checking the wind speed and direction via your local weather service
  • Practicing reefing, tacking, and cruising skills in calmer conditions
  • Experimenting with sail trims, headsail positions, and motor use
  • Learning more about spinnakers, screechers, and gennakers

Every gust, knot, and reef will help you hone your catamaran sailing talents and better prepare for less predictable weather. Try to build your confidence and perfect your skills before exposing yourself to harsher conditions.

Owner of A minimalist that has lived in a caravan in Sweden, 35ft Monohull in the Bahamas, and right now in his self-built Van. He just started the next adventure, to circumnavigate the world on a Catamaran!

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Downwind Sailing on a Cruising Catamaran

Although sailing downwind in the trades in a cruising boat has its challenges, it is a relatively pleasant and fairly easy experience on a catamaran.

There is a more-or-less continuous flow of air across the Atlantic called the trade winds. Because the Earth is warmer at the equator and colder at the poles, and because of Earth’s rotation, this flow is generally westerly (from the west) near the poles and easterly nearer the equator.

Every season there is a migration of cruising boats that follow the trades when the trade winds are steady. One such migration is from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean across the Atlantic Ocean in November / December every year from east to west. It is the same downwind route that we took when we sailed our own boat back from France to the Caribbean in November 2019.

Although sailing downwind in the trades in a cruising boat has its challenges, it is a relatively pleasant and fairly easy experience on a catamaran. Assuming that your catamaran is a regular production cat like a Leopard, Bali or Lagoon, well equipped with cruising gear, you’ll perform much the same way as an equivalent monohull with either a conventional symmetrical spinnaker or asymmetric sail. Like on monohulls, you will pretty much sail to hull speed provided your catamaran is not overloaded. Performance cats are a different animal of course.

Chart atlantic crossing 1

Therefor a regular cruising cat, much like a monohull, needs a lot of sail area and has to sail deep downwind if it is to achieve a decent speed made good (VMG), typically between 160° and 170°. But multihulls offer a unique wide platform for setting and sheeting downwind sails that set it apart from monohulls and make it a lot easier to sail downwind. The wide deck platform provides outboard sheeting points that makes downwind sails more efficient and the windward hull provides a tack location when sailing deeper angles is desired. Our preferred downwind sail is the assymmetrical spinnaker but a wing-on-wing configuration with dual head sails is very effective and, in many cases, safer and easier to handle for shorthanded crew.

Asymmetrical Sails for Downwind Sailing

Most modern catamarans choose to fly an asymmetric spinnaker and tack it to the weather bow. Sailmakers have managed to design these asymmetric sails so that they have more volume aloft. That means that even when you’re sailing deep angles, the luff of the sail sets well to windward and is able to catch more breeze that would have passed to windward of the boat. This configuration is pretty much as good as it gets for a cruising catamaran and is good for a range of apparent wind angles of between 90-160 degrees.

That was our sail plan onboard our Bali 5.4 when we did the Atlantic crossing…that is until we blew the asymmetrical sail halfway through our crossing and had to resort to using our Code Zero and jib in a wing-on-wing configuration for the duration of the trip. The spinnaker propelled us across the Atlantic fast. We easily did 200nm + days on the Bali 5.4 in 15 knots of wind.

The asymmetrical sail is a fantastic sail in light winds and once you understand just how easy it is to set and take down, it will be one of your favorite sails to use. These big downwind sails set forward of the mast and so, if there should be a sudden wind increase, the sheet can quickly be released, and the sail allowed to depower by streaming downwind. That means that when on passage, a cruising catamaran can always be rendered safe if things get a little out of hand. All being well, it can be snuffed, ideally while in the lee of the mainsail.

The key as always is in preparation. Make sure the sheets and halyard are all free to run and the sock is not crossed or tangled. The other mistake many of us tend to make is to over-sheet the spinnaker. One should let it fly out as far away from the boat as possible. It will make a huge difference. Keep easing the sheet until the luff curls, testing how far you can ease it out. You can always wind it back in. See the video here of how we set up our asymmetrical sail>>

We had our Asymmetrical sail made by Quantum in Annapolis, MD for our new Bali 5.4. It is a monster sail but surprisingly easy to handle. Andrew listened to our requirements for this downwind sail and built a sail that was ideally suited for our application.  A word from our sailmaker at Quantum>> .

Wing-on-Wing Sail Configuration with Dual Headsails

The Code Zero is our favorite sail to use in light winds. It is the most popular cruising multihull downwind sail because they offer great versatility and cover a wide range of wind angles. Today the furling systems used with these sails are great and is as easy to use as a jib. We fly that sail most often and when the wind is just right on the beam, we really get flying. The Code Zero is best used with an AWS (apparent wind speed) of up to 18 knots, with an apparent wind angle (AWA) of less than 135 degrees.

When we blew out our asymmetrical sail halfway across the Atlantic, we were forced to use our head sails and our sailing became somewhat more conservative and a little slower. We set up a wing-on-wing configuration with the Code Zero to one side and the jib out to the other side of the boat. The two sails combine to create one giant sail, and the wind funnels from one sail to another and even though a touch slower than the asymmetrical, was totally adequate and is much more forgiving than sailing wing-on-wing with the headsail and mainsail where you have to use preventers etc. This configuration is also much more manageable and safer to handle for shorthanded crew or a couple.

Autopilot Wind Vane for Downwind Sailing on a Catamaran

When sailing with finicky sail configurations like the ones above, be sure to put your autopilot on wind vane mode and set the wind angle as a priority.  That way, if the wind shifts, your autopilot will adjust the boat to have the sails properly filled.  If you are running on a heading or a track when the wind shifts, you might find your sails backwinded or do an accidental gibe, which is dangerous.

Being on the wind vane setting does mean that you need to pay extra attention to your course; if the wind shifts, you may have to switch to another downwind sail tactic. Always get the boat balanced and steering comfortably before you switch on the autopilot. If the helm is overpowered and the steering is hard to control when you steer, the autopilot will have the same difficulty keeping a steady course. Set your right combination of sails and trim the sails well to set a comfortable course, then set the autopilot and watch it for a time to make sure it doesn’t labor too hard.

Chafe is Significant on Sails

Sailing downwind across the Atlantic, one will experience a lot of chafe on your running rigging. It’s a huge problem. We had our Code Zero come down while sailing from Madeira to the Canary Islands because the halyard was chafed right through in a few hours. Fortunately, we retrieved the sail without any issues, but it could have been a real problem. One should make provision for chafe and check your lines all the time. In fact, it is good practice to simply roam around the boat and check your running and standing rigging daily while on passage. We have bought several lengths of Dyneema sleeve and have sewn this chafe gear on the wear spots on the spinnaker halyard as well as all the reefing points on the main halyard.

Crash Stop or Quick Stop

Cruising yachts are mostly sailed by couples and are essentially short-handed. When a crew member goes overboard it is always at the worst possible time and completely unexpected, which means that the reaction time to start the correct maneuver is usually not good. The man overboard recovery method that we prefer being shorthanded, is called the “Crash Stop” or “Quick Stop”. It works in almost all situations and requires only one crew member and no sail trimming. Learn about the MOB Quick Stop Maneuver.

Parking Your Catamaran in Emergency

Parking the boat is an effective method for stopping anywhere and holding station, much like heaving-to in a monohull. Deep reef your main sail, drop the traveler all the way to leeward, and sheet the mainsheet hard in. Secure your helm so the rudders are pushing the boat into the wind. The cat will sit on a close-hauled course, drifting sideways at about ½ knot. This is great if you need a break from very harsh conditions or a squall. The motion will be smooth and will give you time to regroup or effect repairs if necessary.

FYI: If you own a Lagoon, Leopard or Fountain Pajot, you don’t necessarily have to have a sail built for your boat. There are pre-owned sails available to be purchased at a fraction of the cost.

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Downwind Sailing on a Cruising Catamaran


Last Updated on September 28, 2020 by Amy

When we wrote our first sail trim for a cruising catamaran blog post, we were just about to move aboard Starry Horizons for our circumnavigation.  We’d been sailing a 30-foot Maine Cat around Galveston Bay, getting some sailing experience under our belts.  Starry Horizons is a pretty big leap, and we’ve learned a lot about sail handling since then.  There are two advanced sailing techniques that we’ve found very helpful when sailing deep downwind.

Table of Contents - Click to Jump

Flying Headsails off the Windward Bow

Our screecher is our favorite sail to use. It’s huge and when the wind is just right (like on the beam) we really get flying.  The screecher on the bowsprit is best used with an AWS of fewer than 15 knots, with an apparent wind angle (AWA) of fewer than 135 degrees.

We have sailed several times with the tack of our screecher (or spinnaker) attached to the windward bow of the boat instead of being attached to the bowsprit.  This allows us to sail at a deeper downwind angle (135 – 160). Instead of approximately 12 lateral feet between the tack and the clew (half the width of the boat), we are now using the full width of the boat to open the headsail even wider.

While the sail is still furled, we use a soft shackle to attach a low friction ring to the bow cleat.  Through the low friction ring, we run a new tack line.  The bitter end of the tack line goes through the clutch on the toe rail.  We loosen the clutch on the bowsprit to free the normal tack line. We detach it and pull the tack of the sail over to the new tack line.  You can keep both tack lines attached for added control. This allows you to adjust the position of the tack:  to the low friction ring at the bow, to the bowsprit, or somewhere in between.

Wing-on-Wind with Dual Headsails

We have sailed several times, especially on our Atlantic crossing, with our headsail and mainsail set to a wing-on-wing configuration.  It works, but can be troublesome depending on how light the wind is or how much the swell conditions are knocking the boat around.

Instead, we’ve flown wing-on-wing with both our screecher and genoa out.  The two sails combine to create one giant sail, and the wind funnels from one sail to another.  This is much more forgiving than sailing wing on wing with the headsail and mainsail.

We usually set the wind vane to 150 or so, unfurl the screecher, and then set the wind vane to 174. Then we roll out the genoa. The genoa is a much more forgiving sail, and its better to accidently backwind the genoa than it is to backwind the screecher.

Downwind Sailing in Higher Winds

As the screecher is not a sail that you can reef, when the apparent wind speed is higher than 15 knots, we sail wing on wing with the genoa and mainsail.  You can reef both sails as the wind picks up.

Monohull Notes

As you may know, David and I don’t have much experience on monohulls at all.  From what we gather, monohulls are not as comfortable downwave as catamarans are. This is a plus for sailing catamarans on a downwind circumnavigation.  However, when they do go downwind, we have several friend boats who sail wing on wing with the two headsails.  Putting poles on the clew of the sail to spread them out would be required.

Other Advice

When sailing with finicky sail configurations like the ones above, be sure to put your autopilot on wind vane mode and set the wind angle as a priority.  That way, if the wind shifts, your autopilot will adjust the boat to have the sails properly filled.  If you are running on a heading or a track when the wind shifts, you might find your sails backwinded or do an accidental gibe (which is dangerous).  Being on the wind vane setting does mean that you need to pay extra attention to your course; if the wind shifts, you may have to switch t another downwind sail tactic.

What have you found that works best for you while downwind sailing?


Super useful stuff here. Much appreciated.

Amy, I’m In Galveston. Never moved after school. Always Ship work between Houston and NOLA. I’m scheduled for a charter around September in St Lucia on A Helia44. Three cabin configuration. Looking forward to it.

Great! I hope you have a great time, St Lucia is lovely!

Amy & “DAVID” Of course I made a bonehead move and called David ‘Frank’ .. ? My apologies!!

Amy and Frank, Last night I was google-ing Catamaran Sail Trim for our Gemini 105MC (same as Dave Hedgepeth) when I found your blog. Then copied your ‘About’ link and sent it to work (I am West Marine Rig Shop mgr in Kemah, TX) to read about ya’ll when I had time. 2nd sentence re: Capt Amy: “Grandfather started State Boat and Father started Star Fleet in Kemah, TX” … OMG … Amy is Tom Lober’s daughter! Your Dad and I were classmate at TAMUG on Pelican Island 77-82. He would be SO Proud of both of you!! Donna Cuddy (my girlfriend and also a classmate of your Dad) bought a Gemini 105MC just like Dave Hedgepeth. Ours is in Deltaville, VA where we will explore Chesapeake Bay. Thank you for the Adventure you are Sharing!!

Hey Franklin! What a small world! I think of Dad all the time while cruising, he would have loved to join us. I’m very familiar with that West Marine! 🙂 PS don’t worry about calling David Frank!

Amy, I have shared your Adventure with fellow classmates, Karl Haupt, Ed Bishop and Jim Brown. We are all very Impressed! Please tell your MOM hello!

I did pass along your hello! Wonderful to hear from Dad’s old classmates!

Amy, I went to school with you Dad. TMA’80. Another classmate sent me the link.

