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Max Ebb — Will You Still Luff Me Tomorrow?

“We need to twist off the main,” I shouted to the mainsail trimmer as I struggled with the helm to keep the boat from rounding up in another strong gust. “Trav up and ease sheet! We’re overpowered!”

The weather had pulled a bait-and-switch. The day began clear and warm with just a hint of a mild winter sea breeze, a welcome change from a summer of high wind and fog. But then the afternoon wind filled in as if it were still August, and we were caught with the big jib up and another mile to the weather mark.

“This feels much better,” I confirmed after the adjustments had been made and the top of the main was luffing. “I’m back in control.”

“But like, we’re going slow,” complained Lee Helm. “Luffing equals drag.”

Lee is a grad student studying naval architecture at the university, and she usually races on much newer and faster boats than mine. But when the day begins with too little wind for her kiteboard and there’s a free lunch in the deal, sometimes she’ll come out and call tactics for me. She’s usually right about lift and drag.

“What else can we do?” I asked. “Not enough time on this leg to reef.”

Max Ebb - Luff
If you don’t get the leech right, you can look at a lot of transoms, and that’s a drag.
© 2021 Chris Ray

“That’s not very fast either,” she said. “Shorter span, more induced drag. We need to, like, blade out the top of the main and put it to sleep.”

“Wouldn’t that have the same effect as reefing?” I asked. “If the sail is only loaded on the bottom two thirds, won’t that be the same as reefing?”

“The top of the main still works as a span extension, ’cause it, like, prevents the tip vortex from forming. Faster than reefing, and much faster than letting the top part luff. But we have to make the top of the main really flat.”

“Also, let’s straighten the headstay so we get a flatter jib,” suggested the jib trimmer. “Can we get more backstay tension?”

“That will just bend the mast more, and the headstay will go slack,” the mainsail trimmer pointed out. “But we can move the jib cars back to put more twist in the jib.”

“Do it,” I said to the jib trimmer, thinking that adding the tackle for in-flight adjustment of the jib leads a few weeks ago had been a good upgrade.

Read on in November’s Latitude 38 to find out if Max was right.

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