The Ultimate Finn Sailing Guide

It has been said many times by many people that boat speed makes you a tactical genius. With the Finn, boat tuning is not quite as critical as most classes, although it is fundamental at International level. For an average sailor, using an off-the-shelf rig and with a modicum of sail setting sense the boat can be sailed at almost maximum speed capability – adequate for the racing requirements of most club sailors. However to step up a gear and produce the boat speed necessary to win at National and International level a programme of fine tuning and minute refinements is essential.

To compete on equal terms with the top sailors is beyond the means of most sailors because of the high turnover of masts and sails that is required to find that all-essential fast gear. However the standard gear is perfectly adequate for all other sailing. One good point about the Finn is the longevity of the hull, not just in its structure but also its racing life. It is not uncommon for Finn hulls to last for several four-year Olympic campaigns and still be winning. Your primary need therefore is to find a good hull and only then to work with it using a selection of masts and sails if you wish. Provided the rig you have is in a reasonable condition most Finns can be fine tuned to gradually bring their boatspeed up to compete on more equal terms with the top sailors.

There are many variables to play with in order to get the optimum setting for maximum speed so it is necessary for novice Finn sailors to understand and comprehend what effect a change has and how to change settings to produce better speed. You also have to look at the whole picture and make the whole thing work together, not just in little bits. A Finn rig is very sensitive to change. A mere 1 cm can make all the difference between an average Finn and a fast Finn. Therefore meticulous and accurate setting and recording is required in order to get the best out of your boat.

One of the most important boat-preparation stages is to correctly fit the boat out for ease of use when racing and with adequate power on the control lines. The subject of control lines is discussed in some depth in this chapter.

A methodical and meticulous process of gradually tuning the boat can pay big dividends on the race course. However there is not that much to tune on a Finn if you decide to stick with one set of gear. Starting with the basic settings of mast rake and mast position you need to find the settings that produce best boatspeed together with easy boat handling. Apart from the mast position, all the other tuning is done by the sail controls lines once out on the water. Producing the correct sail setting can be the single most important factor in producing boatspeed and every effort should be made to perfect the art. This is mainly gained through experience in looking at a sail, assessing its shape and then knowing what to do with it if it is the wrong shape by repeating known fast settings.

This chapter outlines the processes involved in getting a competitive hull, producing a matched rig tuned to yourself, and setting the boat layout around you so that it is comfortable and efficient to sail.

The Hull

Before buying a Finn it is first necessary to decide at what level you want to aim. The choice available is widespread both in terms of hull shape and price. Basically the faster the boat is, the more expensive it is likely to be, generally irrespective of its condition. Hulls fall into three main groups, for example the older hulls such as Fairey, Pearson, Tiptree, Elvstrom – these boats are no longer that competitive although they may be perfectly adequate for general club racing. They will usually be quite inexpensive. The next group of hulls include Raudaschl, Taylor, Mader etc. – these are ideal for club racing and can be competitive at National level. The top level of boat includes the Vanguard, Devoti, Lemieux etc. which will generally be relatively expensive but will be competitive at all levels and one of these is essential for anyone with International aspirations. Other hulls such as Lanaverres and Rogas fall somewhere between the top two groups.

The differences between the different hulls shapes is at best minimal. The tolerances in the hull shape only allow for +1cm. Some hull builders will go for the maximum length, maximum beam and some will go for the minimum. Some hull shapes have a flat section under the transom to promote planing and some have a deeper section. Some will have fine bows to aid upwind performance, while others will have a fuller bow. Perhaps the biggest difference between the hulls is in the weight distribution. Modern Finns are built to produce the best weight distribution figures when the boat is measured while keeping the overall weight down so that maximum lead correctors can be inserted in the boat.

With the Finn, the secret seems to be to produce hulls which have good local stiffness, particularly in the centre and lower portions, but light in the ends and especially in the deck; overall they should be flexible against tension. The possible exception to this is in the bow section of the hull abeam the mast. It appears that if this area is too stiff the rig does not work in harmony with the hull, especially in a chop. The hull needs to have a perfect underwater finish, and once you have got it perfect, don’t drag it up the beach! The centreboard bolt should be maximum aft and the centreboard plate hole should be maximum forward in order to get the Centre of Lateral Resistance maximum aft. The mast deck ring should be maximum forward to reduce the natural weather helm. Your hiking position must be comfortable with wide webbing on the toe straps to spread the load and ease the circulation, so that you can hike out all day. The centre of gravity should be as far aft and as low as the rules permit.


Rig Critique
Finding the correct mast/sail combination for you is arguably the most crucial consideration when preparing a Finn for racing. Without a matched rig you will never get the best out of your Finn. Extensive testing of rigs is beyond the means of most of us, but there are some good rigs to be had secondhand if you look in the right place, although sometimes they can be found more by luck than design. The procedure is usually to find a good mast that suits your weight and then to try and find a sail that matches the mast. Changing masts to suit a sail is not normally recommended.

The following is in a rough order of priority. Obviously one without the others is a waste of time, but you have to start somewhere and you might just as well get the basics right first.

  • Find the right mast to suit your weight.
  • Find a matching sail.
  • Position mast correctly within the hull.
  • Balance the forces.
  • Fine tuning whilst racing.

Mast Tuning
Although most Finn sailors will use the mast that comes with the boat and just get along with it, there comes a point where it is good to assess the mast that you have and try to find a way to improve boat speed and boat handling. For example the mast may be too stiff or too soft for your weight. It may not bend very well, it may be too heavy or any number of reasons.

Since the advent of metal masts, Needlespar have been at the forefront of their development with its world-renowned 3M section mast. This mast is designed with a long bottom cylindrical section and an upper conical section that can be produced to the desired length and quality, carefully selected and finally joined to make a successful unity. With the introduction of carbon masts, there has been a certain amount of reverting to the past, with the masts capable of being tailored to suit the helmsmen. Instead of shaving and gluing wood, the carbon fibre is added or shaved to produce the required bend characteristics. This is not realistic on aluminium masts.

Mast Design
The ideal masts for Finns would be to have minimum weight, minimum centre of gravity height, minimum size and to have a flexural response perfectly matched to the helmsman weight, the wind speed and the sail. The first two requirements, weight and C. of G. are easy targets to aim at as the class rules specify the minimum allowed, but the real challenge to creative engineering lies in providing a reliable strong low-windage solution that reacts with a uniform radius of curvature to the leech tension fore and aft and the wind force sideways.

In order to provide sufficient strength for running, the sideways stiffness must be approximately double the fore and aft stiffness. All Needlespar masts have this characteristic although some models achieve the relationship by shape (i.e. oval) and others by increase of wall thickness. The maximum wind force that can be captured by helmsman is clearly controlled by his weight and the stability of the boat, but when going to windward most helmsmen have to let the sail out or pinch a little higher into the wind when overpowered. Downwind with the helmsman sitting well aft to prevent the bow submerging there is roughly double the stability and control can be maintained again until overpowered by lack of weight.

The mast must be strong enough at deck level to resist a bending moment fore and aft when beating to windward and a larger bending moment downwind which is taken by the sideways shape of the spar as the rig is turned through 90 degrees for the running conditions. At deck level the shape needs to be twice as strong sideways as fore and aft, whilst at mid height the stiffness is equal and the mast can be circular. Towards the top the masts needs to be stiffer fore and aft than sideways.

If the engineering is correct a non technical sailor (and they are generally the fastest ones!) will look at the mast whilst racing and say it bends in a nice curve, This ‘nice curve’ has a constant radius – it is part of a circle and it means that the sailmaker can plan for a regular luff curve. It is a happy coincidence that the ideal engineering mast happens to bend with constant radius of curvature which is also ideal for sail control. It must be remembered that the chord of the sail varies from zero at the top to a maximum at the boom and this means that as the mast bends the sail fullness is progressively flattened from the top down towards the boom. It is therefore possible for a mast that bends in a constant radius of curvature to have one sail that works well in a wide range of wind speeds.

The Finn rig looks simple and elegant but is in fact a much more sophisticated aerodynamic arrangement than the conventional classes that have a mass of wires holding and controlling the mast.

Mast Choice
When looking at a Needlespar aluminium mast, there are two major factors to consider: top colour and joint height. There are three top colours available: blue, red, and black. Sometimes they are classified as:- Blue: bendy; Red: stiffer; Black: average. Black tops seem to be favoured as the faster masts. The mast stiffness is actually determined from the height of the first joint in the mast – the higher the joint, the stiffer the mast. This is measured from the top of the lower black band to the joint. A 2800 mm joint is recommended for lightweight helms, 3100 mm for the heavyweights, with the average height being 3000 mm on a blue top. Fast Finn masts seem to vary from 2840 mm up to 2920 mm, mainly being black tops.

Booms should be as light as possible. Sideways bend should be avoided at all costs – it makes leech control in the lower third of the sail very difficult.

Fast Finn Masts
The general rule is that if there is more flexibility fore and aft, there is more sideways flexibility and this impairs pointing ability. However, if a stiff mast (ie long bottom section) is used then the helmsman’s weight must be appropriate to prevent early overpowering, therefore the higher the crew weight the higher the joint height. Whatever type you use, the bend both sideways and fore and aft should be measured under conditions specified by your sailmaker in order to match up bend and sail luff curve. If these are not compatible, then you can expect very little success in your racing. Carbon masts should bend in the same manner as the alloy ones, except that they straighten up after bending about four times quicker. This allows for better fanning of the sail upwind. With a new mast go sailing in all conditions with the same sail as before so as to eliminate the variables and decide if it is actually any quicker! The critically important end result is to end up with one sail and one mast so that life is easy and you can concentrate on tactics and boat handling rather than gear. At major important regattas there is simply not time to re-rig masts as it is better to get away and eat/sleep! For the record, the two famous masts – ‘Pinky’ and ‘Perky’ that Stuart Childerley used during the 1988 campaign until they got sliced up in Kingston, Canada were Needlespar black top 2.85 and 2.9 metre joint heights.

Mast Rake
To get the best out of your Finn a different setting of, say, mast rake may be required for different wind strengths, although most mid-fleet sailors tend to leave this alone to one all round setting. However, what may be fast in light winds may be a bit of a handful in strong winds so some compromise is usually necessary. Finns are relatively easy to tune roughly because the amount of tolerance that you have to play with is relatively small. There are generally recognised mast rake measurements that can be used and until recently the fore and aft position of the mast at deck level was fixed within a small tolerance.

Mast rake is measured by hoisting a tape measure on the halyard and measuring from the top of the mast down to the centre of the transom. A good starting point for mast rake is 22’4″ (6800 mm), but depending upon your sail and mast may have to be slightly forward or aft of this position. When the wind increases the mast can be raked forward so that the sail can be flattened more. Because raking the mast forward increases the distance between the deck and the mast tip, greater tension can be created in the leach, thereby increasing mast bend and making for a flatter sail.

These are just guidelines, intended as a starting point and no more. What is useful is an idea of how changing the rake will effect the handling of the boat, or rather, more usefully, how to change the handling characteristics of the boat from one you don’t want to one that you do want.

Weather Helm
The Centre of Effort of the rig must work in conjunction with the Centre of Lateral Resistance of the hull and foils to produce boat speed. If the C of E is forward of the CLR the boat will display lee helm. If the C of E is aft of the CLR then the boat will display weather helm. The CLR is basically fixed (unless you want to move the centreboard bolt and you canít move that very far) apart from lifting the centreboard up, in which case the CLR will move aft. However in most cases you will want the centreboard at its maximum drop to reduce leeway. Thus to shift the forces you need to shift the rig. Note, that this fine tuning is a useless procedure if you donít set the sail up correctly. A badly set sail can induce far more weather helm than any incorrectly raked mast ever would and this should be your primary concern in the first instance.