I own a Gemini 105Mc so this info is great. My boss owns a Helia 44 in a charter fleet in Grenada.

Glad you are having a good time.

Hi Dave, thanks for reaching out, I’m glad you have found the post helpful. Where are you located?

We love this approach too. Much more stable than the traditional wing on wing.

Thanks Claudia! Nice to get an endorsement from an expert like you. 😉

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Charter a Catamaran out of Newport RI

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Downwind Sailing a Cruising Catamaran

Sailing downwind in a cruising cat is not much different than any other sailboat. In this post two conditions, one of heavy wind 20 plus knots and one of light wind say 10 knots or less, are explained.

Strong Winds

When the wind is strong, 20 knots plus, it’s usually much safer to “heat up” or head up a bit to prevent an accidental jibe or wrap your spinnaker around the forestay . When you’re sailing dead downwind in stronger winds it’s wise to use a preventer hooked to the main boom should an accidental jibe occur. While using a spinnaker it’s not wise to sail dead downwind as when you catch a wave and surf down the face, you increase boat speed and decrease the apparent wind on the spinnaker… often times so much that the apparent wind may go to less than 5 knots. In this case the spinnaker may easily collapse and potentially wrap around the forestay. Some Cat sailors will argue this and prefer sailing under spinnaker alone without the mainsail. Although this is easy, low maintenance downwind sailing, maybe for days at a time, I personally do not like to do this as the mainsail will be your friend in an unexpected squall or wind increase and you need to get the spinnaker down. With the main up it’s very easy to sail dead down wind and blanket or collapse the spinnaker behind the main if you need to do a quick take down. Especially if you’re short handed on crew.

In a strong squall you may not want any sails up at all and just bare pole directly downwind. I personally prefer having the mainsail up even if it’s reefed to its minimum size in order to maintain steerage of the boat. Sailing wing and wing with a jib or genoa in a strong breeze is usually a very good option dead down wind as long as a preventer is used. Try using a spinnaker sheet attached to your jib or Genoa as the lead is usually further outboard and will help keep the wing and wing full. If you’re using a spinnaker be sure to head up a bit from dead down wind as this will keep the spinnaker with cleaner wind and less apt collapse as you surf down the waves. In large waves, be conservative and shorten sail and try not to sail faster than the speed of the waves otherwise you run the risk of surfing down the wave and burying your bow into the next wave. Generally not a good practice in cats. You slow abruptly as you hit the wave ahead and load up your rig or worse sink the bows and pitch pole. Not good!

Lighter Wind

As the wind lightens up say less than 12 knots, spinnaker or not, it’s much faster to to head up to a broad reach and increase your apparent wind. Cruising Cats can be heavy and they want to sail on a broad reach downwind. Forget about sailing dead downwind with a spinnaker up in lighter wind. You can sail wing and wing with a jib or Genoa dead down wind provided you’re in no rush.

As you head up to a broader angle or broad reach, you then have to be thinking about downwind jibe angles. If your waypoint or destination is downwind, eventually you will have to jibe to get there. Here is the easiest way to determine your jibe angle: In lighter winds less than 10 knots, it’s easy, in a cruising cat it’s usually 90-100 degrees. In other words, when your mark, waypoint or say a Harbor entrance bears 90 degrees off your current compass heading it’s time to jibe. This is true under spinnaker or any foresail. As the wind freshens it’s another story as 90 degree angles will be to much with a spinnaker and you will run the risk of over stressing the sail and destroying it. The angle should be closer to 50-60 degrees off your current heading.

Here is the easiest way to determine your jibe angle as the wind freshens. Sailing along, what is the true wind angle off your transom. What is the angle of the waves off your transom? Simply put, after you jibe, you want the wind angle (wave angle) off your transom to be the same as before you jibed. Look at the direction of the waves off your transom. What is the angle of the waves off your transom. Are they at a 45 degree angle? If so, your jibe angle is double that or 90 degrees. Is the wind strong and the angle of the waves only 10 degrees off your transom? Than your jibe angle would be only 20 degrees off your current course. To be more exacting and mathematical of your jibe angles, try standing over the top of your compass. What does the aft lubber line on the compass read? Look into the compass angle of the waves. Better yet, use a hand bearing compass. What is the difference between the two bearings? 10,20,30,45,50? Whatever it is, double it and that’s your jibe angle.

In the Northern hemisphere, if you’re jibing from Starboard tack to port or turning the boat to port in order to jibe than you would subtract your current compass course. Conversely, if jibing from port tack to Starboard or turning the boat to Starboard in order to jibe than you would add the jibe angle to your current course. In both cases, this will be your new compass course after you jibe. Most commonly sailing a Cat in moderate breeze, the waves or true wind angle will be approximately 30 degrees off the transom making the jibe angle 60 degrees. Important to remember a 90-100 degree jibe angle is for light winds only! Don’t risk damaging your beautiful spinnaker.

Does your new compass course after you jibe take you to where you want to go? If so, you did it right. If not, it’s no big deal. You will either have to jibe again or if you went to far on the previous jibe and your new course apparent wind angle is further forward than you expected, you may want to temporarily head off the wind and take down your spinnaker before you damage it.

In summary, cats will sail better downwind in lighter to moderate winds by heading up from dead down wind “heating it up.” In stronger winds, be very careful sailing dead down wind. Use a mainsail preventer and be careful surfing down the waves and collapsing the spinnaker and potentially wrapping it on the forestay. Or better yet, if you must sail dead down wind, take the spinnaker down and wing and wing the foresail.

Catamaran sailing with spinnaker

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Blue Buddha Adventures

A guide to downwind and light wind headsails for the Lagoon 42 catamaran.

Code zero vs. Screecher? We tackle common questions on light wind sails and suggest the best headsail inventory for the Lagoon 42 catamaran

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A common conversation in the Lagoon 42 Facebook group involves the question of what is the perfect sail inventory for this boat. These conversations often reflect some confusion about the various “types” of downwind and light wind sails that sail manufacturers offer. Part of the confusion is that not all manufacturers use the same terminology to refer to the same sail types. For that reason, understanding the specific use case for each sail is important.  

In this article, I hope to clarify some of this confusion and suggest the best sail inventory for the Lagoon 42. Specifically, I want to talk about the different low wind headsails that can be used in the Lagoon 42 both for light upwind and downwind conditions. 

Upwind Sails – Code Zero and other “Code” sails

In general, a code zero is a type of “A” sail, which are types of racing asymmetric spinnakers. The original A sails went from A1 to A6. In general, odd numbers (A1, A3, A5) are primarily mid-angle to upwind reaching sails (70-150 wind angle) while even numbers (A2, A6, A6) are downwind sails (120-150). Higher numbers are used for stronger winds. For example, A1 is a light wind reaching sail while A4 is a strong wind running (downwind) sail. 

The code zero term was originally used by the Volvo ocean race to describe a versatile reaching sail that was primarily used for upwind sailing but was built like a spinnaker and thus met the definition of a spinnaker for racing rules purposes. Their goal was to have a mid-angle to upwind sail for light winds that was categorized as a spinnaker and thus complied with racing requirements regarding their headsail inventory.

However, different manufacturers use the term code zero to refer to slightly different sails that serve slightly different functions. Nonetheless, all code zeros are generally reaching upwind sails that are a bit more versatile than just an A1. 

North Sails use the term code zero to refer to a mid-angle sail (85-140).  This is a good all-around sail that does a bit of upwind and a bit of downwind but is most ideal for mid angles. This sail is not as flat as the code zero of other manufactures and is similar to a gennaker, which is another type of all-around light wind sail. In contrast, North Sails uses the terms Code 55 and Code 65 to refer to flatter types of code zero that are primarily upwind sails. For example, the Code 55 has angles of 40 to 120. 

downwind sailing catamaran

UK Sailmakers use the term code zero to refer to two different types of sails . They have a code zero for boats that do not have overlapping genoas (like the L42). This version is a very flat upwind sail that most resembles North Sails Code 55/65. They also have a code zero version for boats with an overlapping genoa that is rounder and is a bit more all-around with the ability to go downwind a bit more. This sail resembles the North Sail code zero or a gennaker. 

Quantum Sails offers three types of code zero that range in angles from a purely upwind reaching sail (AW40 with angles of 40 to 100) to a mid-angle sail (AW80 with angles of 80 to 130).  So the AW40 is more in line with North Sails Code 55 while their AW80 is more like a North Sails Code zero.

downwind sailing catamaran

Incidence Sails, the manufacturer used by Lagoon for the factory code zero, uses the term to refer to a flat upwind large genoa , similar to North Sails Code 65/55 or Quantum AW40. They also have a Code 3 and Code 5 that sail deeper than their Code zero. Note here the confusion with the Code 55/65 of North Sails. Incidence uses the Code 3 and Code 5 terminology to describe sails that are rounder than the code zero allowing them to sail more downwind. In this case, their code zero is the most upwind sail. In contrast, North Sails uses the Code 55/65 terminology to describe sails that are flatter than their code zero and are used for pointing upwind more. In that case, their code zero is the least upwind sail.

Code zero vs. Screecher.  Another common confusion is the difference between a code zero and a screecher. While code zero sails were developed and used originally in monohulls, the screecher is a multihull sail term. It refers to a very flat and large sail used primarily for upwind performance in light winds in multihulls. Thus, some types of code zeros, like North Sails code 55 essentially function like a screecher. Interestingly, the history of the term screecher is similar to the history of the code zero. It was developed as an upwind sail that could meet the definition of a downwind sail for racing rules. Like the code zero, it is just an upwind sail masquerading as a spinnaker. Thus, a screecher is essentially a very flat code zero used in multihulls for going upwind.

All Around Sails – Gennakers

Gennakers are all-around sails that sit in between genoas and downwind spinnakers. They are not as good as Code zeros for going upwind and not as good as asymmetric spinnakers for going downwind. Yet, they are excellent all-around sails that provide a wide range of wind angles to sailers that like the simplicity of having a single slow wind sail. However, Gennakers also come in different flavors. For example, North Sails offers three types, from a GZero, which can do some upwind sailing (albeit not near as high as their Code 55/65) and a G3, which is primarily a downwind sail (albeit not near as low as a true asymmetric spinnaker).  Incidence also has two types of Gennakers: a downwind Gennaker or an all-around Genneker that is flatter and is closer to a code zero or screeched.

Downwind Sails – Asymmetric Spinnakers

Asymmetric spinnakers are the most common choice for multihull downwind sails. Most often sailors think of spinnakers as light wind sails. However, they can be made for a variety of conditions, from very light winds (like an A2) to very strong winds (like the A4-6). The reason cruising sailors equate asymmetrical spinnakers with light wind sails is that most cruising sailors never feel the need to sail a spinnaker in strong winds. Cruising boats may also not be rigged to withstand the forces of flying an A6 in 30+ knots. So, most cruising multihull sailors will be flying a light wind A2-type asymmetric spinnaker that can sail in up to 20 knots at 160-120 degrees. If the winds get stronger than that, we most often just put the Jib out. 

downwind sailing catamaran

Note that asymmetric spinnakers are downwind sails but never can go as deep as 180 degrees. So asymmetric spinnakers are never used to go dead down wind. 

What sails do you use to go dead down wind? None. Don’t do it. Head up to 160 and get to the destination faster. I’m only half-joking.  The issue is that dead down wind is almost never the fastest point of sai or fastest VMG (Velocity Made Good to the destination) and thus I never go dead down wind because I’m always in race mode. But I understand that not everyone wants to get there faster and there is comfort in setting up a dead down wind configuration and enjoying the morning coffee while slowly drifting to the destination. This issue is complex enough to be worth having its own article. I’ll post the link here when I write it. For now, below is what to do if you want to go dead down wind.

If you like the relaxation of dead down wind saiing, then you have two general options. The first option is to use a code zero and the original jib in a butterfly configuration (wing on wing). This is a very comfortable and safe setup but is a bit slow. Most skippers set up this configuration without a mainsail. However, keep in mind that Lagoon does not recommend sailing without a main sail as this increases the risk for mast inversion and thus demasting. The only time I would be comfortable sailing without a main is if the topping lift was dyneema and is kept a bit tight, which will act as a back stay. However, this only works in very low winds. The dyneema and mainsheet are strong enough to act as a back stay but the sheave at top of the mast is not designed or strong enough for the loads when the wind increases.

The second option is to buy a sy mmetrical spinnaker or a parasailer/wingaker which can be sailed in very deep angles. It’s common for a parasailer/wingaker to be flown at 180 degrees. Most cruising multihull sailors do not have these sails but those who do are usually very happy as it allows them to go dead down wind quite fast (although they will still see me sail by flying my spinnaker at 160 degrees).

The right sail plan for the Lagoon 42

Given the options above, what is the best sail plan for a Lagoon 42? Well, it depends on your sailing preference and budget. Here I describe three general categories of potential owners and the right sail plan that would be ideal for them. 

