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Weather Helm

by Rod TerBeest, Previous Fleet Captain

The issue of too much weather helm has been asked several times and I thought I could answer some of the questions. Sailing World Magazine and Sail are also good resource for many “techniques questions”. For the most part, a boat designed by a professional yacht designer is usually designed to be balanced correctly.

It is my assumption that the designer is smarter than I am when it comes to the math and physics of what makes a good boat design. A lot of us are tempted to think we are smarter and start fooling around with rudders, masts steps, shroud placement and such. But the Holder 20 One Design sailboat has been around for 25 years and good tuning information has been developed and we will try to pass it on, this will be the first in a series of articles about sailing the Holder 20 One Design.

I sail my Holder 20 #269 Ragamuffin mostly as it came the factory. Among the few changes I have made is to increase the purchase of the backstay to 12:1 and substituted Spectra for the stainless steel backstay. I have no problems with too much weather helm. I use the class rudder that came with the boat and the pintles and gudgeons are factory original in the positions they were mounted. I set my forestay to the recommended length and my rig tension at 25 uppers, 5 lowers on the Loos gauge.

All the other settings are as is required in the Holder 20 One Design Rules. All changes that I have made comply with the Holder 20 One Design Class rules. Most of the time excessive weather helm is operator error and not a fault of the design of the boat. The “trick” to being fast and having correct helm is not to become overpowered. Remember “flat is fast”, the Holder 20 One Design is meant to be sailed flat like a skiff.

I know that many of us came from bigger keelboat or scow classes that are designed to sail heeled, so we have a tendency to let the boat heal a little. Putting the rail in the water on a hot day may be a good trick to scare pedestrians and thrill children, but it is slow and increases weather helm. As the wind increases you need to start hiking to keep the boat flat. Next is de-powering the mainsail, flattening it in increments as the wind increases. Cunningham, outhaul, backstay, vang and mainsheet are the controls you have to work with to trim the main. Every mainsail is a little different, even if they are all made from the same pattern and measurements. Different materials, designs and cuts will act differently.

So you have to take the time to see what setting progression is right for your sail. I rarely work my mainsheet in gusts. The mainsheet and vang are used to get the correct “twist” in the leach. Once set for the conditions or point of sail, I hardly ever change it. Instead I use the traveler to de-power in the gusts. I installed a Harken Windward system on my traveler; the cleating on the car is much easier to adjust than the stock position of the traveler cleats.

Watch the water for gusts coming your way and anticipate heeling. One of your crew should be assigned to watch for gusts and feed info to you as you go, there have been lots of articles written about gusts in the magazines. As the gust hits, your crew hikes and you let down the traveler as needed to keep the boat flat. Then pull the main back up on centerline as it goes by. Never ever put a reef in the mainsail when racing, I don’t even have reef points in my racing sail. Once you have de-powered the main and let down the traveler to reduce healing and you are still heeling too much, then the next step is to change down to a smaller foresail, I guess I was assuming you are starting out with your 155% genoa.

The Holder 20 One Design rules allow you to carry one jib and two genoas on board while racing. I race with an AP 155% Kevlar genoa, a Pentax 135% #2, and a Pentax or Kevlar 100% blade. A storm jib is also allowed, but I don’t have one. My philosophy is if it is so windy that you need to reef, you should not be out there racing. I understand that some of you may sail offshore and may want reefing points and storm sails, but the

Holder 20 One Design is meant to be raced in protected waters and inland lakes, not offshore. As you change down you may need to re-power the mainsail to maintain speed, do this procedure as you go through your inventory. I have sailed my Holder 20 One Design in winds up to 30 MPH with just my jib and fully de-powered main and have felt totally safe. The last point for reducing weather helm is practice. Nothing beats time on the water for increasing your skills. No amount of money or tinkering can replace it. Practice your helm technique, pinching up a little in the gusts, easing off in the lulls, do this without adjusting your sails, just to get the feel of it. Go through the de-powering process for your sails, keep notes, mark settings on your sails and sheets. Read the Holder 20 One Deisgn class rules HERE. Hope this helps.