Increase weather helm by:

  • raking mast aft
  • moving mast aft
  • moving centreboard forward (or dropping it)
  • moving draft in sail aft (ease inhaul, outhaul, cunningham etc.)

Decrease weather helm by:

  • raking mast forward
  • moving mast forward
  • moving centreboard aft (or raising it)
  • moving draft in sail forward (tension inhaul, outhaul, cunningham etc.)

Thus weather helm can be induced by moving the Centre of Effort aft, or by moving the Centre of Lateral Resistance forwards and decreased by moving the Centre of Effort forwards or by moving the Centre of Lateral Resistance aft.

Measuring Mast Bend
Going a step further on from the very good, average mast for the light / medium / heavy body weight which, with everything else being equal gets you up there, the next step is a deliberate and careful process to find a slight edge to get you right at the top position in a major international regatta. Remembering that you race downwind as well as upwind, measure different masts to find the one that seems to be like the one required just for you. Taking the good mast that suits your weight as the control, measure its bend characteristics as shown.

It is also important, once a fast mast has been found that it is accurately measured so that if it does get broken, another mast can be found with similar bend characteristics without extensive on the water testing. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, so long as you use the same method for all your masts. However some sailmakers will specify a certain methodology in order to be able to accurately cut the sail luff to match your mast bend.

Basically the mast is supported at two points along its length and a weight is hung from the mid point. A line is tensioned between either ends of the mast and measurements are taken between the now curved mast and the line. These measurements define the bend characteristics of the mast. Measurements are taken at quarter or eighth intervals along the mast. To measure fore and aft bend characteristics place the mast on its forward face and measure from the line to the aft face of the mast (the back of the track) Then to measure the sideways bend characteristics place the mast on its side and measure from the line to the centre of the mast track. The mast is supported at the tip and also at the step or the gooseneck. The weight should obviously be heavy enough to bend the mast enough to take meaningful measurements – 15 – 20 kg is common.


Having found a mast, you then need a sail to fit it. Take a sail, hoist it up the mast, stretch it out to the black bands and tension the tack a touch. Pull the boom down to the deck and observe the luff. If the sail is loose and baggy in places then it means that the mast is too stiff or that there is too much luff curve (too much cloth). If there are patches of excess tension emanating from the luff seam then the sail has not got enough luff curve (not enough cloth) for that part of the sail or that the mast is too bendy. Change the sail, change the mast or have the sail recut.

The unstayed mast bends increasingly through increasing wind strengths with the sail cut to accommodate the change. To achieve this, not only must the sails have a luff round cut to match that of the mast but the cloth must have sufficient stretch across its bias in order to accommodate these changes in bend. Broad seam shaping is also important, and the luff round/broad seaming ratio of a sail is controlled by the sailmaker in a similar way to that of other classes. The bias stretch characteristic of unstayed rigs makes the cloth selection of paramount importance. Too stiff a cloth and the material will only be of optimum shape for one mast bend, too much stretch and then problems occur with the flow moving from one area of the sail to another in differing wind strengths.

Luff Curves
Always an area for great debate. Follow the instructions after having run in the sail gently for four hours in force 3-4 and a good force 5 for an hour then test it. Then take advice if you are unsure before altering it. (The position of the headboard and headboard slug relative to the luff rope is a common problem in a sail that does not fit.) Basically the luff curve should be even along its length and flatten off at the top of the sail first when in de-powered mode.

Fitting Out

Fitting out a Finn is a very simple process compared with some other dinghies, however there are a few important rules that must be followed. The end result should be a free flowing system that works well on all points of sailing with easily operated and accessible cleating positions. Enough thought applied to the position and fixing of fittings can be amply rewarded when out on the race course. Compare the helm who struggles with badly fitted control lines up the last beat in a force 4-5 when the last thing he feels like doing is struggling, with the helm who can almost effortlessly de-power the sail with the flick of a finger. Properly fitted boats therefore can not only save time but also reduce unnecessarily wasted effort. Imperfectly aligned systems can to a certain extent be made to function better by using the most friction free and probably the most expensive fittings that you can find. It is far better though to have correctly fitted systems that work because they were designed to work rather made to work in spite of a bad design.

The diagrams on the following pages are based on the standard Vanguard type layout. However because all Finns are basically similar, the same systems can be used on any hull with perhaps only a few minor modifications. Most of the diagrams are self explanatory. At the end of this section the BFA Rigging Sheet 1 and Sheet 2 are reproduced. These show a lot of detail and are clearly annotated. They are based on the hull design on the Taylor all-glass hulls.

When choosing fittings it is usually best to choose large diameter ball blocks rather than the frequently recommended micro blocks. This may seem strange but the larger block provides a much better grip on the rope as well as positioning and guiding the control lines much more accurately. Two choices of cleat can be considered, either one with moving parts or one with no moving parts. As a general rule buy the best that you can afford in either category. Money saved here is not really saved at all because as you will find out, your plastic one piece cleats will wear down quickly causing the lines to slip, and the inexpensive moving parts cleat will cease to function correctly. A little extra wise expense at the fitting out stage can save expensive replacements after a season or two when all the cheaper fittings have worn out.

Control Lines
The control lines are led from the cockpit area down to a doubling block below the foredeck and then to the base of the mast and up through the mast deck ring. The positioning of each control line through the deck ring is important. The outhaul and kicker lines must be led through the two more central holes in the deck ring because these control lines have to be aligned to the boom. If the lines are not on or near the centreline, then they will be at an angle as they approach to the blocks on the boom and cause extra friction on the system components and chafe on the lines. Cunningham and inhaul controls lines are mast aligned and their athwartships position is therefore not as critical. As far as the order of the cleats on the sidedeck is concerned, the only criteria is that the kicker should be the most aft. The other three are mainly adjusted when hiked on a beat whilst the kicker is mainly adjusted when sailing offwind and sitting further aft. Therefore it is sensible to put the kicker cleat as far aft as possible in order to be able to reach it with ease when sitting at the back of the cockpit.

Some Finns will have continuous control line systems – that is a continuous loop of rope through the blocks and both sidedeck cleats. Whilst this method has the advantage that you will never run out of rope to release (for example – the kicker at the gybe mark), problems are caused if you forget to cleat the line before a tack/gybe. There is nothing wrong with non-continuous lines – if anything they allow for a neater cockpit, but they do require some forethought before a tack/gybe to ensure that there is enough slack on either side of the boat to operate that control after the tack/gybe has taken place. Also you have to ensure that the ends do not get washed down the self bailers by either tying large knots in them or by using plastic balls on the loose ends.

As well as an uphaul led aft to the sidedeck, the centreboard needs an elastic shock cord downhaul to hold it in place in case of a capsize. This downhaul keeps the centreboard up/extended when the boat is inverted. Lead the shock cord aft and through a turning block and then round the front of the centreboard case and up the other side to another turning block and then back to the centreboard arm. Put a hook on one end of the elastic so that the tension in it can be released when the boat is ashore and so lengthen the life of the shock cord. Some Finns will have the centreboard uphaul led to the underside of the traveller thwart and some will be led to the sidedecks. The key element is to be able to work with what you have – and if not to change it.

The traveller control should be a 2:1 system with the dead end tied to a hole made in the middle of the thwart – this cuts down on superfluous rope. This is possible because there will never be a need to pull the traveller to windward. An optional extra (although once it has been used you will not want to take it off), is to run some thin elastic shock cord from one traveller line through a block in the bow to the other traveller line. It is attached to the traveller line by either a small block or ring. This ensures that when the traveller car passes along the track the unused control lines do not get entangled around it – the lines are automatically pulled forward and are then out of the way.

Toestraps should be very firmly bolted into place. They are the only thing holding you and the boat together. Vanguards normally have adjustable runners on tracks fore and aft of the toestraps with an adjustable control line at the front end. On the Taylor hulls, the toestraps are normally bolted through the knees at the cockpit edge. Adjustable toestraps can be very useful when trying to adjust body position, either to accommodate or ease pain or to hike further out/in or to hike higher out of the waves. Again, once the flexibility of adjustable straps is experienced,you will not want to return to fixed ones.

Toestraps should be wide, padded and stiff. The straps on either side of the boat should be tied together with shock cord at the front end so that they are pulled together and away from the deck when the adjustable line is released.

The floor block must be a ratchet block. The blocks on the boom and traveller must be of the non-twist sort otherwise they will turn and you will end up with a twisted mainsheet offwind that cannot be played due to the friction created. Also it is imperative to correctly position the loops or hangers on the boom. Their distance apart should be the same as the diameter of the traveller block and directly above it. If they are anywhere but on either side of the traveller block, an uneven force is exerted on the boom, pushing or pulling along its length rather than just downwards as should be the case. If the loops are too far apart then purchase power is lost when sheeting in hard.

The step and the gate should be tight fitting so as to reduce mast ‘wobble’ which can slow the boat down in light airs. The maximum allowable play is 5mm. This is sometimes used to advantage by allowing the mast to move forward when sailing offwind, while bringing the mast aft when sailing upwind. The boom should also be a tight fit in the gooseneck, again to reduce play. Use a bolt if necessary to ensure that the gooseneck jaws firmly grip the boom.

A retention pin should be fitted to the heel of the mast to stop the mast coming out of the step during a capsize, which could lead to the loss of the foredeck. An alternative method is to bolt a device onto the deck which is bolted into place over the deck ring, but not touching it.

Again this should be tight fitting with the minimum of play. This is essential to maintain total control when steering aggressively. A boat with a wobbly rudder assembly will not react as quickly as one with a snug fitting rudder. Time and distance is lost while the rudder takes up the slack before moving. Put both pintles on the transom with the bottom pintle longer than the upper one so that the rudder is easy to locate when launching. Also, having both pintles on the hull means that the rudder can be shipped on the top pintle only which may be useful in the case of a difficult launch. For a retaining clip only ever use the stainless steel ones. These are far superior. Fix it to the hull with one bolt. It can then be swivelled to one side when unshipping the rudder, so that you don’t have to depress it when coming ashore, just turn it to one side. These little things can make life much easier and doing this can also save the leading edge of your rudder because of the ease and speed of unshipping if the ground comes up quicker than you anticipated.

The tiller should be firmly fixed to the rudder stock. Some Finns will have a lifting tiller but this is down to choice. Use whatever you feel comfortable with. The tiller extension joint should be of the plastic type allowing complete freedom of movement and eliminating the possibility of a ‘lock-up’ when tacking.

Sidedeck Pads
These are an essential to aid comfortable hiking. All Finns will have them fitted and some thought should be given to this because your entire sailing effort will be directed through the pads. If you are not comfortable you will not be able to function properly. Pay attention to the padding on the inside edge so that it can support the legs under the toestraps.

JC Strap
A JC Strap made of strong elastic shock cord runs from one side of the boom to a block on the bow and back to the other side of the boom. In light airs the tension in the elastic holds the boom out on a reach and run and stops it from swinging in towards the centreline when there is not enough wind to keep the sail filled.

A control line system and any fitting is only good enough if you are happy using it and can get along with it. If you can’t, then something has to be done to remedy the matter. Make sure that all lines can be reached with ease from wherever you would be sitting. Ensure that fittings are not going to be in the way of ropes or any part of you. Plan ahead in a fitting out process so that everything is logical and will function accordingly. Most of all use gear that you can trust not to fail when you need it most. To get the most out of them, Finns need to be pushed hard and gear failure should never be an excuse for not finishing a race. Make sure that whatever fittings and rope you finally decide on, they will not break in a windy race or fail to work effectively when used to the limit. If you are confident that the boat will stand up to the extremes of the weather, then in anything less than the extremes, you can push the boat as hard as you like without worrying about gear failure and damage.