The racer with a large budget. If speed is what you crave in all points of sail, and you don’t mind paying for four headsails, then I would recommend the following:

  • Upwind #1: Flat code zero capable of sailing in as low as 5-12 TWS. This would be something like the Northsail Code 55, or Quantum AW60 but sized as an A1 in terms of size and cloth weight. 
  • Upwind #2: Flat code zero capable of sailing in 12-20 TWS. This would be something like the Northsail Code 55, or Quantum AW60 but sized as an A3 in terms of size and cloth weight. 
  • Downwind #1: Large Asymmetric A2 for low winds under 20 TWS capable of deep 160 sailing (.75oz cloth)
  • Downwind #2: Small Asymmetric A4 for winds between 20-30 TWS (1.5-2oz cloth)

The Racer with a small budget. If you want speed but can afford only 2 extra sails, this is what I would do. In fact, this is our sail plan. 

  • Upwind #1: Flat code zero capable of sailing in up to 20 TWS. This would be something like the Northsail Code 55, or Quantum AW60. 
  • Downwind #2: Small USED Asymmetric A4 for winds between 20-30 TWS (1.5-2oz cloth). We bought this sail from MastHead sails for under 2k. It is perfect for strong winds because it if gets destroyed, I won’t cry. 

The set-it-and-forget-it or simplicity craver . For those of you who want simplicity and/or want only one extra sail to use for light winds, the answer is simple.

  • All-around Gennaker or deep Code Zero like North Sails Code Zero, North Sails GZero, Quantum AW80, or Incidence Code 5.  This will allow you to do some upwind and downwind sailing in conditions under 20 knots. If you have the budget, you could also get a code zero AND a furlling Gennaker as I describe in our ideal sail plan article.

What about just the factory code zero and nothing else? That definitely works. Many owners are happy with this configuration. However,  if I were to have only one extra sail, that is not the sail I would choose because it has limited versatility compared to a Gennaker.  With only a flat code zero you will have limited downwind performance compared to a Gennaker or a proper asymmetrical spinnaker. 

What about just a Parasailer/Wingaker and nothing else? This has the same issue of having just a flat code zero but instead of having a primarily upwind sail you end up having a primarily downwind sail.  It can do some upwind work, but it will not perform as well as a proper code zero or A1. 

In sum, if you want only one extra sail, get a gennaker. If you can afford two extra sails, get a flat code zero and an A2 asymmetrical spinnaker or a gennaker. Most owners begin with just the factory code zero. Their options would greatly increase if they added an A2 asymmetric spinnaker for downwind days. 

Leave a comment below or stop by the Lagoon 42 Facebook group if you have questions.

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Thank you for clarifying the differences between manufacturers in their designations of head sails. This is very helpful!

TMG Yachts Multihulls Power and Sail Australia

How to Trim Downwind – Basic Sailing Techniques

Inspire & learn – back to basics.

In this episode, we will delve into the art of sail trimming when sailing downwind. Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or just beginning to explore the boating world, understanding the nuances of sail trim can significantly enhance your boat handling abilities. Join our expert team as we provide insights, tips, and techniques to help you optimise your downwind sailing experience. This demonstration was done on a Lagoon 42 but can be replicated on other model vessels. 

downwind sailing catamaran

Learning how to trim your sail is a crucial skill for any sailor. Luckily, there are some useful instruments that can help make the task a bit easier. These instruments, called telltails, are ribbons attached to the sail that indicate airflow over the front and back sides. Ideally, you want the telltails to be in a linear motion, indicating a smooth airflow around both sides of the sail. If they are not, it means the sail is inefficient and needs to be adjusted. 

When sailing downwind, the goal is to maximize the sail’s efficiency by allowing it to catch the wind while avoiding excessive flapping or luffing. Here’s how you can achieve the optimal trim:

  • Assess the wind angle: Determine the angle at which the wind is coming from behind you. This will influence the sail trim adjustments you need to make.
  • Reading the telltales: While downwind, the telltales might struggle to fly due to lower wind speeds. Instead, focus on observing their behavior. If the telltales on the back edge of the sail flutter or deviate from a linear horizontal position, the sail needs to be eased out. Conversely, if the telltales on the inside flutter or exhibit disturbed airflow, the sail should be pulled in.
  • Avoid excessive flapping: Without the use of the telltales you can ease out the sail until you reach a point where it starts flapping, then pull it in until the point at which it stops flapping. This indicates an appropriately set jib or Genoa for downwind sailing.

downwind sailing catamaran

The mainsail plays a crucial role in powering your boat downwind. To optimise its performance, follow these steps:

  • Positioning the boom: Move the boom away from the centreline of the boat. This perpendicular angle to the wind enhances the sail’s coverage and propulsion. This precaution is particularly important for safe downwind sailing to minimize the chances of an accidental jibe.
  • Adjusting the main sheet and traveller: Rather than solely easing off the main sheet, tighten it to prevent the top of the sail from billowing out excessively. Simultaneously, ease the traveller down the coach roof. This allows you to move the mainsail out without it rubbing against the standing rigging.
  • Wind strength considerations: In stronger winds, tighten the main sheet slightly to capture more wind and increase speed. Conversely, in lighter winds, a slightly looser main sheet can create an opening in the sail to facilitate airflow.

Additional Tips and Precautions:

  • Adding a preventer: For longer offshore passages or when sailing in unsettled conditions, consider using a preventer. This line attaches to the boom and secures it to a cleat or fixing point on the leeward side of the boat. It helps maintain boom position and reduces flogging during swells.

Lagoon Catamaran How to use the electric winch


How to Fly a Code Zero on a Catamaran

How to Fly a Code Zero on a Catamaran

by Marnie Ebeling

In this guide, we delve into the intricacies of flying a Code Zero on a catamaran, specifically the Lagoon 46. Join our expert, Joe Fox, as he walks you through the setup, preparation, and manoeuvres involved in harnessing the power of this versatile sail.

Guide to Hull Maintenance & A Detailed Look Below the Surface

Guide to Hull Maintenance & A Detailed Look Below the Surface

In this instructional piece, we delve beneath the waves to explore the underwater profile of the a Lagoon Catamaran. Join us as we dissect the key features and maintenance points of the Lagoon 46, offering insights into what to look for during routine upkeep.

Lagoon Catamarans’ NEW Furling Boom System – Inspire & Learn Technical Feature

Lagoon Catamarans’ NEW Furling Boom System – Inspire & Learn Technical Feature

We’re excited to introduce you to a groundbreaking development in the world of catamarans – Lagoon Catamarans’ new Furling Boom System. This video and blog will delve into the details of this exciting development, featuring an interview with the mastermind behind the project, Bruno Belmont, Lagoon Catamarans’ multihull expert, as well as an exclusive first look with Joe Fox from TMG.

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Controlling Your Sails On A Catamaran

  • By Don Margraf
  • Updated: June 18, 2018

In monohull sailing, when you leave too much sail up in a building breeze the signs are clear: The rail is ­underwater, the dishes are on the floor, Grandma is terrified. The boat is dealing with ­excess energy by trying to ­lever a 5-ton lead weight out of the water; in other words, it’s heeling, spilling breeze, slowing down and rounding up.

Multihulls don’t behave that way. When you overpower a cat, it can only accelerate, dig a hole in the water or bust gear. No-heel sailing has a lot of advantages, but one drawback is the temptation to sail badly. You might easily go sailing with breakfast dishes on the table and postpone reefing until you’ve cleaned things up. In the meantime, the breeze is on, the boat’s impossible to steer and you shred a sail. One key to safe catamaran sailing is to learn when — and how — to reduce sail.

The best place to learn how to tuck in a reef is at the dock. Pick a morning with zero wind, and hoist. Practice reefing and un-reefing till you can do it in less than three minutes, blindfolded. If something jams or snags, stop. Find the source, figure out the cause and fix it. Look for inherent weak spots, chafe areas and jammed lines or sail slides. Study the whole system in slow motion and ­imagine how it will behave in howling wind, thrashing seas or on pitch-dark nights.

With the main down and flaked on the boom, go to the mast and haul up the main halyard, hoisting the sail as far as you can with two hands and no winch. Let it drop. Repeat and get a feel for the amount of friction built in to this most simple system. Then, if your lines lead to the cockpit, go back and repeat the procedure from where you would normally hoist the sail. Note how every bend and turn adds friction.

It’s important to have a solid understanding of your boat’s base-line resistance. When something jams in the dark, at sea, and you’re alone in the cockpit, you have to know nature’s little warning signs. Your evil inner voice will say, “You’re just tired. Put that thing on the electric winch!” You have to be able to argue back, “No, this is not the normal amount of friction. Something’s wrong.” Remember: There are no snag problems an electric winch can’t make worse.

While you’re at the mast, study the gooseneck. With the first reef in, look at the way the reef line is led to the deck and back to the cockpit. Look for friction and chafe. Push the boom out and back, making sure the reef line doesn’t change tension. Look back at the tail end of the boom, where the reef line passes through the leech. The reef line should pull both reef points in two directions: down and forward at the luff, and down and back at the leech. It should run through all its turns, from boom to cockpit, with minimal resistance. It might appear to be all clean and peaceful at the dock, but on big seas, everything is in motion. The slightest chafe whittles line down to bird-nest fodder in no time.

Next, work out your own checklist for reefing. It should be a simple list of the basic steps, in an order that goes something like this: 1) Ease mainsheet. 2) Set topping lift. 3) Ease halyard. 4) Tighten and secure reef line. 5) Re-tension halyard. 6) Trim sheet.

Reach for It

Once you’ve got it down pat at the dock and you’re ready for a test run, pack a lunch and look for a steady 15-knot breeze with plenty of sea room. Set a heading on a close reach, check sea room again and punch in the autopilot. Watch the autopilot drive for five minutes while you review your checklist.

When you’re ready, ease the mainsheet and let the traveler down until the main is completely de-powered. Adjust jib trim and autopilot heading until the boat stays on course, powered only by the jib; don’t fall off and let the luffing main fill again. The speed will go down sailing only on the jib, but the boat should balance, still on a close reach. Now go through your checklist and practice it step by step for both the first and second reef, hauling the sail up and down until you have it down cold or run out of sea room.

Reefing on a close reach has its own tricks and hassles, but I find it far easier than starting engines, pushing the bow into the wind, leaping off wave crests, pounding in troughs, watching for stray lines in the props and minding the ­flogging boom.

In the distant past, when mainsails had short (or no) battens, the sail flogged when luffing. This was considered hard on the sailcloth. The full-length battens on modern ­catamaran mainsails take the flog out of the sail but put it in the boom. This is considered hard on skulls, should they be in the way. An out-of-control boom also flails slack lines, which snag, bend, remove hardware and tie themselves in weird knots. It’s a deadly menace to life and property. I try to avoid it at every ­opportunity. Still, it’s good to ­practice reefing nose-to-wind, and also heaving to. It’s difficult, it tests boathandling skills and it helps prepare you for the toughest challenge: reefing while sailing on a run.

Before we head off downwind, let’s heave to for a ­minute and review. We like to practice at the dock, in dead calm, because, well, it’s calm. Everything’s easy.

So how to know when to reef? The first obvious answer is the wind-speed indicator. If your boat has an owner’s manual, it probably recommends reefing at 18, 28 and 35 knots or so. Every boat is different, and no rule fits every situation, but take it on faith that these are ballpark figures. Pick your own numbers, but be conservative, watch the wind speedo (hopefully it’s been calibrated) and stick to your rules till you know your boat well.

Do you put in the first reef at 18 knots true or apparent? Great question. Most cats pick up a lot of speed when they head downwind. This exaggerates the difference ­between true-and apparent-wind speed. You’ll especially notice this if you have set a gennaker or spinnaker and the wind is building. If you head up even a few degrees on these sails, the apparent-wind speed builds so fast you might have a shredded sail quicker than you can say “snap fill.”

Write your reefing-guide checklist with true-wind speed in mind, and make a note to clearly understand how your boat’s speed and heading affect apparent-wind speed and angle. Then make a note on the dashboard for downwind drivers: “Steer down in a puff.” The deeper downwind angle you sail, the less the apparent wind. And vice versa.

Most catamarans have shrouds placed far aft, and no backstay. That means the boom cannot swing out as far as on typical monohulls, and therefore the jibe angle is smaller. The boat has a narrower range of downwind sailing angles. For this reason, and a few other architectural ones, cat sailors don’t often sail dead downwind, at least not with the main up. It’s a big sail, with lots of roach in the leech; long, heavy battens; and, on many boats, a traveler that’s 10 or more feet long. When you jibe one of these accidentally in 25 knots, it’s like lifting a cat by the tail: You discover new things that can’t be learned any other way.

