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Sail Configurations for Short Handed Voyaging

Sail Configurations for Short Handed Voyaging


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Published by: forrest on Dec 19, 2008
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On various combinations of sails, small and large, for cruising boats, and thoughts on how to rig them.

Joe Cooper 401 849 9400 16 April 2007 Of all the issues that exercise the mind of the sailor who is planning an ocean voyage, the one that I get to hear the most about surrounds the quantity, size, detailing, utility and eventually the shape of the sails. While it is true that many sailors have made substantial passages with a mainsail and a headsail on a furler, this is I think tempting the weather gods to a greater degree than is justified. I was prompted to write this essay after having basically the same discussion with the owners of three boats over the course of last winter beginning with the Annapolis Boat Show. One is a Rival 36, one a Camper and Nicholson 35 and one a Jeanneau 43. All three of these boats are perfectly suitable modest ocean voyaging boats capable of carrying to their owners on one of the greatest joys known to mankind, to wit: ocean voyaging in one’s own boat. This essay will look at: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Background thoughts on the sail’s force Discussion on sail sizes Small sail options The “Solent Stay” and rigging thoughts The “Cutter Stay” in two versions and rigging thoughts with pros and cons.

It is well worth the cost ($20 non-members, $15 for members) to have a copy of the “ISAF Special regulations governing offshore and oceanic Equipment,” AKA the “Offshore Regs,” on hand when reading this essay and when preparing to go offshore in general. This pocket sized booklet is full of excellent information and can be had from US Sailing. http://store.ussailing.org/viewItem.asp?ItemID=51006&UnitCde=1&Desc=ISAF%20Special%20Re gs%202006%20-%202007&Search=N 1. Background math on the force on sails First off, there is one bit of the physics of sailing to remember throughout this discussion and that is the following: The wind FORCE increases as the square of the wind SPEED. So, in English what this means is that, at say 10 knots, the breeze is, well 10 kts, but the force is 100 units. At 12 knots the FORCE is now 144 units and at 20 knots it is 400 units. So in the latter example the wind speed has doubled but the force has increased four times. This is why race boats have, for instance, 3 number one size sails then a 3, a 4, a 5 in some cases then a Storm Jib. Second: Light air (head) sails need to meet at least three criteria to be effective as “light air” (less than 10 knots true wind speed) sails: a) They need to be full in shape, b) Generally of light weight material and c) Light in overall construction so as to keep the weight down and make it easy for the wind to fill them to the desired shape.


The latter two criteria are necessary to make it easy to get the wind in the sail. Unfortunately all three of these criteria act against the typical boat’s 150% Genoa being of much use in anything but light air, say under 10-12 true, and certainly not at all recommended as a sail for general use on an ocean voyaging boat. And most certainly it cannot be used as a general use roller REEFING sail. This is why something like 75% of the general use roller REEFING headsails I do for folks in my trade as a sail consultant are of the 130-135% LP size. These sails can be flatter, heavier and being smaller to start with are more capable of being reefed to generally about the area of a 90% jib. This configuration, and two reefs in the main, is generally adequate for “most” weekend sailors operating within the coastal and near offshore scenario that comprises the bulk of sailboat operators. For a variety of reasons most ocean cruising boats are in the medium to medium-heavier side of the sail area to displacement equation. So rather like a heavily laden truck they need more gears than a family sedan. This requirement of more gears, than the weekend sailor who might go all summer with out reefing his mainsail, is at the heart of this essay. It is my experience that it is prudent for a cruising sailboat going into Deep Ocean to be able to withstand trying to sail in winds up to around 50 knots. Generally above this wind speed the sea conditions are just too unpleasant and so heaving to and or streaming a sea anchor is the common solution. Therefore we must find sufficient number and styles of sails to go from, functionally, 4-5 knots of air to 50 knots. Roughly a 10 fold increase in the wind SPEED but a 100 fold increase in the wind’s FORCE. 2. What is the right or appropriate size? There comes a time when the general use 135% headsail is just too much sail area, reefed or otherwise. What happens then? Sailing merely with only the mainsail is agonizingly awful for most boats. Sailing with a FURLING headsail, especially one that is a light air sail, like a 150, is no bargain because the sail is too full, too light in material and too lightly engineered and so has a poor shape when reefed. Some of the dedicated “cruising boats” like the Tayana, Cabo Rico, and Pacific Seacraft type of cutter rigged boats can “change” to the cutter staysail. (Roll up the outside sail and set the staysail.) However this is generally a big jump in area, a too bigger gap in the gears. For example (and I will forgo the math and merely give you the answers): A Pacific Seacraft 37 cutter with a 130% LP Genoa has 450 sq.ft. of headsail up and in 16 kts of apparent wind this sail will have 115,200 units of force distributed over the 450 sq.ft of the sail’s surface. At 22 knots apparent the same size sail will have 217 800 lbs of force distributed over the sail’s skin. Roughly an 89% increase in force for a 37% increase in wind speed. These sails are commonly Dacron and the boat is rigged with Polyester sheets and halyards so by this wind speed the strain will begin to cause the headstay to sag, the luff tension will be diminished (unless the operators have tensioned the luff as the breeze increases which in my experience they will not have done), the shape will migrate aft in the sail thus creating drag and adding weather helm This is why it will begin to feel over powered, heavy to steer and be sailing at large angles of heel. If this Genoa is rolled down to 80% of its fully deployed LP, it most likely will end up being around 315 sq.ft. and the force at 22 apparent is reduced to 143 010. However the staysail on this boat is on the order of 180 sq.ft. and at 22 knots apparent the force on this 180 sq.ft. of sail is only 87,188. So there is less force on the staysail at 22 apparent than on the unfurled Genoa in 16