Sailing the Finn

You really need to experience sailing a Finn in order to fully understand what it is all about and as many have found out in the past, once bitten by the Finn sailing bug it is hard to give it up. Special techniques need to be learnt, understood and then mastered to make sure that at all times in a race you are in charge of the boat and have the ability to put the boat where you want it to be. Most techniques require a combination of coordination, finesse and sheer brute strength. It has to be said that to handle the boat well in a strong breeze you have to be 14 stone plus. Many people of a lesser weight can and do sail the boat competently in all conditions, but the extra weight undeniably provides a significant advantage on the windier days.

When analysing a certain aspect of boat handling or control, it is usually best to break down each action into its constituent parts so as to gain a better understanding of what needs to be achieved. That is what has hopefully been accomplished on the following pages. In this chapter there is a basic subdivision into upwind and downwind sailing, followed by a further breakdown into areas of boat manoeuvring and sail control while considering specific aspects such as beating, tacking, gybing, surfing etc. The idea is to present a general picture of what, how and why a Finn is sailed the way it is.

Basic Principles

  • confidence and manoeuvrability on start line
  • observation and utilisation of wind shifts
  • calculation and use of current and tide
  • sail trim and ability to repeat fast settings
  • visualisation and practice of steering and boat handling

First Things First

When all is said and done and you hit the straps out of the start line, the best gear in the world is not going to get you to the windward mark first if you don’t sail the beat correctly. Get the first few shifts wrong and you might as well be sailing the slowest boat in the fleet for all the difference it will make. Fail to set the sail correctly for the conditions of the day and you may as well have used a blown out old relic rather that the state of the art. Good gear is important, yes, but it MUST be used properly to get the best out of it.


Consider what the wind is doing. There is only one thing that is definite about the wind – that is that it is never constant in either speed or direction for any length of time. It is therefore essential to use your compass and intelligently consider what the wind is doing and what it is likely to do during the race. The importance of this cannot be overestimated. A slow boat can get to the windward mark before a faster boat if the slower boat takes a better route. Everything that follows here is useless unless you get this bit right!

Setting the Sail

Most sail setting ability comes from experience within the class over a wide variety of conditions, learning the ëlookí of a fast sail and being able to repeat fast shape settings. As a basic guide though you should be considering the following when setting up a sail on a mast:

  • fullness for the conditions of the day
  • mainsheet / kicker to give correct leech tension.
  • don’t oversheet – if underpowered or stalled, ease sheet and build-up speed again
  • adjust traveller and mainsheet for pointing or for power


What the above has tried to spell out is that you must get the basics right before anything else. Work on the rest of it as well perhaps, but don’t expect large gains until you have mastered the basic sailing of the boat. A new sail will improve your speed, yes, but not as much as using the sail correctly, getting a good start and tacking on the first few shifts correctly.

SummaryKicker – leech tension offwind (i.e. twist)

Outhaul – lower sail fullness and angle leech

Inhaul – angle of entry at luff and angle of lower leech

Cunningham – draft position in sail and upper leech fullness

Mainsheet – leech tension upwind and angle of attack offwind

Traveller – angle of attack upwind


Basic Finn Sailing to Windward

Although at first sight the Finn rig may seem to be a relatively simple piece of gear compared with other boats of a similar size, almost as many problems can be encountered in tuning it as in two-sailed boats. The first difference that a novice Finn sailor will notice is that the boom is sheeted at an angle to the centreline and never on the centreline. Because the Finn does not have a foresail, airflow is not specifically directed along the back of the mainsail. The air therefore breaks away earlier than would be the case with a foresail present.

To move this break point further aft the maximum draft is cut into the sail at about half the chord length. This produces a resultant force which is angled further aft than would normally be the case. To overcome this, the traveller is slipped to leeward to increase the angle of the boom to the centreline and hence shift this resultant force angle to point further forwards so that the driving force is moving the boat forwards rather than sideways. It will be seen later that the windier the conditions experienced the further the boom is let out.

It should never be sheeted further in than the inner sidedeck and the end can sometimes be a matter of several feet away from the gunwale in a strong breeze.

Before we look into sailing the boat, here is a description of the controls available on the Finn.

Kicking Strap

The kicking strap, usually a powerful lever system bolted onto the boom with a number of purchases attached to it, controls the leech tension and hence is basically a power control. Upwind it is generally ignored, leech tension being gained through the mainsheet. Offwind, the kicker is increasingly tensioned as the wind picks up to keep the leech tight and contain the power.


The Cunningham controls the fore and aft position of the point of maximum draft in the sail. As the wind increases  the draft will be pushed further aft in the sail, making the boat hard to control. (The resultant force points aft or sideways again.) Tensioning the Cunningham will bring the draft and the force angle forward again. It also has the effect of opening up the top half of the leech, essential in very windy conditions to de-power the sail when the helmsman is overpowered.


The outhaul is used to control the fullness in the bottom of the sail and the angle of the leech. When the outhaul is tensioned, the foot is flattened and the leech is opened. In light airs the outhaul is eased, bringing the clew nearer the mast. This puts fullness into the bottom of the sail and makes the leech stand up – i.e. point more to windward which causes weather helm and gives the rudder more ‘feel’.


The inhaul is used in conjunction with the outhaul to flatten the bottom of the sail. It also opens up the lower leech and removes fullness from the luff when it is tensioned. Tensioning the inhaul will open the lower batten and lessen weather helm. Releasing the inhaul will close the lower batten and create weather helm – letting you point higher.


Often overlooked as a sail control, the mainsheet has more effect on sail shape than all the others put together. Mainsheet tension is critical both to pointing ability and to power (boatspeed). When the mainsheet is pulled in, the sail is progressively flattened. This action causes the leech to hook, so some inhaul/outhaul tension is required to open it up again. A flatter sail will help you to point higher although some power will be lost. Easing the sheet will have the reverse effect in that you will gain power but lose some of your pointing ability. In all instances a compromise is necessary when deciding whether to go for power or pointing – you cannot always have both. Care should be taken when setting the sheet so that it is not undersheeted (giving you no power and no pointing) or that it is oversheeted (making you point very high but travelling very slowly) and it should be appreciated that the mainsheet should always be used in conjunction with the other sail controls to obtain the best shape for the conditions of the day. How hard you tension the mainsheet (and hence the sail) will always affect what you need to do with the other controls to set the sail correctly.

Note that if you are using an old sail that has seen its best, you will have to do more to it to flatten it to the same degree as a newer sail. The draft will probably be further aft in the sail, requiring more cunningham tension to move it forward and generally more tension to take the fullness out.

Rudder Feel

The feel of the rudder is an important aspect of Finn sailing. Weather helm is necessary to make the boat point in light airs and give the rudder enough feeling. This can be induced by slackening the inhaul so that the tack of the sail moves away from the mast. To go for more speed in a breeze the inhaul is tightened to open up the bottom batten and make the boat easier to steer. Easing the outhaul a touch also has the effect of inducing more weather helm and helping pointing ability, but don’t ease it too much.

When sailing the Finn for the first time it is important to get the basics right before attempting fine tuning and sail control. Make sure that you can hike comfortably so that you can look up and see where you are going with ease. Whoever can hike the hardest for longer has an immediate advantage. Alter sidedeck pads and add toestrap pads where necessary. Make sure the mainsheet flows freely and has a ratchet block on the floor. Also check that the boom can be brought down to touch the deck, as this is where it will be when sailing to windward in any sort of breeze.

Boom Position

The first thing to get right when sailing a Finn to windward is where to set the boom – its height above the deck and its angle to the centreline. The boom end will start off in light winds roughly in the middle of the sidedeck and about a foot to a foot and a half above it. As the wind increases the mainsheet is tensioned to bring the boom down to meet the deck. The traveller is then eased so that the boom end is eventually carried outboard.

By tensioning the mainsheet and bringing the boom lower, you are bending the mast and flattening the sail and hence allowing the boat to point higher. How much the mainsheet is tensioned depends on the wind strength and the stiffness of the mast. A stiff mast will require a flat cut sail and a soft mast will require a full cut sail. As the mainsheet is tensioned the mast is bent forwards between the gooseneck and the mast tip, taking fullness out of the sail as the mid section of the mast is forced forward. A softer
mast will curve forward more than a stiff one and hence will take more sail with it and make the sail flatter. Your aim should be to keep all of the luff tell-tales flowing all of the time. If you over-sheet, the leech will become excessively hooked and the boat will feel sluggish.

Upwind Rig Settings

  • kicker off to give room under boom when tacking
  • traveller 50 -100 per cent out depending on wind strength
  • inhaul/outhaul progressively tighter as wind increases
  • Use sail fullness to generate weather / neutral helm
  • use cunningham when overpowered
  • boom on deck in Force 3 and above

Light Airs

In light airs, you should be perched on the sidedeck with slight mainsheet tension and all controls eased to provide a powerful sail. Care should be taken not to ease the outhaul to much as this is likely to cause the leech to hook and slow the boat. As the wind increases and you have to start to hike out to keep the boat level, the boom should be gradually brought down to the sidedeck. This bends the mast more and hence produces a flatter sail. At the same time as flattening the sail by tensioning the mainsheet, it should also be flattened by gradually tensioning the outhaul and also the inhaul and Cunningham when it is very windy. As you hike harder and flatten the sail it may be necessary to slip the traveller to keep the boat upright. The boat should only be sailed with a slight heel in very light winds so that the heeling can be used to develop the natural shape of the sail when the wind is not strong enough to do it.

Wind and Waves

If you are sailing on the sea and the wind picks up, the chances are that waves will start to develop. If this happens it may be necessary to slip the traveller earlier than you would do on flat water in order to control the boat. In largish waves much steering action will then be needed to keep the boat moving. Slamming into a wave will stop the Finn in its tracks so it is essential to steer round each wave, a strength sapping practice when it is windy. As you sail up the face of the wave, the apparent wind will free so you must head up to cut through the crest at a more acute angle. Once over the top the apparent wind will move forward and so you must bear away down the wave, doing so in enough time so that the bow does not slam into the trough but goes smoothly down the wave, keeping the speed up. Therefore the process should be one of heading up to meet the crest of the next wave and then bearing away sharply down the face of it to keep the boat moving.


In rough conditions, constant and often vigorous and rapid steering is required to keep the Finn moving. Cessation of proper steering technique will result in the slowing of the boat due to hitting the waves and increased heeling. Conversely in flat water rudder use will only act as a brake and it should be used as little as possible, the boat being controlled by its angle of heel and mainsheet tension.

There are two ways of sailing the Finn to windward. It can either be sailed for power or for pointing. Generally you have to go for power before pointing in order to build up speed and only then begin to head the bow slightly up into the wind to start gaining height. In strong winds, light helms have little option but to go for pointing because body weight is vital for power sailing. Usually all helms will use a combination of each technique during a race as the situation they are in dictates. Perhaps a bit of power to get some speed off the start line and some pointing later on in the race to lay a mark or escape from a leeward boat or stuff a windward boat.

The table above basically shows what should be where in different conditions. Don’t take it all literally though. It’s just a guide. With a different sail and a slightly different chop, some of these settings may vary considerably. Just use them as a pointer and most importantly, understand why!


