Going to the mast to raise and lower your mainsail or to tweak other sail control lines is no big deal on a bluebird day. It's also not so bad if you have lots of experienced crew all working together as a team, watching out for each other's safety. But what about when the weather turns ugly with driving rain and pounding seas? Or maybe you're sailing shorthanded, alone on watch at night, or with an inexperienced crew? It's in these circumstances that the benefits of having your sail controls led aft to the cockpit, and at your fingertips, really start to shine. It's also this kind of logical setup that allows a couple out cruising to easily handle a larger boat and it's attendant sail plan.
Almost all boats over 20 feet that are built today incorporate the ability to control sails easily from the cockpit. If you're not ready for a new boat yet, but would still like to enjoy the advantages of easy sail control, don't despair. We just made this change ourselves on our 23-year-old, 46-footer Serengeti. What follows is a break down of the steps necessary to accomplish this on your own boat.
Diagram Your Deck It really helps to begin by sketching a diagram of your deck and noting the existing location of each halyard and control line. Determine which of these lines you want led aft, and which are better off staying put. If you run all of your lines aft, you may end up with hundreds of feet of coiled lines that are more of a hindrance than a benefit. Analyze and prioritize how you use each line to determine which ones you'd like aft. Aboard Serengeti, our main goal was to be able to control our large mainsail—raising, lowering, and reefing without leaving the cockpit. This led us to running many other, but not all of our remaining lines aft in the process.
If your headsail or mainsail is on a roller furler, it's usually not necessary to lead the halyard aft since furling sails are raised and lowered infrequently. All you need in this case is a method to occasionally tighten or loosen the luff of the sail. This can still be accomplished at the mast if you leave a winch there. Another option is to lead the line back temporarily to the cockpit, adjust its tension, then re-secure it at the mast.
Choose the Hardware Once you've determined which lines to lead aft, add to your deck diagram a schematic depicting the most efficient route back to your cockpit. To minimize friction, keep your runs as straight as possible. After your schematic is complete, you can spec out and order the deck hardware you'll need for your project. Take a look at the schematic we created for Serengeti below.