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optimum heel angle

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I've heard that when sailing upwind many sailors try to keep their boat at an optimum angle of heel and adjust their sail's shape and trim to keep it there. Is this an efficient way to sail upwind? If so, how do you determine a boat's optimum heel angle?


My expierience

From everything I've read and tried 20 degrees of heel is the most you should heel the boat over. Beyond that point you loose sail efficiency and the rudder is not as effective due to the change in angle in relation to the surface of the water. I perosonally don't go over 15. Mainly because in the past I found if I run at the edge there is little room for mistakes. Not heeled over too far leaves time to compensate for unexpected wind gust that will heel you over. If your boat has a retractable keel some models require you not to heel them over too far as the keel is your main balast and when heeled over can actually raise up changing your center of gravity. My old Catalina 22 was like that. Hopefully this answers your question.


Sail flat sail fast

Sail with the most amount of sail whilst trying to keep her as flat as you can means more speed!

David Foster

Slower beyond 15 to 20 degrees

Some of us like the thrill, but it is slower. One reason if the increased weather helm that means higher rudder drag, and mork strain for the helmsman. Other issues are less efficient hull shape (for many boats, anyway) and increased leeway as the keel is less effective. We reef if the wind drives us consistently beyond 15 degrees, and are faster and more comfortable when we do. David Lady Lillie


A wing keel is really a lot harder to sail ...

than a fin ... you actually have a very narrow angle of heel that makes the wing "WORK HARD". On the Oday 272 17 to 22 degrees seem to work best and that is upwind sailing no matter what the wind speed is. The wing has to bite as best it can and that means the wing has to be working ... and that is only at say 15 to 22 degrees. under and over that it seems to side slip more than work. Test it by moving crew to leaward and you will see if it points better in light air with a forced heel leaward. Took me a couple of months last winter to figure this out on Seven. Whatever you do ... you don't get closer to heaven sailing a wing flat upwind. Of course there are days where a little side slip may mean more VMG than sailing flater. This is why you need to keep an eye on the GPS data and on whatever boat you sail you have to figure out at what point side slip degrades VMG. on a fin keel you have to do the same study to see at what point side slip starts to drop VMG. Fins seem to like a little heel as well to make the sail pull a little better in light air. Vic

ken matejka


I have found that exceeding 20 degrees of heel in my deep keel 28.5 will cause precipitous drop in the VMG as calculated by my GPS when going to weather. 20 does not appear to be slower than 15 using this method. I put more twist in both the main and the genny to reduce heel first. Will reef before changing headsail if the twist will not keep her less than 20. Also, tightening up the backstay adjuster will really help to reduce heel by flattening both the main and genny.
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