true. What happens? The boat feels under powered: so here is a gap (In the gearbox) between the rolled 130 (at 315 sq.ft. and the staysail at 180 is sq.ft. This is the essence of the issue---Too big a gap in the gearbox. 3. Sail options There are a few options available to address to above scenario with the overpowered Genoa. One: You can unroll the now reefed Genoa, wrestle it to the foredeck, get it in the bag and then set about getting the 80% Yankee into the furler. With the 80% jib set the wind force on this sail assuming it is 277sq.ft. is 134442 or a bit less than the furled Genoa. This is actually why hanks are still used on some (not too big) boats going in the ocean- It is actually easier to change sails and eliminates all the rigging I am going to describe below. And frankly many of the boats that are today used for cruising were designed when hanks were the standard way of securing sails to the stays and unfortunately when large headsails were also the standard design feature of boats, which has to do with rating rules and boat marketing and is a bit outside the scope of this essay Most folks are disinclined to engage in the wrestling match required to change sails on a furler when it is blowing 20 knots, let alone 40 knots, although simply turning the boat down wind makes it a lot easier, so there needs to be another answer. Two: The general use roller reefing sail, living on the furler can actually be one of the smaller sails, say a 110% Yankee and the lighter air sails can be set on the Solent—see below The phenomenon described in point one has led to the increasing use of what is commonly called a Solent stay. Three: A Solent is a stay (and companion halyard & equipment) that is attached to the mast close to the top, generally about a foot below the topmast head stay. It lands on the deck just abaft of the furling unit. It thus roughly parallels the head stay and is aft of it by perhaps 12 inches or so on boats the size we are discussing. This stay needs to be removable, ideally pretty quickly, so as to be able to unroll and/or tack the general use furling sail if it is needed in a hurry. (NB since the Solent stay is so close to the head stay it is not practical to contemplate tacking the furling sail thru the 12” gap between the two stays) The Solent stay should also be able to have the tension readily adjusted once it is set and after the entire load has been applied and the wire and other parts have stretched over time-generally a few hours. The Solent stay offers the opportunity to have several sails (gears), as for instance: 1. A light air drifter/reacher for the under 6-7 kts true wind condition or perhaps, a bit more when reaching, say 10-14 true at 75-90 apparent. 2. A hank on general use Genoa, in the 140% size range if the general use sail on the furler is a 100% Yankee as noted in two above. 3. A small sail such as that 85-90% Jib/Yankee described above. Possibly with a reef in it. Reefs in headsails are installed in the same way as in a mainsail and were common in headsails before the days of roller furling equipment.


