The Secrets Behind Good Sailing

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This post was written by Hugh Ujhazy.


Seekers of simplicity need search no further than a sailboat. Elegant, purposeful, practical, and functional, it is the sum of three elements: the hull, the mast, and the sails. Combine those three elements with dependable weather, predictable winds, and picturesque surroundings, and the regatta triumvirate of Malaysia is a tailor-made solution for all levels of sailing enthusiasts

Malaysian waters around Langkawi and along the Straits of Malacca are known for their light wind conditions, making for calm seas and sedate sailing which calls for yachts which perform well in light conditions. The East Coast, exposed to monsoon and more variable weather, calls for a different setup altogether. Thus the Malaysian regattas offer different challenges to those who participate, and different excitements to those who flock to the marinas to watch the races.


The Monsoon Cup, which sails out of Kuala Terengganu, is a World Match Racing event where yachts of only one specification for hull, mast, and sail pit their skills against each other in a series of events running from 3-8 December.

The Monsoon Cup is one of ten events held worldwide in which competitors race identical boats supplied by the event organiser. Each boat is 36ft long, crewed by a team of five, and competes in a “match racing” format similar to that used in the America’s Cup. Two boats compete in each event and they race across a course laid out close to the shore, allowing spectators to see all the action. As the boats are identical, winning comes down to team cooperation and strategy, making for an exciting event.

Prior to the Monsoon Cup is the Raja Muda Selangor International Regatta, which runs from 16-24 November. This ocean racing event sails out of the Royal Selangor Yacht Club in Port Klang and up the West Coast of Malaysia to visit Penang, ultimately finishing in Langkawi. Open to a wide range of boats with ocean leg and bay racing events, the regatta is a fine mix of challenges for sailors from all over the region.

Capping the three events is the Royal Langkawi International Regatta, which will run from 7-12 January and allows a variety of classes of yachts to compete. The greyhounds of the yachting world come from throughout the region to pit their skills and pride against each other while further down the field, the more relaxed catamarans and ocean rovers fight just as hard to win, be it at a slower pace.

Lighter winds on the West Coast make for challenging conditions, as Langkawi is officially in the “dead wind” area known as the doldrums. This area of calm air around the equator wreaked havoc on sailing ships of old leaving them to wait, becalmed, for weeks before a breath of wind allowed them to continue on their way.


Sailors coming to equatorial seas must consider the three main elements of their vessels, and must balance them to achieve the best possible results in light wind. Selection of hull, sail, and mast make all the difference to winning or losing (or staying still, since the boat has no wind to push it along).


The hull is the bit that keeps your feet dry, but it also dictates how fast the boat will move through the water. Interestingly, its size (length and width) dictates how much weight the boat can carry before sinking. Any boat’s top speed is limited by the shape of its hull, so designers spend significant time designing it to minimise drag from the water.

As the front of the boat (the bow) pushes through the water, the water pushes back, and the sails or an engine can be used to push it forward against this resistance. There comes a point, however, where the water cannot get out of the way any faster for any given shape; this is the limit of the boat’s top speed. Bringing the hull out of the water (a situation called “planing”) allows the boat to travel faster since less of it is actually passing through the water. This is used frequently on speed boats, but not on sail-driven vessels.

Kept free of sea life, polished and full of organic curves, the hull starts at the level of the deck and curves down below the waterline. When viewing a sail boat out of the water, it is possible to see the center board protruding beyond the keel (the lowermost point on the hull). The center board, sitting in the center of the hull, curves down to form an elegant fin and gives the boat stability when it heels over and thus prevents it from capsizing. Smaller yachts have retractable center boards to facilitate getting the vessel in and out of the water, while anything above four meters in overall length is likely to have a fixed center board.


The mast is the structure from which the sails hang. Anchored firmly to the hull, the mast absorbs the forces generated by the interplay between air and sail, making sure that sails can be positioned to get maximum benefit from the force and direction of the wind. Those forces can be immense, and as more and more square meters of sail are hoisted into the wind, the mast must flex and move.

Designers plan not only the shape of the hull, but the type, position, and mixture of sail that can be supported by the mast. Strength and flexibility are key. The vertical component of the mast is fixed while the horizontal piece can move from side to side to allow sails to move and catch wind coming from different directions.

Finally, the sails. Once made of canvas, modern sails are more likely to be some plastic composite offering great strength, rigidity, and lightness. Each has a name depending on its shape and purpose: the main sail, the spinnaker, the jib – a whole vocabulary of terms exist to govern the recognition of individual sails with unique characteristics and purpose.

The amount of sail a yacht can handle depends on the mast and hull design. Put on too much and the sails can rip the mast out of the hull. Put too little and the science of designing a beautifully slippery shape is wasted. The location of the mast (whether further forward on the hull or further back) will change the balance and performance of the final vessel. Designers can choose a sail plan which may be a little weak in slight wind but, given a little more puff, will accelerate smoothly and reach top speed quite quickly.

Sailors seek challenges both in the high seas where the trade winds roar and the gentler winds of the equator. The three Malaysian regattas offer variety and excitement to boats and crews of all standards. Make a note on the calendar and join in the fun.


Monsoon Cup, 3-8 December, www.monsooncup.com.my.
Raja Muda Selangor International Regatta, 16-24 November,www.rmsir.com.
Royal Langkawi International Regatta, 7-12 January,www.langkawiregatta.com.



Source: Senses of Malaysia Nov-Dec 2012

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