A lot of good sailors will say you can’t reef that big sail when it’s loaded on a run. But something about turning into a huge following sea is a motivator to try. When you turn into the wind to reef, and start taking big waves on the beam, even though you know that in ­theory your boat was designed not to capsize, all your senses will scream, “We’re going over!”

So before you get caught out in 20-foot seas with too much canvas up, it’s best to learn how to reef the big main while sailing hard, downwind.

Downwind Basics

You can work out the basic moves and hardware at the dock. But to feel the pressure, the friction you’re up against when sailing on a run, it’s good to have a long stretch of wide, flat water and at least 15 knots of steady breeze.

If you have the luxury of crew, this is the time to put your best downwind driver at the wheel. If you are cruising alone, or with a mate, your autopilot is your best friend and the most important piece of gear on the boat. Most autopilots have a wind function; instead of a magnetic heading, they will steer to an apparent-wind direction. This is where you learn to use it, adjust it and trust it. The boat has to maintain a rock-solid wind angle, and you need to be able to tweak it a few degrees, up or down, and trust it won’t lurch into a round-down wild jibe.

Before you punch the autopilot into duty, set your heading and sail trim on a deep downwind angle that’s balanced and easy to steer. If you’re struggling, zigging off and zagging back, fighting a heavy wheel, the pilot will struggle too. Eventually something will break. If your ­heading swings too far, the autopilot may give up trying to hold course and eventually switch itself off. (There’s a Catch-22 to all this: If you’re overpowered and out of balance, it’s hard to safely reef because it’s hard to hold course. But this is when you need that reef the most. Practice in lighter breeze and work up to the big stuff. And learn to reef sooner rather than later.)

Even in lighter wind, with the main sheeted out and traveler down, there’s plenty of friction on the mainsail’s luff cars. The sail likely won’t come down on its own, and even the reef line on a winch won’t feel effective. The simplest solution is for someone to stand at the mast and pull down on the luff of the sail. If you can safely get there in the dark and reach the sail, this method, being the simplest, has beauty.

But regardless, you already thought about this back at the dock, and you have rigged some kind of downhaul that lets you pull down on the sail from a position where you feel safe. It can be as simple as a separate line, tied to the top luff car, that is led to the base of the mast, or better yet to a manual winch either on the mast, cabin top or at the helm (to be used as a last resort!).

There are times when even an athlete at the mast, using a well-rigged downhaul, won’t budge the sail. Try bringing the mainsheet in 2 feet and try again. No? Alter heading slightly and try again. Bring in a couple more feet of sheet. ­Double-check the main halyard. No snags? Keep tinkering with sheet angle and heading, downhaul and reef-line pressure in tiny increments — but don’t jibe! Try even moving the traveler up a foot or two. ­Remember, the reef line has to pull the boom up a bit to meet the lowering leech cringle, so changing the sheet geometry can help.

If all else fails, you might have to put your downhaul on the (manual!) winch. Here, again, all your dock practice pays off because you need a good feel for how much friction is too much. You need to know if something is about to break.

If you keep tweaking the sheet and heading in small bites, and you don’t break something, the sail will finally move down an inch or two, and that’s all you need, a start. From there you can keep ­inching it down.

When you have the reef point locked down, give the autopilot a break. Steer the boat to see if it’s easier and better balanced with less sail. If you still have sea room in your practice space, take a break, open the lunch bag, review your checklist and then practice reefing the jib. You’ll find challenges there too in big wind, even though it rolls up.

Practice Makes Perfect

Every boat and every sea condition is a little different. Experimenting in all kinds of settings is the only way to learn the personality of your boat. There are devilish details: lazy jacks that snag battens, sail covers and Biminis that block the view. Besides their sails, catamarans have lots of sail area in fiberglass and gelcoat. When you’re sailing downwind, all that vertical surface you see from behind equates to sail area, and most of it is aft of the mast. I’ve sailed cats at more than 17 knots with no sails at all! So the dynamic balance of a cat is different from a monohull.

When you start tinkering, you’ll find most cats sail well, even tacking upwind, on jib alone. But they hardly sail at all on just the main. As big as the main is, that seems counterintuitive. But when I’m alone on the boat and both engines die at the worst moment, the first thing I reach for is the jib sheet and furling line. Before the anchor, before the radio, before the life jacket, I roll out the jib. Try it.

Learn your boat! When you understand how it reacts in various conditions, you’ll pick up other little clues that tell you if it’s overpowered. I can tell a lot just from the sound of the water tumbling off the transom. There are lots of cat sailors out there now. Go to school on the stuff they broke. Like electrics, every mechanical system should have a fuse. If you break something, before you beef it up, ask yourself if that was the best place for an overload failure. A raceboat owner summed that up best for me years ago, and I never forgot: “Guys, we sailed hard enough to break some stuff, but it wasn’t ­expensive. Great job!”

Don Margraf is a West Coast multihull sailor, rigger and yacht broker who mastered the finer points of boathandling at Trial & Error U.

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Make off-the-wind sailing more fun.

downwind sailing catamaran

Fast and fun off-wind sailing is what multihulls are all about. High speed, high stability and close wind angles require unique sail choices. Cruising multihulls in particular benefit from specialized sails that are versatile and easy to use. Understanding downwind sail types and selecting the right sail will help you achieve top performance from your boat and enjoy your time on the water.

The fastest sail on the market won’t do any good if it’s going to spend all its time down below on the bunks because it’s too difficult to use.

Sails for multihulls are not one size fits all. Figuring out the performance gaps, what the boat is set up for, what you already have are all important in determining what sails are best for you. We have a ton of options and we can customize to meet your needs.

Which sails are best for me?

That will depend on your experience and how your boat is set up, but it does help to understand the wind angles and geometry of downwind sails. We’ll discuss those in detail below, but first here’s a diagram that explains sail range:

downwind sailing catamaran

What to consider when choosing your ideal sail

Wind angles.

Knowing the optimal wind angle for your boat is the first step to choosing the right downwind sail type. Wind angle is the single most important factor in downwind sail design, but the terminology can be confusing. Many sailors think in terms of True Wind Speed (TWS) and True Wind Angle (TWA). True Wind combined with Boat Speed creates Apparent Wind, which is what really matters for downwind sail size and shape. You can find your boat’s predicted Apparent Wind Angle (AWA) and Apparent Wind Speed (AWS) in the boat manufacturer’s Polar Diagram, or ask your North Sails expert to calculate it for you. Most cruising multihulls like to sail around 90° AWA in a range of true wind conditions. Faster boats will sail closer AWAs, while slower boats will sail wider AWAs. Your own experience will also help figure out your boat’s optimal AWA; just look up at your wind indicator when sailing in the “groove.”

Multihulls offer unique opportunities for setting and sheeting downwind sails. The wide deck platform provides outboard sheeting points that makes downwind sails more efficient. Similarly, the windward hull provides a tack location when sailing deeper angles is desired. The wide shroud base also creates some downwind sail sizing and sheeting restrictions. Downwind sails are sheeted either inside or outside the main shroud. ‘Inside’ sails are generally optimized for AWA closer than 90° and are called code sails. ‘Outside’ sails are generally optimized for AWA greater than 90° and are called either gennakers or spinnakers.

downwind sailing catamaran

Code Sails are flat, furling headsails that provide maximum power for light air and close reaching. Code Sails sheet inside the main shroud and are used at or near upwind sailing angles. Code Sails require tough, low stretch and lightweight material for durability, shape holding, and and ease of handling. If stored when furled, Code Sails may incorporate leech and foot covers. If your boat has a small upwind headsail and you need more power for upwind and very close reaching, a Code Sail could be a great addition. Code Sails can also be combined with ‘outside’ sails for a two-sail downwind inventory.

Sail Handling: Structural Furlers, Free Flying Furlers with Anti Torsion Luff Rope

UV Material: UV paint for select styles, UV material for heavier weight sails

downwind sailing catamaran

G Zero Gennakers are the most popular cruising multihull downwind sail because they offer great versatility and cover a wide range of wind angles. G Zeros feature a deeper shape and wider girth compared to Code Sails, sheet outside of main shroud, and excel at beam to close reaching. G Zeros are compatible with all furling systems or can be used with a snuffer. All cruising multihulls benefit from added downwind sail area and the G Zero is optimized to provide easy to use sail power.

The most convenient thing about a G Zero is sail handling. Most of the time, it’s on a furler with a sun cover. It can be lightweight, and we can customize them for deeper sailing angles. They can also be built to sail as high as 60 degrees, which requires more stretch resistant materials and custom sail engineering. The G Zero is strong, and great for sailing fast in breeze.

What’s the design difference?

G Zeros have a higher clew. We’ll figure out the geometry based on measurements taken from your boat, as well as what type of furling gear you have, your sheeting angles, usage, and depth.

Main Points:

G Zeros are the most versatile downwind sail available in the widest range of fabrics. They are highly customizable, with many cloth and design options.

Sail Handling: Free Flying Furlers with Anti Torsion Luff Rope, Top Down Furlers, Snuffers

UV Material: UV paint for select styles, UV material for heavier sails (UV covers are not available for nylon or polyester spinnakers)

Asymmetric Spinnakers

downwind sailing catamaran

If you are looking to optimize for deeper wind angles or plan to carry more than one downwind sail, North Sails offers a wide variety of asymmetric spinnakers. For example, the A4 spinnaker has broad shoulders to maximize sail area, while an A1.5 is designed to generate optimal downwind VMG. A G2 Gennaker is the go-to option to simplify deep running and lighter wind sailing.

Sail Handling: Top Down Furlers, Snuffers

Symmetric Spinnakers

downwind sailing catamaran

The tried and true sail for dead downwind offshore is a symmetric spinnaker. Sheeted to the bows, this is a stable and extremely safe form of downwind sail power. Sailing dead downwind in the tradewinds offers self correcting directional course stability and better alignment with offshore swells.

Sail Handling: Snuffers

Why would someone have two downwind sails on a cruising multihull?

By filling a specific gap in the wind range and sailing angle, you’ll get the most efficient sail. Having only one downwind sail compromises either end of the range, so it’s best to cover your downwind sailing with two sail options.

Want to learn more on off-wind multihull sailing? Contact your North Sails experts today and get the most out of your experience. In the Southern Hemisphere, contact Ben Kelly at North Sails in Brisbane, Australia . In France, please contact Hugues Destremau based in Vannes. And if you’re in the Western Hemisphere, contact Bob Meagher and Peter Grimm, based out of North Sails in Ft Lauderdale, Florida.

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Catamaran sailing: expert multihull techniques

Nikki Henderson

  • Nikki Henderson
  • February 18, 2022

Moving to a performance multihull can be a leap for even the most experienced cruiser. Nikki Henderson shares expert multihull techniques.

downwind sailing catamaran

There has been a huge surge in the sales of performance multihulls and with them a need to know how to handle them particularly when it comes to specific multihull techniques. The market for these boats is broadening; multihull cruisers are upgrading, monohull sailors are upsizing, and even virgin boat owners are tempted.

Over the last 12 months, while coaching for Outremer , I’ve met hundreds of these owners, everyone from young families to retired couples moving aboard a new catamaran and setting sail on a circumnavigation. Handling a performance catamaran is achievable even for a novice multihull sailor. But there is a big difference between just ‘getting by’ on such a boat versus sailing efficiently, safely and in style.

The transition for even experienced sailors can be quite a step up. For a seasoned monohull sailor, the differences are obvious: increased volume and speed, and a lack of heel. Even for an existing multihull sailor, the handling and performance is noticeably less forgiving and requires a shift in focus and technique.

This winter, I set sail on a transatlantic with the new owners of an Outremer 55 . They have previously owned another less performance-orientated catamaran but invited me on board to coach them to fine tune the boat, assist with routing, and help them take best advantage of all the performance their new yacht offers. Here are a few of the topics we focussed on:

downwind sailing catamaran

sailing at higher speeds will change everything from manoeuvre techniques to weather routing. Photo: Robin Christol/Outremer

Most non-planing monohulls will do approximately the same speed on all points of sail. However, a performance multihull might sail at twice, three, even four times its upwind speed on a reach.

For example, the factory polars of an Outremer 55 give its average speed in 20 knots of wind with a true wind angle (TWA) of 50° at 8.5 knots, but in the same windspeed with a TWA of 110° it’s 19.1 knots. That’s more than twice as fast. How do you make the most of this speed advantage? And how do you best manage it ?

In a monohull it often pays to slog it out for days sailing the best course to windward as this normally gives the best velocity made good (VMG). A dead downwind rhumbline route is the usual strategy for longer ocean passages, rather than sailing more miles and wider angles.However, on a performance multihull it is important to prioritise reaching when route planning.

downwind sailing catamaran

aboard high performance catamarans, such as this TS42, you can race competitively in offshore events. Photo: Jacques Vapillon/Sea&Co

In upwind conditions on a long crossing, consider whether bearing off by even as much as 20° will result in a better VMG, even if it feels counterintuitive. In light winds bearing off to 70° or 80° TWA can be the difference between a totally stalled boat and 5 knots of boat speed .

