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What does ‘fly’ mean in sailing?

As a sailing enthusiast, you may have come across the term ‘fly’ once or twice. But what does it actually mean in sailing?

In the world of sailing, ‘fly’ is a term used to describe a sail that is fully extended with its edges parallel to the direction of the wind. In this configuration, the sail is said to be “trimmed to fly”. When a sail is trimmed to fly, it captures the maximum amount of wind energy possible and propels the boat forward at top speed, making it an important concept for competitive sailing.

The process of getting a sail to fly involves a few steps. First, the sailor must adjust the angle of the sail with respect to the wind (known as the ‘angle of attack’) to ensure that it’s capturing the most wind possible. Then, the sail must be adjusted to minimize any airflow turbulence, which can slow the boat down. This is done by carefully controlling the curvature of the sail and using sail controls like the cunningham, outhaul and boom vang.

Achieving a perfectly flying sail requires skill, precision, and experience. Even a slight deviation from the ideal trim can significantly reduce the boat’s speed and performance. Experienced sailors can ‘feel’ for the ideal trim, but it’s not always intuitive, which is why sailors often rely on instruments like wind indicators, knotmeters or GPS speed logs to get an accurate sense of what’s happening on the water.

So, why is it important to fly your sail perfectly? Speed, of course, is a major factor in competitive sailing, where even tiny improvements in sail trim can make the difference between winning and losing races. But beyond racing, a perfectly flying sail maximizes the boat’s natural efficiency, enabling it to move more smoothly and quickly through the water. It’s the difference between a boat that feels sluggish and heavy, and one that hums with energy and power.

In summary, when sailors refer to “flying” their sail, they’re talking about achieving the optimal trim to capture the most wind and move their boat at peak speeds. Although it takes skill and practice, mastering the ideal sail trim is critical for any sailor hoping to achieve their best performance on the water.

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