Other Small Sails

It's quite common for cruising yachts to add a forestay to a sloop rig to enable the yacht to carry a staysail. A forestay is a substantial wire that goes from roughly three-quarters of the mast height down to the foredeck—perhaps aft of the windlass—and is more or less parallel with the headstay. A staysail with roughly 50% of the area of a 110% jib is easy to hoist and handle during tacks. Together with a deeply reefed mainsail or trysail, the staysail makes a snug rig that is well suited to strong winds.

Forestay tension must be opposed by running backstays or a jumper strut to keep the mast in column when the staysail is set in heavy weather. Fitting two extra running backstays or a jumper strut gives the mast greatly increased support. Adding a forestay, however, interferes with the normal tacking of any sail ahead of it. In practice the jib or genoa set on the headstay usually has to be pulled (horsed) around the forestay, which means that a crewman has to go forward.

If you choose this route, you have two options. You can either (1) live with a permanent forestay (my choice), or (2) arrange for a quick disconnect at the foot of the forestay. This way the wire can be moved back and out of the way when you're not using the staysail and are doing a lot of tacking. Some of these quick-disconnect setups, however, are unbelievably complicated because when you take the forestay back to the mast or side deck you have to deal with extra wire length.

Because the sheeting angle for the staysail is generally inboard and forward, you need suitably located blocks. Sometimes a block can be hung on a shroud fitting or at the forward end of the genoa track if it is angled inboard from aft to forward. I leave these staysail blocks in place all the time.

When not in use, the staysail (hanked or shackled to the forestay) and its sheets can be stored in a small vinyl or cloth bag and left on the foredeck. Like the trysail bag, the staysail bag needs half a dozen grommets pressed into its bottom so water can drain out.

The staysail is often a good choice for stormy weather. It's also extremely handy in light going when navigating around islands and close to shore. The small sail is easy to pull across when you're tacking, yet it keeps the boat going and is easy to back if you want to pivot the yacht quickly.

There are definite advantages to a ketch, yawl, or schooner rig in heavy weather because it's possible to set more small sails that can be added or subtracted. The captain of a ketch can elect to drop his mainsail entirely and proceed with a headsail and the mizzen. A schooner can be stripped of all her sails except for a reefed foresail. A yawl can go along with her small mizzen and a staysail up forward.

Today practically all sailing yachts have roller-furling sails on one or more stays. When the systems are working, they're heaven because they're so easy to use. When they misbehave, however, they can be a major problem that can threaten to bring down the rig. If you anticipate breezy weather, you can make a good argument for taking down the 150% light genoa and hoisting the 100% jib or something smaller. Try to do this before the wind gets up. Or maybe hoist nothing at all and go with a hanked staysail on the forestay.

Twice in my sailing career I've had a roller-furling headsail turn into a monster. Both times the trouble started in gale conditions with a furled headsail. The problems began with slight fluttering of a little of the leech high up on the rolled sail. The fluttering soon increased to hard flapping as more of the sail was pulled out from the roll. (This sounds impossible, but it happens.) Because this took place in 40-knot winds,

I began to hear and feel serious banging and the beginning of terrible flogging that made the mast tremble and jerk.

On one of these occasions, Margaret and I were sailing into Red Bay in Labrador. We were strangers to the area and our attention was taken up with the intricacies of the bay entrance.

At first I tried to pull the furling line tighter, but it had no effect. I then loosened the jib halyard and tried to lower the entire sail. Of course this was impossible since most of the sail was furled. Because of restrictions in the bay entrance we couldn't run off. And since we were reaching with a reefed mainsail and having problems with the jib, it was impractical to turn around and beat out of the entrance. I decided not to use the engine while we had our hands full with the strong wind and sail problems.

What to do? The wind seemed gustier than ever. Margaret steered into the bay proper where there was more room. By now the flogging of the sail was terrible. We quickly dropped the mainsail and anchored. As we swung into the wind the headsail continued to bang and flog. The clew would have beheaded anyone on the foredeck.

Finally I came to my senses. I let the furling line go, put one of the sheets on a winch, and cranked in a little tension. This opened out the sail all the way. Now the sail flogged worse than ever and the mast shook violently. I put the furling line on another winch and madly cranked away. As the sail began to roll up, Margaret eased the sheet but kept some tension on it. In a couple of minutes the troublesome sail was furled and the excitement was over.

Apparently when I had furled the headsail as we turned for the entrance to Red Bay, I failed to keep enough tension on the clew of the sail to ensure a tight furl throughout the entire sail. If we had been out in the open we could have run off downwind, let the sail unwind, and refurled it more tightly.

But wait! While I was sitting in the cockpit recovering my breath, I began to think about this sail-furling problem. Why in two instances did the loose leech appear in the same place high on the sail? Maybe the problem is the geometry of the furling arrangement. In a perfect furl, when the line of the sheet angle (deck block to clew) is extended, it should be perpendicular to the headstay. This allows the sail to roll up and down like a window shade. But a window shade is rectangular; a sail is an oddball triangle. If the sheet block is moved forward, there will be increased tension on the leech of the sail and less tension on the foot. If the sheet block is moved aft, the sheet will ease the leech of the sail and tighten the foot.

Later I talked to my engineer-sailor friend Ed Boden, who suggested trying out the furling gear on a calm day at the dock. "Move the deck block back and forth along the fairlead track until you have the best possible furl for the entire sail," said Ed. "Mark

Simonton Contour Grill Gbg

this position with a dab of paint or whatever. Then before furling out on the water, move the fairlead slide to the marked position."

More considerations: (1) Since the leech length of the sail is roughly twice its foot measurement, the cloth along the leech will stretch more. (2) The foot will roll more tightly than the head because of the concentration of area, weight, and sheet tension forward of the clew. High up on the sail there is less area, the pull is directed more down than aft, and the furled sail forms a smaller bundle. All of this translates to a looser furl up high and the chance for a strong wind to unwind and pull out a little of the sail. This may happen only once in a thousand times, but believe me, it can happen.

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