Faster speeds open up the possibility of keeping up with pressure systems as they move around the globe. For example, if crossing the North Atlantic eastwards, ideally you’d leave the US in clear weather with a depression forecast to leave the American coast a few days later.

You could use its predicted track to decide how much north or south to add to your easterly heading, to ensure that as it catches up with you, you are sufficiently south enough of it to pick up its strong westerlies. As they approach, you will accelerate, and if you can hold the speed you can use that downwind airflow to push you most of the way across the pond.

Handling at speed

Controlling and handling the boat at these higher speeds requires a change in strategy. Increased speeds and acceleration mean that the apparent wind angle and apparent wind speed change much more frequently. So you need adaptable and flexible trimming and driving solutions.

downwind sailing catamaran

Use twist to balance power and control. Photo: Robin Christol/Outremer

Downwind the boat should be carving S-curves through the water to ensure it achieves the best VMG possible. If you can get this right you will attain the momentous double figure average speeds that a performance multihull offers, while also going the right direction! Instead of allowing the speed to plummet at the end of each surf, as the bow sinks into the bottom of the wave, a performance multihull can just keep on going.

How to maintain speed:

1 Sail at higher angles to build up apparent wind speed (AWS) and boat speed.

2 Soak downwind as the apparent wind angle (AWA) surges forward with the acceleration.

3 Drive the boat back slowly upwind in time to maintain the average speed and continue the surf.

In an ideal world, to achieve this the boat would be hand-steered. But realistically, no cruisers want to be on deck for two weeks straight on a transatlantic crossing. Your best compromise is to invest in a top quality, well set up autopilot, as well as good wind instruments.

Set the autopilot to sail to apparent wind angle and watch how the boat slaloms through the ocean. The quality of the autopilot will really start to show its value when the sea state starts to increase. The best ones improve over time as they collect data and learn the wave patterns. If you aren’t sure exactly which AWA is ideal, choose a day that has very consistent wind and sail in open water. Set the autopilot AWA to 90° and then systematically increase the setting by increments of 5° at fixed time intervals until you get as low as you can before the foresail is shadowed behind the main. Measure the VMG by comparing the distance travelled at each of the different wind angles, and the average A to B course over ground (COG) achieved. This will give you a good starting point, and then it will shift further depending on sea states and wind strengths.

Sail setting

Another solution if you want fast speeds but don’t want to actively sail the boat to within an inch of its life is to use twist. Twist is a compromise between having a hardened sail that stalls when the wind goes aft, or a very eased sail that luffs when it goes forward. The more changeable the conditions, the more extreme the acceleration increases are, or the rougher the sea state is, the more twist you need.

downwind sailing catamaran

Cats have the space and stability to hoist and douse, so keep weight low by dropping flying sails when not in use. Photo: Christophe Launay

The wide beam of a multihull allows for a long traveller, so most won’t have a vang. Sheet tension and traveller position are your primary controls to create twist in the mainsail. Begin by finding a full power setting in the main.

Set your autopilot to 35-40°AWA; most performance multis should make this upwind. Set your traveller at midships and over-ease your mainsheet so that the sail is luffing. Gradually tighten your mainsheet until the top telltale just flies. Manual winching offers better control here than electric.

Pull your traveller to windward until the boom runs down the centreline. The top telltale of the mainsail will now be flying about three-quarters of the time. If it is closer to 50% you may need to tighten the mainsheet further and then ease the traveller until you have achieved this (or vice versa). This is your full power sail shape, and your default car position upwind.

At this point some people like to mark the mainsheet (this doesn’t work with a continuous mainsheet). To begin with, just take note of the traveller position. If the conditions require more twist, ease the mainsheet, and pull the traveller to windward to keep the boom in the same position relative to the boat. You could keep a note of three traveller positions for each point of sail: full power, mid power, low power.

As the wind moves aft, you can add other ‘go-to’ traveller positions for different wind angles by easing the traveller down to leeward while keeping the mainsail shape set to ‘full-power’ mode. Once the wind goes aft of the beam, your traveller will be all the way down to leeward. Keep an eye on spreader chafe at this point.

Once you are happy with mainsail trim, you can trim the jib in a similar way, using car position and the sheet tension. Bring sheet tension in so that the leech shape looks very similar to the main: flat with a slight curve at the top. Then adjust the cars (if you can) so that the sail is not luffing, and the top telltales are also flying 50-75% of the time. Finally, walk forward to the forestay and view the slot between the sails. Do they look roughly parallel? If not, you may need to open up the slot a touch by moving the car outboard. This is your default jib car position for that point of sail.

downwind sailing catamaran

Sailing the angles with an asymmetric. Photo: Kinetic Catamarans

When conditions increase, don’t forget to add twist to the jib too. Initially just ease a touch of sheet. Be careful moving the car too far inboard or you might close the slot. Moving the sheet attachment closer to the foot of the clew will open up the leech and create more twist.

Think of twist as the middle ground between sailing fully powered and reefing. Multihulls are much less communicative than monohulls. You do not have the obvious signs that the boat is overpowered, like a submersed toe rail or rounding up as the boat heels.

In time you’ll get to know your catamaran and build a connection to read how aggressively the boat is accelerating, its fore-aft pitching, sounds, and rhythm. But at first it’s useful to have some number guides and wind parameters of when to add twist and ultimately when to reef.

Generally a performance cat will require a reef much earlier because it’s lighter. I’d usually put in one reef at 20-25 knots, two at 25-30 and three reefs for 30-35 knots.

On our transatlantic crossing on the Outremer 55, contrary to my advice on the advantages of sailing angles downwind, we chose instead to sail dead downwind with the symmetric spinnaker up for the entire passage.

downwind sailing catamaran

taking it easy dead downwind under symmetric Photo: Nikki Henderson

There are costs to taking full advantage of the speed of a performance catamaran. Averaging 15 knots boat speed is not everyone’s idea of comfortable. The hulls are so stiff that every wave that hits the hull sounds like the beating of a drum. The humming of carbon rigging, the swooshing of water screaming past the topsides, the slapping of the waves, the wind: it’s incredibly loud even when averaging 10 knots, let alone 15 or 20.

Performance multihulls are also so lightweight that they are really thrown about in a substantial sea state. Our decision to sail dead downwind rather than heating up and taking full advantage of the performance came down to the following reasons:

1. Lack of adequate autopilot We had one, but it wasn’t able to react quickly enough to the acceleration and resulting rapid change of wind angle that broad reaching would have created. It also struggled in a big seaway, so sailing with the waves square on to the stern was easier to cope with.

2. Sails We did not have a heavyweight asymmetric sail, which is what you need to sail these downwind angles (both our reaching sails were light weight).

3. Safety Akaroa II is hull No2 of a new design by Outremer. This was the first transatlantic crossing that this particular model of boat had ever done, so we were a testing ground and deliberately cautious.

Despite our conservative approach we still achieved 90% of the factory polars averaging 9.6 knots in sustained winds of 20 knots across the entire 2,700-mile route.

The trip took 11 days and 17 hours. The beauty of a performance multihull is that even if you don’t push it, you still manage brilliant speeds in the right conditions.

We calculated how much faster we would have gone, had we sailed the angles instead of running downwind. This assumes we would achieve the same 90% polars. TWA 140° appears to be the sweet spot.

downwind sailing catamaran

Getting the main down when reefing can be problematic – rig up downhaul lines to help grind it down if needed. Photo: Nikki Henderson

Without any power being dispelled by heeling, performance multihulls will convert additional power into acceleration. With this increased speed comes increased loads on the lines, blocks, rudders, sail cloth and rigging. Winches are upsized. Jammers are used instead of clutches. Halyards are 2:1. You may be sailing on a 50-footer, but the loads are akin to a 70-80ft bluewater monohull.

A future owner recently reminded me of this, when he opened the main traveller jammer while holding the line with only one wrap on the winch. The lack of skin on his hand was gruesome evidence of how surprising the loads can be when a multihull is really powered up.

Interestingly, comparing a standard cruising multihull with a similar sized performance multihull, the opposite is true. A boat that weighs less needs less sail area to power it. For example, a Lagoon 450 has a sail area (main and jib) of 130m2 compared to an Outremer 45 (actually 48ft LOA) at 104m2. So, for the same apparent wind speed, there will be less load on the gear.

Watch out when sailing downwind. Due to a performance multihull’s ability to accelerate and hold high speeds downwind, it is easy to hold significantly more sail area in higher true wind speeds as the apparent stays low. However, if you do hit the bottom of a wave and stop dead in the water, the sail, rigging and lines will feel the full force of that wind.

Another reason to reef earlier than you think on a performance multi is that with swept back shrouds (needed to support the mast without a backstay) and a fully battened mainsail, even with the halyard eased downwind the sail may still not come down. You should be sailing with the minimum amount of sail cloth up to achieve the polars.

Reducing sail

1. Rig up downhaul lines from each reefing point on the luff to help grind down the sail. Keep an eye on chafe on the leeward side on each of the batten pockets.

2. Use the rotating mast to open the sail to the wind more.

3. If that isn’t enough, come upwind to help get the sail down.

Multihull trim

Switching to a performance catamaran may bring new trimming options: daggerboards, a rotating mast, and fully battened square topped mainsail.

Brush up on your fundamentals of sail trim so that you have a solid foundation to build on. When you first start sailing the boat, to avoid getting overwhelmed (which tends to result in people under-sailing their boat), begin by finding a base setting for all points of sail. Forget the rotating rig for now, but find enough twist in the sails that gives you enough height without too much power. Set the daggerboards as you would on a dinghy: down for upwind, up for downwind, mid-way for a reach. Then you fine tune.

downwind sailing catamaran

Set performance cat daggerboards as you would for a dinghy at first: down for upwind, up for downwind, mid-way for a reach. Photo: Nikki Henderson

When adjusting daggerboards, make sure you have your GPS track switched on. See if dropping a little more daggerboard helps with the COG upwind. Downwind, if you feel like you are on an ice-skating rink, try dropping a little board for better grip. If on autopilot, take note of the rudder angle. If it’s taking the helm from full starboard to full port then it might need some more grip, if not then a reef.

Be cautious of the risk of ‘tripping up’ in big seaways. In sea states much over 3-4m, it’s safest to lift the daggerboards and allow the boat to glide over the waves rather than risk one of the boards digging into a wave and destabilising the boat. While exceptionally unlikely to happen, if a daggerboard digs in, the worst case scenario would be a capsize. If you see any slick in the water that suggests the boat is sliding sideways over a wave, or an increase in heel, or significant water over the deck – these are signs that it’s time to lift the boards all the way up.

Finally, play with the rotating mast. At a basic level, try to get the mast in line with the foremost sail position and curve. The easiest way to see this is actually to stand forward of the mast and look down the line of the sail. It is in itself a foil and when in the right position can add the equivalent of as much as 10% more sail area. In the same way, you can use it to depower by reducing the angle.

downwind sailing catamaran

With a rotating mast you’ll generally be trying to get it in line with the foremost sail position and curve. Photo: Nikki Henderson

When fine tuning sail trim I’d recommend marking all your tracks and angles of mast rotation, and once you are confident you could mark the sheets and halyards themselves. This is an exercise for the detail-orientated and it pays to be specific. Keep a notebook at the helm station to record your learnings, and over time build up not just ideal trim settings for wind and waves, but also polars.


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Learning a performance catamaran’s sensitivity to weight can be a real learning curve. Compared to cruising catamarans, performance cats tend to be half the weight (or even less). Meanwhile, compared to a monohull the main difference is in the areas where the weight is most concentrated. A monohull’s weight is predominantly in its keel. Almost the entire weight of the boat is concentrated in around 15% of the boat’s length. Conversely, a multihull has no keel, so without that pendulum effect its centre of gravity is higher and less stable. On a multihull the weight is distributed along almost 90% of its length.

In practice, this means that what you carry, both below and above decks, has a big impact on the boat’s performance and safety. The first step is to become minimalists. Summon your inner Marie Kondo and ask yourself “Does this bring me joy? Does this keep me safe?” of every single item that moves from dock to boat. If it doesn’t – don’t take it.

downwind sailing catamaran

Performance cats are weight sensitive so streamline your possessions onboard. Photo: Carl Newton

Step two is to arrange your belongings evenly around the boat. Ensure you don’t list the boat to port or starboard. Try to keep weight amidships and ideally low down. Avoid loading up the bow lazarettes or aft areas with too much weight.

When sailing, don’t forget that the worst kind place for weight is aloft. Without the keel, you significantly reduce the stability of the boat by having a furled Code 0 (for example) hanging around up the rig. It’s inconvenient to drop it every time, but it’s worth it.

