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The “Death Zone” and Big Wind!

IMO, the short answer to gaining confidence in high winds is:

Point your boat downwind, trim all three sails for max power, sit as far astern as possible (either on the windward tramp or on the main hull), and go for it. MOST IMPORTANT: When you feel like your are getting in trouble, i.e. the leeward ama bow starts to bury, BEAR OFF. Bruce mentioned that many monohull sailors want to head up to de-power. This is a mistake in a multi-hull when heading downwind. Heading up actually increases the apparent wind thereby increasing the power and causing you to cartwheel over the leeward bow. Bearing off lessens the apparent wind and allows you to keep the boat under the mast. Once you have done this successfully a few times, your confidence will go way up and you will start heating her up and bearing off with a big grin on your face as you try to see past the water on your dark glasses.

So remember, to gain confidence, head downwind and when it starts to feel dicey, BEAR OFF. All will be forgiven and you will gain the confidence to seek higher winds and bigger seas.
Go for it.

Robert Shirley
Weta #147, Empress
Ventura CA.


Ahh…. Fear. Keeps us from doing stupid things … most of the time! But it can hold us back from great adventures and great learning.
There are two sides to this: It’s good to be concerned and cautious until you develop more confidence with this boat, but the Weta is surprisingly forgiving and you can really push it before you will end up in the water.

Get Out There!

You’re right, you need to get out there and find the limits of the boat. Be aggressive, and get out there in heavier conditions. When we sit around after a hairy day on the bay (usually San Fran, not San Diego) we often express our amazement at how much this boat can take before it goes over.

Most of us have had many close calls and survived without going all the way over. Burying the lee ama can take you over, but usually you have a lot of time to realize it and grab ahold of something. The power in the rig deflates very fast when the boat goes onto its side, so if you haven’t slipped to the lee side you can usually keep your wits about you and release the safety tether, uncleat the main, and appreciate the strange perspective of a horizontal plane gone completely vertical, a long time before the boat turtles.

The Safety Tether

In the odd case you end up in the water with the boat coming over on top of you, you’ll need to be able to release that safety tether without really thinking about it. Regularly practice finding it without looking. This is critical. It works to keep you with the boat, but it can keep you under it if you can’t get released. On my first flip, mid-span under the GG Bridge, I was almost out of air when I found the lanyard ball and got mine released. It was a couple of hand spans lower than I thought. Also, treat the harness like a diver treats their weight belt – last on and on top of everything so the release is exposed and easy to find in a panic swipe of the hand from chest to crotch.

Okay, that scary stuff aside, here are some sailing pointers:

Keep Steerable

This boat, like most, needs forward headway to be steerable, and to keep yourself going where you want. Keeping the main sail far out in heavy
breeze kills your ability to sail upwind because you lose a lot of useful power, and at a slower speed your dagger board won’t generate enough lift to keep you from sliding sideways. Actually, the boat is much more likely to flip when you are near a dead stop than when you are moving. A big puff hitting you from abeam, while the boat is dead in the water, will cause the boat to heal tremendously and that shoves the lee ama deeper, then splash…you’re in the water. I flipped on SF bay after a botched tack.

Caught on the lee side…

That was the best place to be de-flowered. Deep water. Mission bay is not a great place to go over because it’s mostly too shallow to turtle our boats. Righting a Weta with the mast stuck in the muck is difficult.

Ease, Hike, Trim

When sailing up wind in a blow, get your weight as far out on the ama as possible. Really, use the hiking straps – hook your toes under the strap and slide your butt onto the float. The harness will help hold you, and it’s more comfortable than hiking on a Laser. Sheet in your jib very tight. This will close off the “slot” a bit and depower the whole sail plan. Keep the boat driving; don’t luff up in the puffs. Instead, ease the main 1 to 2 feet to keep the boat from healing too much. The rhythm to use when a puff comes on is “ease, hike, trim”. If you bury the lee ama, it’s going to slow down a lot and you’ll lose steerage, but the boat won’t flip quickly. This balance of power and healing takes time to develop, but get out there in a blow and practice.