4. A sail smaller than the sail noted in 3 above. Bigger than a Storm Jib but smaller than a

90% Jib. In the offshore regulations book this sail is defined as a heavy weather jib and is quite specific in its detailing. 5. In some cases perhaps even a “storm Jib” although having such a small jib so far forward creates issues with the balance of the boat. 6. It also allows for any other sail to be set on this stay such as for example if ones roller furler unit is damaged or disabled in some remote corner of the world (they do still exist I am told). The general use furling sail can be built (or easily retrofitted) with small grommets in the luff on say one meter centers such that the sail can be attached (tied on with short lengths of lashing kept aboard for the purpose) to the Solent stay and used as though with hanks. 7. It is possible to use the Solent stay to attach some kind of dedicated down wind sail (poled out) and so have a double headsail “twins” type of set up commonly described in the classic texts of Hiscock and other pioneers of ocean voyaging. This arrangement requires another pole life and some other hardware and is a bit outside the scope of this discussion in general The C&N 35 and the Jeanneau both have newer spars that already have installed a tang at the mast head complete with a mechanism to hang a halyard on. In the case of the Jeanneau that boat building firm offers a ready made package including all the parts to install the hardware, these stays and the system being quite popular in France having been developed for the single handed ocean racing community, an aspect of sailboat voyaging in which France leads the world. 4. The Solent Stay & related bits: What is needed in addition to the stay is: a. A halyard b. If the halyard is desired to be manipulated from the cockpit, the necessary turning blocks and rope clutches to allow it to come aft, be tensioned on a winch and be secured. In some circumstances it is just as convenient to operate this halyard at the mast but it will need to be able to get to a winch. c. A mechanism to tension the stay. To my mind this is the most critical portion of the set up. Why? Ease of deploying and recovery of the stay and the ability to easily re-tension the stay after it has been in use (and stretched) for a while. While most of the tensioning devices one sees on both Solent stays (and cutter stays for that matter) are some kind of mechanical screw adjuster or hyfield lever variation, there have inherent disadvantages to my mind. 1. They are heavy 2. They require an operator to go to the bow of the boat and fiddle with a clevis pin and cotter pin or some sort of fast pin in order to attach the stay to the deck. Walking around on deck with a 25lb bit of Bronze tucked under your arm as the boat heaves and pitches all over the place while getting drenched with spray is not as easy as it seems in the rigging shop. 3. Then the operator must sit there and tension the stay. 4. Then bend on the sail 5. They (the screw adjustment devices) cannot be removed very quickly. As an observer of the open solo class racing scene for many years I have observed that many, if not all, of these open ocean sailing boats use a block and tackle to tension staysails. Why?


It eliminates all the points noted above, I.E. The tensioning mechanism is light- a few blocks and some cordage. The tensioning can be done from the cockpit, or at the very least, from the mast area. It is simple and fast, no heavy bronze fittings to man handle and then fiddle with. And the whole lot can be removed much more quickly than the turnbuckle, screw drive or hyfield lever type. The (smaller) sail can be bent on to the stay and like perhaps the storm trysail be left in a purpose built bag lashed on deck so the time lag in deciding to change sails to having the smaller sail set might be 5 minutes or so. 5: Thoughts on installing a Solent Stay The following is a description of how such an arrangement might be gainfully installed on almost any boat. For the sake of this discussion we will assume that the head stay on the C&N 35 and the Rival 36 are 8mm wire. This has a breaking strength on the order of 8200lbs in 302 stainless steel & 8800lbs or so in 316 Dyform stainless steel wire. Thus the Solent stay ought to be say 8mm Dyform and all the components ought to be designed to operate safely at the 8000 lbs range. Three suitably strong pad eyes can be installed in a line athwart ships across the boat in a suitable strong region at or near the stem head. On the port one for instance a length of suitable strong AND stretch resistant cordage can be attached. This line will lead up to a double block on the end of the stay, down to a single block on the middle pad eye and back up to the other sheave in the double then back down to a single block and thence aft to a clutch and winch. This blocks pad eye may need to be oriented to the most favorable position to manage the load. The stay now has a 4:1 tackle ready to tension it. If the line went to a 40:1 winch and a 12” handle was used by someone applying 50 lbs to the handle then the net force on the stay being tensioned would be (discounting friction) 8,000 lbs so enough to get it pretty tight which is desirable The top of the double block on the bottom of the wire ought to have a snap shackle seized to it to receive the tack of the sail that will set on this stay. Using the block as the tack location allows the sail to be withdrawn to the mast quickly without having to go on the bow and unsnap the tack of the sail of the deck since the tack of the sail is not on the deck but on the flying block. The tack of the sail will end up about 8-12” above the deck when all said and done but that is Ok, since most furlers are at least 15 and sometimes as much as 24” or more above the deck. When the stay is not required it can be restrained either at the mast or along side the toe rail, the forward lowers or the cap shrouds by a device many riggers are familiar with but as far as I know has no name. It is typical metal, and shaped in an arc of about 1/8 of a circle and has a lip on it that the wire sits in and a short tackle to secure it out of the way With this stay installed the mechanism is in place to add many more gears to the boats gear box, for not a lot of installation money and a much smoother (and easier on the crew) transmission will result. “Cutter Stay” Also Know As: inside stay, forestay, (as opposed to the head stay which goes to the mast HEAD), staysail stay and probably several other names. There are two variations on the geometry for this stay.


