Cruising Sail Trim – #97

Last month I wrote about our cruise from Hawaii to Guam. It was a 3500nm downhill tradewind adventure. Being a 41’ full keeled boat they estimated it would take us 36 days. It took 25. It’s a myth that sailing slower is more comfortable. A slower moving boat is more likely to be rolly. You would have to have someone smarter than me explain the physics to you but the faster the keel is moving through the water the more stable your cruising platform. Though I enjoy being at sea, I cruise for the destinations. We all know the old cruiser adage, “If you’re adjusting the sails more than once a week, then you’re not cruising”. Playing with the sails is part of the fun for me as is sitting back and enjoying my boat chugging along efficiently. Ninety percent of my circumnavigation was sailing downwind. Hopefully, most of your cruising will take place on downwind routes. The following are a few of the things I do to get a boat running off the wind both comfortably and fast.

The best way to get the boat to sail on deep downwind angles is to set a poled out, large size, genoa. Some cruisers use two headsails at once, both poled out. Even with our Guam-bound full-keeler, we found that we had plenty of horsepower with just the one large headsail poled out. We could run as deep as 155 degrees off the wind without the autopilot trying to execute surprise jibes – our only limitation.

Quick definition: a jib’s clew does not reach the mast. A genoa’s clew reaches to the mast and beyond. They are both headsails. I mostly call the sail at the front of the boat a headsail to avoid a verbal foible (say that 3x fast and then go check out your headsail).

To rig the headsail on a spinnaker pole you need two lines besides the headsail sheet. If your boat is set up for spinnakering you call these lines the topping lift and the foreguy. Without these dedicated lines you can use a spare halyard and a line tied forward (be aware of chafe at the mast sheave). Run the sheet through the outboard end of the pole. Attach the topping and foreguy, attach the pole to the mast and then hoist the topping. Unfurl the headsail and adjust the three lines so that the pole is horizontal and an inch or two forward of the shrouds. When crossing the lake they call the South Atlantic Ocean, the wind would often die at night and we would douse the headsail leaving the pole up, tied to a shroud, for use in the morning.

Why use the three lines? Chafe. I dodged a lot of work and expense on my voyage by always securing the spars. With a three line brace keeping things from moving around, the pole doesn’t grind at the mast ring and the sheet doesn’t chafe in the end fitting. An additional benefit is the ability to adjust the pole and thus the sail shape. Same goes for the mainsail boom. Your boom should not be moving around on any point of sail. I see it all the time and I suspect that it is the reason for so many at-sea gooseneck failures. Secure the boom. Low Key used two mainsheets (2x standard block and tackle with a cam cleat). This got rid of the traveler, opened up the cockpit, made boom adjustment more accurate and stopped the boom from moving around. Off the wind I would move one of the sheets forward to act as a foreguy/preventer/stabilizer. Again, the two sheets and the leech of the sail created our three line brace. If I wanted a more full sail downwind I could tighten up the main topping (the topping should never be tight upwind).

If you find yourself in the unenviable position of leaving on a long downwind voyage without a spinnaker pole don’t fret, there‘s another option. A boomed out headsail will get you there just slightly off the pace. Try as I might I could not find a spinnaker pole in all of Oahu. We hung the boom over the side of the boat, rigged a line to pull the end of it forward (a foreguy) and used the topping lift to adjust the height. Then we ran the heads’l sheet through a block clipped to the top of the end of the boom. You guessed it, jibing was a chore.

To determine perfect block placement for any headsail sheet you want to adjust it so the luff breaks evenly from the top to the bottom as you come up into the wind … in cruising, just eyeball it so the leech and the foot have a similar curve. For our rig this meant putting the boom end pretty low. This made for a wet end every now and then. Boats that break booms do so because they use a vang downwind. Vangs are rigged to the middle of the boom. When the end of the boom eventually dips in the water, and it will, the boom snaps at the vang attachment. When you secure your boom with lines to the end, the weight of the water is sent through the foreguy instead.

When the wind eased up and the boat would slow to a knot or two we’d pull up the mizzen and sheet it hard to center to reduce the rolling. Same when waiting for wind or motorsailing through a calm if there is still some swell running it is good to have the main and/or mizzen up, sheeted in, to keep the boat from rolling side to side. The slapping noise you will get used to. It’s the howl from the galley when supper launches across the saloon that we are trying to avoid.

With the wind on the beam you can fly all sails. As the wind moves aft the main starts to blanket the headsail so we take the main down and pole out the headsail. As the wind goes further aft the mizzen starts to blanket the headsail and so bring it down if you‘ve got one. Your headsail is most powerful when it is not getting bad airflow from other sails.

Motor on during squalls? What’s that about? Don’t add to your potential problems (ie: lines swept over the rail and into the prop). If you have tons of sea room and you can sail in the direction you want to go then reef down until you are comfortable. Caught by surprise? Turn and run. It reduces the pressure on the sails while you figure out what the hell you’re going to do. Keep in mind that running can keep you in the squall for longer – a good thing if you‘re on course.

On a separate note: I know that the big guy has written a wonderful accounting of our New Zealand sailing adventure later in this issue. I want to say hey to a few people that helped out. Thank you to Cheryl and Jody for looking after the trip details when I was off on other sailing adventures. Thanks to cruisers Rick and Robin and Randy and Sheri. Also, the wonderful Kiwis that made our NZ visit so perfect. Our thanks to: Phil for the great cruising info and for being an instant friend. John M. and the Island Cruising Association for helping with our big Party (and for being there for cruisers). Brenden, Daryl, Loraine and Dan and the rest of the shore crew for prepping the boats and always being so cheery. Tiny for ‘volunteering’ (great to see you again) and lead vocals. Olivia, we love you. Shane and Helen, you guys rock!!

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