PLATU Sailing Manual

An entry level guide to Platu Sailing


The author is by no means an experienced racing sailor which probably takes more than 20 years racing to accomplish. But having been alongside such experienced sailors for 8 years with a regular team he has been able to put together a collection of information which should help newcomers to the sport of One Design  racing on a Platu.

This book does not give detailed sail trim or tactical wisdom but is intended to provide general information so that newcomers can move forwards more easily. Team work and general boat discipline are an important stepping stone towards a winning crew.

There are many excellent books, and the internet of course, to provide precise sail trim and tactical wizardry but getting  the boat and crew sailing as one, is the necessary first step. With 5 crew working in a small area it is vital that everyone knows their own job and does not interfere with anyone else’s.  There will always be small problems happening but such emergencies should be dealt with in a calm, efficient manner and screaming instructions at the poor sole trying to repair the situation does not help. Be patient.

Winning races is fun, but, “trying to win”, is surely the real source of such fun.

If you win, you sailed well , if you did not win,  you sailed well but someone who did not sail as well as you did, got a lucky shift !!

Exaggerations and telling bad luck stories at the bar afterwards are all part of the fun and the importance of these should not be minimised.

Read on ……

This manual is in the following sections

Paperwork-Strategy-Foredeck-Jib Trimmer-Main Trimmer-Spinnaker work-Halyards-Helmsman-Wind.


The regatta is advertised, usually on a web site, in advance, by way of a Notice of Race ( NOR’s).   Sailing instructions (SI’s) are usually given to all entrants at the event.

Notice of Race NOR’s. This is an advert for the event outlining




Including ability or not of SI’s to change the NOR’s











Sailing Instructions  SI’s contain details of

















HOW MANY RACES. Minimum and maximum



Skippers briefing

This is a talk by the organisers before racing starts to enable entrants to question any of the written instructions It is also an opportunity for the race officer to give a general discussion about courses and procedures. This is a casual discussion and in the event of a protest the written instructions take precedence over any verbal instructions. Any changes required to the NOR’s or SI’s as a result of this meeting would be confirmed in writing within the time limits laid down in the written instructions and on a designated notice board.

NOTE….It is vital that one person on board is fully conversant with all the details given and that a copy of the NOR’s and SI’s are on board.   


This is the basic plan for the race based on information before the race. Wind strength, tide, start line position in relation to the wind direction and possibly regatta points compared to the main competition, all contribute to strategy.

Start procedure

Get out onto the race course as soon as you can. Get onto the wind, set the sails, jib cars, jib barbers, halyards, main  sheet etc. Once you are up to speed mark the sheets for quick setting later. Hoist the spinnaker to make sure everything is rigged properly and all crew know their jobs. Mark the spinnaker halyard at full hoist and pole topping lift when horizontal. Drop the kite slowly and tidily. Make sure one person keeps watching the time so that you are near the start line at least 7 minutes before your start. This gives you time to check the start line and wind angle and form a starting strategy. Time a run of the line on starboard at full speed. At five minutes check all flags and course numbers on the committee boat.

Someone needs to be fully conversant with the contents of the NOR’s and the SI’s( see section on paperwork.) However instructions given on the committee boat show course numbers, class starting order and other vital details. Information is given by sounds, flying of flags or numbers on placards. There may also be information given by radio communication from the race officer. During the race there may be course change instructions by flags and sounds. The tactician can do this job but sometimes it is given to one other person so that the tactician is free to concentrate on race matters and the actual 5 minute pre start tactics.

Appoint one member of the crew to be responsible to see that your boat is on time for the start and that the committe boat flags, corse boards etc have all been checked at the 5 minute signal.

MOST IMPORTANT, be near to the start area at least 7 minutes before your start time.


These are the decisions made during the race according to wind direction and strength changes, plus activity and proximity of the other boats. The tactician should be allowed time to be looking all over the course to decide tactics and not be too involved with other jobs. Perhaps being on main trim is his best position, it is also next to the helm so that instructions are easily transmitted. Sometimes the tactician may like to hear information from others, sometimes not. Crews vary, but essentially the tactician makes all the decisions. The helm should be concentrating on steering and not much else.

