Downwind Theory

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Sailing downwind or running is basically when you are sailing in the same direction as the wind is blowing.

As in the diagram below the wind is coming from behind the boat, the sail is eased almost all the way out, meaning that the forward force is maximized.

Downwind Sailing Issues

One problem with downwind sailing is that, since you are traveling with the wind, the wind across the deck, and hence the wind that is being caught by the sail, is less. Another issue is that since all the forces are (almost) in alignment, the boat can tend to become unbalanced, and it can roll over on top of you.

Due to the fact that the sideways force is now minimal relative to the force forwards, sideways slippage will be reduced even more. Some sailors raise the fin as high as possible without letting it interfere with the boom to create less drag through the water, and hence go faster.

Forces on the boat when sailing downwind

Forces on the boat when sailing downwind

Be sure that you check out the short video below that has some helpful tips which discusses the best body positions across all wind ranges for downwind sailing…

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  1. John on October 18, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    Hi, I’m often overpowered by gusts when I have the sail mostly out and wind directly behind. If I can see the gust coming from behind what do you suggest I do to avoid rollover?

    • Admin on November 1, 2016 at 8:37 am

      Hi John
      Sailing a laser downwind can be tricky, as the dinghy can get quite unbalanced.
      If you are out in a bit of a breeze, you may want to add some cunningham, outhaul and vang compared to what you are used to when on a run downwind for extra stability. You may also want a bit more centerboard down.
      If you see a gust coming, you may want to try to come up into the breeze a little (eg. only 10-20 deg) until the gust passes. This can have the effect of depowering the sail, and also allows you to hike out and balance the boat.
      However, if the gust has hit and the boat heels away from you, you have to try to keep it as flat and straight as possible, so easing the main and pulling the tiller towards you. If it rolls over on top of you, pull on the mainsail, and push the tiller away form you.
      Sailing dead downwind is tricky, but the more you practice, the more you learn and better feel you have, so that your actions will become instinctive rather than delayed.
      Good luck with it.

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