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How High A Sailboat Can Point + 10 Tips To Improve Your Angles

How High Can A Sailboat Point?

Cruising monohulls sailing close-hauled can generally point 45 degrees true wind angle to windward, while cruising catamarans typically sail close-hauled at 60 degrees. Many racing boats can point 35 degrees to windward and sometimes even higher.

However, there are exceptions. Some sailboats fall in between cruising and racing, and the weather conditions you sail in also play a critical role in the performance you can expect from your boat.

Let’s take a closer look at some numbers and how you can improve your angles to get the best out of your sailboat.

How high monohulls and catamarans can point

This table gives you the average sailing angles for performance and cruising monohulls and catamarans:

Sailing MonohullSailing Catamaran
40-45° TWA45-50° TWA40-45° TWA55-60° TWA
The table compares the closest angle to windward that monohulls and catamarans can expect.

The numbers are general, and there are exceptions where these boat types perform differently, especially in stronger winds and higher seas. Some monohulls point well below average, and some catamarans well above, which is why putting every boat in one class is challenging.

However, the sailboat that points the highest isn’t necessarily the first boat above the finish line. We also have a factor called velocity made good or VMG.

Velocity made good indicates the speed of your vessel directly towards or away from the wind. Since your speed increases when you fall off, sailing at a deeper angle can increase your VMG toward your destination. Finding a good balance between your sail angle and VMG is essential to get to your destination as fast as possible.

This guide from SailZing explains the term VMG exceptionally well.

How High A Sailboat Can Point + 10 Tips To Improve Your Angles
This illustration shows velocity made good in terms of sailing angle and speed over ground. The speed figures are theoretical and may not apply to your sailboat.

Why monohulls often point higher than catamarans

The typical cruising catamarans like the Lagoon, Fountaine Pajot, Nautitech, and so on have shallow draft keels, which gives them a less wetted surface than a monohull.

  1. When pointing the catamaran closer to the wind, less lateral resistance in the water will make the boat drift sideways because of the added force in the sails. On a monohull, the deeper keel will prevent the sideway drift to a certain degree, and the boat will instead lean over and be able to point closer to the wind.
  2. A catamaran will create more apparent wind as it accelerates through the water due to the low drag. As the apparent wind speed increases, the apparent wind angle gets reduced to the point where you are forced to bear off.
  3. Because of these two factors, catamarans often have a sail plan with wider sheet angles, which prevents you from sheeting the sails as close to the centerline as you would on a monohull when sailing close-hauled.

The advantage of these three points is that the catamaran may sail faster than its monohull sister at lower angles which helps improve their velocity made good.

Many performance catamarans like the Outremer, Balance, and Catana have deeper keels or daggerboards, increasing their lateral resistance. Since they can track through the lower wind angle, they can also be rigged differently with lower sheeting angles, which adds to their performance.

These performance cats can often point as high as their monohull sisters and are faster in many situations. It is a common misconception that all monohulls point higher than catamarans because it is only accurate if you take the performance of catamarans out of the equation.

How High A Sailboat Can Point + 10 Tips To Improve Your Angles
This is a common cruising catamaran; look at the sheeting angle of the headsail.

How to make your boat point higher

There are many reasons why a sailboat isn’t able to point as high as it should. The rig, sails, and sail trim are the most critical factors in getting the best performance out of your boat.

Here are some tips on how to make your monohull point higher:

1. Inspect your equipment

  • Check your rig and ensure the shrouds are correctly tensioned, and the mast is straight. You should not be able to move it by hand.
  • If your sails are old, there is a big chance they won’t hold their shape any longer. Baggy sails make your boat heel more and prevent you from pointing well. You can compensate to a certain degree by adding pre-bend and rake to your mast.
    I wrote an article about a sail’s lifespan and ways to make them last longer that you may want to read.
  • Tension up your aft stay. It will make the forestay tighter, flatten up the sail, and bring the luff of your headsail closer to the boat’s centerline.
  • Make sure your halyards and sheets are in good condition. If they stretch, you won’t be able to tighten them sufficiently to perform well close hauled.
How High A Sailboat Can Point + 10 Tips To Improve Your Angles
Tight sheets and good heeling angle while sailing close-hauled.

2. Trim your sails

  • Tension the headsail and mainsail halyard tight and ensure no sag in the luff.
  • Start at a deeper angle to gain speed before you gradually head upwind while sheeting up your sails.
  • Sheet the boom and mainsail in tight towards the boat’s centerline. Use the traveler, vang, and outhaul to adjust leech tension and twist. The telltales should fly straight 80% of the time.
  • Adjust the traveler car for your headsail sheet to a position where you can tighten the leech and foot evenly. The sail should not flap, and the telltales should fly parallel to each other straight. When heading into the wind, sheet the headsail in tight. Think of it like an airplane wing.
How High A Sailboat Can Point + 10 Tips To Improve Your Angles
Notice the shape of the sails.

3. Pay attention to the helm

  • Find a good balance on the helm, and don’t over-compensate. You want 3-5 degrees weather helm to generate lift, but too much will create drag and slow you down.
  • You should ideally be heeling less than 25 degrees. If the boat heels more, you probably need to re-trim. Overpowered sails make the boat heel more, and you have to overcompensate the helm not to round the boat up, which creates drag and slows you down. If the sails are trimmed well, it may be time to reef.

Trimming the rig and sails is essential for upwind performance, and so is helming and knowing when to reef. Mastering your boat will take time, and every vessel is different. If you are new to sailing, I recommend reading The Sailors Guide To Nautical Terms. This guide will help you make sense of the terms and give you a detailed introduction to the different parts of a sailboat.

Summarizing what we have learned

You should now be able to tell how high a sailboat can point, whether it is a performance catamaran or a cruising monohull. We have established that sometimes pointing as high as you can isn’t always the quickest way to get from A to B because of velocity made good.

You also learned that some catamarans point remarkably well, even if most don’t. In the end, we went through some tips to help you point your sailboat higher.
By now, you should know as much about pointing as a Japanese tour guide!

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