Making upwind cruising more fun

Jeremy White, Loft Manager at Elvstrom Sails UK, offers some tips to bring the best out of your boat upwind, and make for a pleasurable sail too.

Cruising upwind fills some sailors with doom and gloom. And, we often see cruising boats motoring upwind, sails flapping, bashing into the waves, which cannot be fun.


To sail properly you need headsail tell-tales. Ignore the electronics, watch the tell-tales and steer to keep both flying level. Use your peripheral vision to watch upwind for waves. Steer a course to ‘scallop’ over the waves: luff slightly, up and over, bear away down the back. This prevents slamming and stopping, will be a smoother ride and you will point higher. More fun!

Halyard tension

Avoid using too much halyard tension, which pulls the sail-shape forward creating a rounded luff and flattening the sail. Ease halyards until creases appear, then just tension out the creases. This creates a fine entry and higher pointing angles. As the breeze increase you will likely need more halyard tension.

Genoa/jib car track position

Control the headsail shape with the track position. Set too far aft will flatten the bottom of the headsail, spilling air out of the top. Set too far forward chokes the leech, closing the ‘slot’ with the mainsail, stopping the air flow. It is the same effect as towing a bucket.

Sail a constant angle up-wind and adjust the cars until all three sets of tell-tales react at the same time. Sit to leeward to check sail shape. The leech should follow the line of the main (when trimmed properly). Moving the tracks aft as the wind increases will open the leech and prevent stalling if the main is eased. Move them forwards when it drops.

Image: Fiona Brown

Genoa size

Non-over-lapping headsails should be led inside the shrouds for the best sheeting and pointing angles.  Jibs which sheet outside the shrouds, create a wider angle of attack to the wind meaning poorer pointing.

Headstay tension

A slack headstay is useful in light winds. However, in 8+ knots the luff of the genoa will fall sideways creating a deep sail entry and flapping headstay, which is not efficient. Pulling on the backstay can tighten the headstay and provide better pointing, but will also bend the mast and depower the mainsail. So, more headstay tension with more wind.


The mainsail leech is the main ‘power’ tool for speed and pointing. This provides the little ‘bite’ in the rudder. Pull the mainsheet in hard and watch the top batten tell-tale. Ease the mainsheet until the tell-tale appears from behind the mainsail and starts flying. This gives the correct sail twist for the prevailing wind conditions. Over sheet it and the sails stalls and you slip sideways. Under sheeting creates too much twist meaning the leech is too open; this de-powers the mainsail so it loses drive forwards and pointing height.


We often see yachts with the vang pulled on hard, causing an over-tight mainsail leech. Upwind, just ‘snug’ the vang up, taking out the slack but ensuring it is not tight. Only start to pull it on when it is windy enough that you are easing the traveller or mainsheet in gusts.

Keel and Rudder

A clean hull and rudder makes your boat much more efficient. Weed growth is slow!

We often see a yacht sailing beside a boat which is pointing higher; then the crew of the slower boat wind the sheets in tight and try steering higher. However, boat speed drops as the sails are now stalled; the keel stalls as there is no water flowing across it and the boat drifts sideways.

Our motto at Elvstrom Sails is “always engage with your boat!” Be alert to what it is telling you. Ease the sails two inches, bear off five degrees, wait for the boat speed to build and then you can point where you like!