Many factors dictate tactics. Wind strength varies over the course, other boats may shield the wind from you, port and starboard situations have to be considered. In big fleets clear air is important. Another tactic is to drive the boat up for direction or down for speed to gain a better position against other boats and this is decided by the tactician.

Wind predictions. Calling the wind is an important part of tactic decisions but the job of reading the wind is not usually done by the tactician but usually falls to someone else such as the jib trimmer, halyards or foredeck guy.


Foredeck is responsible for all that happens in front of the mast and in particular, raising and lowering the spinnaker , jibing the spinnaker pole and looking after the Jib drops and lifts. Because he sits the furthest forwards, prestart,  he should keep the crew informed of the position of the boat in relation to the start line. He will also look out for obstacles in the water ahead of the boat and as with all crew, watch out for starboard tack boats.

Before and during racing whenever there is time, foredeck, as with all crew, should take a look at his equipment to make sure it is ‘ready to go’ ( housekeeping). Make sure the pole topping lift and downhaul are outside the jib sheets. Test it by lifting it a couple of feet and check that the topping lift and downhaul are not twisted around the pole. Check that the guy is in the jaw of the pole. Check the spinnaker sheet; that it is outside everything on port and starboard and not caught into the jib securing elastics etc. It is easy to make mistakes but a simple check avoids disaster later.

Do all these checks before the race but also quietly recheck as much as possible a few minutes before each mark rounding without disturbing the boat.  It is also a good idea to hoist the kite before a race to check everything is in order.

Hold on up there…Remember that if the foredeck goes swimming that’s really SLOW. Hold onto something rigid with one hand and use the other to do the job. Or press yourself against the mast or shroud to maintain balance to use two hands. Do not step onto the jib or jib sheet at any time as it will slide across the deck underneath you and unbalance you.

It may only take 3 hours to learn the foredeck procedures but it can take 3 years to learn all the things that can go wrong and how to get out of them quickly!

During the 5 minute prestart.

Watch out for all other boats and inform the cockpit of any dangers. During the last few seconds “call” the start line proximity to avoid being over the line before the start gun. Agree some hand signals with the helm because he will not hear you with all the prestart shouting that goes on.

 After the starting signal.

For the first few minutes after the start, in good wind, concentrate on hiking as hard as possible. A good fast start is essential to all races, especially in a One Design fleet. For the rest of the leg up to the windward mark foredeck has only to hike hard and cross the boat smoothly through the tacks. You do not have much room to cross so practising a smooth transition is important. You must work in conjunction with the halyards crew who also has to cross on the small space of the cockpit top. The other job is to look out for obstacles in the water ahead. Only call anything that the boat might hit, do not describe debris that you would miss anyway. Be clear and simple with the call..”bag in the water directly ahead at 50 metres”  etc.

At the windward mark..for a normal bear away set.

As soon as it is clear that the boat is on its last tack to the windward mark and that no more tacks will be needed, about 4 or 5  boat lengths away raise the spinnaker pole and set it on the mast. Remember to shout “made” when it is secure.

The cockpit crew will get the kite out of the bag and pre-guy the chute by pulling on the guy. Foredeck can help pull as well . In light winds pre-guy all the way to the pole but in heavy airs halfway is probably all that’s safe to prevent the wind getting into the kite. Skipper or tactician will call the hoist . Foredeck will be on the halyard. The halyard should be pre marked to indicate full hoist to avoid having to look up to check. Shout ‘made’ when fully up and cleated. Cockpit crew need to get the sheet on as quickly as possible to get the kite flying and the pole will probably want to be brought back at the same time. Depending on wind strength and direction we will need the pole almost at right angles to the boat to sail almost dead downwind, but in light winds the pole may be forwards to sail angles.

While they set the pole and kite, cockpit will release the jib halyard and foredeck pulls the jib down onto the deck.Wind strength determines if securing elastics are needed or not for the jib.

