No, I don't mean have beans for breakfast. I mean learning how to build up an apparent wind speed which is greater than the actual wind when very little is blowing.
Here is the scene. The boat is in a near calm and will have lightweight sails on and, with a good crew, lightweight sheets as well. The main should be pinned in the middle of the boat as it will have little to do until some speed is attained. You can apply the preventer to hold the boom really still. The headsail should be let out as far as it can go while still keeping some curve and shape in it. As much crew weight as possible should be on the leeward side of the boat to give some shape to the headsail.
It may take several minutes of holding the boat in this position before some very slight forward motion begins. Don't worry if the only way you can get the boat moving is to be going at 150° away from your desired course. The choice you have now is whether you're going to be becalmed or keep the boat moving.
As long as you're able to bring it up on to a course somewhere in the direction of where you want to go, it doesn't matter if at first you are apparently sailing away from your target. As the boat begins to pick up speed, the little amount of wind that there is will be drawn slightly ahead. This will allow your headsail trimmer to sheet on very slightly. This has to be the most gentle manoeuvre of any that you carry out on a boat.
Soon the boat's speed will increase yet again allowing the helmsman to come higher on the wind. This technique will continue until the sail is on enough for the boat to be travelling at perhaps two to three knots, if the boat is fairly big, and at an angle of perhaps 50° to 60° to the wind. This is nothing like the 30° or so which can be achieved in a decent breeze, but it's still doing better than the boat that doesn't know the trick and will be doing 360° turns and going nowhere in a hurry.
If you're able to master this technique you can probably get up to an apparent wind speed of four or five knots and a boat speed of close to two. If you were in a race and were able to sail for an hour at this speed in the general direction of your mark and the other boats in the race were not moving, you would have a break of two nautical miles, which would be pretty valuable.
The technique is most useful in long, overnight races but will work just as well in short inshore racing. It is also useful in cruising if, for some reason, you didn't want to use the engine.
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