Storm Trysail

An alternative to a third reef in the mainsail is to fly a storm trysail. It can be made of the same fabric as the mainsail—say 8- or 9-ounce Dacron, depending on the size of the boat; soft fabric is easier to store. Trysails are sometimes edged with 1-inch nylon tape, which makes them very strong for their size. A trysail eases the rolling of the boat, and together with a small jib can drive a vessel close to windward in moderate sea conditions, although reaching is usually the sail's best course. Different sailmakers use various types of trysail constructions. Since the sail is relatively flat, I don't think the direction and cut of the cloths are too important. Meanwhile the mainsail, which is made of lighter cloth, can be furled on the boom, and given a rest until the heavy weather is over.

In my judgment, the trick of using a trysail is to have it all ready so you don't have to fiddle with tracks, the tack pendant, and the sheet. For starters, entirely too many yachts require you to remove the mainsail slides from the mast track and then insert the trysail luff slides. This may be easy at the dock, but in stormy conditions at night,

Trysail Sail Mounting

fiddling with slides and screwdrivers is madness. There are arrangements where the trysail slides are fed into a short alternate track and then a transfer slide moves the slides into position. However, the trysail is hoisted infrequently, and these alternate tracks can become corroded and hard to use.

My trysail has its own track, which runs from the deck to the lower spreader with a hex-headed bolt at the top to stop the top slide. This special track can be mounted either to port or starboard of the mainsail luff track. Being offset to one side makes no difference.

The luff slides stay in place in the track so the sail is always ready to hoist. Because the sail is seldom used, I stuff it in a vinyl bag (with the sliders still on the track) that lives on deck behind the mast. This bag has half a dozen grommets spaced along the bottom so any water that's flying around can run out. The bag also holds the sheet and the tack pendant.

Some sailors lead the trysail sheet to the end of the main boom or to a special block and then to a winch. I've found that as a practical matter the sheet seldom needs to be adjusted. On my 35-footers, I rig a single-part sheet by splicing one end of 1/2-inch-diameter Dacron line to the clew of the trysail. When I hoist the sail, I lead the other end of the sheet to a stern mooring cleat, work out a suitable length, and belay it. I have sewn a heavy black thread marker to the sheet where it goes around the mooring cleat, which allows me to deal with the trysail sheet quickly.

Because the storm trysail is hoisted as high as possible (to the lower spreader) the sail needs a long tack pendant. I make this up ahead of time by splicing a piece of 1/2-inch line to the tack of the sail. I splice a snapshackle to the lower end, which I attach to a pad eye near the bottom of the mast.

To use the trysail, I simply pull the bag off the sail, attach the sheet to an aft mooring cleat, and snap the bottom of the tack pendant to its pad eye. I then tie on the halyard and hoist away. The total time to do all this is 10 or 15 minutes, most of which is spent securing the mainsail to the boom with extra ties or a length of light line. While the trysail is in use, the main boom can hang on its topping lift, although this risks possible chafe on the trysail or its sheet. Alternatively it can rest on a boom gallows should one be fitted. A third option is to lower the boom to the deck or the coachroof, lash it there, and tie the topping lift away from the trysail to back up the forestay.

In stormy weather the upper part of the mast sometimes moves around in a scary fashion. Depending on the details of the rig, you can usually set up both running backstays (if fitted) at the same time to help make a bulletproof setup, since the running backstays normally reach above the trysail.

If your boat's mainsail is, say, 350 square feet and each reef removes about 20% of that area, you're taking out 70 square feet with each reef or 210 square feet with three reefs. This leaves about 140 square feet in the triple-reefed mainsail. A trysail of 120 square feet (say 34% of the mainsail) is a reasonable size.

When the trysail is made, it's useful to have the sailmaker put a row of grommets along the short luff of the sail. Then, in case the trysail mast track is damaged or does not exist, you can run the sail up with a rope lacing around the mast.

ment is often used with gaffmainsails.
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