Once the kite is flying the tactician will decide what course to sail, which may be to continue on or Jibe.

At the windward mark..for a jibe set

If the wind has changed direction sufficiently or if the tactician wants to get the boat into clear air it is sometimes necessary to ‘jibe-set’.

This involves lifting the kite as normal on the port side but without the guy in the jaws of the pole. The pole is not used during the hoist. Once the kite is flying the pole is then put onto the spinnaker sheet and the mast making sure it is over the jib sheets. A quick release shackle on the topping lift helps to quickly sort out any mishaps from this operation.

The Jibe                                                                                                                                 

For a jibe we turn the boat almost dead down wind, bring the pole back, to 90 degrees  and cockpit crew will bring in the sheet barber hauler and have the kite flying at 90 degrees to the boat and under control. Cockpit need to fly the kite well forwards to prevent the main from blanketing it and also to give foredeck enough rope to push the pole forwards and back onto the mast after jibing. We can’t jibe if the boat is being disturbed by a big wave or wind gust taking the kite sideways. As soon as we are under full control skipper will shout ‘trip’ and foredeck will jibe the pole. Stand behind the pole facing forwards and  take the pole off the mast, release the existing guy(spinnaker sheet) , grab the new guy and put it into the jaws, push the pole forwards and put the back end of the pole onto the mast. Call ‘made’ when this is complete. Skipper waits for the call and then jibes the main and resets his new course… cockpit will usually reset the pole to whatever angle it was before the jibe.

While not in action foredeck should sit down where needed. Forwards in light airs further back in heavy airs. To leeward in light airs and on the windward rail for reaching to keep the boat flat.

The Drop to leeward on starboard tack ( ie pole on starboard side of the forestay)

About 6 boat lengths before the leeward mark the jib goes up but is not ‘sheeted on’ until the pole is on the deck safely outside the jib sheets. To drop the kite, cockpit will pull in the sheet barber hauler, take hold of the sheet, cockpit will let go of the guy completely making sure it is free to run, cockpit crew will gather in all the foot of the kite and then foredeck will let the halyard go making sure the halyard is free to run without any knots in it. If a knot is seen, put the halyard into the cleat and untangle the knot before releasing the halyard again. This prevents a knot jamming into the cleat which is almost impossible to untangle.. Foredeck should drop the halyard in unison with the kite coming down. During the drop foredeck can take the pole off the mast and then drop it onto the deck outside the jib sheets. Either foredeck or halyards will release the topping lift for this pole drop depending on who has time.

The guy remains in the jaws of the pole throughout. Foredeck then makes sure the jib is inside the pulpit rail (fenced) before going to hike on the rail ready for the upwind leg.

The Drop to windward on port tack ( ie the pole is on the port side of the forestay)

The pole has to come off before the drop. Cockpit crew will pull in the sheet barber hauler and will hold the guy as far out of the boat as possible acting like a ‘human pole’. Foredeck will then release the pole from the mast and release the guy from the jaws. The pole then needs to be dropped onto the deck outside the jib sheets. To do this the front of the pole has to go behind the jib leech before it can be pushed forwards and onto the deck. It is essential for this that the pole downhaul is fully released to give the foredeck enough backwards movement to get behind the jib leech. It is also vital that the jib sheet is not pulled on until the pole is on the deck. (If the pole is on starboard this is not a problem as the pole is already on the outside of the jib sheets.) Usually cockpit helps by operating the spin pole topping lift but they must wait until foredeck says so. or they can clearly see the pole over the deck. Dropping early while the front of the pole is still outside the boat will result in the front of the pole dropping into the water and that’s not fast. Foredeck should then replace the guy into the pole jaw and ‘fence’ the jib ready for the windward leg. There is very little time for these jobs because skipper will be wanting everybody on the rail immediately after, or during, the rounding. Once on the rail and the boat settled down, foredeck should find the spinnaker halyard and secure it, under tension, in front of the spreaders with either tape or some other retention method on the shrouds ie the D1. Whatever method is used it must self release when the halyard is pulled on.


