The Fine Art of Pinching
examined from stem to stern
(this is a re-working of an article I wrote for the Rebel Newsletter and the CWA Yearbook in 1993)

On SHADES, Wayfarer 3854, we have spent much of 1993 outpointing the opposition. I tended to attribute this to being in tune with my sails and my boat, more than anything else, until the weekend of the Clark Lake Invitational Regatta in late September. There, we sailed Tim Dowling’s Rebel #4069 with a very competitive fleet, and once again, people were commenting on how well we were pointing. This caused me to re-examine the whole matter.

As Wayfarer Class Coach, I am reporting my findings to you - for your perusal and possible comments and discussion.

As I see it, there are three aspects that can affect pointing:

1. boat and rigging set-up
2. sail and boat trim
3. helmsmanship

I now propose to briefly cover these three topics as they relate to pointing close to the wind to best effect.

1. Set-up: From stem to stern, the following are the essentials – please click on any underlined item to get more detailed information on that item:

Jib Luff: The entry should be pretty well as flat as you can get away with. This is of course a factor controlled by jib halyard tension - the tighter the halyard, the flatter the entry (this assumes a jib luff sleeve that is not getting tensioned along with the halyard, i.e. that is not fastened to the luff wire at the tack).
Beware, however, of conditions such as waves, where it is easy to overflatten the entry to the point where the steering groove becomes too narrow for the conditions and the windward and leeward tickers on the luff indicate both stall and luff at virtually the same time. If this situation is allowed to continue, you are doomed (to poor everything). As they say: “When in doubt, let it out!” In this case, let the jib halyard off until the narrow groove problem is alleviated.

Jib Leech: Using a needle and some real wool, thread a 3 - 4 inch ticker through the folded sailcloth at the very aft edge of the leech, about ¾ of the way up from the clew. Proper use of this essential tool will require a window in the mainsail positioned so that the crew can see this windtuft while sitting out to windward. Alternative: If you cannot see the jib leech ticker, then a good alternative is to have the helm steer according to the dictates of the lowest of your three luff tickers positioned at quarter, half and three-quarter height while the crew sheets in until the upper tickers match the performance of the lowers.

Jib Sheet Lead Position: Base position should be where a straight line from the halfway point on the luff through the clew would meet the jib track. A bit forward from this position gives a fuller foot when the jib is trimmed to best advantage, if you want extra power to punch through waves. And the reverse can be done in very flat water and lots of wind.

Mast: Fore and aft bend controlled such that the mainsail entry is neither so full that it chokes the slot nor so flat that there are large creases from the luff towards the clew of the mainsail which in turn causes a loose leach and lack of pointing ability.

Boom Vang/Kicker: This must be powerful (ours is about 40:1, a lever supplemented by 6:1 purchase on the control lines) and easy to adjust at all times (ours leads to the helm on both sides of the boat).

Bridle: In my opinion, the crucial consideration is not to have a bridle that is too long and thus prevents you from putting the maximum tension that you can get away with on your leech. In my experience, main leech tension = pointing ability (But you must be careful not to overdo the mainleech tension bit either, especially in light winds!)

Mainsail Leech: As on the jib leech, thread a windtuft through the leech, ahout ¾ of the way up from the clew.

Mainsheet Swivel Block: This should function smoothly. On SHADES, it is the single most frequently used piece of equipment, i.e. the mainsheet (3:1 purchase, ¼” softbraid) is cleated or uncleated every few seconds throughout the race. It must be designed and positioned such that it will not cleat itself accidentally!

2. Trim: After all the many items to be dealt with under item 1, Set-Up, the good news is that trim is very straightforward, as it must be. The adjustments are simple but do need constant attention:

Boat Trim: Under most circumstances, boat trim is simple: keep the boat flat in every direction. i.e. don’t let it heel enough to cause helm, don’t plow the bow or drag the transom (for the latter, check wake for excess turbulence which is alleviated by moving crew weight forward).
For short periods of time, heeling the boat to leeward can help you point better. This can be useful to help you pinch up around a mark or escape someone’s lee-bow.

Jib Trim: We simply sheet in until our leech ticker (= windtuft) starts to get sucked in to leeward of the leech. The further forward our leads are, the looser the sheet will be when this occurs (for any given wind strength).

Main Trim: We normally only use the mainsheet which we sheet in until the leech ticker starts to get sucked behind the leech. For reasons unknown, this ticker sometimes will not fly properly, in which case we revert to the time-tested method of keeping the top batten roughly parallel to the centre-line of the boat.
If we get ovetpowered, consistently or by a puff, we crank on the vang. Since the leech ticker will always fly aft in these conditions, try to use enough vang to keep the upper batten parallel to the boom.

Effort: I find that we gain more than at any other time in puffy conditions. I am convinced that this is because we make extra effort to maximize the benefits of a puff and minimize the damage from a lull.
My crew is always ready to sheet the jib in a bit more when a puff is imminent, since the leech ticker will allow this. And, of course, the reverse is most definitely true when a lull hits. The faster the reaction to change, the greater your benefits.
For me, the effects are even more easily felt as I crank in the mainsheet in response to a puff until the leech ticker says ‘stop’. The bow is pushed to windward a bit and we move out on any who are slower to take advantage while they bask in the rosy glow that goes with the knowledge that you got a good puff.
Even more dramatic is the way the competition can be positively devoured when you are faster than the boat beside you to adjust to the dreaded dead spot. Everything off: vang, main sheet, jib sheet - quite possibly to a close reach position to make sure you go even faster in order to further depress the over-vanged guy beside you. Here you must make sure you do not pinch! And. of course, don’t let the boat heel to windward in those lulls.

In fact, this is one time I let the boat heel a bit to leeward in order to give myself that illusion of better speed (on the premise that if I feel better, I’ll sail better - my crews put up with this quirk).

3. Helmsmanship:Apart from the obvious requirement of being good at keeping the jib on the edge of a luff with attentive steering, helming brings with it more subtle requisites if you are to join the ranks of the successful “pinchers”.
Up until not too long ago, I used to think of “pinching” as always sailing that little bit higher, but lately I am more than ever convinced that you cannot “pinch” successfully unless you first get optimum speed for the conditions. You can point higher before hitting optimum speed, of course, but that is a sure way to lose due to slower and slower speed through the water which brings with it the added “bonus” of increased leeway.
What needs to happen after a loss of speed (e.g. sitting on the start line, after a bad tack or wave, etc.) is that you need to start off in first gear (i.e. with sails not oversheeted and the jib not too close to luffing). Once your boat is up to speed, and if the waves are not too bad, you can oversheet the main (but not the jib!), and let the leech ticker disappear for some lengths of time. But you must be alert for any loss of speed and gear down at its first sign.

In the end, like most things, nothing helps like practice. See you out there. Happy sailing,

Uncle Al Schönborn (W3854, R4069)