SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Sheet Lead

February 24, 2014

Dave was working on a customer's boat one day when he needed to move the genny car out of his way. The customer, who had traveled tens of thousands of miles over 15 years of cruising, said, "Oh, I don't think that moves anymore."
Dave was astonished. "Then how do you adjust your sheet lead?"
"When would I need to do that?"
Without adjusting your sheet lead, it's impossible to trim your sails for all sailing conditions. With the increased use of roller furling, it becomes even more important, since you can "change headsails" much more easily now. But when you do, you must change your sheet lead.

One of the easiest sail trimming mistakes to avoid is over-sheeting, if you remember the phrase, "When in doubt, let it out." Let the sheet out until the sail just begins to luff and then bring it in until it stops. But what happens if part of the sail is set perfectly but another part of it is luffing? That is a good indication that your sheet lead needs to be adjusted.


Pulling equally on both the leech and the foot is usually what you want.

The block that turns your headsail sheet on its way to your winch can be moved to improve your sail shape and performance. At the simplest level, what you are trying to do is bisect the angle that is formed at the clew of your sail. If you were to follow the line your sheet creates upward onto the sail it should split the clew angle in half. You will know you have the sheet lead correct when the leech and the foot of the sail both break, or start to luff, at the same time. This is an indication that the sheet is pulling equally on the leech and the foot. If the foot of the sail breaks first, you need to move the sheet lead AFT so that it is pulling more directly on the foot to prevent it from luffing. Similarly, if the leech of the sail luffs before the foot, the sheet lead needs to be moved FORWARD to pull down more on the leech.

Once you get the sheet lead perfect, however, your work is not done. The sheet lead will need to be adjusted with each different headsail, of course, but it will also need to be changed if you fly the headsail slightly furled. This alters the shape of the sail, moving the clew, and therefore requiring a change in the sheet lead. Generally speaking, a slightly furled headsail will need the sheet lead moved FORWARD to accommodate this change in the direction of the angle of the clew.


Becuase we are so far off the wind, our genny sheet is led way back to the cockpit.

There are times when we do not want the sheet pulling equally on the leech and the foot. When sailing off the wind, for example, it is best to put a little "belly" in the sail, to let the foot out farther. This can be accomplished by moving the sheet lead FORWARD which pulls on the leech but allows the foot to be a bit slack and hold more wind. When sailing closer to the wind, you will want to flatten the sail to give it more upwind power. To do this, adjust the sheet lead so that the foot is being pulled tight and flattened. This means moving the sheet lead AFT.

When we trim our headsail and either the foot or the leach sets nicely but the other is still luffing, rather than pulling the sail in more, we know that the sheet lead needs to be adjusted. That is the easiest way to avoid being guilty of over-sheeting. Often we have to tack to take the pressure off the leeward block so we can move it, since we don't have a track. Even boats with genny tracks often benefit from removing the load before moving the car. Just as you wouldn't sail with your headsail flogging from being under-sheeted, don't let a bad sheet lead make you over-sheet.

Portions previously published in Blue Water Sailing

There has been a lot of talk in the sailing community lately about the woes of returning to a more land-based life, or even just back to life in your mother country after being away for so long. MONDAY we'll share some of the shocks you can expect, and some advice for surviving them.

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