It usually befalls foredeck to carry a small tool bag (bum bags are good for this). Carry one or two shackles, a knife, a screwdriver, pointed nose pliers, tools to adjust the shrouds (18/19 mm open ended spanner and some small vice grips), sail repair tape, needle and thread, binding twine, electrical tape, broad felt tip pen pencil etc.

This may sound a lot but in fact the tools can be very small and fit easily into a standard size bum bag.

The boat should be well prepared so that spare parts are not necessary but the above list will get you out of most small emergencies. The pencil is to write notes onto the deck quickly and the felt tip marks sheets and halyard settings. Each crew member has his own specific jobs and swopping around is very slow. The rest is just practise and time on the water with a regular crew.



Let me remind you that this book is intended as a general procedure guide and in no way pretends to give sail trim details. These are readily available on the web or books.

As with all positions on the boat,  being aware of wind speed and direction is most important. In heavy airs speed of movement and hiking are vital whereas in light airs crew must balance the boat with their weight according to an agreed plan and movements must be precise and controlled to avoid disturbing the boat and the sails.

It is obviously normal for the jib trimmer to be the first to leave the rail so that he can be in the centre of the boat and able to reach both jib sheets and trim the active sheet as the wind changes. In very light winds more crew will need to go down to leeward.

The jib trimmer should at all times be hiking hard when the wind demands. Skipper will call for a ‘tack’ and the jib trimmer is the only one to move. Once established in the centre if the boat with a winch handle on the new winch and the winch ‘loaded’ he should be ready to release the existing jib sheet and pull in the new sheet. At this time he calls “ready” which is the signal for the helm to tack the boat and the rest of the crew to change sides. Release the existing jib sheet and pull on the new one. Once set move quickly to the windward rail and hike. Do not delay to store a winch handle or load the new winch, these things can be done once the boat is up to speed with everyone hiking.

In heavy airs the jib sheet may be crossed winched so that the sheet is on the windward winch and can be adjusted without the trimmer leaving the rail.

In light airs the trimmer may already be ‘inside the boat’ .ie weight to leeward. In this case speed is not so important and the tack should be made as smoothly as possible so as not to disturb  the boat. In this instance the jib may be left in a low gear setting for a few seconds until top speed is reached before it is pulled into its regular low air setting.

In very light airs the boat should be roll tacked. All crew should pull the new leeward side down into the tack and then, moving as one , ‘press’ onto the new windward side before moving back to their previous positions for light airs. This takes time for a crew to master but is most important and advantageous.

During the 5 minutes pre start the jib will be trimmed to course . The skipper will call for, bear away, full speed, stop, jibe , come into wind etc and the trimmer should be aware and trim to the required course. Usually winch handles are not needed and it’s best that the trimmer stays amid ships with both sheets to hand.

It should be understood that the jib is similar to gears on a car. We use a low gear to start and go up the gears as we gain speed. This is the same on a yacht.

The jib is left ‘loose’ for low gear starting and pulled in as the speed builds up. Leaving the jib out gives the sail more power for starting and driving through choppy water. It needs to be fully in for max speed and height once the boat is up to speed.

Going downwind the jib trimmer may be called on for one of several jobs and this depends on each individual crew.  Do not fall into the trap of thinking the downwind leg is the time for a rest. World champions will tell you that they often work harder downwind than upwind.

 MAIN TRIMMER         

It is the main trimmer’s job to keep the boat upright or at least in a controlled 15 degree heel. Anticipating a strong gust will allow the trimmer to release the main sheet, or traveller, just as the extra power hits the sail, and prevent excessive heeling of the boat. In a perfect world the sheet is released just the right amount so that there is no change in heeling angle. Once the gust has passed the sheet is pulled back on.

It must also be understood that the mainsail is helping to steer the boat forwards and consequently if a change of direction is needed the main sheet must be let out or pulled in accordingly. The helmsman cannot bear away unless the main sheet is released. Conversely the boat cannot get height if the main sheet is not pulled on enough. Whenever possible the boom should be in line with the centre of the boat for maximum height.

