Lift or luff?

how do you tell a luff from a lift? I sail aloong beautiffully, pointing on the wind, and suddenly the sails start luffing. my first instict is to tack into a lift. I do this but as I’m turning the sails are still luffing. I then say quietly to myself “You shouldn’t a done that!” It seem like 90 percent of the times when my sails luff, and I try to tack onto a lift, I get hammered into irons.


if you are on stdb tack close hauled, and you sails start to luff and your course has not changed it means the wind has shifted around to the port and is now coming in closer to being head to wind. the key is to identify which is a true shift, and which is just a minor oscillation.

in some mono hulls like a victoria or a soling, something that has some weight to carry it through a tack, but no so much, that you can still accelerate quickly. you can make small gains on the the minor oscillations, but larger boats like the EC12(20+ lbs) or other boats that are slow to tack like multi’s, chasing minor oscillations with a tack is not really worth the loss in speed, especially if the oscillation doesn’t last for very long.

the end result is that you tack, and the wind is now back to its original direction and you are now headed…and stalled and sailing backwards…

Don’t ask me how I know…:slight_smile: I can get my ec 12 to stall nicely…

question- Do the skippers who always win have among other advantages, an uncanny ability to tell the difference between an oscillation and a lift the second it hits? I was racing my CR-914 which is pretty good for “Playing the shifts” since it responds to them quickly. It sounds like the best away is to wait a bit before tacking so there’s a better chance it really will be a lift? or will I just end up sitting there with my sails luffing even longer? Naturally the only way to answer this is to practice a lot, anyway…


the key is to watch the tell tales, and the they start to flutter, adjust your course accordingly to keep the power on before you tack, and when it appears to be stable then you tack.

but yeah there have been days, when I am “in Sync” with the course and the wind and I can do no wrong, but there are days when I am out of sync and it makes for a loooooooong day…

it also has a lot to do with local conditions. the longer you sail on lake, your learn it. you know where the lifts are, you know which shifts are oscillations, and which are ones you need to tack on…

There is another possibility for the symptom you describe - sailing into a hole. If you sail into a hole, the apparent wind suddenly moves forward and the sails luff.


I’m quite adept at finding those as well…:slight_smile:

Gotta get some tell-tales. I do have a piece of cassette tape tied to the mast crane though.

thanks all.

Your understanding of a lift is incorrect. We’ll get to that.

But first-
You sail at Redds Pond.
If there is one thing constant at Redds Pond, it’s that the wind is never constant at Redds Pond.

The best skippers at Redds are not watching their boats. They are watching the entire pond and where the air is coming from. Watch some of the skippers. They will sail toward the street sometimes, and sail all the way to the red house, just to come back to that mark by duck rock.
It looks like the long way, but really it’s the short way.

The point here is that your rudder is basically a brake. You do not want to change course (Tack) unless for a tactical maneuver or because you have to. What I mean is, if your sails luff… don’t react. Let the boat keep going since it is powered-up.
Sometimes the wind will come right back, and you can continue on your course. Sometimes a tack is warranted.
Sometimes at Redds you can be at full-speed and then the boat will swap one tack to the other while staying on the same course. :frowning:

The wind shifts very frequently at Redds.
Pick the wind direction that will be there more often than not to keep the boat powered and moving. it’s like playing the percentages.

Sailing fat at Redds is highly recommended. what I mean is- don’t sail tight to the wind (pinch) if you pinch at redds, you’ll find yourself luffing frequently due to many wind shifts. If you head off the wind a little and make sure the keep air in your sails, you’ll travel a longer distance but will get there faster because your boat was at-speed all the time.

These ideas are true for sailing anywhere but are exacerbated at Redds.
This is the reason some of our skippers are multi-time national champions. When they go away, NOBODY can react and play a shift properly better than a MMYC skipper. Anyone can sail a straight course.

Next- Your decription of a Lift.
A lift occours when the angle of the wind changes to a beneficial direction.
I.E. if you are sailing Close-Hauled and on starboard, the wind will shift more toward your starboard beam.

Therefore, Your boat can trim a few degrees toward the starboard bow, and point higher than it previously did.

If you were to tack in this situation, not only would you stall, but you would basically have to make a 90 degree turn to get wind in your sails on port. Thus eliminating any ground made up by the lift, by playing the opposide side of the shift.

On the same note, If you are again on Starboard tack, and the wind shifts toward port, Now is the time to tack. When you tack, you will then experience a lift on the port tack and can sail a few degrees higher than you could have before the shift.

Tell-Tales will help your situation, but you will find the boat sailing much faster if you aren’t staring at your boat… but rather the projection to where your boat is headed.
If you see or sniff out a shift coming, you can tack ahead of the game.

if you sail your boat by the telltales, You’ll do nothing but flounder.

Nice job in the R-1 Regatta.

Thanks, I will save this in a document for it is useful. I was so focused on not hitting other boats I forgot the big picture. Maybe next time it won’t be 95 degrees and humid which causes brain fatigue.
Happy sailing

We were all very worn out at the end of that.
Ok by me. It made the beer taste even better when I got home.

Stay hydrated and try to move up the rungs a bit when the Nationals come to Redds in August.

