The first objective in tuning a
rig is to get the mast centered in the boat and standing straight. Once
this is achieved, refinement of the tuning will improve the boat’s
performance by changing the balance of the helm and, more importantly,
by controlling sail shape.
Tuning your rig is a two step
process. The first part is done at the dock and the second part is done
while sailing. To start, pick a calm day, or find a sheltered spot to
tie up. If the rig is already set up, loosen everything so that you can
start from scratch. It is a good idea at this point to lubricate all the
The first job is to
set the rake of the mast. If you are putting the mast in the boat for
the first time, set the mast so that it leans back a few inches. More
rake adds weather helm. Rake is achieved by moving the butt of the mast
forward in the step or the mast aft at the partners. If you’ve been
sailing the boat and the helm feels right, leave the rake alone. Be sure
the mast is firmly set in the step and solidly chocked at the partners.
Use either very hard rubber or hardwood chocks. One of the best ways to
secure the mast at the partners and to seal out water is to use a
product called SPARTITE™. This product gets poured into the space
between the mast and partners and hardens to form a reusable hard rubber
chock around the mast.
Now, using a halyard or a steel
tape measure suspended from the masthead, check to see that it is
centered by measuring to the same spot on either side of the boat. (Be
sure that the halyard or tape measure is led clear.) Next, tension the
upper shrouds. They should be as tight as you can make them with a pair
of wrenches. Never use an extended piece of pipe on the handle of a
wrench because you will over tighten the rigging and do damage to the
Work down the mast
(upper intermediates, lowers, etc.), sighting up the mast for
straightness. Relatively speaking, the cap shrouds should be tighter
than the intermediates because they are longer and will stretch more
Now you can
tackle fore-and-aft tune. Tighten the backstay to the maximum tension
you will use while racing. At this point you should have the maximum
amount of mast bend for your boat. If you don’t have enough bend you
can ease the headstay or move the mast either forward at the partners or
aft at the step. (To check fore-and-aft bend, attach the main halyard to
the gooseneck and pull it tight. Mast bend is the maximum distance
between the halyard and the mast. See diagram).
Now it’s time to
go sailing. Put the boat hard on the wind in at least 10 knots of wind.
It’s a good idea to have enough crew to handle the boat easily. Use a
non-overlapping genoa so that tacking is quick and easy, you'll be
tacking a lot while tuning.
Before you start
tightening the shrouds, take a look at your mainsail. If you feel the
main is not flat enough, you might need more mast bend. Even though you
made the shrouds tight during your dock tuning, they may be loose on the
leeward side when sailing. Your goal is to get the mast straight and to
have the leeward shrouds straight, not dangling, when the boat is hard
on the wind in 15 knots of breeze. If the leeward shrouds are loose when
the boat heels, tighten them to remove about half the slack. Keep track
of the number of turns you make. Next, tack and make the same number of
turns on the other side. Do this back and forth tuning until you are
happy with the tension and the leeward side does not move around when
the boat heels.
When you are done,
sight up the mast to make sure it's still straight. If not, decide what
adjustments are needed; tack the boat and make them. Sight up the mast
on the new tack and once again, decide what adjustments are necessary.
Tack again; make the adjustments and check how well your previous
changes worked. Keep repeating this process until the mast is straight
on both tacks. If you have a problem, contact a professional rigger.
YOUR MAST, MAKE SURE TO PUT TAPE MARKS ON YOUR TURNBUCKLES SO THAT YOU
CAN RETURN TO YOUR CURRENT RIG SETTINGS WITHOUT HAVING TO GO THROUGH ALL
THE TACKING AND TUNING, TACKING AND TUNING AGAIN.
TUNING FOR PERFORMANCE
Your boat’s performance can be
improved with careful tuning. First, think critically about your helm
balance. If you are carrying more helm than you’d like, try sailing
with less rake. Conversely, if you’d like more “bite” in the helm
(weather helm) rake the mast back another six inches to a foot. For the
best feel when steering upwind, the boat must want to head up toward the
wind. Set the mast so that the rudder must be turned three to five
degrees to keep the boat going straight.
If you want to get optimum
performance out of your sails, good tuning is a must. If you have the
controls available for tuning underway, you can adjust to changing
conditions. If you don’t, then set up for average conditions. Jib
draft can be controlled with headstay sag; more sag, more draft; less
sag, less draft.
Mainsail draft can be controlled
with mast bend; more bend, less draft; less bend, more draft.
On a masthead boat, the permanent
backstay directly controls headstay sag and also affects the amount of
On fractional-rigged boats, the
permanent backstay controls mast bend only. Unless the fractional-rigged
boat is equipped with running backstays, headstay control is difficult
to achieve. Runners on masthead boats, check stays on
fractionally-rigged boats, and babystays all control mast bend. Mast
bend can also be induced (as mentioned earlier) by moving the step aft
and/or moving the mast partners forward.
- If your leeward rigging hangs
too loose, it can mean that your starting upper shroud tension was
- Set up your rigging so that
you can get a firm headstay when the breeze is on, it will make your
boat go faster.
- Check your mast in rough sea
conditions. If it is “pumping,” meaning the middle of the mast
is moving fore-and-aft, tighten your running backstay or babystay.
- Use brass cotter pins. They
are much easier to bend so that you can get them in and out in an
- Don’t forget to tape over
your cotter pins and any other rough spots.
- Bend cotter pins over
completely. A half-bent pin can poke through tape and murder a sail.
- Check your tuning frequently
— all rigging has some stretch, which can throw tuning off.
Copyright UK Sails International.