During the pre start the main trimmer must be very active and follow instructions from the helm who will be making many changes in direction and speed. Keep aware of the general situation and try to anticipate what the helm will do next.

Once the start gun  has gone the main trimmer should leave the main sheet and get on the rail and hike. The Helmsman is able to control the main using the traveller and this is usually all that is needed for the first few minutes of a race when speed is an essential part of getting a good position in relation to the rest of the fleet. Obviously this does not apply in very light airs when weight is not needed on the windward rail.

During a tack in normal to heavy airs the main trimmer should move across the boat in unison with the helmsman and other crew members. In very light airs a roll tack may be called for . Crew weight is put onto the new leeward side during the tack to pull the boat around and then in unison the crew ‘press’ their weight onto the new windward side to roll into the new tack. Crew weight then returns to the normal light air position to keep the boat heeling to leeward.

As with all crew members, learn to be aware of increase and decrease in wind strength as well as a change of wind direction. This affects how you move on the boat, your position on the boat and your adjustment to the main sheet trim. ( see wind section of this manual)

Downwind there is no fixed job for the main trimmer. This is up to each boat to decide who goes where. You may be trimming the spinnaker or the pole etc.



The downwind leg is every bit as important as the upwind leg and there are big gains to be made if sufficient effort is made.

Each job is allocated to one crew member but this can vary boat to boat as to who does what. The following is a description of all the jobs to be done by the cockpit crew.

During the final approach to the mark the pole will be put into position on the mast and a shout of ‘made’ indicates that the spinnaker can be pulled out of its bag and pre guyed to the end of the pole. In heavy airs it is difficult to control the spinnaker and to prevent it ‘escaping’ it is prudent to pre-guy to only halfway to the pole end.

One person, ‘halyards’  will be helping the spinnaker out of the bag and holding it to the deck and the kite trimmer will be pulling on the guy. In heavy airs complete the pre-guy up to the pole jaw during the raising of the spinnaker.

At the relevant time the skipper or tactician will call for the ‘hoist’ and as soon as the foredeck has pulled the halyard to its limit he shouts ‘made’ and that is the signal for the cockpit crew to pull the pole back to its predetermined position and pull the sheet ‘on’ to fill the sail.

Halyards will then drop the jib and foredeck will tidy it away.

The Spinnaker trimmer should be constantly trimming to accommodate wind changes in velocity and direction and the boat’s course changes. Try to keep the luff just at the point of curling, but too much curl reduces the effective sail area. One other crew member should help by trimming the pole to every change . It is essential that the spinnaker trimmer works close to the helm and discusses the power in the sail. With good power the boat can go down but in the lulls it must come up to keep air in the sail and maintain speed.

When running almost downwind the pole should be adjusted to be at right angles to the wind and each clew maintained at the same height. The pole can be moved backwards and forwards by using the guy and the downhaul in unison. To lift the pole the topping lift and downhaul must be used in unison.

The guy barber hauler should be pulled in and the sheet barber hauler released except when needed to keep more control in rough seas or to keep the sheet from rubbing on the boom, or just before a jibe.

There is a ratchet on the forward blocks and this is to control the easing of the sheet in medium to heavy airs. In light airs this ratchet can be turned off. In very heavy airs it may be necessary to load the sheet round a winch and have someone grind when the trimmer needs to pull in the sheet. This is also necessary to adjust the guy in heavy airs, especially  on a shy reach. BE CAREFUL, IN ANYTHING BUT LIGHT AIRS- TENSION ON THE GUY IS SUCH THAT IT CANNOT BE CONTROLLD BY HAND. IT MUST BE ROUND A WINCH. THE FURTHER FORWARD THE POLE THE MORE TENSION IS ON IT. THIS IS SERIOUS !!

Crew weight downwind should be forward in light airs and back in heavy airs and on the windward rail on a shy reach.

Jibing.                                                                                                                                                                This is often thought to be a difficult, error prone maneuver but taken step by step should be as easy as tacking.