John - pull out paper and pencil - and draw a top-down view of a sailboat hull and mainsail. Forget jib for moment. Then draw an arrow showing where wind (hypothetical) is coming from and another AWAY from bow showing desired direction of boat… Now draw a wind-arrow a bit lower than the original, and you can see you can head up (sail closer to desired direction) - or fall off a bit (reaching) for more speed if needed.

Now draw another wind arrow above the original, and you can see in order to maintain full sails, you will “HAVE” to fall off a bit to maintain speed, but sail a bit away from desired direction. If the upper drawn wind-arrow starts to get closer to the front of the boat, you are being headed and Breakwater’s suggested tack is needed. Once you tack, the process starts all over again, except on the other side of the boat drawing.

Take some time before your race heat and look at upwind buoy and watch other boats as they sail towards it. Soon you will begin to see a rhythm as the wind oscillates from side to side, and by how much. If quick or small, keep sailing - if major, tack to the new course. If it is as Breakwater describes at Redd’s Pond - spend more practice time to find best wind and find possible lifts along a shoreline, etc.

Without practice sailing, you will never find how close you can sail to wind, before having to tack to stay on a lift. Watch wind-on-water patterns and try to stay inside of those if favored toward windward mark. Without practice and drawing wind patterns to study when off the water, you will be sailing aimlessly.

Finally - you also have to keep in mind downwind you also encounter lifts and headers (sometimes just opposite of up-wind lifts and headers) so once you find them, you can steer where necessary to take them to your advantage - speed wise (and also tactics wise) Many sailors, once around the windward mark fall into a non-thinking mode, forget to continue to watch wind patterns and suddenly find the rest of the boats behind catching up like “Herd of Turtles”. Not until the final gun at the finish can you disregard paying attention to wind direction, and any changes it makes while racing.

Best wishes, Dick

What you have actually described is a header. Ie the wind moves closer to the bow. I have found a lift often has a slight header before in comes in full force. The best thing to do is wait a few seconds until the wind is steady then decide to tack if its a header or stay on the same tack if its a lift.
Generally if the wind shifts to the stern or a lift, you should not tack. If its a header or toward the bow then tack. You should also watch the course to see if it tends to shift one way or the other. Then be
Ready for it to do that again. That is how you make ground and get ahead.

Nailed it.

What you are describing is called a velocity header. When a boat is moving, the wind it sees is called the apparent wind. It is actually a combination (vector) of the true wind (geographical) and the wind generated by the boat moving. In faster boats, such as RG65s in light wind, the boat speed contribution is significant. Imagine that you are sailing along at 3 knots in a 5 knot breeze. Your apparent wind will be 10 or 15 degrees closer to your nose than the apparent wind. Now imagine that the true wind drops to 0. Since you are going 3 knots you will have a 3 knot apparent wind directly at your nose, no matter what direction you turn. In real life the wind does not usually drop to 0, but it you get the idea.

You must keep an eye on other ques around your boat, such as ripples on the water and other boats to tell the difference between a wind direction change and a wind magnitude change. In a velocity header the last thing that you want to do is change course. What you want to do is scrub off your speed in the direction that you want to go until you reach your new target boat speed for the new wind strength.

RE: Actually, I have described both… Wind direction arrow up (towards bow) = header (usually) and wind direction arrow down (towards stern) = lift (usually).

In the case of any wind driven boat/vehicle, the less resistance, the higher speed and more apparent wind moves forward. This can be multihulls, ice boats, sailboards or land yachts. Ice boat is most extreme example due to light weight, minimal friction/drag, high speed and they are usually sailing close hauled “all” of the time - upwind or down (but seldom dead downwind)

…and of course, the guys (& girls) at the top of their game will read the lifts and headers with a kind of sixth sense - as has been alluded to, local knowledge (& knowing what to do with it!!) will always give the winning advantage.

For the rest of us it’s dead easy: because there’s always boats ahead they provide an incredibly accurate ‘local’ wind shift guide. Of course, the difficulties arise when, miraculously, you find yourself out in front, but if you’ve still not developed the ‘sixth’ then there’s no need to worry, the natural order will prevail and you’ll soon have someone to follow!!

In all seriousness though, other than local knowledge, eg, for a given wind speed / direction, knowing how the wind behaves around trees / buildings etc, it’s a question of learning to read the water surface and reacting accordingly.


Thanks for all the great answers. It is indeed a challenge to look around at ripples when there are at least 19 other boats sailing around besides yours, and not to mention nineteen other skippers crowding around the edge of the pond. Sounds like the general consensus is if you encounter an oscillation, wait a second or two for the wind to make up its mind, then make your decision.


Don’t over-think it.

The sails are a gas pedal.
The Rudder is a brake.

Don’t make that tack untuil you are confident it will be beneficial. At-least until you are more perceptive to shifts.
Redds is fun when the wind actually comes down vertically.

Yes, that does happen.

I would imagine that that in itself is a part of the problem: you’re so busy watching sail trim & surrounding boats that looking away from the pack to see what the wind ‘might’ be going to do is the last thing to consider!! Everyone is guilty of it to a certain degree - it’s a lesson that only experience can teach…


That’s exactly right-

It’s much better to know where it’s coming from.
Rather than watch a tell-tale that will tell you where it’s going to after it’s passed through your sails.