  • positive and firm upwind
  • smooth and minimal downwind
  • sail trim – full sail gives weather helm
  • don’t oversteer and stall boat
  • keep boat level in all but light winds


Hiking and Steering

Sometime ago a Finn turned up at a National Championship and went around the course, after a fashion, heeled at an angle of somewhere between 35 to 50 degrees, yet the helm was working really hard. So hard in fact that the back of the helmsman’s legs were against the side of the hull when going upwind! Either this guy was super fit, a masochist or had forgotten to shorten his toestraps! Something was a little wrong. A comment was passed at the Finn Dinner, ‘Sit up and look where you are going.’ What was this new concept?

Well, first of all become very self critical. Never accept mediocrity. Either try to do it well or take a complete rest from sailing! Secondly, find a comfortable hiking position from which you can ‘work’. When a Finnster is steering well through a classic sea breeze chop, the amount of energy expended is considerable. He needs to be able to breathe well, to look up at the sail, the compass, the waves, the gusts and the other boats. All these activities need thinking time. This will not happen if the poor old chap is incapacitated with pain and excess sea water from the last wave. We all know – we have all been there!

It goes without saying that the boat should have wide padded toestraps, pussy pads with or without camping foam underneath to suit the helm and the helm could perhaps also wear a decent set of hiking shorts. The toestraps should be adjustable in order to change your body position in relation to the wind strength, waves and fatigue.


Hiking positions change from the bent leg position through to the classic drooped ‘W’ position, then to the extended power position for special circumstances, depending on: the wind strength, ability to steer effectively, weight and personal strength. Note that the most frequent problem is the misconception of beginners of the need to hike like a Soling crew: not only is this difficult without a harness, but there is a tendency to drag your body though the water, and most importantly it is difficult to breathe or to see properly.

Fast Cruise or Flat Out

Bearing in mind that a Finn race might last 2 hours or more, plus time sailing out and back, the helm needs to evolve a ‘fast cruise’ hiking position. Therefore Finn sailing at the high standard that the vast majority of us do in fact reach, is like the 1500 metres; you need to be able to turn it on when it matters and to rest at times in readiness for the next interesting bit.

When in a race, should a Finnster put in a bit of extra effort and sail flat out?

  • at the start of a race to break out of the melee to find clean air
  • when the wind gusts up and before the helm can de-power the rig to compensate
  • after each tack to get the boat back up to full speed and everything working well
  • getting a good windward mark rounding
  • boat to boat problems
  • pumping down the reach and run
  • on the finish line, either to impress that pretty young lady on the committee boat or to get a better race result.

Apart from the above situations it is better to adopt the ‘fast cruise’ mode. ‘Ah yes,’ retorts the beginner, ‘but my boat is still going along on its ear making horrible sucking noises!’ First things first – you are now in a hiking position where you can breathe, look, listen, feel and make good decisions on what to do….thatís it – engage brain now – clunk!

Steering Style

Steering is that very important sail control that virtually everybody forgets to stress in sailing articles. You  need to really steer a Finn in comparison to other dinghies. As far as the Finn is concerned, the rudder has more effect on how soon the windward mark is reached than all the other sail controls put together. The very basics first. In all hiking positions, try keeping the upper tiller arm down the side of the chest, the elbow then allows the forearm to come across to roughly the middle of the stomach and parallel to the tiller. Thus the tiller extension is held with the palm of the hand on top of the extension. The advantages of this style may not be apparent at once, but in the end the helm will get more feel from the rudder such as:- over-steering, weather helm, helm suddenly gone light, run aground! Those small rudder movements that give better control are also easy to make continuously.

That is the arm bit, but how the tiller extension is held is also important. The thumb extends up to the free end of the extension with the fingers folding round the extension naturally. Simple perhaps, but in light weather there is no need to clench the extension until the whites of the knuckles show. Varying the grip slightly with the wind and wave conditions will all help to give better control and response; also essential for that all important feedback of information that you get from the boat. In heavy air grip the extension with the hand only just sufficiently hard enough to steer the boat in an easy fluid but positive motion. As the wind lightens not all the hand needs to be used, with the extension being held by just the thumb and finger tips. But beware of holding it too loosely and dropping it when the rudder gives an unexpected pull.

Sheeting In

All steering movement comes from lower arm movement below the elbow, because far better control is gained in comparison to moving the whole arm from the shoulder. Holding the tiller in this way, the mainsheet can be pulled in quickly and smoothly using the steering hand. The free arm grabs the mainsheet by the floor block and pulls the sheet up and across the helmsman’s chest to the hand on the tiller extension. The last three fingers on the extension hand hold the sheet stationary as the sheet arm goes back down to the floor block for another armful of mainsheet. At the leeward mark a far longer pull is possible, by standing up, sheeting in from by the floor block to above the helmsman’s head, the tiller extension hand catching the mainsheet at waist level. In such cases of leeward mark rounding, the boat needs to be sailed round even the tightest of mark roundings. The Finnster should be positively steering and putting his boat where he wants it to be in relation to the mark and the other boats. At times like pre-race manoeuvres, when things get hectic, these refinements must be second nature as the Finnster must make the time to look round at other boats, wind gust patterns on the water and awkward waves, in order to get in there and really race.

Upwind Priorities

  • sail trim = boat speed
  • positive and firm steering through waves and gusts
  • read the water – use the compass – utilise the shifts
  • strategy first – tactics second
  • sail instinctively – watch the race, not the boat

Reading the Water

So, armed with the fundamentals of an effective hiking position, good steering position and smooth steering techniques, the young Finnster has the basics with which to work the boat through the waves and the gusts. So some thoughts now on how to use these tools in different conditions.

The biggest mistake is not looking upwind and ‘reading the water’. Quite surprisingly air is quite invisible and compasses on a boat only tell the direction of the wind at that immediate moment, but never forecast what it is going to do, or at what strength. What to look for? If behind several boats, look at the mess the guy in front is making of dealing with the gusts, or how well he responds to them! Watch to see when his rig heels over as the wind gusts and lulls and work out how long it will take for that wind to reach you. What should be done?

Read the water. Scan the water upwind over an arc of 90 degrees to windward and ahead of the boat, virtually all of the time, in the order of 50 to 500 meters ahead. A puff of wind shows up as a darker patch of water. Look hard and look for the different types of ripples – small to large ones. Is it a big patch stretching way back upwind or is it just a localised gust? Usually the darker the patch the stronger the gust; does this mean there will be five minutes of stronger wind requiring a touch of Cunningham or dropping the boom down an inch or so? This is the normal panic measure written up in all the sailing books, but consider leaving all the control lines alone for once and think – rudder!

Rudder Usage

Leave all those sheets cleated and put that big powerful rudder to work. Try to keep the boat dead level using the rudder to feather up momentarily and then getting back on the wind immediately. The sail should never physically flap or flutter in the luff at all, in fact the tell-tales should be flowing almost all of the time. The rudder at times is used as if you were sculling, but moving the end of the tiller by only 10 inches at the most, the rapidity of movement increasing with wind strength. Obviously nothing is ever constant, so be prepared to deal with the awkward big wave, by superimposing the luff or deviation round the wave with the steering to keep the rig dead upright. Sheer weight and height is not going to keep the boat upright alone, so keep in the comfortable ‘fast cruise’ position. It will become very obvious why, as those old arm and shoulder muscles will ache after
a time so you will need space to breathe. If you overdo the feathering, which is an easy mistake, the boat slows, gets bashed around by the waves, heels over and slips off sideways. For the purposes of training, drop the traveller right off and try to keep the luff full as before. Out on the race course this is suicidal, so put a tell-tale half way up the luff and at mid-chord. When the boat is being stuffed excessively, look at the special tell-tale and try to keep it flowing all of the time.

Look Around

Obviously before the start of a big race, when the adrenalin quite naturally causes ënervesí, go out onto the race area early. Once out there, get the boat tidy and into race/combat state, and then go off upwind towards the windward mark. After five minutes of sailing upwind away from the other boats, having thrown a few tacks to loosen up – stop. (If your brain is not engaged, do so now.) With the boat pulling gently upwind on a half sheeted sail, look around and to the windward mark.

  • What are the waves like, perhaps a little bigger, but how close together are they?
  • Looking at the water in  more detail can you see the wind gusts on the water?
  • Can you find the windward mark easily and also the wing mark?
  • Is there a land feature to guide your line of sight to the windward mark quickly?

Thinking back on all the practice that you have been putting in, what sort of sail shape do you want, how much camber do you reckon you need? Now readjust the sail if need be. Having done all this make sure that you do not miss the start though. Sail upwind as though racing and really use that rudder to keep the weather side of the foredeck level with the horizon. If you start ‘stuffing it’, drop the traveller and foot for a few moments. Then perhaps gradually pull the boom end towards the gunwhale until you have found the right position. Just check this for both sides, for equal time. If you have a compass, obviously note a few readings down, ready for the race.

The above points form the basics of windward boatspeed. Windshifts and current are far better explained by professional writers, but these are absolutely essential to get right so you do not have to sail an extra half mile. The Finn rig is a elegant piece of kit but you must understand what the sail controls do and how to apply them – so engage brain. There is no getting away from the fact the the Finn needs more physical strength than other toy boats, but hiking badly will not help. Finn sailing is a subtle blend of physical prowess and intense understanding of the technical elements of yachtsmanship. Anybody who knocks this class is probably deficient in either one of these areas. This deficit may be overcome, over several years of sailing but only if one sits and looks where one is going. There is a lot to see and learn out there.


The Fundamentals of Winning: Simple Compass Work

At the 1991 European’s prize giving, Charles Currey pointed out that the Championship winner was lighter than the second placed man. Big is not necessarily best, but a brain is certainly of use; the use of eyes and careful analysis of the total picture at a rapid rate is essential for anyone wanting to win.

The next most important piece of kit after a good sail is the compass. As with the sail, the compass needs to be used intelligently or it is just a waste of space. Intelligent use of it can provide you with a route up the beat that can be 20 per cent shorter than many other boats may be sailing. This sort of advantage is too big to just throw away through lack of straight thinking, so get used to using the compass all the time. It can be used in any number of circumstances:

  • determining bias on start line
  • determining position on start line
  • finding marks of the course
  • tracking shifts in wind
  • determining which tack to start the beat
  • determining which gybe to start the run

Positioning of Compass in Boat

Older boats often had twin compasses on each sidedeck, but by far the most popular position today is in front of the centreboard case on the strut that joins the centreboard case and the foredeck. Have it as big as possible so it is easy to read, but make sure that when the centreboard is raised it does not hit the compass.

Use on Start Line

Take a bearing of the line and of the wind. Work out the difference to decide which end of the line makes a smaller angle to the wind and start at that end. With a bearing of the pin your approach can be more accurate. Just sight the pin and when the bearing corresponds to the noted one you are on the line. If the bearing to the pin is greater than the line bearing then you are behind the line.

Tracking the Wind

One of the most important pre-race actions is to periodically check the direction of the wind or the course the boat is making on either tack. Then, for any given wind direction you will know if it is currently veered from the norm, backed from the norm or near the norm – and then be able take the appropriate action. Sail for a while a either tack and note down a range of compass readings. These will not be wind bearings but boat headings and you will have a different set for either tack. If the bearings increase the wind will have veered, if the bearings decrease the wind will have backed.

If the wind is continually shifting in one direction then this will be picked up and can be acted upon. If you don’t look you won’t find. Geographic variations are more difficult to detect – you have to sail a good part of the course to find these. If the race area is downwind from the launching area then check the wind when you arrive at the windward mark and periodically down to the starting area. This will save having to sail a beat before the race.

If the wind swings round to the left – backing – and the boat is on starboard tack you would be headed, the compass reading would decrease. Therefore to avoid sailing the longer course tack onto the now favoured port tack. If the wind were to swing back to the right – veering – the port tack reading would increase and it is time to tack back onto starboard.