As soon as the call is made to prepare to jibe, the boat should be steered almost dead downwind and the pole brought back to 90 degrees to the boat. Bring in the sheet barber hauler. The next call is ‘trip’ and the pole will be taken off the mast, the guy released from the pole jaws, the new guy put into the jaws and the pole is pushed forwards so that the back end can be clipped onto the mast ring. As soon as this is done the foredeck shouts ‘made’ and the boom is jibed over and the boat steered onto its new course. The pole is then reset to this new course and the sheet barber released.

The spinnaker trimmer should not try to jibe the kite but simply be holding both sheet and guy to fly the kite forwards and clear of the forestay. Pulling the new sheet on early will disturb the air flow and risk the spinnaker falling back onto the forestay. If the spinnaker is too tight the main sail will blanket the air flow and the spinnaker may collapse. Also the foredeck needs enough slack on the sheets to be able to push the pole forwards far enough to get the back end onto the mast.  So many times the inexperienced trimmer feels the need to “be doing something” and over trims and starts to pull on the sheet far too early. Only after the pole is on and the boom jibed over should the sheet be trimmed to the new course. In ‘downwind’ situations, same as upwind, the new course will be at the same angle as before the jibe. On a shy reach the boat turns through almost 90 degrees.  The pole trimmer should be aware of this and be ready to trim the pole to its new position. Most of the time the pole will be at the same angle to the mast as before the jibe.

Dropping the spinnaker.

About 6 boat lengths before the leeward mark the jib goes up but is not ‘sheeted on’ until after the pole is on the deck safely outside the jib sheets. To drop the kite, cockpit will pull in the sheet barber hauler, take hold of the sheet, cockpit will let go of the guy completely, cockpit crew will gather in all the foot of the kite and then foredeck will let the halyard go steadily and the kite drops easily into the bag inside the cabin. TIP, it helps the person pulling in the foot of the kite if the halyard is released about one metre before the foot is pulled together, then gradually release completely remembering to look down for any approaching knots. If the pole is on the portside before the drop, foredeck has to get rid of the pole before the drop and this involves the trimmer flying the kite without the pole for a short time. Someone can act as human pole to help. If the pole is on starboard, foredeck can drop the pole during the kite drop so it’s a lot easier. The way we normally rig the pole control lines it is vital that the pole goes on the outside of the jib sheets during the drop and this is more difficult when we have to drop the pole first. It is ‘impossible’ unless the downhaul is right off because the front of the pole has to come far enough back to come round the back of the jib and it’s sheets. In this instance it is also important that the jib sheet is not pulled on until the pole is on the deck.

If the pole is on starboard this is not a problem as the pole is already on the outside of the jib sheets. Usually cockpit helps by releasing the spin pole topping lift but they must wait until foredeck says so. Dropping early, while the pole front is outside the boat, will result in the front of the pole dropping into the water and that’s not fast. Foredeck should replace the guy into the pole jaw if necessary and fence the jib ready for the windward leg. There is very little time for these jobs because skipper will be wanting everybody on the rail during, the rounding. Once on the rail and the boat settled down, foredeck should find the spinnaker halyard and secure it, under tension, in front of the spreaders with either tape, or some other retention method,  on the shrouds  ie the D1.


This needs to be someone quick and agile, not only to perform his jobs but he needs to be able to cross the boat quickly without disturbance over the cabin top amidst fittings and ropes. He cannot cross via the cockpit area because this would restrict the jib trimmer at a most vital time.

Upwind halyards is responsible for tuning the vang, main cunningham, outhaul, jib cunningham and loading the winch with the jib sheet after each tack.

Downwind he will be helping the spinnaker out of the bag to help with preguy and then the hoist. He will adjust the operating height and angle of the spinnaker pole. He may  be needed to ‘sit’ on the boom and read the wind and position of other boats.  The backstay and outhaul should be released during the downwind leg. All these jobs are described in the various sections of this manual, relating to ‘cockpit crew.


It is not the place for this manual to give details of how to steer the boat but a general description of the helm’s job is offered. Check the web or find a good book.

