In his second in the Mastering Basic Sailing and Cruising Skills series, author Rob Macleod writes:
Just after acquiring Sojourn, a 1981 CS36 Traditional, it became apparent we were going to have to get a new mainsail. Since the mainsail is the primary sail for the boat, I wanted a well-cut, easy to handle cruising sail. Putting any of the newer, high-performance materials aside, we chose a Dacron cruising sail. The manufacturer was a major consideration, but more importantly for me was a sail that I could control the shape of the sail using the existing control lines: halyard, mainsheet, outhaul, Cunningham and reef lines. I wanted a sail that I could hoist myself, had 2 deep reefs and would drop quickly when I released the halyard. So you can see that boom and mast furling were not on my shopping list.
The primary reason for not selecting a furling sail was the loss control of some aspects of sail control (furling sails tend not to have battens) and loss of the some sail area (furling sails also lose the roach or back edge of the sail). We selected a sail with traditional battens.
Understand that sail selection is very personal. Some people will give up a little control for convenience and, in this case, we were willing to give up some convenience (furling) for shape and control. We have installed, and are still fiddling with, a lazy jack system to capture the sail when it is lowered to keep the sail off the deck and prevent it from obstructing the view from the helm.
The 3 tips for better sail handling of a traditional mainsail are:
1. Ensure the sail can be hoisted and doused easily and quickly; this includes being able to hoist the sail to full height by hand, without the assistance of a winch (I will cover furling and unfurling in a future blog) Ergasia5
2. Ensure all of the controls that are hold holding the sail down are released before hoisting and then re-set them once the sail is set
3. Trim the sail according to wind and wave requirements – the 2 primary settings are for power and for speed
My mast is 52’ 10” off the water. I know that for a fact, because I once tried to go under a bridge that was only 50’ off the water. Oops.
I am able to hoist my mainsail to full hoist (not to full tension) by hand. In Basic and Sailing Skills, I cover hoisting the mainsail in general terms. Each boat is different and it is important to adapt the process to your particular needs and situation. Mary, my wife and sailing partner can raise the mainsail most of the way by hand and has to use the halyard winch for the last 15 feet or so. I’ll come back to using a winch.
I start by steering the boat just off the wind (10 – 20 degrees) with the wind over the starboard side, to keep the sail away from the main halyard and the main halyard winch. I will usually pull the sail at least half way up before wrapping the halyard once around the winch. About that time, the weight of the mainsail on the halyard needs to be carried by the resistance of the winch. I then continue hoisting the sail by hand until it is fully hoisted. Then, and only then, do I use the winch handle to complete the hoist.
I see many sailors winching the sail up from the beginning. This tends to keep your eyes down on the winch rather than up on the sail. By hoisting by hand and watching your sail, you will see if a sail slug or slide gets jammed, if you left a reef line in last time you sailed or if you forgot to take the last sail tie off before hoisting. The power of a winch in low gear can overcome resistance caused by any of these oversights, and the result is usually a torn sail.
If the sail does not go all the way to the top (usually indicated by a piece of black tape around the mast) there is often something holding it down. And that brings us to step 2.
Few sailors let off the outhaul, downhaul and boom vang after lowering their mainsail. The only one of these three that does not lose its tension when the halyard is lowered is the outhaul. The other two pull against the halyard tension to do their work so they automatically lose tension. Please refer to Basic Sailing and Cruising Skills (or other learn-to-sail book if you don’t have mine yet) for a more detailed explanation of the basics each of these sail controls.
By letting off the boom, outhaul, Cunningham (or downhaul) and the mainsheet before hoisting the mainsail, you are releasing any impediment to the hoist. This also goes for reefing lines and sail ties. With nothing holding the sail down, it is much easier to hoist it up.
When hoisting, if the sail catches up on something, investigate, especially early in the season. Look for objects that are jammed in the slot the sail slugs go into, or for dents on the sail track the slides attached to. When we first took ownership of Sojourn, we had a terrible time trying to tension and release the outhaul and reef lines. The next spring, we took the mast down (the boat had been stored with the mast up for the several years). We took the boom apart and were surprised to find multiple bird’s nests in the boom. After cleaning the boom out the controls worked just fine. The importance of hoisting the sail by hand is you discover these problems.
Trim for conditions – power or speed
A good friend of mine, and a fellow instructor, Peter Juryn (who now sails out of Nepean Sailing Club in the Ottawa area) taught me the basics of when we flatten the sail and when we want it full.
Image, if you will, two airplanes sitting on parallel runways, ready to take off. One is a CF-18 jet fighter and the other is a 747-cargo plane. Which one is built for power and which one for speed? I think the answer if fairly obvious. If we look at the wing cross section of each plane, you see that the CF-18’s wing is fairly flat. The lift comes from the jet engine propelling the plane at such high speed, that lift just happens. The 747 on the other hand, has a substantial curve in its wing. Because of the enormous weigh the cargo plane has to lift off the ground, it requires this great curved surface to produce lift at much lower speeds than the jet fighter.
Our mainsail is capable of being adjusted for either power or speed. In light air and relatively flat water, we need a lot of lift in the mainsail, so we tension our mainsail to induce a well-curved surface. The 3 primary controls for the mailsail are the main halyard, the outhaul and the mainsheet. Secondary controls are the Cunningham or downhaul, the boomvang and the traveler. Let‘s deal with the primary controls.
- Hoist has far as you can by hand
- Using your winch and winch handle, tighten until a single vertical wrinkle appears in the luff of the sail
- Secure the halyard
- If more tension is required, use the Cunningham or down haul, continuing to hoist may jam the sail at the top of the mast
- Once the sail is hoisted, tension the outhaul until a shelf develops in the foot, if the full length of sail is attached to the boom – then ease the tension keeping the foot under tension (if the sail is loose footed, this is a little more difficult to see)
- Once the luff (halyard) and foot (outhaul) are tensioned, bear away from the wind until the sail fills
- Trim and sail on a close reach course
- Continue to adjust the 3 controls until the sail is drawing well and the boat is moving through the water
From what I observe on the water almost every summer weekend, occasional sailors tend to set their sails once and leave them set that way for the season. I am not suggesting the need to be constantly tweaking the adjustment like you would on a performance racing sailboat. The rule for cruising sailors is:
“Let it out ‘til it luffs; bring it in still it (the luffing) stops.”
The corollary to that is:
“If in doubt, let it out!”
The killer of sailboat performance, and therefore your enjoyment of your boat is too much tension.
Next time we will cover the secondary controls.
Please post your comments on the blog and we are open to suggestions for future blogs.
Enjoy your boat,