Sailing by the lee

Text: Hawk (ldewell.hawker) – Photos & images: Petra

The new Quest 2m Mesh version

Sailing by the lee is when the wind is coming over the same back corner of the boat as the side the mainsail is on. As opposed to a broad reach the wind is coming over the windward quarter and the mainsail is on the leeward side. 

Broad Reach (left) By the Lee (right)

First, in RL sailing, a sail will gybe when the wind pass over the boom from the windward to the lee side, in SL most of the boats gybe ONLY when the sail passes over the stern.

In general terms “Lee sailing” presents a very dangerous situation with unintended gybes. The term ‘sailing by the lee’ was developed around Lasers and Windsurfers in European race circles. Whom used the tactic to control downwind sailing without rapid gybes, especially in waves and stronger winds.

Done properly (might add with some risk) can offer a speed boost. A laser sailor moves his sail past 90 degrees tightens the outhaul and forces the wind over the leach of a sail, sheets to keep it there (speed increases and the apparent wind changes), and at the same time tips the hull windward to reduce the ‘wetted’ surface and raises the clew of the sail.

Windsurfers typically with more control over the mast position (since it is a joint and can articulate forward or back) and roll the board windward with their feet and keep a delicate balance between wind passing over the leech and losing control and off for a “quick dip” as a gybe occurs. They call it ‘clew first sailing’.

Normally, boats that have shrouds do not ‘sail by the lee’ as you can’t get the sail past 90 degrees! However, past 90 degrees is only one criteria.

There are several small boats with shrouds that have managed the task, however if you have a fixed keel or heavily ballasted keel, you cannot roll the boat windward to gain speed very easily, and if you do, and the wind shifts… you may broach! And, believe me that isn’t fun! Or is if you are wing on wing, with a ‘whisker pole’ and it won’t clear the shrouds in a gybe – well… take my word for it – unwrapping it in the shrouds, and the almost broach is quite exciting – oh, btw your race is over at that point!

So why even mention this!

Well, the Quest 2M Mesh version has two new features that an avid sailor can control: A working outhaul, which will change the shape of the sail to make it fuller for lighter wind and flatter for higher winds. You get to move the outhaul to increase efficiency and thus speed for the sailor whom want the max performance.

Loosened out-haul giving a loose foot of sail (fuller sail)
Tightened out-haul giving a tight foot of sail (flatter sail)

You can watch the foot (bottom) of the sail move to the movement of the outhaul and note efficiency gain. The second feature is that the sail will now gybe when the wind passes over the boom, not the stern of the boat.

Sailing By-the-Lee

That brings into play a warning on the HUD that you have entered ‘lee sailing’ as you head down wind near the gybe point.

NOW, well you can now play with four variables if in ‘Lee sailing mode’ and get a speed boost: (1) outhaul, (2) wind angle and (3) wing on wing, and rudder (bow down or up) to keep efficiency and combined you are getting a ‘sailing by the lee effect’!

Yup, no firm rule EXCEPT that adjustments 1,2 and 3 must be in place as well as ‘lee sailing mode’ on the hud. Rudder adjustments are to keep it there and need to practice and get the fastest VMC (Velocity made Course). If you are being shadowed….you must adjust to the varied apparent wind shifts with rudder adjustments.

Hint: The best measure that show total effect is the sail efficiency.

Sailing with the jib winged out to the opposite side of the boat as the mainsail

Now, it can be noted in some circumstance even though fastest downwind VMC is in this mode, it may not be the best choice as the finish line or mark position you are headed for in ‘lee mode’ may not put you into position without a gybe to reach it, or some physical feature like an island can interfere with holding it!

Practice is needed…. reward gain about 1 Knot downwind in VMC

Loosened out-haul showing a rounded leech of mainsail (fuller sail)
Tightened out-haul showing a tighter leech of mainsail (flatter sail)



7 thoughts on “Sailing by the lee”

  1. I would like to clarify 1 comment here.
    When the wind passes the stern if the boat the boom will NOT gybe right away as it did in the past ( huge thx to Craig Ktaba for all the help with this along with the main sheet coding).
    Now when the wind and boom are on the same side of the boat you will get the HUD warning. This does NOT mean you are “sailing by the lee” yet, only that you are in a lee condition and CAN provided the 2 other criteria are met, those being that you have the jib winged and the outhaul is fully tightened regardless of the current wind speed.
    What this does is turn the leech of the sail into the luff.
    This probably couldn’t be done on a square top sail in RL, but WTH we’re talking about SL here 😃

  2. Interesting article, I’m so looking forward to the release of this update to the 2m. It will be interesting to see how quick and how many racers adapt the technique at my Q

  3. Sorry, hit the enter key by mistake above and hadn’t finished the post, don’t see a way to edit it. I was going to say at my Q 2m races.

    On controlling the shape of the sail, this is also done in Expert mode on the Flying Fizz, JG 44, and I think Victor’s Dragon, and to some extent on the RM 12. It will be good to see this added to another boat, it adds to the realism and excitement of the race.

    @Bea, no, sailing by the lee is not the same as wing and wing but it looks like wing and wing it needed to do it. In other words you can sail wing and wing and not be sailing by the lee, as happens with many boats in sl now.

  4. Thank you Justin. Got it. I also found many articles when googling for it.
    “Abattée” is the word in french. “En ciseaux” (scissors) is for wing-and-wing 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s