How to trim schooner sails?

Are there any good books or web links with information on how to trim a schooner's sails? We're looking at purchasing a schooner and I'm interested in how to set up the sails for optimum performance - not just the main, foresail and jib but also a fisherman staysail. Thanks in advance!

Sail trim

There is no book that can truely teach you. There are many sail options depending on conditions. That is the beauty of a schooner. Use your sailing skills, and the boat will teach you. If you are unsure, set sails like the fisherman under light air until you get the hang of it. Otherwise find a schooner sailer who will come on board and help out.

By de Leach

The best advice I ever got for trimming schooner sails came to me via Cap'n Tom Gallant (schooner AVENGER): "Saaail she by de leeeach, mon. Doan choke she up. Let she breeeeathe. " As you might guess by the attempt at transcription, it came to him from points somewhat to the South of Nova Scotia, from an old islander he was lucky enough to have crewing aboard Avenger at an Antigua Classic many years ago.

It's our mantra: it reminds us that there's nothing Comet loves less than to be oversheeted or pinched. It might feel as if we're doing great, but in reality we're slow and making leeway. Crack her off a point, ease sheets, and she goes faster, straighter, and makes better time upwind.

Alex Rhinelander
Schooner COMET II

By de Leach indeed

Superb advice. Sail her hard on the wind if you must, but never pass up the opportunity to ease the sheets and just reach off for the sheer joy of it. Any destination will do, if I can reach out and reach back.

Joe Garland, in his little story “The Whole World Was Thirty-Five Feet Long” said this about reaching, “Look at her go. An honest seven knots. She’s wild with it, plain joyful with the wind. A schooner wind if there ever was.

I mean she’s boiling. Still dry as a bone, less heel now, driving home for Cape Ann on her best point of sailing, the best for the whole schooner breed, the broad reach. Yes, it was the broad reach that put Gloucester on the map. You couldn’t beat a Gloucesterman when the breeze was off his beam.”


I keep an eye on the flag flying off the gaff peak. If Old Glory is streaming aft, I know I'm trimmed OK. If it is flipping around the back of the sail, I know I am overtrimmed and ease off. May not be perfect, but it seems to work for me.

Re: How to trim schooner sails?

Putting telltales (especially on the leech) on all your sails, including the fisherman, will help in figuring out how to trim.

If you have a gaff-rigged foresail on your schooner and are interested primarily in efficiency, you probably want to set the fisherman to leeward of the foresail and use a gaff vang to control the peak on the foresail. If you're really interested in performance, I think you will accept the complications of using a foresail gaff vang (have to let the gaff vang go when dousing or reefing, and have to avoid the gaff vang catching anything aloft when setting).

Personally, my primary concern when setting a fisherman is not so much performance, but ensuring I can get it down quickly when necessary.

If you are new to sailing schooners, my (admittedly biased :) ) recommendation is to look at my Notes on Sailing Small Schooners page. It doesn't get into perfomance, but it is about how to sail small schooners.