Can you give me any guidance regarding the difference in sailing with a loose footed main and one with slides or a bolt rope? I sail a Sonata 26 and I've ordered a new main that the sailmaker is constructing as a loose-footed sail. Someone told me that it will be essential to strengthen the outhaul, and even use a dinghy mainsheet car on the boom because of the concentrated force at the outer end of the boom. What's the straight story?
Thanks for your question. Don't fret too much about making the transition from a bolt-rope or slugged-footed mainsail to a loose-footed one because all the kinks have pretty much been worked out and loose-footed mainsails are quite versatile these days.
Essentially, very little support is given to a mainsail by the bolt rope, so you're not losing anything by moving to a loose-footed sail. The loose-footed option gives you a lot more adjustability in sail shaping. And there's really no difference in the sail handling characteristics from one system to another. Also, you don't need a stronger outhaul, even though you'll often see sailmakers put a sliding car on the end of the boom with loose footed mainsails, that's just so that the loaded portion of the sail travels fore and aft more easily. Actually, what's become even more common is the use of strong webbing to strap the clew to the boom. The webbing keeps the clew low enough, but still allows it to slide forward and aft when the outhaul is used.
We personally feel that loose-footed sails are easier to trim because of the improved adjustability. The only real difference to get accustomed to is the foot line (most bolt-rope or slug-footed mainsails don't have a foot line). You can use this adjustment just as you would a foot line on a genoa or jib.
Best of luck with your new sail.