You are making leeway in your Sweden 390. What can you do to correct your course? James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship

How do you offset making too much leeway?

James Stevens answers your questions of seamanship


Mike is skipper of Leading Light, a Sweden Yachts 390, 11.8m fin-keeled yacht.

He set out from Falmouth in October with three crew, aiming to end up in the Caribbean for Christmas.

The yacht is well fitted out for ocean cruising and has a comprehensive sail wardrobe including a storm jib and trysail.

He is off Portugal about 60 miles north of Lisbon and about 15 miles offshore.

The weather has been deteriorating for most of the day, with clouds gathering and the wind freshening. They have reduced sail to just the storm jib.

A chart showing the coast of Portugal

Credit: Maxine Heath

It is currently westerly Force 8 and the heading is south.

It will be dark soon and Mike is worried about the night ahead and the possibility that the wind might continue freshening.

He was hoping to sail to one of Portugal’s southern marinas but calling in to a refuge port now seems preferable.

Unfortunately, Mike does not have detailed charts or pilotage information for this part of the coast and as all the harbours appear to be open to the west, he reckons a marina near Lisbon would be the safest option.

He looks anxiously at the ground track, it is about 160° True which means if he continues on this course he will be unable to weather the Cabo da Roca headland north of Lisbon; 8 miles off that headland is a Traffic Separation Scheme.

What should Mike do?

James Stevens answers:

This is a serious situation as Leading Light is clearly making a great deal of leeway.

Every wave is knocking the bow off the wind and this effect is increased by the jib.

My view is that Mike should set the trysail before it gets dark.

When the mainsail is stowed, the gate on the mast track should be above the sliders allowing the trysail slides to be fed in.

Traditionally, trysails are sheeted to the quarters but I prefer to lash the clew of the trysail to the boom.

This is harder to set up but it allows the sail to be flattened and it is easier to ease the sheet in the really big gusts.

Continues below…

Obviously the crew need to take all the normal precautions when working on deck in heavy weather.

James Stevens

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

Having some sail power further aft should make Leading Light point better.

The yacht will still make leeway but being able to steer further to windward will hopefully allow them to clear the headland.

If they are lucky the low pressure will pass to the north and bring the wind further aft.

If they are unlucky and the wind freshens Mike must do everything he can to give himself sea room, including using the engine to assist.

If the wind backs he will have to make the depressing decision to head north.

If he can access accurate weather information for the next 12 hours it will be much easier to plan the tactics. They are in for a rough night.