It is not usually the job of the helm to be the crew boss or the tactician. The helm has to be able to concentrate on steering the boat and this does not allow time for talking to other crew or looking around for information. Neither does he want crew asking questions of him. Most helms like a ‘quiet‘ boat and the ability to concentrate on their job.

More especially with One Design racing, being one metre in front of another boat before the mark means you are at least 8 metres in front after it. Every inch of height and every decimal point of speed is vital for success. Just one degree off course during an upwind leg would translate into many boat lengths lost at the windward mark.

Some helms do like to be given full information about other boats on the track but this is a matter of personal taste. If the tactician is experienced enough the helm can be left alone to do his job and simply act on instructions from the tactician.

With experienced crew, a crew boss is not needed but during the early days of organising the team someone needs to be considering who does what to get the best out of the crew available. This job may fall to the helm because he is usually the most experienced person on board. But it also depends on each individuals own ability and being put in the job that suits them most. Given a choice between a 100 kilo or a 50 kilo foredeck or halyards crew does not take much debate!

Don’t worry that the helm takes all the credit for any wins and the crew take all the blame for any losses. That’s life, so get on with it and do as you are told.


When we first try our hand at sailing we maybe do not appreciate the importance of wind other than to say ‘not much wind’ or ‘good wind today’.

Unfortunately the wind is very rarely consistent in both speed and direction and these changes are at the heart of yacht racing. Being able to ‘read’ the wind and immediately register changes  is vital.

It takes time to be able to see these changes but it is important for new crew to concentrate on this aspect of  racing. When you start out there will usually be someone on the boat calling the wind changes. When you have time, try to understand what is being said and start to look at the water around you to see if you can make sense of the calls. Do not worry if you get it wrong , that’s how to learn to get it right. No one knows what you are thinking so no shame if you get it wrong. But practise makes perfect ( almost).

For the type of racing we do on the Platus the course is set so that the start line is at 90 degrees to the wind direction. If the wind stayed at this angle and stayed the same speed during a race it would be a  pretty boring racing. All boats could go where they wanted on the track and take the same amount of time to reach the top mark. It is the changes in direction and speed of the wind that makes yachting so much fun and so complicated and helps experienced crews reach the top mark first. ( tides are also important but not discussed here)

For new crew, being able to feel the strength of the wind is their first task. This let’s them move their body weight around the boat to maximise boat speed. Generally in light winds, weight needs to be forwards and spread across the boat in such a way to keep some heel on the boat to leeward. In heavy winds the crew would be further back in the boat and all hiking hard on the windward rail to prevent too much heel to leeward.

Windward is where the wind comes from and leeward is where it goes.

To ‘see’ the wind changes, look at the surface of the water in the direction the wind is coming from. Dark patches or lines indicate stronger wind on its way. These can be a general increase across the track or a gust which is large area of strong winds that will come and go quite quickly. A bullet is similar to a gust but is much stronger and concentrated in a small area. A bullet can miss you by a few feet and not affect the boat at all but if it’s going to hit you the crew and helm need to be ready to react.

Before a race the tactician will look at the race track to see if the wind is stronger on one side than the other . He will also look to see if the wind is a different direction on each side. He will have spent some time checking what the wind is doing and if there is a pattern he can perhaps predict the next change.

During a race it is important to look at all the other boats and check their speed and direction . This tells the tactician what the wind is doing in front of him so he can change course accordingly.

So, next time you are on the water begin to concentrate on the wind and it’s changes. Constantly be aware of increase or decrease in wind strength and be ready to move your weight accordingly. There  is usually a windex on top of the mast with an arrow showing where the wind is coming from so this can be a useful guide for the beginner.


This is intended as a beginners guide to sail trim, setting out the very basics.

It is useful to watch other boats and check their settings, especially the boats going faster than you !!

Go out on the course before a race and set up your sails according to the existing wind strength.

Remember to have crew hiking if necessary while doing this. Mark these base settings on sheets and halyards etc.


 Jib Halyard

In light winds minimal luff or halyard tension is required and you should see ‘scalloping’ between the hanks of between 10 and 15mm . The sail needs to be full to generate as much forward drive as possible.