a. It is installed roughly parallel to the head stay and set back roughly 30% of J aft of the

head stay. This is the most commonly seen version particularly on the ocean cruising boats, Tayana, Pacific Seacraft etc. b. The stay is installed so the top of the stay meets the criteria of (a) but the deck end lands much closer to, or in many cases at, the stem head. Like every thing on the boat there are pros and cons for either way. Type a: Pros. (i) Stay is aft of the front of the boat so the center of effort is moved aft and may be useful in counter-balancing the trysail or deeply reefed mainsail (ii) It stands a chance of being more or less permanently installed eliminating some of the rigging described for the Solent. (iii) It is a bit less intimidating going to the inside stay to work that going to the pointy end. (iv) Sails can be rigged in advance of required use. (v) Staysail can be rigged for use “under” a headsail set on the head stay. Typically though this sail (on the head stay) needs to be a high clewed and not too big on the LP, (100% is good), and may therefore fall under the category of a specialty sail Type a: Cons (i) If the boat was not built for such a stay, installing adequate reinforcing in the vicinity of the deck can be a bit of a boat building exercise. It is mandatory that this work be well done and strong. The retrofit to the mast is generally less of an issue. (ii) If most sailing is done with a Genoa then tacking same around the inside stay can be a nuisance. (iii) If the boat has a short’ish J dimension then the sail on this stay can tend to be very tall and skinny (high aspect ratio) which makes for a twitchy sail to trim over the range of apparent wind angles such sails are commonly used in. There is also a tendency for tall skinny sails to be come quite round in the head although battens in the staysail can mitigate this pretty well but are not practical on a (heavy weather) roller sail. (iv) To be trimmed effectively short tracks will need to be installed, typically on the cabin top adjacent to the mast. In this location many boats have other things like mast rails, hatches, Dorades etc. Type b: Pros:

(ii) (iii)

It is much less expensive in the boat building portion and generally it is often easy to simply bolt hardware (Pad eyes) onto the stem head fittings and thus eliminate the boat building portion of the program. The sails tend to be a lower aspect ratio and thus easier to trim. The sail can be bigger, and with a reef installed in it can offer up more gear change options per dollar than the (a) system.

Type b: Cons: (i) This arrangement is not really suitable for double head-Cutter-rig. (ii) Still needs tracks on the cabin top. (iii) Tensioning tackle may foul windlass and/or related other deck hardware. (iv) The stay is longer so getting it out of the way might be a little more difficult. Summary and conclusions


I think that a well found cruising boat of modest proportions could cover a lot of miles and be confident of being able to sail well in wind speeds up to 50 knots with the following sail inventory, or near to it.

1. Mainsail: Either two deep reefs, so that the second reef is equal to 50% of the full sail area
AND a (smaller than ORC formula) trysail, OR three reefs, at a 50% reduction and the smaller trysail. Other considerations for sail detailing such as triple stitching, dedicated chafe protection and so on are outside the scope of this essay. Trysail. Genoa: A 130 is size LP sail designed for use reefed. Solent: 95% size jib, perhaps with a reef Cutter stay: for storm Jib 130-140% Light air Genoa made in 1.5 oz Nylon for up to 40 footers or roughly 20,000#’s of boat, or 2.2oz Nylon above this. This sail would hank on to the Solent stay, have a higher clew so can be used reaching and also poled out for Dead Down Wind running, in a breeze. With two poles can be set opposite the reefing Genoa thus eliminating chafe on the mainsail. While providing more area typically than a Genoa and a mainsail. Cruising A-sail: set on spinnaker halyard and tacked down outside the head stay. Used for reaching up to about 20 apparent or so. If the boats spinnaker pole is long can be used poled out like a Genoa for sailing DDW.


4. 5.



There are 7 sails in this inventory. Two are permanently installed, the main and the Genoa. Two are light air “specialty sails”, made of nylon and can be stuffed into any suitably sized locker. The trysail can be stowed in its own bag on deck, as can the staysail, so the only sail to really drag out is the Solent and if the block and tackle method is used this sail can be pre-rigged anyway. And finally do not forget: There is absolutely no reason, other than a dislike of going onto the bow to change sails and the time taken in so, doing why a 35 foot mast head rigged boat could not have merely all hank-on headsails. For the ultimate in simplicity, ease of handling (ultimately-there is less stuff to break), reduced windage, (a component not to be lightly dismissed if you have ever seen the speed with which a boat blows head down wind with a bulky Genoa furled on the head stay) less expense, or perhaps expense dispersed into sails and not clutches, stays, blocks, pad eyes, and so on. All in all some variation on the above arrangements (including all hanks) are to be seen on many ocean sailing yachts in the usual out of the way places. Another good place to get good ideas for ocean sailing rigging is the websites of the solo ocean sailing fraternity. While many sailors dismiss these boats as radical and so on, they are the “hands-on” laboratory in which many new ideas arrive on the doorstep on the average cruising sailor. If a 130 lb French woman can operate 1200 sq.ft of headsail (not using hanks….) in 45 knots of breeze by herself then there is hope for most cruising couples on more modestly rigged boats.


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