Words to Sail By

Words To Sail By
By Dave Ellis


Sailors for generations have used chants, songs and sayings to remember what they need to know to make the boat do what they want it to do. PHRF racing skippers and crew can use word reminders to keep the myriad things in mind that make our boat a little faster than that boat back there. Here are a few words to sail by:


  • If in doubt, let them out.
  • Make the top battens parallel to the boom. If they are full-length battens, make the aft third parallel to the boom.
  • Check the top full-length batten after every tack or jibe.
  • Trim the genny or jib first, then the mainsail to match.
  • Play the mainsheet more, the tiller less.


  • Get Clear Air. Maintain Clear Air. Stay in Clear Air.
  • To “slow” the boat, don’t slow down; make turns to go more distance (at the start or to position for inside turns).
  • The rudder is a brake. Use it judiciously. Use the mainsail to help turn: Dump out when falling off; pull in when heading up from a reach or run.
  • Telltales on the genoa: Turn the tiller toward the one that is misbehaving when going to windward.
  • Telltales on the genoa when reaching: Let the sail out or pull it in toward the one that is misbehaving.
  • After a jibe, push the tiller toward the boom to avoid doom.
  • When tacking, push the tiller toward the boom to avoid doom.
  • With wheel steering, turn the top of the wheel away from the boom to avoid doom.
  • Sailing to weather, think speed, not height. Generally “bow down” is faster on most PHRF racers, especially in waves.
  • On reaches, up on the lulls, off on the puffs.
  • On the corners, “Wide and Tight,” like a motorcycle racer’s turn.
  • A free-spinning prop has more drag than a stopped prop.
  • If you think you may want to reef, REEF. Heeling causes weather helm, which causes rudder angle, which causes slowing.



  • A smooth, clean boat bottom has more speed effect than new sails.
  • Every extra pound on the boat has to be pushed around the course.



  • A 10-degree shift advantages one boat by 25 percent of the separation between boats. Get separation at your peril-or-advantage.
  • When a port tacker ducks a starboard tack boat, unless that boat is laying the weather mark, the port tacker is now ahead. Stay to the right of your closest competition.
  • Plan ahead, anticipate, prepare.
  • Communicate to crew… before you do anything, not during.
  • Keep the crew hydrated. A thirsty crew makes more mistakes.
  • Smile! It is supposed to be fun.