The simple reason why it pays to be on the correct tack is that a boat sailing on the wrong side of a five degree shift doing five knots for a minute against a competitor on the correct opposite tack will be 20 yards or five boatlengths behind the competitor. Use the adage – Plus Port (tack); Subtract Starboard (tack). Scribble down all the port tack readings and all the starboard tack readings as you sail the trial beats.

The above scribbling produces a critical piece of information – the average wind direction for the forthcoming race and the key wind direction against which wind shifts are compared. Taking the average wind direction reading into account it is not always necessary to tack on a small header if the compass reading is showing the current tack is favoured. If for instance the compass values have been between 70 degrees and 90 degrees, the average wind direction must be 80 degrees. If the boat is sailing on starboard on 90 degrees and the compass reading falls, but to just over 80 degrees, there is no need to tack. As soon as it goes below 80 degrees, then it’s time to put in a tack and repeat the process on the new tack. Easy really.

Example: (assume port hand triangle / sausage / beat)

This may be an oversimplified version of events in a typical race but it does highlight some important points of compass use.

  • wind readings are: mean = 0 degrees (45 degrees on port; 315 degrees on starboard), veer = 10 degrees (55 degrees on port; 325 degrees on starboard), back = 350 degrees (35 degrees on port; 305 degrees on starboard)
  • line readings are 260 degrees and 80 degrees – starboard end bias of 10 degrees (mean wind direction)
  • sail triangle
  • in veer ( port tack reading > 45 degrees) tack onto starboard
  • in back ( starboard tack reading < 315 degrees) tack onto port
  • round leeward mark and head up – wind = 5 degrees (50 degrees on port), therefore tack onto starboard
  • approaching windward mark – wind = 355 degrees (310 degrees on starboard), therefore start run on starboard
  • later on run – wind = 5 degrees, gybe onto port
  • on the run gybe on the lifts
  • round last mark and head up, wind = 350 degrees (40 degrees on port), stay on port tack
  • play shifts up to finish

A compass merely records what the wind has just done, it does not tell what is going to happen. The reader is strongly advised to read ‘Wind Strategy’ by David Houghton wherein more useful titbits can be gleaned to make the compass as devastating a weapon as you will ever find.


Tacking The Finn

When sailing competitively there are certain areas of sailing that can be improved upon more easily than others. For example – boat handling skills are trainable, easily learnable skills where an immediate improvement in their execution can be seen through the correct technique. The more abstract skills of feel, concentration, mental preparedness are much more difficult to practice. Tacking is one of the areas that can be worked on a great deal during race training and here is described a typical analysis of tacking a Finn

To start with we will assume that the sailor is in the hiking position on a close hauled course. It is the combination of hiking position, tiller extension, low boom and the predominantly high weight of a Finn that allows a unique technique to be employed during a good tack.

First of all the boat should be set up with the tiller end bent down. This allows full movement of the tiller when the extension is pushed away from you, preventing the tiller simply banging on the boom. Tack the Finn as follows:

  • you are hiked out, boom cleated on the deck ready to tack in response to the windshift
  • uncleat the mainsheet and smoothly push the tiller across to the other side of the boat
  • simultaneously sit in onto the side deck, unhooking your feet
  • lean down with your mainsheet holding front hand moving down to the floor block (this movement allows the boom to lift and the tiller extension is continued to be pushed across to the leeward side of the boat)
  • as the boat goes through the wind, begin to move across towards the new side of the boat, moving your back foot first
  • the tiller extension is kept firmly in the back hand and if the wind is lighter you should attempt to induce a small amount of roll in order to increase speed out of the tack
  • immediately you have moved underneath the boom, centralise the tiller and simultaneously stand up while keeping the same grip on the mainsheet so that the boom will be pulled down hard onto the deck
  • this action allows the boat to shoot into the wind momentarily allowing a small amount of height to be gained
  • sit on the new side deck, lean your arm across your body and place the mainsheet in the cleat.
  • control the amount of heel by pulling the tiller slightly and bear away to your new close hauled course.

This technique achieves two things:

  • the action of shooting the wind gains height through the tack
  • the action of standing up allows the boom to be pulled down to the deck using the leg muscles only. This is better than allowing the sail to fill on new close hauled course allowing the boat to heel and then pulling it down whilst hiking by using the arm muscles alone which will then fatigue much faster!

In lighter winds a slightly different technique is employed because the boom will be higher up and not down on the deck. In this case the helm is usually perched on the inside edge of the side deck. When the tiller is pushed away and the boat rounds up into the wind the mainsheet tension should be increased slightly. As the boom comes into the centreline the helm ducks down and at this point the mainsheet will be eased by the action of ducking down. The helmsman goes underneath the boom and up onto the new side sheeting out the mainsheet as required in order to produce the correct mainsheet tension for the new tack. The important point to note here is that sailors who weigh 14 or 15 stone are able with this technique to induce a good deal more roll in the tack than those people who weigh 13 stone.

You will know when you have executed a good tack because the boat will shoot out of the tack smoothly and at speed. Break down the tack into smaller components and ‘visualise’ each action during the tack – where you and the boat should be at any particular point. Then practice each part until the tack is fluent and smooth. The major element is to maintain boat speed through the tack, especially important in waves when a bad tack can stop the boat dead in its tracks.


Steering by Balance

The rudder is just about the most inefficient way of steering the boat that there is. Instead try using the sail, the centreboard and a bit of heeling to accomplish it. Steering will then be much more fluent with hardly any drag from the rudder.

To help the boat head up

  • heel to leeward
  • sheet in
  • drop centreboard

To help the boat bear away

  • heel to windward
  • sheet out
  • raise centreboard

These techniques work because you are using the forces on the hull and sail to assist in the steering. Normally these forces are balanced because you want to go in a straight line. As soon as you alter their positions relative to each other they start to work to against each other to turn the boat one way or the other.

Slow Speed Boat Handling

There are times during a race when it is essential to be able to handle your boat at slow speed. For example on a packed start line when you do not have the luxury of being able to do as you please. If you want to make a good start then you have to be in there with the rest of them putting the boat where you want it to be when you want it to be there! This is not something that comes easily, but only with experience and practice. There are four basic manoeuvres that you need to master. These are: stopping, starting, moving to leeward and moving to windward.


If you find yourself being edged forward toward the start line too early then you need to be able to stop the boat and perhaps sail it backwards for a bit. The best way to stop in a hurry is to reach forward and push the boom out to windward so that it fills on the wrong side. Don’t push for too long or you will find the boat moving backwards – the last thing you want to happen on a packed start line. Just stop the boat and then make it stay head-to-wind by using the rudder and mainsheet. Be careful not to get stuck in irons because then you really will start to move aft and may have trouble slowing down.


An ability to get your boat moving quickly often separates the good sailors from the average. It means that you can:

  • get off the start line more quickly
  • come out of a tack or a gybe quickly
  • round marks better

If the helm that does each of these well gains 1 boatlength over the helm that does each badly, during a race that can mount up to a large gain (assume 5 mark roundings, 10 tacks per beat, 3 gybes = 38 boatlengths – 171m!)

It is therefore necessary to be able to accelerate the boat to maximum speed in the minimum time. Assume you are stationary and sitting almost head-to-wind. Heel the boat to leeward, bear away from the wind and then squeeze the boat upright whilst sheeting in and heading up to the wind. This action should squirt the boat forwards. It is the same procedure as the latter half of a roll tack.

If you are stationary or are stuck head to wind or just want to turn the boat and get going quickly grab the last purchase of the mainsheet direct from the boom and pull it to windward. The bow should rapidly swing away from the wind. Drop the mainsheet, sheet in and go.

Moving to Leeward

You might need to move the boat to leeward if for example you are just over the start line and need to move back slightly but have not got time to sail round and retake up your position. If sitting with your sail flapping does not help, pull your board up into the case. You will now drift rapidly sideways. Keep hold of the uphaul to release it the moment you are in position or you could end up going too far. Likewise you could use this method to come in late at the windward end of the starting line by drifting in sideways until level with the line and then dropping the board.

Moving to Windward

It is not really possible to move the boat to windward legally. It can only be done by putting in two quick tacks. What you really have to do is to maintain position on the start line better that the next boat to leeward. Push the boat into the wind, then gain control. The bow will gradually swing away from the wind again so push it back into the wind again. The trick here is to be able to do it without moving the boat forwards. Easy in an adverse current, impossible with a favourable current and possible with lots of practice in still water

Offwind Rig Settings

  • adjust kicker to give even luff
  • make top-batten tell-tale fly
  • no cunningham except to de-power when sailing high
  • sheet so that all luff tell-tales fly together
  • ease inhaul to make leech stand up
  • ease outhaul in light airs to give feeling to rudder
  • pull board up unless making leeway


Basic Offwind Finn Sailing

Sailing a Finn offwind in a strong breeze can be one of the most rewarding experiences around. The exhilaration of the acceleration and power, slicing through the water with spray flying over your head is something that has to be experienced first hand in order to be fully appreciated. While most races are won and lost on the upwind legs of the course, it has to be said that distance lost (or gained) offwind is much harder to regain upwind. Downwind speed is mainly dependent on good concentration and balance when sailing in light airs but is much more dependent on strength, technique and coordination in strong winds.

Balance and Steering

When sailing the Finn upwind in a breeze, vigorous steering is often needed to gain the best performance. When sailing offwind, the opposite is usually the case, the rudder acting as a brake every time it is used. You should aim to use the rudder as little as possible, because every time you use it you will be slowing the boat down. Instead, steer by balancing the boat and by continuous trimming of the mainsheet.  When there is any breeze the boat should be kept level, but when there is very little it should be heeled to windward on a run and to leeward on a reach. However beware of heeling to leeward in a breeze as any gust coming through could catch you unaware and tip you in. Heel the boat to aid steering.The boat can be made to turn, gybe and tack faster just by using a combination of boat heel and sheeting. Obviously the rudder is going to have to be used at some point but when you do use it, use it gently and smoothly so as to maintain boat speed. One final point here, make sure that your rudder system has no play in it at all. All joints should be tight fitting so that the boat responds immediately the helm is moved and not a few seconds afterwards. Also make sure that your mainsheet is long enough to let the boom out to 100 degrees from the centreline.


As soon as you are sailing free such that the boom is a few feet out from the gunwhale the sail can be sheeted directly from the boom using the last purchase of the mainsheet. This gives a much better feel on the sail. You can feel the puffs and lulls as they arrive and can respond to a change in direction much more quickly. As the wind increases you may have difficulty holding onto the single sheet. There are various other ways that the sail can be sheeted other than through the floor block with three purchases or directly from the boom.

  • Cleat the sheet in the sidedeck cleat or let the sheet run through the bottom block until it reaches the stopper knot (the latter is not practical on a close reach). Pick up the purchase from the traveller to the block on the boom and then sheet from the block on the boom.
  • Take the sheet from the other side of the floor block and then sheet straight from the block on the boom.

When sailing in medium to strong winds, sheeting the boom through less purchases gives an advantage when the sail is pumped because the pump will be sharper and therefore more effective in accelerating the boat. However this can take great strength and stamina and needs a strong arm and a good technique to be able to execute it effectively.