Higher speeds, bigger loads, a lighter boat and higher centre of gravity don’t sound like the safest characteristics, and they aren’t if poorly managed. But you can also use them to your advantage. Being able to sail faster means you sometimes have an option to run away from bad weather.

But there are other safety drills that are worth thinking about ahead of time. What is your MOB recovery plan? With cats’ high freeboard, some owners plan to reverse up to the casualty and pick them up from the steps at the back. But how many have practiced that? Will it involve dropping the mainsail? Could the props injure the casualty? How does the back of the boat behave in a significant sea state? I’d recommend practising this until you have a plan that works for you on your boat with the equipment you have. The same should be said for plans to evacuate the boat, or deal with a fire on board.

If you enjoyed this….

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Sailing downwind

When you bear away from a reach, you are "running" downwind with the wind blowing from behind. Reduced airflow over both sides of the sail slows the boat down as apparent wind (the difference between your boat speed and the true wind speed) is reduced.

Sailing Downwind


When sailing with the wind blowing from behind the boat, let out the mainsail and pull up the daggerboard (or centerboard).


As the boat bears away to a downwind course with the wind right behind, the crew can balance the boat by sitting on either side. The daggerboard or centerboard can be fully lifted when sailing on flat water, or leave it part down for increased stability if the boat starts to roll. Let the mainsail out as far as possible, without letting it press hard against the shroud, which may distort and possibly damage the sail.


Balancing a boat when sailing single-handed downwind can be more difficult in stronger winds, with the boat tending to roll due to the crew only being on one side. Your boat will go fastest with the mainsheet let right out at 90 degrees, but it will be more stable if you pull it partly back in. The cunningham and outhaul can be let off to provide a fuller shape. The daggerboard or centerboard can be lifted halfway on most single-handed dinghies , but should be left fully down to

downwind sailing catamaran


Here, with the wind blowing diagonally across the stern on the windward side, the dinghy is on a broad reach. With air flowing on both sides of the sails, the boat can achieve good speeds.

maintain balance on a dinghy with an asymmetric spinnaker. Move your weight far enough back to prevent the bow from burying and be ready to shift your weight from side to side if the boat rolls. Keep steering movement to a minimum. The boat will tend to bear away if it rolls to windward and head up if it rolls to leeward. Unless "goosewinging" (see below) avoid sailing "by the lee" with the wind blowing across the stern from the leeward side, which may cause an unexpected jibe. If you are not sure of the exact wind direction, turn slightly into the wind.


On a direct downwind course the jib is blanketed by the mainsail. The solution is to "goosewing" it on the windward side (see p.73). It may be necessary to sail slightly by the lee with the crew holding the boom out to prevent an accidental jibe, while the helmsman holds the jib sheet.

Jibing Downwind

Here, the wind is blowing almost directly from behind. With air pushing rather than flowing over the sails, the boat sails more slowly than on a broad reach.

Continue reading here: Jibing a dinghy

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Home » Blog » Gear » Downwind sails demystified: how to choose a downwind sail for cruising

Downwind sails demystified: how to choose a downwind sail for cruising

By Author Fiona McGlynn

Posted on Last updated: February 15, 2023

Downwind sail terminology can be baffling! If you’re looking to build out your downwind sail inventory for cruising you may find yourself awash with spinnaker codes, headsail overlap percentages, and trying to understand the difference between an asymmetric spinnaker, gennaker, and cruising chute.

But don’t despair, the good news is: it’s not that complicated . All the marketing jargon aside, there are really just three types of downwind sails commonly used by cruisers and I’m going to cover them in this post.

  • Asymmetric spinnakers

Symmetric spinnakers

We’ll also briefly touch on Code sails.

Sure there are more exotic downwind sail options like Parasailers and Blue Water Runners, but the three sails above tend to be the staples in most cruising sail wardrobes.

Also, if you’re looking to buy a downwind sail, be sure to check out our post on  buying used sails . Buying second-hand sails is a good way to build out your sail inventory without breaking the bank.

man standing in front of red, yellow, and blue asymmetrical spinnaker on a sailboat

What is the best sail for downwind sailing?

No single sail is going to do everything well. Downwind sails achieve peak efficiency at different apparent wind angles and conditions, which is why performance-oriented boats carry a large inventory of sails. For example,  Vendee Globe skippers carry 9 sails  (their allowable limit).

As cruisers, we don’t have this luxury. Instead, we make do with fewer, less specialized, sails that can be used over a wide range of wind angles and conditions.

The best sail for downwind sailing is going to depend on your boat, your crew, and what you’re trying to achieve.

Sailboat sailing under white headsail

Considerations for choosing a downwind sail

Boat and rig.

How heavy is your boat and what type of rig does it have? How much space do you have for storing sails?

It’s important to  know your boat’s most efficient downwind sailing angle  and then choose a sail that performs well at that angle.

Modern, light, flat-bottomed boats often sail faster on a reach, whereas older, heavy-displacement cruisers don’t achieve the same gains from reaching.

You’ll also want to consider your rig and existing sail plans. As we’ll see later in this post, fractional and masthead rig boats will have slightly different downwind sail requirements.

Woman standing on a boat at bow next to asymmetrical spinnaker

Crew and experience level

Will you have six people onboard or be sailing single-handed? Are your crew newbies or ocean veterans? Are you comfortable handling a pole and working on the foredeck?

Certain downwind sails are more challenging to fly than others. For instance, a symmetrical spinnaker is a lot more effort to launch, fly, and douse, than a genoa on a roller furler.

Often short-handed crews (couples, single-handers, and families with small kids) find that spinnakers are too much work and choose to fly white sails alone. Even the most energetic sailors may find that sleep deprivation on a long passage can sap the fun out of elaborate sail changes.

We, like many cruisers, are very conservative. On our Pacific crossing, I can count the number of times we flew a spinnaker on two hands.

However, now that we have more bluewater miles under our keel, I’m a lot more eager to break out the kite. On our next ocean passage, I can see it playing a bigger role in our downwind repertoire.

Woman smiling in front of downwind sail

What are your sailing goals?

Do you aspire to complete an Atlantic or Pacific crossing? Do you enjoy racing your cruiser? Are you content to motor sail?

The type of sailing will influence what downwind sails you carry.

For instance, if you’re planning on bluewater cruising, your focus might be on durable, heavyweight sails that can handle a squall and stand up to the rigors of an ocean crossing.

Consider how much you want to use your engine. If you’re planning long passages where you don’t have enough fuel to motor, you may want to invest in a light air sail.

Reach out to other sailors with similar boats who are doing the type of sailing you’re interested in and find out what they’re using.

Types of downwind sails

Sailboat sailing wing on wing with a poled out genoa

Genoas on roller furlers are hard to beat for downwind sailing. They’re robust, easy for a single person to manage on a roller furler, and make for a stable, stress-free downwind sail.

They can become problematic in light air and ocean swell when they tend to flog. The best way to avoid this is to pole out the genoa.

Man holding pole on foredeck of sailboat

Poled out genoa

Sailing downwind with a poled-out genoa  was our go-to setup for much of our 2017 Pacific crossing.

It seems to be a favorite with Atlantic skippers too.  Yachting World surveyed 276 ARC skippers to learn about their sail and sail handling systems. “Despite most yachts carrying a spinnaker or offwind sail, over 60 skippers commented that using a poled-out foresail was the most effective downwind option, with twin headsails proving the next most popular.“

Sailboat with twin headsails

Twin headsails

Twin headsails  are another great option, and one I would consider for our next ocean passage.

Many roller furlers have a second luff groove so you can fly two headsails at the same time, one to each side. This gives you a large sail area, while still making it easy to reef from the cockpit.

Again, you may need to pole out one sail and sheet the other to the end of a boom that’s been locked off with a boom preventer in order to prevent flogging.

Speaking of which, if you’re planning on doing a lot of downwind sailing I highly recommend using a  boom brake or preventer for limiting the risks associated with an accidental gybe.

Mainsail using a boom brake

Headsail types

Headsails are categorized by their Luff Perpendicular percentage (LP%), which describes a headsail’s size/overlap relative to the boat’s J dimension (from where the forestay connects to the bow to the base of the mast). Larger sails, with more overlap, have higher percentages. 

Generally speaking, 130-135% headsails are pretty common sizes on cruising boats. We had a 130% genoa on our 1979 Dufour 35.

If you have a fractional rig with a non-overlapping headsail, you could use a Code Zero (more on that below) either poled out or flown as twin headsails.

  • Stable and comfortable
  • Easy to deploy and reef on a roller furler
  • Covers a wide range of wind angles and wind speeds
  • Dacron is durable and not prone to damage
  • Requires a spinnaker pole or whisker pole in lighter wind conditions and swell

downwind sailing catamaran

Asymmetric spinnaker

Asymmetric spinnakers (also known as gennakers and cruising chutes) can be thought of as a blend between a spinnaker and a genoa.

They’re ideal for sailing in light conditions. We usually doused ours when windspeeds increased to 15 knots.

Most of the time, they’re flown like a genoa, with the tack attached to the foresprit or bow, and the clew trimmed with a sheet. However, it’s also possible to sail an asymmetrical spinnaker in more of a symmetrical configuration .

Many short-handed crews (including ourselves) prefer asymmetric spinnakers to symmetric spinnakers because they’re a lot easier to sail and often don’t require a pole.

It’s possible to put asymmetric spinnakers on a roller furler, but this generally requires a flatter sail and limits the wind angles you can sail at to 135-145 degrees.

For fuller shapes, there are other options for taming your sail. A snuffer sock (a.k.a. spinnaker sleeve) consists of a tapered fabric sleeve that can be raised and lowered over a sail. According to  Yachting World’s 2019 ARC Survey , 57% of skippers used a snuffer sock on their boats.

Asymmetric spinnaker types

You may have heard cruisers referring to their A-sails. The “A” stands for asymmetric and is preceded by a number that designates whether the sail design is for light air or heavy air—the higher the number the heavier the air.

The number also tells you whether it’s a reaching or running sail, with odd numbers for reaching and even numbers for running.

  • 1A Light Air Reaching Asymmetric
  • 2A Light Air Running Asymmetric
  • 3A Heavy Air Reaching Asymmetric
  • 4A Heavy Air Running Asymmetric
  • 5A Extreme Wind Asymmetric
  • Can point higher than a symmetrical spinnaker
  • Easier to fly than a symmetrical spinnaker
  • Not always necessary to use a pole
  • Great in light winds
  • More work than a headsail on a roller furler
  • Only appropriate for light air
  • Lightweight nylon fabrics more prone to damage

sailing race with boats flying symmetrical spinnakers

Symmetrical spinnakers have been around for a long time and continue to be a valid choice for cruising sailors.

The symmetrical shape of the sail lends them to wind angles of 165 degrees or more. If you’re going to spend a lot of time running, it’s a great option.

They’ve become less popular with short-handed crews, namely because of the work involved to fly them. They require a pole, sheet and guy lines, an uphaul, and a downhaul—all of which can be a lot to manage! They also can’t point as high as an asymmetrical spinnaker.

Symmetric spinnaker types

Similar to asymmetric spinnakers, symmetrical spinnakers have S codes. The “S” stands for symmetric and the number designates whether the sail is for light air or heavy air (the higher the number the heavier the air) and for reaching (odd numbers) or running (even numbers).

  • 1S Light Air Reaching Symmetric
  • 2S Light Air Running Symmetric
  • 3S Heavy Air Reaching Symmetric
  • 4S Heavy Air Running Symmetric
  • 5S Extreme Air Symmetric
  • Great for running
  • Great in light air
  • More work than an asymmetric spinnaker
  • Limited reaching performance

Code sails are not technically downwind sails, and are best used for reaching in light airs. They’re similar to asymmetric spinnakers but have a solid luff that allows them to point higher.

They’re necessary on fractional-rig boats with non-overlapping headsails as they fill the gap between upwind headsails and downwind spinnakers. However, they can also be flown on a run as a twinned or poled-out headsail.

Finding the right sail and having a good downwind sailing setup can make your cruising experience more efficient, comfortable, and enjoyable.

I highly recommend talking to other sailors who own similar boats and who’ve sailed the passages and cruising grounds you’re interested in. Most experienced bluewater cruisers have spent a lot of time thinking about and refining their systems and will be more than happy to share what they’ve learned.

Fiona McGlynn

Fiona McGlynn is an award-winning boating writer who created Waterborne as a place to learn about living aboard and traveling the world by sailboat. She has written for boating magazines including BoatUS, SAIL, Cruising World, and Good Old Boat. She’s also a contributing editor at Good Old Boat and BoatUS Magazine. In 2017, Fiona and her husband completed a 3-year, 13,000-mile voyage from Vancouver to Mexico to Australia on their 35-foot sailboat.

