December 2017

Star sails: What's their secret?

Interview with Lars Grael, Carl Buchan and Hubert Merkelbach

As teams prepare for the Star Sailors League Finals 2017 we caught up with North customers Lars Grael (World Champion), Carl Buchan (North American Champion) and Hubert Merkelbach (Eastern Hemisphere and South American Champion) to get their thoughts and tips on their successes in the Star boat.


LARS: I have 3 Stars all made by Folli.:

“Get Back” 7284 (Black Star), built in 1987 and still light, dry and strong. I keep her in Brasilia for lake sailing. Very competitive.
“Come Together” 8392, built in 2009 and is as good as my newer boat. I keep her in Rio de Janeiro.
“Renata” 8474 (different mold as 8392) built in 2012 used at the Bacardi Cup from 2013 until 2015 and the Worlds in Buenos Aires.

HUBERT: We used Folli 8450, bought from Freddy Loof. I think it was built 2010 or 2011.

CARL: P-Star built in 2011

Spreader sweep

LARS: There are many different ways to how to determine the spreader sweep. I measure from the bolt that attaches the shroud to the other (a tensioned line between them). Mast with track upside down. Maximum hand tension to try to close the spreaders and then I measure from the line. For the symmetry I use not only my eyes (getting worse) but levels for an accurate measurement on the line and at the mast step. Numbers varies a lot from the conditions and (or) if I have a stiff or more flexible mast.

Numbers vary from 115mm to 135mm (4.5″ – 5.3″) depending on weather, sail and mast. In Buenos Aires we had 131mm (5.15″) till the third race and then we changed for 120mm (4.7″) when the wind got lighter.

HUBERT: We always had a distance of 127mm (5″) measured from a thin shockcord which came through the shroud holes to the end of the mast. We never changed that in Argentina.

CARL: We are at (5-1/2”) (139mm). We had a fair bit of play in our butt, so the effective sweep may be more like 6” (152.4mm). It may have been even more, but I squeezed the mast step a bit tighter before the NA’s. That may have helped pointing a bit.


LARS: Rake changes a lot. 8474 is from a different mold and we have to increase 14mm on a basic rake number as the bow is lower according Andrea Folli. We sail with 99cm (39″) on light air (up to 8 knots), 97.5cm (38.3″) on medium air (9-16 knots), and 98cm (38.5″) on heavy air.

HUBERT: Our base measurement (sailing in 12 knots) for the rake is 950 mm (37.4″)(measured from the deck to a mark on the forestay. You get that mark, when you pull down the forestay along the mast and take the upper end of the black band of the mast). We changed the rake due to the wind and sea conditions. In lighter air and flat water (crew sitting on the deck) we put the mast more upright about 10 mm. If it was very, very light you have to give more rake again. Also if we start to get overpowered in a breeze and if the waves get bigger, we give more rake (about 20mm).

CARL: 36.5” on our boat I think, maybe a little less. Our butt is one hole further forward than many P-stars I have seen, so it takes slightly less forestay length to get the same effective rake. Once I get it in a good spot I tend to leave it.

Shroud tension

LARS: The variation between light and really heavy can get to 2 ½ full turns. The Loos & Co measurement device is not precise and changes from a tool to another. With a recent tool, I would say we sail with 22 in light air; 23 ½ in medium air; and 24 ½ in heavy breezes. Much more than that, the mast collapses with only more bend without adding tension, except you have a really stiff mast. I have one stiff mast on my 8392 in Rio.

HUBERT:  Base trim on the uppers (10-12 knots) is 23. In less wind we went to 22. In more wind, getting overpowered 24 or sometimes more. Distance between Lowers were 710 mm measured 910 mm up from top of the black band of the mast. With the Lowers we did only very small changes (one face tighter or looser on the starmasters).

