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Location: East Stroudsburg, PA
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Re: Topping Lift
Once again (as old as this thread is)... a topping lift serves 2 purposes, to hold the boom up when nothing else is, and to counteract the forces holding the boom down (for sail shape).
As others have said, a top lift adds complications (drag, and trailing wind disturbance) while sail is up, and some prefer a rigid vang or a boom kicker instead. These two devices ARE NOT a complete replacement for a proper topping lift, however, the biggest issue is merely while transitioning between sail up, and sail down (kicker doesn't provide enough upwards force to support leaning on the boom).. this is usually mitigated once the main halyard is moved from the head of the sail to the boom end.
I personally hated dealing with the topping lift, and would frankly prefer the boomkicker (as I've had 3 on 3 boats, removing topping lifts on each boat). But that's just my preference. The boomkicker must be used with a vang (boomkicker provides upward force, vang provides down)... a rigid vang usually includes a downward force adjustment along with upward.
These are preferences and are completely up to the skipper. Some even keep a top lift as well as a rigid vang or kicker. On a larger boat this makes some sense to me, especially if you aren't racing.
1983 WD Schock Wavelength 24. Production boat limit tester, blue-water bucket owner, with wine taste on a beer budget.