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Learn the Basics of Small Catamaran Sailing: A Step-by-Step Guide

Alex Morgan

downwind sailing catamaran

Sailing a small catamaran can be an exhilarating experience, allowing you to harness the power of the wind and glide across the water. Whether you’re a beginner or have some sailing experience, learning the ins and outs of small catamaran sailing is essential for a safe and enjoyable adventure. In this comprehensive guide, we will take you through everything you need to know to sail a small catamaran effectively.

Introduction to Small Catamarans

Small catamarans are multi-hull sailboats that consist of two parallel hulls connected by a frame. They offer stability, speed, and maneuverability, making them popular among sailing enthusiasts. Before diving into the specifics of sailing a small catamaran, it’s important to understand the basics of this type of watercraft.

Getting Started with Small Catamaran Sailing

To begin your small catamaran sailing journey, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind. Choosing the right small catamaran that suits your needs and skill level is crucial. Understanding the basic parts of a small catamaran, such as the hulls, trampoline, mast, and sails, is also essential. having the appropriate safety equipment, including life jackets, a whistle, and a first aid kit, is paramount for a safe sailing experience.

Learning the Fundamentals of Small Catamaran Sailing

Learning the fundamentals of small catamaran sailing will lay the foundation for a successful and enjoyable sailing experience. This includes understanding the wind and its impact on sailing, the different points of sail, and the techniques of tacking and gybing. Proper sail trim and controlling speed and power are also important skills to master.

Basic Maneuvers in Small Catamaran Sailing

Once you have grasped the fundamentals, it’s time to learn some basic maneuvers in small catamaran sailing. This includes upwind sailing, downwind sailing, reaching, and capsize recovery. Knowing how to effectively navigate different wind angles and recover from a capsize will greatly enhance your catamaran sailing abilities.

Advanced Techniques for Small Catamaran Sailing

For those looking to take their small catamaran sailing skills to the next level, there are advanced techniques to explore. This includes learning trampoline techniques for maximizing speed and control, as well as rigging and tuning your catamaran for optimal performance. For those interested in competitive sailing, understanding racing strategies and tactics will be invaluable.

By following this guide, you will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to sail a small catamaran with confidence and explore the open waters with ease. So, let’s embark on this sailing adventure together and discover the thrill and serenity that small catamaran sailing has to offer.

– Small catamarans maximize space: Small catamarans provide a larger deck area compared to traditional boats, enabling sailors to have more room for activities and storage. This is especially beneficial for sailors who have limited space or prefer a compact vessel. – Small catamarans offer versatility: With their twin hull design, small catamarans are highly stable and capable of sailing in various conditions. They can handle both calm and rough waters, making them a versatile option for sailors looking to explore different sailing environments. – Safety is key: When sailing a small catamaran, it is important to prioritize safety. This includes choosing the right catamaran for your skill level, understanding the essential parts of the boat, and ensuring you have the necessary safety equipment on board.

Embarking on the thrilling adventure of small catamaran sailing? This section is your compass to getting started! We’ll navigate through the essential aspects of this exhilarating water sport. From choosing the perfect small catamaran to understanding its vital components, we’ll set you on course for success. Safety is paramount, so we’ll also explore the necessary equipment to ensure smooth sailing. Get ready to set sail and dive into the world of small catamaran sailing like a pro!

Choosing the Right Small Catamaran

To choose the right small catamaran, consider key factors. Here is a table summarizing important aspects to take into account:

Choosing the right small catamaran is crucial for an enjoyable and safe sailing experience. Consider factors like type of sailing, location, number of crew, skill level, and budget to find the perfect catamaran that meets your needs and preferences.

Fact: The fastest recorded speed on a small catamaran was 51.36 knots (about 59 mph), achieved by Paul Larsen of Australia in 2012.

Understanding the Basic Parts of a Small Catamaran

To gain a comprehensive understanding of the basic parts of a small catamaran, it is important to familiarize yourself with the key components that make up this type of watercraft. These components include the following:

1. Hulls: The main floating structures of the boat consist of two parallel hulls.

2. Beams: These connecting structures hold the hulls together and provide support for the deck.

3. Deck: The flat surface area serves as a platform for sailors to stand on and move around.

4. Trampoline: Positioned between the hulls and the deck, this mesh material adds stability, distributes weight, and offers a comfortable seating or lying area.

5. Rudders: Found at the rear of each hull, these control the direction of water flow and steer the catamaran.

6. Daggerboards: Retractable boards located on the underside of each hull, these prevent sideways drifting and enhance upwind performance.

7. Mast: A tall, vertical structure that supports the sails and captures the power of the wind.

8. Sails: Small catamarans typically have multiple sails, such as a mainsail and a jib or genoa, which harness the wind’s energy.

9. Rigging: Various ropes and cables are used to control the position and shape of the sails, allowing for adjustment of the angle and tension.

10. Trapeze wires: These adjustable wires enable sailors to shift their weight outboard, providing balance and counteracting the forces of the wind.

Knowledge of these basic parts is essential for safe and efficient sailing. Each component plays a significant role in the performance and maneuverability of the catamaran, ensuring a pleasurable experience on the water.

Essential Safety Equipment

The essential safety equipment for small catamaran sailing includes:

Life jackets: Each person on board should have a properly fitted life jacket approved by relevant authorities. Ensure accessibility and good condition.

Safety harnesses and tethers: Sailors wear these to prevent falling overboard. Harnesses must be securely attached to strong points on the boat, and sailors should always be tethered when on deck.

Flotation devices: Keep buoys or inflatable cushions readily available in case of emergencies. They can be thrown to a person overboard to provide buoyancy and aid in rescue.

Navigation lights: Essential for sailing at night or in low visibility conditions, helping other boats see you and avoid collisions.

First aid kit: A well-stocked kit should be on board for basic medical care during sailing.

Fire extinguisher: Crucial in case of fires or emergencies. Regularly check and maintain the extinguisher.

True story:

One sunny day, while sailing on a small catamaran, our crew encountered unexpected strong winds and choppy waters. Suddenly, a crew member lost their balance and fell overboard. Thanks to the safety harness and tether, they remained connected to the boat, preventing a potential disaster. With quick action, we threw a flotation device to the crew member, who held onto it until we could safely bring them back on board. This incident highlighted the importance of having essential safety equipment and practicing safety procedures while enjoying small catamaran sailing.

Mastering the art of sailing a small catamaran begins with understanding the fundamentals . In this section, we’ll dive into the essential skills and knowledge needed to navigate these agile vessels . Get ready to explore the impact of wind on sailing , discover the various points of sail , learn the techniques of tacking and gybing , understand the art of sail trim , and gain insights into controlling speed and power . By the end , you’ll be well-equipped to embark on your catamaran adventure with confidence and finesse.

Understanding Wind and Its Impact on Sailing

Understanding Wind and Its Impact on Sailing is crucial for small catamaran sailors. Consider the following key points:

– Wind powers sailing by propelling the boat forward and determining the direction of travel.

– The speed and direction of the wind significantly affect the sailboat’s performance. A strong and steady wind increases speed, while changes in wind direction require adjustments to course and sail trim.

– Sailors must understand different points of sail. These include close-hauled (sailing as close to the wind as possible), reaching (sailing at a slight angle to the wind), and running (sailing with the wind directly behind).

– Wind shifts, or changes in wind direction, demand continuous adjustments to maintain optimal speed and efficiency.

– Be aware of gusts , sudden increases in wind speed. Strong gusts can affect stability and require quick reactions to stay in control of the catamaran.

– Consider the impact of wind on waves and currents, as they can further influence performance and require adjustments in technique.

A thorough understanding of wind and its impact on sailing is crucial for small catamaran sailors to navigate safely, optimize performance, and enjoy a successful experience.

Points of Sail

The sub-topic “ Points of Sail ” can be presented in a table to provide a clear understanding of each point of sail and the corresponding wind direction.

Each point of sail represents a different angle of the wind in relation to the boat. Understanding the points of sail is crucial for controlling the boat’s direction and speed. By adjusting the sail trim according to the wind direction, sailors can optimize the boat’s performance and make efficient use of the wind’s power. It is important to note that the boat’s movement and performance may vary depending on factors such as wind speed and sail size. By familiarizing themselves with the points of sail, sailors can navigate effectively and enjoy the thrill of small catamaran sailing.

Tacking and Gybing

To tack , steer the boat towards the wind to change direction. Release the mainsail sheet and jib sheet to allow the sails to luff. Turn the tiller or wheel away from the wind to bring the bow of the boat through the wind. Trim the sails on the new tack by pulling in the mainsail sheet and jib sheet. Adjust the sails as needed to find the correct angle to the wind for the new course.

To gybe , steer the boat away from the wind to change direction. Release the mainsail sheet and jib sheet to allow the sails to luff. Turn the tiller or wheel towards the wind to bring the stern of the boat through the wind. Trim the sails on the new tack by pulling in the mainsail sheet and jib sheet. Adjust the sails as needed to find the correct angle to the wind for the new course.

Tacking and gybing are essential maneuvers in small catamaran sailing. Tacking allows the boat to change course while sailing upwind, while gybing is used when changing course while sailing downwind. By following the steps above, sailors can effectively perform tacking and gybing maneuvers. It is important to release the sails and steer the boat correctly to ensure a smooth transition through the wind. Trimming the sails and adjusting them as necessary on the new tack or gybe will help maintain control and optimize the boat’s performance. Practice and experience are key to mastering these maneuvers and becoming a skilled small catamaran sailor.

When it comes to small catamaran sailing, proper sail trim is crucial for optimal performance. Here are some key considerations for achieving the correct sail trim:

– Adjust the main sail: Trim the main sail by tightening or loosening the main sheet. A well-trimmed main sail will have a smooth shape and minimal wrinkles.

– Trim the jib sail: Control the tension and shape of the jib sail using the jib sheet. The jib should complement the main sail with a balanced and efficient shape.

– Use telltales: Utilize telltales, small ribbons or strips of fabric attached to the sails, to gauge airflow. Observing the telltales will help determine if adjustments are needed.

– Consider wind conditions: Adjust sail trim based on prevailing wind conditions. In lighter winds, looser sails are needed to catch lighter breezes. In stronger winds, tighten the sails to reduce heeling and maintain control.

– Regularly reassess: Continuously monitor and reassess sail trim throughout your session. Small adjustments may be necessary as wind conditions change or as you change course.

By paying attention to sail trim and making necessary adjustments, you can optimize your small catamaran’s performance and ensure an enjoyable sailing experience.

Suggestions: Practice sail trim techniques regularly to improve your skills. Experiment with different settings and observe how they affect your boat’s speed and stability. Seek advice from experienced sailors or consider taking sailing courses to enhance your understanding and proficiency in sail trim.

Controlling Speed and Power

Controlling speed and power in small catamaran sailing is crucial and involves several important steps. One of the key steps is to trim the sails by adjusting their position to optimize their shape and efficiently catch the wind, which ultimately leads to increased speed and power. Another important factor is to adjust the weight distribution by shifting the body weight to balance the boat and effectively control the speed. Moving the weight forward will enhance the speed, while moving it backward will slow down the catamaran.

It is essential to utilize the rudder to steer the catamaran and make small course adjustments. By using the rudder effectively, one can maintain speed and control. Another aspect to consider is harnessing the wind . It is crucial to pay attention to the wind direction and strength and adjust the sails and course accordingly. This will help to maintain a consistent speed and power throughout the sailing.

Practicing proper technique plays a significant role in controlling speed and power. It is essential to master techniques such as tacking and gybing , as they enable smooth transitions and help in maintaining speed and power during maneuvers.

It is important to remember that controlling speed and power in small catamaran sailing requires practice and experience. By honing your skills and understanding the dynamics of the boat and wind, you can become more proficient in controlling speed and power effectively.

I can personally attest to the significance of constantly fine-tuning technique in optimizing speed and power in small catamaran sailing. In a sailing race, I found myself trailing behind other boats. By experimenting with weight distribution and sail trim, I quickly caught up to the rest of the fleet. This experience taught me the importance of continuously refining my technique to achieve the optimal speed and power in small catamaran sailing.

Basic Manuevers in Small Catamaran Sailing

Mastering the art of sailing a small catamaran starts with understanding the basic maneuvers. In this section, we’ll uncover the secrets of upwind sailing , downwind sailing , reaching , and capsize recovery . Get ready to glide through the water with precision and agility as we explore the techniques and skills necessary to maneuver your small catamaran with ease. So, tighten those sails, secure your position, and let’s dive into the thrilling world of catamaran sailing .

Upwind Sailing

Position yourself in the boat for upwind sailing: Sit on the trampoline with your feet facing forward, one foot in front of the other, for balance and stability.

Check the wind direction for upwind sailing: Look at the wind indicator, such as the telltales or flags , to determine the wind’s direction.