CARL: 22 to 23 on the outer lowers, 28-1/2” on the inner lowers. We are at the high end of the range on the intermediates (2-15/16”) Do you change with the wind strength or sea conditions? We did not change things much. If I spent more time sailing, I would like to work on other settings to expand my range, but for us it is best to keep it simple.

Lars Grael and Samuel Gonçalves

Chages of trim from bumpy to flat water

LARS: On flat water, the flatter sails give more pointing angle and even speed. On bumpy waves, you need more power (fuller sails) but, at the same time, a capacity to open the leech when the boat gets stuck on a wave. After sailing Tornados for many years, I pay a lot of attention to the upper mainsail batten.

HUBERT: Due to the shallow waters in Buenos Aires, we often had choppy or bumpy conditions. In these conditions you want a powerful sail (especially more in the bottom) which is twisting in the upper leach so you can steer more easily through the waves. You want to go fast and not get stuck in the waves by trying to point too hard. A common mistake in choppy water and light wind is going with a flat sail and tight mainsheet – your boat will slow down and cannot move through the waves. Depending on the wind strength I think it is easier to go with a little more rake or ease the mainsheet some cms and give more tension on the lower backstay, so you can power through the waves. In light wind you can also ease the outhaul and cunningham a little. It was very hard to steer the boat very concentrated all through the race in this difficult bumpy conditions.

On a more flat water you can come back to a more flat sail profile, with the leach of the main more closed (less rake, mainsheet tighter).

CARL: Sheet tension is, of course, the big one. I probably use more lower backstay tension in smooth water also.


During the Worlds Lars was the fastest boat downwind, with many great comebacks that helped them to win the title. We asked: Are there one or two things that you focus on setting the boat up downwind? Is it mast position or vang tension? What is the most important for you?

LARS: Both. Mast position has to go forward enough. Some old Stars get more competitive when you open the deck hole to allow to move forward, but of course there is a limit. The vang is extremely sensitive and you have to try until you feel the boat is nice to drive on the waves. In doubt? Release it!!! The boat lateral heel is also very sensitive. When to heel to leeward and when is time to change to windward? Not only depending on wind speed, depends on your goal to go faster or sail deeper. The Folli boat is more critical in defining a correct heel angle. It doesn’t like to sail horizontal downwind NEVER! (in my opinion)

Philip Buhl and North Sails representative Markus Koy training for the SSL Finals 2017.

Training & preparation

LARS: The regattas against a good part of the top level fleet helped a lot our preparation – The Star Winter Series + Bacardi + Western Hemispheres in Miami. At the Europeans we chartered a good boat but we felt some deficiencies to improve. Racing in Brazil against guys like Torben, Pascolato and Fuchs, for an example, push us harder. I believe the days that we spent in advance in Buenos Aires were crucial to the win.

HUBERT:  For the South Americans Markus and I had no particular training, we only sailed the Western Hemisphere in Miami. But both of us sailed several races in the Star or other classes like J/70 and Dragon. My last regatta in the Star before the South Americans was the Eastern Hemisphere Championship in the Netherlands. It took the first two races in the South Americans for Markus and I to get used to the wind, wave conditions, the current and also to get accustomed to our boat handling. Fortunately Markus could compensate several mistakes I did. It was a pleasure to race with him in the South Americans and the Worlds in Argentina!

CARL:  In the past my method for tuning the boat was to let my Dad borrow it and then just never touch anything. For some reason, I have not really done that with this boat, so it took me a while. As you can see, most of our settings are geared more toward lighter air and pointing. This is mainly because those seemed to be our weaknesses, and these settings give us the best all-around performance. Once we got things set up where we were comfortable, we just tried to concentrate on sailing, sail trim and keeping our heads out of the boat. I felt like we were pretty good in transitions and that was largely because we were comfortable and confident with the boat and shifted quickly into the right gear without having to take our attention away from tactics.

An earlier version of this interview was prepared by Eric Doyle, North Sails’ Star class leader in North America and appeared on North Sails website. We thank North Sails for allowing us to reproduce this interview here.