As the wind strengthens you tighten the jib halyard, ie the luff. Older sails will require more luff tension than new sails. This can be done to some extent with the jib cunningham. Do not forget to let off the jib cunningham before raising the halyard again, after a drop otherwise you will restrict the hoist.

Jib Cars

In very light winds, of say 0-3 knots, the car will be at the base setting to allow the head to twist and promote air flow around the sail. 3-5 knots move the jib cars slightly forward to tension, control the leech thus increasing power.

As the wind increases over 10 knots the car will be moved aft to flatten the sail and allow the stronger air to flow across the sail.

NB there is a precise way to set the “base setting” but for the purposes of this manual be content that this is the positon of the car when the jib is set in 3-5 knots with the lower leech telltales flying and the top telltale flicking up 50% of the time.

Jib barber haulers

These pull the jib into the boat and give the boat more height.

As the wind increases the barbers can be let out gradually. Usually the helm will help make the call to release the barber to keep the helm neutral and speed to a maximum.

Jib tellales

Watch the telltales at all times.

Inside telltales up, pull the jib in. Inside telltales down let the jib out. Outside telltales up, let the jib out Outside telltales down, pull the jib in. In strong winds the inside telltales with fly up slightly at the correct setting.



The mainsheet controls the top batten (and basic depth of the main) and this should be set parallel to the boom except in very strong winds when power needs to be spilled. Usually this is set prior to racing and the sheet marked at the cleat for quick setting later.

Check that the lower telltales are flying horizontal but that the upper telltale flys away vertical about 50% of the time.

Normally small pressure changes are dealt with by using the main sheet traveller to keep the boat upright but in stronger winds it is necessary to let the main sheet off to get enough adjustment. With the main sheet marked it is easy to reset the main sheet tension to its predetermined position.

For quick bear aways to “duck” other boats it is ESSENTIAL to release the main sheet otherwise the helm cannot steer the boat. Make sure the mainsheet can be reached AT ALL TiMES.


This controls the depth of the mainsail. Less outhaul in light winds to get more power from the main.

Increase outhaul with increase in pressure to flatten the sail and allow faster airflow across it.


The vang controls the head of the sail. Downwind using the vang pulls the top of the main across to collect more wind but be ready to release it in strong gusts to prevent it pulling the top of the mast over.


The backstay bends the middle of the mast forwards and flattens the mainsail. This helps de-power the sail in strong winds.

Main cunningham

This allows quick and easy tension adjustment to the front edge of the mainsail to accommodate pressure changes. Pull it on as pressure increases. Remember to release it before resetting the main halyard.


Set the pole at right angles to the wind.

Keep the two corners of the spinnaker at the same height and the central seam of the sail vertical.

Trim the sheet so that the leading edge of the sail has a constant curl of about 6 inches. This confirms that the trim is not too tight.

In very light winds keep some of the crew forwards and down to leeward.

In very strong winds the crew should move to the rear of the boat and to windward.

BE CAREFULwhen resetting the spinnaker guy in strong winds there is a tremendous amount of pressure in it. It MUST be round a winch.



I hope this manual helps someone get started in this great sport.

The feeling of being one part of a happy, organised crew is one to work hard for.

The Platu is a relatively small area for 5 crew, but with time and practise it gives a chance for all the crew to be an important part of the action and not just ‘rail meat’ as may be the case with bigger boats. Working closely in harmony with the rest of the crew can give great satisfaction. Always remember that any mishaps should not be considered anyone’s fault but should simply be dealt with in an efficient calm manner. Apportioning blame is one sure way to create an unhappy SLOW boat.

So get out there on the water and enjoy yourself.

Authors note

If anyone has anything to add to this manual to make it more useful please do not hesitate to contribute. This is manual is gradually fine tuned by comment from beginners and experienced sailors alike.

Send comments to [email protected]    thankyou.

Kev Scott   Ferret News Jan 2012 …..updated 11th Feb 2016, edition 4

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