Light Winds

As far as the hull is concerned, one of the major factors for going fast in light airs is to reduce the wetted surface area of the hull. All areas in contact with the water cause friction and hence induce drag on the hull. When on a run sit well forward, sometimes even in front of the traveller so as to bring the wide transom area out of the water. At the same time heel the boat to windward. This reduces the overall area of hull surface which is immersed in water. This extreme technique is only used in very light winds. As soon as the wind increases, body weight will have to be brought aft again so that the rudder has enough grip on the water to be effective in steering the boat. Body motion in the boat should be kept to a minimum as every movement will shake what little wind there is from the sail. A steady flow of air over the sail is imperative at all times. When on a beam reach or tighter, the boat should again be trimmed bow down, but it should also be heeled to leeward so that the sail takes up its natural shape.

Light Air – Reach

  • trim boat to leeward
  • open leech
  • keep still in boat
  • minimum kicker tension
  • use sail fullness to create rudder feel

The centreboard should be fully retracted when on a run, and only down slightly when on a reach. As a general rule only put enough down to keep the boat moving in a straight line. If too little is down, the boat will tend to skid sideways. The centreboard still causes frictional drag so use as little as possible. Another important device is a strong JC strap to hold the boom out. Without one, the boat cannot be heeled to windward on a run or broad reach without the boom falling back to the centreline.

In light airs the sail needs to be flat with an open leech. Little or no kicker tension is ever required. A tight kicker would give a hooked leech and would kill boatspeed and make the sail fold in on itself, making it very difficult to fill and produce drive. Ease the inhaul to produce depth in the foot of the sail and continually adjust the sheet.

Light Air  – Run

  • centreboard fully in case
  • sail out to 90 degrees
  • body weight forward
  • steer by heeling and sail trim
  • hardly any kicker
  • tight JC holds boom out
  • heel to windward if enough
  • wind to hold sail shape

Medium Winds

As the wind increases more kicker tension is required to keep the leech behind the mast. If the leech is allowed to go in front of the mast, a twisting force is set up which can roll the boat into windward. However if the rolling can be controlled, this technique, combined with sailing slightly by the lee, can be fast. You must have twist in the sail to make sailing by the lee effective. To induce twist in the sail ease the kicker so that the leech moves forward and to reduce twist tension the kicker
to move the leech back. When sailing by the lee the wind flow along the sail reverses and flows from the leech to the mast so a hooked leech is not good as it offers a barrier to the wind as it enters the sail. To utilise this technique your mainsheet must be long enough to allow the boom to extend out to 100 degrees from the centreline. To gain a little bit of extra length, let the traveller right out to the sidedeck.

Medium Air – Run

  • centreboard up
  • some kicker
  • boom out to 90 degrees
  • sheet direct from boom
  • heel to windward

In the increased wind move your weight further aft to gain rudder control and to bring the bow out of the water (essential when it is windy enough to start planing). The sail will need to be flattened slightly when reaching otherwise the boat might prove hard to control. Tensioning the kicker without flattening the sail will cause the leech to hook and that will induce weather helm. This is alleviated by flattening the foot so that the leech opens. Also the centreboard may need to be dropped slightly on the run to gain stability, and on the reach to stop the boat slipping sideways. Continually adjust the mainsheet. Ease it until the sail just luffs then haul in until the telltales stream, then ease until the sail just luffs and then do it again and again.

Medium Air – Reach

  • play gusts/waves constantly
  • use kicker to produce even luff
  • sit aft to bring bow up
  • slight tension on inhaul/outhaul
  • keep boat flat

Sail Shape on a Reach

On a reach the fundamental requirement is an even angle of entry of the wind at the luff. Set up the fullness of the sail to match the wind conditions and then adjust the kicker such that all of the luff tell tales are flowing together – that they all lift together at the same time. If the wind eases, there will be less force on the leech and consequently it will start to hook and the sail will stall. Ease the kicker to open up the leech a bit until the tell-tales are streaming together again. If the wind increases, the extra pressure in the sail will cause the leech to open up more (giving the sail more twist). As a result the luff will not be aligned. Tension the kicker to bring the sail back into line, closing the leech and straightening the luff. Whereas too loose a kicker can be seen by the fluttering luff, too tight a kicker can be seen by the leech tell-tales looking lifeless and not streaming. It can thus be seen that on a offwind leg, the kicker needs to be adjusted almost as much as the mainsheet in order to maintain optimum sail shape.

Priorities on a Reach

  • balance boat to minimise steering and drag
  • adjust sheet continuously to match wind direction
  • trim to leeward in light airs – otherwise keep it flat
  • sail trim – even luff shape, leech contains power
  • coax sail in gusts and lulls using kicker and sheet
  • obtain clear air and space to realise strategy


There will no doubt be waves around by now and the helm that can use them well can make big gains over those helms that cannot. Basically the technique consists of watching for a wave to come, steering (by trimming, balance and perhaps a little rudder) to catch the wave, surfing down the wave, loosing it and then picking up another. Always head for the troughs, and you will always be heading downhill. If you head for the crests you will always be heading uphill, which is slow. When on a wave, steer down for the lowest point that you can see so that you are always moving down a wave. If it is very windy you may find yourself ploughing into the wave in front. Head up or bear away and pick up the next wave just before you hit the wave in front. Hitting waves not only slows you down considerably, but you also run the risk of a broach. If the wind is not quite strong enough for you to keep up with the wave, you will eventually find the wave overtaking you, the crest moving underneath the boat. Pump hard (maximum 3 times per gust/wave)to maintain position on the wave for as long as possible, steering for the lowest point of water around you, so that you are always moving fast. When you eventually fall off the the wave head up a little and look for the next one on which a catch a ride, and then bear away again once on it, pumping hard to initiate surfing.

Strong Winds

Sailing a Finn offwind in strong winds requires strong arms and quick reflexes. Your primary task is to stop the bow burying into waves because not only will this slow you down somewhat it also runs the great risk of causing a capsize, which becomes more spectacular the further away from the wind you are. So sit well back in the boat to bring the nose up. Play the sheet constantly either from the boom or more probably direct from the floor block, as this allows better body movement – you are not being pulled out of the boat, just into it. The gusts need to be played on the reach and the run. On a reach bear off to stay with the area of stronger wind for longer; come up in the lulls to find the incoming gusts. When on a run it may pay to come up slightly to promote planing in the gusts and bear off in the lulls. Conversely in survival conditions it can pay to bear off in the gusts to reduce the heeling effect and so gain better control of the boat and also to head up in the lulls when you will be able to control the boat more easily when planing flat out.

Heavy Air

  • keep sail fairly flat
  • half centreboard down
  • sit further aft
  • tight kicker – but avoid dipping boom in waves
  • let kicker off for the gybe

When gybing use minimum kicker and a flat sail to survive. With no kicker on, the boom will be way above the deck and your head, and there will be little power left in it. Also beware of too tight a kicker on reach. A gust catching you unaware can heel the boat just enough to dip the boom end in the water and flip you in. Whereas in some classes body weight can be enough to ‘lump’ the boat upright again and bring the boom out of the water, in a Finn this can be almost impossible. Therefore try to keep the boat dead level or heeled slightly to windward and ease the kicker slightly if you find the boom starting to skim the water. Waves just make the matter worse of course.

Centreboard position is very much personal choice. As a rough guideline, a ‘safe’ point to have it is when the top upper most corner is just going into the case. More than this is usually unnecessary and less than this make the boat hard to control in waves and gusts, but can be faster if you are in control of the boat.

Downwind Speed

When sailing upwind, the boat that reaches the windward mark first is normally the boat that has taken the best route up the beat as dictated by wind shifts, tide etc – in short, by taking the shortest route possible. Offwind, the speed of the boat has more importance than distance sailed. Always steer for clear water and clean wind. Disturbed water and wind can completely destroy downwind performance, so a route should be steered clear of all other boats and obstructions. You may find yourself taking a very
roundabout route to the leeward mark but if you can maintain full speed all the way while others are only travelling at 50 per cent speed you will obviously get there quicker. With a constant wind always try to power up the sail, by sailing by the lee, easing kicker and reversing flow, raising centreboard and reducing wetted surface area. In a very shifty wind, sailing by the lee can be slow because the boat will always be wanting to gybe and much steering may be required to hold on the boat course. Better to tighten the kicker and steer a higher course to maintain the wind in the sail.


Going for it Offwind

The following attempts to point out some of the more obvious techniques to enable mid fleet sailors to have a better chance of winning. A cheque book will not be required just the enthusiasm to work with your existing boat, rig and rudder. However there is a certain molecule that is well worth getting hold of:- ATP or adenosine triphosphate.

Whilst the upwind slog invariably involves pain, the offwind leg, whilst giving momentary relief at the windward mark, can offer more horrors and pleasure in both legs and arms as the Finnster goes into overdrive to surf, plane, pump and ‘work’ his craft to the gybe mark. To cap it all he might even get puffed out.


Simply put, for muscles to work a copious supply of ATP is required to facilitate the contraction of your muscle fibre(s). To produce a continuous and adequate amount of ATP, a good supply of blood glucose and loads of oxygen are needed allowing – aerobic glycolysis. It is not rare for the muscle to run out of oxygen to some degree: ATP is still made but very inefficiently by – anaerobic glycolysis, so you get less from your bag of sugar in this way. What is more, when there is a lack of oxygen in the muscle, a by-product builds up – lactic acid. This acid not only causes cramp and pain, but uses up even more energy in your liver as it is detoxified, so you get exhausted quicker. There is a very simple remedy to sort this little problem out. You need bigger lungs and a stronger heart to collect more oxygen and pump it more quickly to the muscle. Forget the glucose tablets, it will arrive too late, but breathe deeper, it’s your only chance. Luckily it is possible to stretch your lungs and so increase the availability of oxygen. Running, swimming, cycling, circuits, dancing or anything else that increases the heart rate for 15 minutes or more is useful in this respect.

To be really fast offwind you need to be mobile in the boat, often single or two parting the mainsheet, then have sufficient composure to flip the boat round at the gybe mark and set off on the correct tack on the next leg. This all requires stamina, without which on a breezy reach you have had it. This aspect of Finn sailing should not be lightly dismissed if you want to do better.

Offwind Steering

The rudder is an obvious item to tackle. It would seem a good idea to get rid of it! Rudders used badly have probably accounted for more lost races and positions than any other bit on the boat. The reason for this is that they become a first class brake when abused. The rudder needs to be used in conjunction with all the other controls that turn the boat. This means heeling the boat to windward (leaning aft too) to bear off and heeling to leeward (and leaning forward) to head up. At the same time, the mainsail needs to be trimmed: eased to bear off or pulled in to head up.

If when steering you have weather helm it may be due to the sail being over trimmed, boat heeling to leeward, not hiking hard enough or the centreboard may be too far down. In any case the weather helm will be causing the boat to slow, miss waves, be slow to get up on the plane and so lose distance on the other boats. So if in doubt let it out. The sail!

Obviously the rudder does need to be used to some degree offwind, but in judicious amounts relative to the wind and wave conditions. In light winds the rudder should have no feel –  a neutral feel with the flow of the water passing across both sides of the blade evenly. To achieve this, balance the boat by heeling it, steer with just the tips of your fingers and keep still in the boat. If you wish to move do so by degrees. Tactical situations excepted, move gently. If you are looking around, just swivel your head, not your whole body or you will rock the boat.

In medium breezes, but before planing or surfing opportunities appear, small waves will be washing against the boat and the rudder. In this case the rudder should be allowed to wriggle with the altering water flow, the tiller extension moving an inch or so either side of the mean position. Again steer the boat with heel to maintain the strategic course and make course changes with all three controls: sail, heel and rudder,

In high winds the need to be aware of outside steering influences is vital: the gust that increases weather helm, the solid wave in front of the bow. The key is anticipation. Ease the sail and heel to windward as you bear off for a gust. Hike aft when a big wave threatens to turn the boat into a submarine. Don’t just sit there, move around the boat and keep it balanced. In the lulls head up a touch and look for a dark patch of water, indicating a puff.