Some nervous Weta sailors start by sailing with just a main. On an epic day on Mission Bay two years ago, I took down my jib and tried sailing with just the main and found that was a total mistake. Sure, the boat was much less powered, but the balance was truly horrible. The dang thing was constantly going into irons unless I aggressively tacked with great speed and exaggeration. I had to keep the boat sailing only on close-reach angles. I think the jib really helps to keep the boat balanced and driving forward, so as the wind increases and you shift to “survival” gear, tighten the jib instead of easing it. You’ll find it will keep the boat moving forward, and avoid heading into irons, and you can then control heal with the main from out on the ama. It’s amazing how easing the main only 6 to 12 inches can change the healing angle a lot. When the puff passes, sheet in those few inches, cleat it, and hold on to the sheet.


Depowering the main is mostly done by pulling on a whole lot of downhaul. It bends the mast to match the luff curve and take the draft out of the sail. Also, hook the main sheet to the forward-most hole in the clew. This will allow the top of the sail to twist off a bit and spill some of the power up there. If you know it’s going to be heavy before you hoist, loosen the batten tension a bit to also flatten the sail.

Main Batten Tension

I think the guidance on main batten tension is:
-Medium in the light stuff so you have shape but not trouble popping from one tack to the other,
-Heavy in the mid range where you want power, and
-Medium to light in the heavy stuff, where you don’t need as much draft/power.

Some lighter sailors will pull up the dagger board about 12 inches to reduce the lift created by it acting with the sails. I think the reduction in
healing by reducing the draft of the board helps me keep the boat down, with only a little loss in leeway.

The Daggerboard

Off the wind when it’s really blowing, pulling up the dagger 12 to 18 inches helps reduce the power of the sails and keep you sailing deeper angles. Of course, this might reduce the power to drive you forward, but in a real blow you are looking for the balance between power for speed and stability for safety. Pulling the board up much further is not much more productive and could be foolish if you flip and need that board to right the boat.

Off the Wind

Off the wind, get your butt to the back corner of the beam frame, feet under the straps. If you hit the back of a wave and nose dive, you’re likely to slide forward, so anticipate this and grab the hand straps on the tramp to keep yourself back. Over sheet the main. Really, you don’t need to let it out more than about 4 feet. The Weta is an “apparent wind” boat – it sails faster as you turn to a higher angle (we call that “heating it up”),
generate apparent wind as you accelerate, and then dive off in an arc to keep the sails trimmed. (The seminal tome on this particular subject is Bethwaite’s pithy High Performance Sailing. I’ve heard it’s quite verbose, but the guy knows his stuff. His work explains the phenomenal development of skiff design in the past 25 years and helps us understand the dynamics of our boats.) So you don’t really need to let out your main very much from upwind sailing trim unless you really want to run DDW. Sailing down wind with the sails all the way out is slow and less stable, especially in a blow.

Flying the Screecher

With the screecher flying, diving off is how you handle that sail when it’s starting to really blow. Don’t head up to luff it the way you’d luff a dinghy sail. Dive off to unload the sail as the boat accelerates, and the feeling is magical. The boat speeds up, and yet it settles down. Of course, if it’s choppy, it’s not always a smoother ride, and the faster you go the more touchy the boat it to a change in rudder angle.

Another way to sail the boat off the wind is hiking off the back section of the vaka, the main hull, using a hiking strap strung between the safety harness and main sheet anchor points. Nothing special–I cannibalized a kid’s car seat for a strap with loops already sewn in each end. I have more if you need one. It seems counter intuitive to hike nearer the centerline of the boat, but moving your body weight to the extreme aft of the boat pops the lee ama bow out of the water. With a little speed, that planning ama gives great righting force and keeps the boat flatter. Sometimes you’re not sailing very flat here, but the other effect is it keeps the vaka bow up, so you are less likely to nose dive into the waves in front of you. It also helps to keep the rudder from ventilating. If you’re hiking off the back, you probably have much more wind than you need, and in choppy conditions keeping the boat totally flat, by hiking on the outboard edge of the ama, is not going to help you as much as just keeping the bows up. In flat water, it’s 50/50. Some guys claim to hang one butt cheek over the back beam and maybe put one foot on the back rail of the vaka while keeping their forward foot under the foot strap. My tail bone can’t tolerate that, so I don’t even try.

Okay, I think that’s the extent of my brain dump for now. If you haven’t seen it yet, there are some interesting pieces by Chris Kitchen on the Wetamarine site:


Bruce Fleming

  • This reply was modified 10 years, 8 months ago by wetaz904.