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Posted on 02 December 2007 18:06

Learn how to read sail tell tales, and what to do when they're not set correctly.

True telltales on a boat are either placed around about halfway up the jib sail, or you can find them on the trailing edge (the leech) of the mainsail. They are usually found in pairs if done correctly, one red, one green, either side of the sail, although you may find many cheap and easy subsitutes people have added to their boat, such as pieces of cotton or wool; these are used more to determine the direction of the wind, rather than the correct use of telltales, which is to determine if the sail they are attached to is correctly trimmed (pulled in or set).

Telltales should flow backwards together, side by side, under ideal circumstances. However, they often won't be, and will need alteration to sail trim to correct them.

In Diagram 1, the leeward telltale, shown in green, is flapping, while the red one is pointing backwards. The red one is set correctly, but the green one is flapping or moving because the sails may be too loose, and sheeting in of the sail may be necessary. Alternatively, the boat could be sailing too low to the wind, and the helmsman should luff up (point higher towards the wind).

Incorrectly set telltales

Diagram 1: Incorrectly set telltales

In Diagram 2, the red telltale (the windward one) is flapping, flickering or just moving; this time, the sail is sheeted in too tight, or you are sailing too high to the wind. Either let the sail out a touch, or bear away (turn away) from the wind more towards downwind.

Incorrectly set telltales

Diagram 2: Incorrectly set telltales, again

Diagram 3 shows what will happen on the odd occasion you get it right; both telltales are flowing horizontally backwards smoothly, the sail is set correctly.

Correctly set telltales

Diagram 2: Correctly set telltales, got there in the end!

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