I sail a Beneteau Oceanus 500 and adjust backstay tension with a Harken Adjuster. How do I know when I've tensioned enough and how do I know the maximum tension amount for the rig? I want to optimize performance without breaking anything.
Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for the question. Be assured that it would probably be pretty difficult for you to break either your backstay tensioning system or any part of the rig. However, you do run the risk of damaging the spar or parts of the rig if you overtension the backstay too many times over a long span of time, so having some precise information regarding what tension to use is important.
A general rule of thumb is that you want to tension the backstay when sailing upwind or on a tight reach and loosen it when sailing off the wind. Now if you're sailing off the wind in over 20 knots of wind, there's probably no reason to ease the tension on the backstay. Essentially what a backstay does is control the location of the draft in the mainsail and the amount of headstay sag that your rig has. For a more specific explanation, have a look at the following articles: Mainsail Controls for Performance, and Mainsail Controls for Performance Part II.
If you have the adjuster that I'm picturing, it's a simple mechanical system that lacks a gauge or other measure of tension. Most hydraulic backstay adjusters will indicate the amount of tension exerted in pounds, and most units come with a red-line limit. Since you don't have that information available, you might want to see if you can buy or borrow a tension gauge and use it to measure the amount of pressure on the backstay at different settings. Doing this just once will help you get a sense of the maximum and minimum settings. And once you've gone through the process you can mark the adjuster to identify these settings. I recommend you use either an indelible marker or tape and just develop a code for the markings so you know the reference. By using those, you'll be able to adjust the backstay appropriately, and you'll know which are the minimum and maximum settings.
Of course the other thing that you can do is log on to the e-mail discussion list that hosted here at SailNet for Beneteau owners and see if there are any other Oceanus 500 owners out there who might be able to advise you on this issue from their own first-hand experience. To do that, just log on to SailNet's homepage and click on "Join E-Mail Lists," which appears on the right-hand rail in the section marked "Members." Clicking that will take you to an alphabetized index page, and from there you simply click on "B" for Beneteau and post your query. Here's wishing you the best of luck.