Racing in light air needs the same attitude as racing in heavy air, you have to like it to do well.
In the Southern Hemisphere winter, we get plenty of light air days and in the US about 75% of races are sailed in less than 10 knots. Bearing that in mind, there is plenty of reason to develop a good attitude when confronted with a day of light wind.
Racing in light wind
It’s tough to do well in a race in light air and is tactically challenging. In heavy air, good boat handling and hard hiking will ensure that you are sailing at the front of the fleet.
In light air, most sailors can keep their boat moving fast which should keep the fleet much tighter around the course. Where the differences come is in the tactics which are much trickier. Light wind can be patchy with plenty of shifts and the need is to sail for pressure rather than shifts.
Sometimes sailing on a knock to get to more pressure will generally give you the best result than tacking.
Boat Speed in Light Air
Talk with the most proficient light air sailors in your fleet about set-up and look over their boats.
Remember that the faster a boat goes upwind, the stronger the breeze blowing on the boat will feel. This stronger apparent wind will be shifted closer to the bow than the actual wind. The bottom line is, in light air always sail for speed.
Footing upwind not only increases speed but increases lift on the keel or centreboard and results in less slip sideways.
Because true wind varies so much across the course, always be looking around for the areas of more pressure.
Downwind, it’s critical to continually look for pressure and try to stay in it as long as possible. Use telltales and your masthead wind indicator to see where the wind is coming from and to make sure that a fellow competitor is not interfering with your wind supply.
Setting Sails In Light Air
If the water is smooth, set flat lower sections with medium open leeches. Keep the outhaul tight and set jib leads aft. You should also move the draft aft by easing the downhaul and/or bending the mast slightly.
Experiment with sheet tensions and keep the jib telltales streaming with the windward one lifting occasionally.
If the seas are bumpy, set up with fuller lower sections and open leeches. If your boat has a backstay, ease it so the main is full and the draft moves forward and the headstay sags to leeward. Getting things too tight is a guaranteed way to park the boat.
Tacking or Gybing In Light Air
When it comes time to tack or gybe, roll the boat so a minimum of speed is lost. Turn the tiller very slightly and use the crew weight to help turn the boat.
Keep a bit of heel to leeward after the tack helps the boat accelerate. Often the turn of a tack causes the apparent wind to keep shifting so it appears as though you got a huge lift just as you tacked. Stop your turn after you have gone about 90 degrees and wait for the apparent wind to settle down and reattach.
In a Gybe turn slowly and smoothly. Bring the main in until it is about 45 degrees off the centreline. Roll the boat to windward to help the turn. As the stern crosses the wind, pull the main over hard and let it out to 45 degrees. Then reach up a bit for extra speed and when full speed is reached, bear off and ease the main.