Wave Technique

Catching waves takes precedence over minimal rudder use as the advantages of being quickly on the plane offset those of rudder drag. However, bear in mind the above for top performance. At high speeds the centreboard is likely to cause weather helm and heel the boat, so pull it up to suit you. The idea is to keep the boat heading for a hole so that it is always surfing downhill. The boat needs to be dead flat, the helmsman working the mainsheet continuously and hiking in and out to achieve this. Obviously there is the panic down-helm lunge to prevent the windward wipeout in those moments of concern! Remember at high speeds the powerful Finn rudder can have a very dramatic effect on the boatís course, so go gently. Ploughing into the back of waves is a frequent hazard in a Finn. To reduce the damage, head up, sheet in and lean backwards, helping the bow up and out of the mass of water. Then head for the next available trough to start planing again.

Pumping to some Finnsters may appear out of order, but it is a fact of life on the International scene, so the top helms are going to use the technique whenever the rules allow. Therefore we all need to learn how to use the technique effectively, as bad pumping can do more harm that good. It is not necessary to single part if you are not up to it: alternative methods can be used. Up to three good tweaks of the sheet are needed, as the bow bursts into space on a wave crest and at the same time moving your body forward to drop the bow into the trough, trimming the sheet in for the increased boat speed and then moving aft a little to keep the bow riding just above the water. If you are surfing/planning with huge sheets of water flying up off the bow towards halfway up the mast, you need to move further aft!

Maintain the surf for as long as possible, essentially learnt by much practice in the right conditions. Methods to prolong a ride include gently snaking down the course on a really big wave, again with the combination of heel, sail trim and rudder. On the shorter more confused seas try to traverse the wave by luffing or bearing away a touch, but always away from the highest mound of water in front of your wave. In this way when the surf is lost you don’t pile into a wall of water, screw round with your boom in the water and capsize! Even if you are scared, maintain the aggression and tackle the elements head on – no messing. If however you have run out of ATP, sit right back, sheet in a bit and steer to keep the boat plumb upright. If it heels towards you push the helm away; the helm to you if the boat starts to broach to windward.

Essentially practice makes perfect on the technical side, but fitness and agility are of paramount importance to keep going.


Gybing the Finn

Gybing the Finn is one of those manoeuvres that requires much practice and is easy to improve with practice. However it is essential to ‘visualise’ what you are trying to achieve during the gybe – where you should be in the boat and what you should be doing at all times into the gybe, during the gybe and out of the gybe. How you go into the gybe and how you come out of the gybe is probably more important than actually doing the gybe as this is where the mistakes are more frequently made. There are many techniques for gybing the Finn. Pick one that you can get along with and perform confidently in all conditions.

Boat Set-up

A number of aspects apply to all methods of gybing. The idea is to perform the gybe without the boat losing any speed through the water, doing it smoothly and with the minimum of fuss. To allow adequate space underneath the boom the kicker should be slackened a touch. In strong winds this is essential, as is sheeting in the boom slightly so that the leech does not extend forward of the mast. If it does then the resulting force will try to roll the boat into windward. A tighter kicker will give you more acceleration out of the gybe, but with the disadvantage of a lower boom. A looser kicker will provide a safer gybe but with less speed out the other side because of the loss of power in the now open leech. With the centreboard, a compromise has to be reached between having too much down so that the boat may trip over itself and having so little showing that the boat skids sideways, possibly rolling you in in the process if you are not quick enough to respond on the helm. In general, set its position such that the corner on the aft face of the board is just showing out of the case. This gives an extension of about ten inches below the hull. The mainsheet system should be free flowing and must not catch on any fittings or jam up in its own blocks.

When to gybe

There is only really one moment to gybe, if you have the luxury of time. Gybe when the boat is going fastest down the biggest wave that you can find. This will ensure that there is hardly any pressure on the sail and it will be easier to haul over. Also when the boom extends out to the new leeward side there will be very little force on it (providing you are still moving down the wave that is), and the boat will therefore be much easier to control while you sort out your position in the boat. On the larger waves you may find the boom has reluctance to actually take up position and the sail flaps along the centreline. This happens because you are moving faster down the wave than the wind is blowing. Watch out for when you slow down and make sure the boom is hovering on the side of the boat that you want it to end up on.


Steering is a very important part of the gybe. In strong winds how you steer into and out of the gybe can determine how successful it is – i.e. if you capsize or not. You must steer positively through the gybe. Don’t hesitate or back out – this will invariably cause a capsize in windy weather or a significant loss of speed in light airs. Sometimes it can pay to steer a ‘s’ shape into and out of the gybe when on a run. Bear away hard into the gybe, swing round through the gybe and bear away again to resume your original course.

Ways to Gybe

There are two principle ways to gybe a Finn. In one method you are facing the boom as it passes through the wind, and in the other method you have your back to the boom. The method you choose to gybe can be changed depending on the situation you are in, although it is far better to stick to one method and excel at that. However you may have to change technique occasionally, for example in extreme windy weather or when crash gybing to avoid another boat or an obstruction.

Gybing Facing the Boom

If you are sheeting through the block on the floor (and not direct from the boom) then when gybing grab hold of at least one, if not all, of the mainsheet purchases to pull the boom over. Don’t try to gybe by giving the sheet a sharp tug through the floor block (except in survival conditions). Because of the length of the boom it can take a long time to react to your pull and come across too slowly- taking it straight from the boom produces a more positive action which is more reliable. In lighter winds, when gybing from a reach to a reach, the boat can be rolled to windward going into the gybe, thus making the boom fall down. Once the boom has passed through the wind, roll the boat the other way, to the new windward side. As the wind increases you will need to keep the boat flat at all times. Only try to pull the boom across the boat once you have steered round so that the wind is blowing onto your lee quarter. The technique is therefore thus:

  • sheet in, ease kicker and point tiller extension away from you
  • bear away until wind is off lee quarter
  • holding the sheet directly from the boom, give a positive tug, pulling it as far across the boat as your reach permits
  • as boom passes overhead move aft foot across boat, body facing forwards
  • with the tiller extension behind your back steer the opposite way out of the gybe to the way the boat is trying to go – you will then follow a straight course. If the boat is trying to spin into the wind (more usual), then you must bear away hard to counteract it
  • move forward foot over, swivel body and then sit on sidedeck
  • drop the tiller extension, or sit on it, change hands on sheet and pick up extension again. (In light airs the change can be made while standing up after the gybe)
  • tension kicker, sheet out and adjust course

The main advantage of this method is that you can see the boom coming and can time your movements and actions much more precisely.

Not Facing the Boom

This method is very different from that just described. First of all you change hands on the sheet and the tiller extension before the gybe is commenced. This means that as you come out of the gybe you are ready to start sailing properly immediately and have little sorting out to do. As a result your speed out of the gybe can be faster.  Kicker and sheet adjustments are the same as above.

  • holding the sheet straight from the boom, bring your tiller hand across to grab it while
  • turning your back to the boom and and picking up the tiller extension from behind your back. Keep the tiller extension pointing at the current windward side.
  • pull the sheet and duck down so the boom passes over your head and across the boat.
  • flip tiller extension to new windward side as soon as boom has passed
  • move backwards onto the new sidedeck and sit down
  • assume correct course

From this it is obvious that as soon as the boom has passed overhead you have effectively completed the manoeuvre. All you then have to do is sit down and carry on sailing. This gybe has often been dubbed ‘the experts gybe’ in that it looks cleaner and done properly can produce a better result. However it is much more difficult to get right and can cause problems in windy weather because the boat has to be kept dead level throughout, while you are facing the wrong way and unable to sit on the sidedeck. It is also much easier to make a mistake and harder to recover from one because your hands are effectively crossed. But practice makes perfect!


Sailing in Different Conditions

The following short sentences are taken from an article on Stuart Childerley in 1988. Remember them and understand why they are important.

Light Wind Technique

  • Mast rake at 6.76 on Stuart’s boat. This will vary between individual boats due to differences of mast position and transom height, but gives you a starting point.
  • Vary the mainsheet continuously altering the leech tension all the time. Leech exhausting parallel to the centreline of the boat, but trying to bend the mast to start pointing up.
  • Outhaul approx. 4” from black band.
  • Adjust the tack to pretty the sail up.
  • No Cunningham.
  • Only a small amount of kicker downwind.
  • JC Strap very tight.
  • Body weight in boat by the traveller.
  • Very gentle on the rudder movements.
  • Little or no plate downwind.

Medium Wind Technique

  • Mast rake goes forward to 6.78m.
  • Tension mainsheet and adjust traveller so boom is on edge of the deck at the sheerline.
  • Outhaul tensioned a bit.
  • Tack near the mast.
  • Sometimes use the Cunningham.
  • A tight kicker downwind to maximise power.
  • Body just away from traveller.
  • Use the rudder a lot in the chop and to keep the boat level.
  • Minimum plate downwind.

Heavy Wind Technique

  • Traveller out more. Adjusting all the time.
  • Tack to the mast.
  • Outhaul to the black band – no further.
  • Cunningham on and off as required.
  • Kicker hard on downwind, but let it off for the gybe!
  • ‘Heaps’ of rudder.
  • Body back to keep the bow from digging.
  • Plate down a little more downwind.
  • Enjoy yourself and take a pride.

Go Sailing

Now the boat is set up. All the figures given will obviously have to be continuously fine tuned to find the exact settings that suit your body weight, your hull and your choice of rig and make your boat go like a train. What you have to do now is go out and do an awful lot of sailing.

The Finn Sailor

Most people who sail the Finn successfully are of a special breed. Not only do they have to possess the necessary physique and strength but also required is a commitment, tenacity and endurance to get their body and mind into the peak of physical and mental fitness. Nothing less than this gets a Finn sailor to the top. Winning at Finn sailing represents a pinnacle of achievement and there are no short cuts to success. Mental and physical fitness are as much a part of a top sailors preparation as sailing technique and racing skill. The tough demands that are placed on the body and mind during a typical Finn race fully  justify the seemingly excessive preparation that has gone into producing a world class sailor.

Obviously not all are up to this challenge, but it is surprising how far one can progress towards the ideal and how much your racing can improve as a result with just a fraction of the preparation that the top class sailors put in. The preparation required consists of three main areas: personal, physical and mental. Personal preparation is becoming increasingly important, something as simple as decent accommodation at a championship can play a vital part in a successful campaign. Physical fitness is self obvious in its purposes but understanding the physics of getting fit can aid the process immensely. Mental fitness has an aura of mystique surrounding it but getting it right can pay big dividends.

The Finnster is as organised and efficient on the water as off the water. He wears sensible sailing gear with a high stretch capability so that he is not restricted in his movements around the boat and is comfortable at all times. He makes sure he has all the correct gear on board, including food and drink, writing implements, sailing instructions where needed and a good watch. He has also prepared himself fully for the competition, both physically and mentally.

This section provides an overview of the procedures and training plans that can be utilised in getting you, your body and your mind into a fit enough condition to cope with the physical and mental demands of this most elite of dinghy classes. A better picture can be obtained by reading ‘Mental and Physical Fitness for Sailing’ by Alan Beggs, John Whitmore and John Derbyshire which covers this material in much more depth.

Physical Fitness for Finn Sailing

Fitness is a complicated subject, but it is a subject that is important to all sailors; being fit is vital in order to sail at your best, whatever the weather. However, fitness training must be given some thought: it is possible to train in the wrong way, or to train too hard, or not to train enough, and unless you know a little bit about how the body works, and how it uses energy, getting the best from your body will be difficult.

