Judging by sailing forum debate and yacht club chat you’d think that the racing sailor and the cruising sailor had entirely different objectives. They don’t, of course. Sailing is about harnessing the wind and currents to get you from origin to destination as efficiently as possible and that applies whether you’re racing or cruising.
There are obvious differences between the priorities of the racer and those of the cruiser – racers have big crews and can handle complex sails such as spinnakers more readily and they will persist in pursuing the shortest course to the line when the cruiser may be taking a longer but less arduous route. The short-handed cruiser may reef down before the racing crew even considers it and the cruiser may choose to heave-to whilst the racing crew battles on.
The racing boat will be equipped to get there fast, as safely and comfortably as possible; the cruising boat will be equipped to get there safely and comfortably, and as fast as possible.
For the most part, though, the lessons to be learnt from the racing circuit about making the boat go faster are of great benefit to the cruising sailor. In particular, sail trim and rig tuning are as relevant to one as the other.
Knowing that your sails are set to make the most of the available breeze gives a sense of contentment and satisfaction. Racing teaches you to achieve this because the focus is always on maximizing efficiency and, therefore, speed.
Knowing that your stays and shrouds have the right degree of tension to ensure the best performance from the boat without danger of the whole lot falling down around your ears is a comfort. Racing teaches you the importance of a well tuned rig for efficiency and for rig integrity, and how to achieve it.
The big sailmakers and the one-class boat manufacturers provide tuning guides for set up and trim. North Sails, for instance, has on its site tuning guides for over 80 types of boat.
The tool of choice for rig tuning is the Loos tension gauge – all the tuning guides provide Loos gauge settings. The Loos gauge instructions give preliminary settings for all rig types. Whether you’re a cruiser or a racer, or both, a Loos tension gauge will help to get you there faster and safer