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Old 10-14-2002
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Dropping the Headsail Single-Handed

When the winds picks up, I often drop the jib and sail with the main. What is the best way to do this when sailing alone?

Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for the question; it's a good one. You'll find that different sailors will recommend differing aproaches to this situation depending upon the kind of boat they sail, the level of their experience, and the conditions at hand. I used to do a fair bit of single-handing on a Cal 25, and I almost always sailed in under main alone to pick up a mooring or set an anchor. For most boats, maneuvering under a single sail simply makes the situation more manageable.

Now, depending upon the conditions you're faced with at the time, I would recommend that you acquaint yourself with one of two maneuvers when getting the headsail down by yourself. If the wind is light and steady, I will usually head straight into the wind and leave the mainsail slightly eased as I go up on the foredeck (headsail halyard in hand) and drop the headsail as soon as I get ahold of the foot so that I can gather it as it comes down. After securing the sail with a sail tie, I return to the helm. Ideally, this all takes only 10 seconds.

If it's windy, you might want to reef the mainsail before taking the headsail down so that the boat will be under better control. In these conditions I prefer to use the same method described above, but if you don't want to flog your sails, you might consider rigging a preventer to the main boom, and then take the jib down when it's in the mainsail's shadow as you sail downwind. This is always a little more risky than the first procedure.

If you have the time, it's always a good idea to flake the headsail halyard so that it will feed cleanly through the blocks when the sail comes down. I hope this information helps you. Remember, you can always practice this even when you have crew on board. 

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