Trim the sails for upwind sailing: Adjust the sails to efficiently catch the wind. Increase the curvature of the sails for better lift.

Find the correct angle for upwind sailing: Point the boat’s bow slightly toward the wind direction, known as pointing upwind.

Use the telltales for upwind sailing: Pay attention to the telltales on the sails to ensure they are flying smoothly.

Sheet in the sails for upwind sailing: Pull in the sheets to control the sails, balancing power and speed.

Keep the boat flat for upwind sailing: Distribute your weight evenly on the trampoline and adjust your body position to counterbalance the wind’s force.

Practice active steering for upwind sailing: Use the tiller or steering controls to make small course corrections, maintaining a consistent trajectory.

Avoid excessive heel for upwind sailing: Control the heeling angle by depowering the sails or adjusting your weight distribution to prevent tipping.

Anticipate gusts for upwind sailing: Be prepared for sudden increases in wind speed and adjust your sail trim and body position as needed.

Stay focused for upwind sailing: Maintain concentration and constantly assess the wind and your boat’s performance.

By following these steps, you can effectively sail upwind and make progress against the wind. Remember to practice and refine your technique to enhance your skills in upwind sailing.

Downwind Sailing

Downwind sailing is an exciting technique in small catamaran sailing. Follow these steps to successfully navigate downwind:

  • Position your catamaran with the wind behind you.
  • Release or ease out the sails to capture as much wind as possible for optimal downwind sailing.
  • Keep a close eye on sail trim and make adjustments to maintain peak performance.
  • Utilize the rudders to steer the boat in the desired direction, noting that less rudder input may be needed when turning downwind.
  • Stay mindful of possible gybing, where the sail suddenly moves from one side of the boat to the other due to a change in wind direction. To prevent this, carefully monitor the wind and make necessary course adjustments.
  • Embrace the exhilaration of effortlessly gliding across the water, harnessing the power of the wind during downwind sailing.

Downwind sailing has been utilized by sailors for centuries, enabling efficient navigation of the seas. It gained significant importance during the era of sail-powered ships, as sailors discovered the advantages of utilizing favorable wind directions and currents to optimize speed and efficiency. The technique of downwind sailing continues to evolve with the incorporation of advanced technologies in modern catamarans and sailing vessels, striving to maximize performance and speed. Today, downwind sailing not only remains practical but also provides a thrilling experience for sailors, allowing them to embrace the immense power of nature and the captivating beauty of the open water.

Reaching is a sailing technique used in small catamaran sailing to sail at an angle where the wind is coming from behind the boat. It allows the boat to sail faster and more efficiently.

To reach , the sailor adjusts the sails to maximize surface area and catch as much wind as possible. This propels the catamaran forward.

During reaching , the sailor positions themselves on the trampoline or the windward hull for stability and control. They also monitor wind direction and make adjustments to maintain the desired angle and speed.

Reaching is exciting for sailors as it enables higher speeds and the thrill of the wind propelling the boat. It requires skill and practice, but once mastered, reaching enhances the overall sailing experience on a small catamaran.

Capsize Recovery

Capsize Recovery is vital for small catamaran sailing. Here is a guide to effectively recover from a capsize:

  • Stay calm and assess the situation.
  • Hold onto the boat and ensure everyone is accounted for.
  • Signal for help if necessary, especially in a busy waterway.
  • Try to right the boat by pushing down on the centerboard or daggerboard.
  • If the boat does not quickly right itself, climb onto the hull that is out of the water to make it easier.
  • Once the boat is upright, climb back onboard and assess any damage.
  • Bail out any remaining water using buckets or bailers.
  • Check all rigging and equipment for damage.
  • Restart the engine or raise the sails to continue sailing.

Pro-tip: Practice capsize recovery maneuvers in a controlled environment before sailing in challenging conditions. This builds confidence and improves your ability to react quickly and effectively in case of a capsize.

Mastering the art of small catamaran sailing goes beyond the basics. In this section, we dive into the realm of advanced techniques that will take your skills to the next level . Get ready to explore trampoline techniques that enhance stability, rigging and tuning methods that optimize performance, and racing strategies that give you a competitive edge. Brace yourself for a thrilling ride as we uncover the secrets to unlocking the true potential of small catamaran sailing .

Trampoline Techniques

  • Using the trampoline: The trampoline on a small catamaran is crucial for various techniques.
  • Getting on and off: When boarding the catamaran, step onto the trampoline from the boat’s side. To disembark, step off the trampoline onto a stable surface.
  • Balancing: While sailing, balance your weight on the trampoline to maintain stability and prevent tipping.
  • Leaning out: In strong winds, lean over the trampoline to counterbalance the force of the wind and prevent capsizing.
  • Jumping: Jumping on the trampoline can generate extra power and speed in light wind conditions.
  • Moving around: Use the trampoline to move from one side of the boat to the other. Step carefully and hold onto the boat for stability.
  • Handling waves: When sailing through waves, use the trampoline to absorb shock and maintain balance.
  • Practicing maneuvers: The trampoline provides a stable surface for practicing tacking, gybing, and other maneuvers.
  • Safety precautions: Always hold onto the trampoline when moving around the boat to prevent falling overboard.

Rigging and Tuning

Rigging and tuning are crucial for small catamaran sailing. Here are some essential aspects to consider:

– Rigging: It’s vital to set up and secure the mast, boom, and other rigging components correctly. Check the tension of the rigging wire to ensure proper sail shape and stability.

– Sail control: Understanding how to use control lines, such as the mainsheet and traveler, is key to adjusting sail position and shape. These controls optimize performance and balance the catamaran.

– Adjustable trampoline: Many small catamarans have an adjustable trampoline that allows for different sailing positions and crew weight distribution. This feature affects stability and handling.

– Wind indicator: Installing a wind indicator on the mast or sail provides valuable information about wind direction and intensity. It allows for adjustments in sail trim and steering to maximize speed and efficiency.

– Centerboard or daggerboard adjustment: Depending on the catamaran’s design, adjusting the centerboard or daggerboard position significantly impacts stability and overall sailing performance. Knowing when and how to adjust them is crucial.

– Regular maintenance: It’s important to inspect rigging components for any signs of wear, tear, or damage. Regularly checking knots and connections ensures they remain secure and in good condition.

– Experience and guidance: Rigging and tuning a small catamaran can be challenging for beginners. Seeking guidance from experienced sailors or professionals will help improve sailing skills.

By giving attention to rigging and tuning, sailors can optimize the performance and handling of their small catamarans, resulting in a smoother and more enjoyable sailing experience.

Racing Strategies

  • To maximize performance on the water, it is important to start with a good racing strategy. This includes determining wind direction and planning the best position to gain an advantage.
  • One crucial aspect of racing strategies is mastering boat handling. It is essential to practice maneuvering your small catamaran smoothly and efficiently, especially during mark rounding and tight turns.
  • Another key racing strategy is learning to read wind shifts. By observing wind patterns and anticipating changes, you can adjust your sailing strategy accordingly.
  • It is imperative to understand racing rules in order to compete fairly and avoid penalties. Familiarizing yourself with small catamaran racing rules is essential.
  • Staying aware of the competition is a vital part of racing strategies. By keeping an eye on fellow racers, you can identify their strengths and weaknesses, aiding in tactical decision-making.
  • Developing a strong downwind strategy is crucial. This involves utilizing techniques like gybing and surfing waves to maintain speed and gain an advantage.
  • Being adaptable is key in racing. Racing conditions can change rapidly, so it is important to be prepared to adjust your strategy and tactics as needed.

Fact: Small catamarans are known for their speed and agility, requiring effective racing strategies to excel in competition.

Some Facts About How To Sail A Small Catamaran:

  • ✅ Learning how to sail a small catamaran can be an exciting and freeing experience. (Source:
  • ✅ Familiarize yourself with the essential parts of the catamaran and common sailing terms. (Source:
  • ✅ Understand the points of sail, steering, and turning the catamaran. (Source:
  • ✅ Raising and trimming the sails is crucial to capture the wind effectively. (Source:
  • ✅ Slowing down and stopping the catamaran can be achieved by loosening the sails to spill wind. (Source:

Frequently Asked Questions

1. how do i position a small catamaran when sailing on a beam reach or a broad reach.

When sailing on a beam reach, the wind is coming directly across the side of the boat at a 90-degree angle. To position the catamaran, the sailboat’s direction should be perpendicular to the wind, with one hull leading the way.

On a broad reach, the wind is coming between the stern and the side of the boat at a 45-degree angle. To position the catamaran, adjust the sailboat’s course so that both hulls are approximately facing the direction of the wind.

2. What are the essential parts of a small catamaran?

The essential parts of a small catamaran, also known as a beach cat, include the hulls, tiller, rudder, keel, mast, mainsail, foresail, and boom. These components work together to control the direction and speed of the catamaran when sailing.

3. How should I handle the tiller when sailing a small catamaran?

When sailing a small catamaran, it is important to sit in the opposite direction of the sail to counterbalance the tilting effect caused by the wind. To steer the catamaran, use the tiller by moving it in the opposite direction of the desired turn. It may take some practice to get used to the opposite directions of the tiller.

4. What sailing gear do I need when sailing a small catamaran?

When sailing a small catamaran, it is important to have the appropriate sailing gear. This includes shoes, gloves, sunglasses, a windbreaker, a logbook, a compass or GPS, and a first aid kit. These items will help ensure your safety and comfort while on the catamaran.

5. How do I turn the catamaran into the wind when sailing close-hauled?

To turn the catamaran into the wind when sailing close-hauled, a maneuver known as tacking is used. Move the tiller toward the sail to pass the bows through the wind. Exchange the mainsheet and tiller extension, and then straighten the tiller to complete the turn.

6. How do I slow down and stop the catamaran when sailing?

To slow down and stop the catamaran when sailing, you can loosen the sails to spill the wind. Let out and loosen the sails until they luff or flap. You can also turn the boat towards the wind to maximize resistance, bringing the catamaran to a halt.

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C hoosing between a sailboat and a catamaran for your sailing adventures is a significant decision that depends on various factors, including your sailing preferences, experience level, budget, and intended use. Here's an ultimate guide to help you make an informed decision:

1. Sailing Experience:

  • Sailboats: Typically require more skill and experience to handle, especially in adverse weather conditions. Ideal for sailors who enjoy the traditional feel of sailing and are willing to invest time in learning and mastering the art.
  • Catamarans: Easier to handle, making them suitable for beginners. The dual-hull design provides stability, reducing the learning curve for those new to sailing.

2. Space and Comfort:

  • Sailboats: Generally have a narrower beam and less living space. However, some sailboats may offer comfortable cabins and amenities.
  • Catamarans: Wider beam creates more living space. Catamarans often have multiple cabins, spacious saloons, and expansive deck areas, providing a more comfortable living experience.

3. Stability:

  • Sailboats: Monohulls can heel (lean) while sailing, which some sailors enjoy for the thrill but can be discomforting for others.
  • Catamarans: Greater stability due to the dual hulls, providing a more level sailing experience. Reduced heeling makes catamarans suitable for those prone to seasickness.

4. Performance:

  • Sailboats: Known for their upwind performance and ability to sail close to the wind. Some sailors appreciate the challenge of optimizing sail trim for efficiency.
  • Catamarans: Faster on a reach and downwind due to their wide beam. However, they may not point as high into the wind as monohulls.
  • Sailboats: Typically have a deeper draft, limiting access to shallow anchorages and requiring deeper marina berths.
  • Catamarans: Shallow draft allows access to shallower waters and secluded anchorages, providing more flexibility in cruising destinations.
  • Sailboats: Generally more affordable upfront, with a wide range of options available to fit different budgets.
  • Catamarans: Often more expensive upfront due to their size and design. However, maintenance costs may be comparable or even lower in some cases.

7. Mooring and Docking:

  • Sailboats: Easier to find slips and moorings in marinas designed for monohulls.
  • Catamarans: Require wider slips and may have limited availability in certain marinas, especially in crowded anchorages.

8. Intended Use:

  • Sailboats: Ideal for traditional sailors who enjoy the art of sailing, racing enthusiasts, or those on a tighter budget.
  • Catamarans: Suited for those prioritizing comfort, stability, and spacious living areas, especially for long-term cruising and chartering.

9. Resale Value:

  • Sailboats: Generally have a more established resale market, with a wider range of buyers.
  • Catamarans: Growing in popularity, and well-maintained catamarans often retain their value.

10. Personal Preference:

  • Consider your personal preferences, the type of sailing you plan to do, and the kind of lifestyle you want aboard your vessel.

In conclusion, both sailboats and catamarans have their advantages and disadvantages. Your decision should be based on your individual preferences, experience level, budget, and intended use. If possible, charter both types of vessels to experience firsthand how they handle and to help make a more informed decision based on your own preferences and needs.

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