I am writing this aboard my boat in Faial, one of the beautiful Portuguese islands in the Azores group. This is my third visit in as many years, and I am always stunned by the beauty of these islands and the friendliness of the local people. Not much has changed here since my first visit in 1979, and it looks as if nothing will change for the next decade or two. It's a rare place among the well-traveled sailing routes of the world.
I arrived after a quick and uneventful passage from Spain and hope to depart soon for Bermuda, 2,000 miles away. I have recently spent quite a lot of time at sea, first sailing the cold waters of Newfoundland and now the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, I feel more committed in my beliefs about sails and sail design than ever before, especially regarding what works for the cruising sailor in an offshore environment. You really have to get out here and do it before you can write about it and advise others.
While in the Azores, I spoke with many of the transient sailors who were en route to Europe, or back to the US. They all agreed that as much as they like their time at sea, they always sail as hard and as fast as they can to get back to land. So in this article we will look at additional ways to make that happen by getting the best performance from your sails. Boat speed and performance are, after all, important parts of good seamanship.
|"The most effective way to sail across an ocean is to have a number of different sized headsails of varying weights and shapes, and change these to suit the conditions."|
You can also have your sailmaker add trim lines to the headsail so that it will be easy to move the lead to the correct position. You might also have them add reefing marks on the foot of the sail. With these marks as a gauge, you can reef the sail to a predetermined amount of sail area, and mark the deck exactly where the sheet lead should be located for each setting. This will take much of the guesswork out of trimming the sail when it's reefed, and you'll find it especially helpful if you are tired or the weather is rough.
One quick word about clew height. The lower the clew, the better the performance you'll get from the sail. Raise it up and you lose some performance, but you do gain some flexibility when reefing. With a high-clewed sail, there is less need to move the sheet lead. Indeed, on the old high-clewed Yankee jibs the clew was so high that you hardly had to make any lead adjustment. For ocean-going vessels, it's actually a wise idea to have the clew high enough so that you have good visibility under the foot of the sail from the helm, and so that waves coming over the foredeck will pass unobstructed under the sail. But you don't want the clew so high that it sacrifices performance, especially if you have a jib-sheet lead adjustment system on board. And finally, if you have a double headsail rig, you might want the clew on the headsail higher than the clew on the staysail—this arrangement seems to work better.
Now that your headsail is working more effectively, let's look into modifying your mainsail hardware. I like a long mainsail traveler with cars that slide easily and a block and tackle arrangement that allows you to move the sheet position with ease. Controlling the back of the mainsail is important, and having the ability to reduce heel by lowering the traveler while not losing lift (and drive if you are reaching) is good for performance. On my boat (granted it is a racing boat), the main traveler runs the whole width of the boat and I am able to adjust the aspect of the mainsail to maintain the correct amount of heel and balance without losing lift and drive. This saves wear and tear on the autopilot as well, which is no small consideration for those of us who rely on that device to do the bulk of the steering on long passages.
Making these two changes to your deck layout will allow you to get more efficiency from both of your principal sails. In the next article we will take a look at those colorful sails up front, which many cruising sailors avoid because they seem intimidating or complicated. I would have had a much slower passage between Spain and the Azores if I had not flown my big asymmetrical spinnaker most of the way. As a bonus, this sail also provided some much-needed shade. Meanwhile, I am off to Peter's Café Sport (a well-known and well-worn watering hole here in Horta) for a cold beer. It's true, the local beer does still cost less than a buck and it's very good too. I will file my next article from the mid-Atlantic, thanks to the wonders of satellite communication.
Headsail Reefing Basics by Brian Hancock
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