The fitness training described below is based upon running, but the principles can be applied to other forms of exercise such as cycling or swimming. Running is a good form of all round training for anybody: it conditions the whole body and it is easy to do from home (or anywhere else you might be), and needs no equipment apart from a pair of running shoes and a watch.


Aerobic Exercise: Sailing needs energy. The liver and muscles in your body store glycogen, which is broken down to provide glucose; in a process called oxidation, glucose is ‘burnt’ to provide energy. The waste product from this process is carbon-dioxide which is expelled through the lungs. So, if you sail or exercise easily and have a good oxygen intake, you can continue exercising comfortably for long periods. This process is aerobic activity (‘with oxygen’).

When you exercise, you need oxygen to provide energy, as described above. You are only able to take-in oxygen at a certain rate: this limit is referred to as your maximum steady state and is determined by your physical condition, i.e. your cardiovascular fitness. Your cardiovascular fitness determines how much oxygen you can take in and transport around the body for use: the more oxygen your body can take in and use, the more energy you have, i.e. the fitter you are. The object of training is to raise your maximum steady state limit through the proper type of exercise.

Anaerobic Exercise: Intense activity (i.e. above your maximum steady state) causes the metabolic system of your body to change: the oxidation of glucose to provide energy produces a build-up of a waste product called lactic acid. The reason for this is that some of the glucose is broken down without oxygen (because your cardiovascular system cannot supply sufficient oxygen to maintain your level of activity). This process is  anaerobic activity (‘without oxygen’).

The result of anaerobic activity is an oxygen debt, and it occurs fairly quickly. The associated build up of lactic acid leads to muscle fatigue and cramp. A recovery from the oxygen debt occurs when (after a reduction in the intensity of exercise) continued oxygen intake allows the lactic acid to be broken down into carbon dioxide to be expelled through the lungs. Anaerobic activity is much less economical than aerobic activity; it has a strict limit, beyond which you cannot continue. However, this limit is again extendable by training.

Lactic acid in the blood-stream not only causes muscle fatigue, but lowers the pH of the blood. Long-term accumulation of lactic acid, caused by very hard long-term training, adversely affects the functions of the bloodstream: the results can be tiredness and a susceptibility to injury or illness.

Fitness is made up of several elements, including the energy processes described above, all of which have to be trained in order for your body to be fit. However, it is important to remember that the foundation for all-round fitness is aerobic endurance. The elements of fitness are sometimes known as the S Factors:

  • Training for Stamina = long steady running (aerobic)
  • Training for Strength =  circuits or weight training for muscular endurance
  • Training for Speed = interval training or Fartlek (anaerobic)
  • Training for Skill = sailing practice
  • Training for Suppleness = flexibility and stretching exercises


Aerobic training: Your aim is to increase your oxygen uptake. These training sessions should be at a sufficient speed and intensity in order to have a training effect on the aerobic energy system, but not too fast (which would build up a lactic acid debt and become anaerobic). Through aerobic training you will improve the efficiency of your cardiovascular system, i.e. the efficiency with which your body extracts oxygen from the air and transports it around the body in the blood and then uses it to provide energy. The heart, which is a muscle just like any other in your body, becomes bigger and improves its efficiency: at each stroke it will pump more blood, and the circulatory system improves. Increased fitness can be measured by the lowered resting heart-rate that results.

Anaerobic training: Your aim is to increase your tolerance to oxygen debt and your ability to recover from it. There are several ways of achieving this but the principle is to intersperse training at a fast pace (which builds up an oxygen debt) with gentle steady running to recover. During the fast runs the amount of lactic acid built up will be determined by the speed and duration of your running.

  • Training for strength: Your aim is to build up muscle strength and endurance.
  • Training for skill: Your aim is the development of specific sailing skills.
  • Training for suppleness: Your aim is the development of flexibility through stretching exercises.

Training concepts
The three concepts important to training are:

  • Your body will adapt to gradual increases: so begin training well within your capabilities and gradually increase the loads as your body adapts.
  • Your body overcompensates: rather than just adapting to the load asked of it, your body overcompensates so as to handle a bit more if necessary.
  • Your body needs time both to adapt and to recover: adequate recovery time between training sessions is of vital importance; build in rest-days as part of your training to allow for this – donít just go on training hard day after day.

The Training Plan
An all round and thorough training system should be based upon a balanced combination of aerobic and anaerobic training. Your training plan will be different at different times of year to fit in with the sailing calendar but should include four cumulative stages:

Stage 1. Stamina: development of general aerobic endurance.
Aim for 3 to 4 sessions a week. Begin with 15 minutes gentle running and aim to gradually increase this to 30 minutes or more per session. Each session should comprise easy running for the allotted time; if you are getting out of breath you are running too fast and you are not training aerobically. Don’t worry about the distance you run – just run for the allotted time, at a steady pace as described. Stage 1 training should last from one to three months.

Stage 2. Strength: development of local muscular endurance.
In addition to 2 to 3 sessions of aerobic running a week, add 1 to 2  sessions (of a minimum of 30 minutes) a week of either circuit training or weight training. The object of this stage is to build up muscle strength and endurance. In addition to general exercises, target those muscles which get particular use in sailing: arms, legs, hiking muscles. Stage 2 training should last from one to two months.

Stage 3. Speed: development of anaerobic capacity.
In addition to 2 to 3 sessions of aerobic running a week and 1 to 2 sessions a week of circuit or weight training, add 1 session a week of interval training. This session should comprise, for example, 5 minutes easy running to warm-up thoroughly, then a 20 minute session made up of 30 seconds of hard, fast running and then 1 to 2 minutes of easy, steady running (or walking) to recover; finish off with 5 minutes easy running. The object of this training is to force the body to build up an oxygen debt in the 30 seconds of hard running and then recover in the easy running in between; you are training your body to cope with anaerobic activity. Stage 3 training should last from four to six weeks.

Stage 4. Skill: development of specific sailing skills.
Having acquired a basic level of general fitness, strength and suppleness, maintain your fitness with 2 to 3 sessions of aerobic running a week (and 1 session a week of circuit or weight training if required), begin spending more time on the water in order to work on specific sailing skills. Maintain your fitness in the same way during the racing season.

Suppleness: development of flexibility through stretching exercises.
This is not a separate stage, but should be included as part of all training at all stages. Stretching exercises should be performed before exercise of any sort, both on land or water. Flexibility avoids injury. Work on all areas of the body, gently loosening up the muscles and stretching them.

Rest: There should be a period of rest, probably at the end of the summer sailing season, when you take a complete rest from racing and training to give your body a total break for recovery.

The Training Sessions
Each training session, from whichever Stage, should go as follows:

  • Warm-up. Raise the pulse rate and begin to warm-up the muscles by walking/jogging around. Then loosen-up the muscles with the flexibility exercises.
  • The main training session: Stamina, Strength, Speed or Skill according the particular Stage you are on, for the allotted time.
  • Lower the pulse rate by gentle exercises, as in the warm-up.

Yearly Schedule
The following is a suggested plan to follow throughout the year, using a build-up of the four stages as described above; it can be adapted as necessary to suit. Your starting point at the beginning of the plan should be based upon your level of fitness at the time: adjust the times and pace of each session accordingly to reflect this. This schedule is aimed at building fitness through the winter, when you will probably be sailing less, and then working on more specific skills and training just prior to the main racing season in the summer, and then maintaining your fitness throughout the racing period. Finally, once the season is over, allow your body a complete rest  for several weeks.

MARCH   Stage 3
APRIL onwards  Stage 4
MAY to SEPTEMBER Racing /  Maintenance of fitness

Fitness is important; you will not only sail better, but you will enjoy it more and get more out of it (as well as putting more into it!) if you are fit. Fitness should also be thought of as a long-term goal. It is something you build up over the years, and it will not only benefit your sailing, but will give you a healthier and better quality of life as a whole, so its worth aiming for. If you don’t try it you’ll never know!

Once you have attained a reasonable degree of fitness it is important not to lose it by sustaining an injury through sailing. Correct techniques and procedures should be adopted to minimise the risk of damage whilst sailing.

The Fit Finn Sailor
The present day Finn sailor is fortunate that the configuration and length of Olympic Courses have changed. The early 2 mile windward leg at major championships with race durations of over two hours have changed. The fifteen minute windward leg now entails less long hikes on one tack. The overall race length of about fifty minutes is considerably shorter. The sailing technique may therefore become one in which a more ‘semi hike’ than ‘full hike’ position is adopted for longer portions of the race. Hiking bench training position should reflect this. The training effect is joint angle specific.

The avoidance of a Finn Specific Sports Injury will entail thought being given to the layout and accessibility of controls and of toe straps to give optimum race biomechanics. Also required are:

  • The adoption of a good flexibility and muscle stretch programme.
  • The adoption of Proper Movements Patterns within the dinghy.
  • Time devoted to a structured Hiking Bench Training Programme to minimise isometric muscle discomfort, which will increase sitting out time.

If you do all these then take care when handling the Finn ashore that you do not sustain an injury before you launch! An injury is an injury, is an injury……….

Mentally Fit?

As well as ensuring that your body is as physically fit as necessary for the level of racing you are taking part in, don’t underestimate the mental fitness that is also required. Although this a quite a technical and in-depth topic to cover, the basics will be attempted here.

The level of mental discipline required during an event is obviously dependent upon the level of the competition you are in. While you may win every club race in sight, you get to the Nationals and it all starts falling to pieces. Confidence in your ability in the key issue here. Confidence in what you know you can achieve and the unstinting belief that you can maintain that level of ability without faltering up to the end of the race. This is often achieved by a relaxed, but positive attitude towards your sailing – a bit of fun. You need to be able to channel aggression where is is required, for instance at the start, but also not to get nervous in the process. Maintain a calm, straight-thinking mental attitude when under pressure and control the concentration at the correct level – don’t concentrate too much – it’s supposed to be fun!

Simple Tuning Guide

Mast Rake:
Use 22’4″ as starting point + 1″ depending on sail (from masthead to transom)

Sail control:
If in doubt, let it out

Wind(Beaufort) Outhaul(From band) Inhaul(From mast) Cunningham Boom offDeck Helmsman Behind Thwart TravellerPosition
0-2 4 inches 3 inches off 12 to 15 inches Against it Boom end above gunwhale
2-4 4 inches 2 to 1 inches inch by inchto depower 9 inches down to 1 inch 5 inches 2 inches inside
4-5 1 inch to tight 0.5 inchto tight open leach and smooth batten area just off deck 7 inches ease outboard 4 inches

Controls bottom batten angle: pull tack to open lower leech and reduce weather helm; ease to flatten entry and point up.
Experiment with tack and outhaul to understand effect on performance.

Use to remove wrinkles in luff in light wind. Delay use as wind picks up but use to depower sail and then to open out the leech in strong winds.

Leech Shape:
Open and parallel to centreline in light winds. Should be then slightly closed to gain power and pointing before progressively blading out leech down to the boom in strong winds.

Ease in lulls and trim in gusts. In medium to strong winds, cleat it but avoid oversheeting and only ease in extreme wave conditions.

Gentle use in light winds, becoming frequent to keep boat driving as wind increases.

Boat heel:
10 to 20 degrees in light winds but flat when any breeze.

All sail controls eased except in strong winds when sail should be flat. Plate should be mostly up, only being dropped half way when waves and wind dictate to gain stability. Kicker progressively tightened with wind. Helm moving aft to quarter deck to exploit waves.

Ease all sail controls. Don’t over tension kicker but aim for both upper and lower luff telltales to react together.



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