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Double Headstays–Double Headsails

Roller furling units revolutionized sailing, yet they considerably reduce speed when moving upwind.
Headsail furling systems and efficiently cut furling sails rank high on the list of man’s notable inventions, right up there with electricity, space travel,, and a reliable autopilot. If Joshua Slocum somehow tacked over the horizon and into our world, I suspect he’d be just as impressed at the prospect of easily controlling his headsails from the cockpit during a gale as he would be at flicking a switch that magically revealed Spray’s position on a cockpit-mounted chart plotter. After all he did have his $2 clock for lunar calculations. Furling headsails offer many obvious and well-documented advantages, not the least of which is the inherent safety feature of keeping the crew off the foredeck.

However, when it comes to performance, especially upwind slugging in a breeze, a partially furled headsail leaves much to be desired. Although a case, albeit a weak one, can be made that on a long passage it is just as efficient to fly the right amount of sail all of time instead of the right shaped sail part of the time. But why not have it both ways? We all want better performance, even diehard, grizzled cruisers who mumble about those obnoxious former racers who still “tweak” their sails when cruising. They will look you in the eye and deny that speed is important to them but in their hearts they lust after 200-mile days.

The limitations of a single roller furled sail are most vexing on a sloop. Sails can only be efficiently furled to a point. Despite improvements including a foam luff and asymmetrical designs, a deeply furled #1 or even #2 genoa translates into a misshapen jib at best. Things really get ugly when that 135 percent genoa is pressed into duty as a storm sail. Of course you can change furling headsails, but have you tried it underwayshorthandedin a big boat with big sails in big seas? It is a tough job as the sail flogs madly while you try to con it up the narrow groove in the extrusion. It is a good way to lose your hat, sunglasses, and confidence. There is a better solutiondouble, fore and aft rigged head stays, each equipped with a furling headsail, each ready to deploy or furl at a moment’s notice.

Double headstays, fore and aft, each equipped with a furling sail are the answer to every sailor's desire of maximizing performance while benefiting from the advantages of a furling system.
I recently returned from another training passage, an 800-mile jaunt from Key West to Isla Mujures, Mexico, and back to Ft. Lauderdale. The boat, a handsome Beneteau First 456 sloop, and the weather, constantly clocking winds, pointed up the advantages of a double headstay - double headsail rig. Unfortunately, we were just the white mice as the boat’s owner, my good friend Steve Maseda, shamelessly used our passage and broad backs as a laboratory experiment. Upon returning to Ft. Lauderdale he plunked down the cash and had local riggers Nance and Underwood add a second headstay.

Watching us labor to douse the 135 percent genoa in favor of the 105 percent jib as the wind increased on the outbound leg planted the seed in Steve’s brain. The aggravation of changing back to the big genny on the return leg as we caught a lift and soared in the gulf stream convinced him that he needed to able to set either sail without as much fuss, especially because he normally cruises with his wifeand capable as she isshe is not going to like hauling up that 135 percent when Steve, a greedy former Melges 24 sailor, decides he needs more speed.

A double headstay rig is a different animal than a traditional cutter rig. The second forestay is placed just aft, usually around two feet, of the forestay. A staysail stay on a cutter rig is typically further aft and the staysail and a high cut yankee combine to form the working fore triangle. Double headsails are best suited for sloops but can also be useful with other sail plans. Typically, the forestay carries the larger sail, usually a #1 or #2 genoa. The second stay usually carries a flat cut working jib, or maybe a 105 percent.

The best arrangement is to have both sails on furling systems. The big genny can carry the load in light and moderate air while the smaller headsail is efficient upwind and can be efficiently reefed to around 75-80 percent making it a viable storm sail. Either sail can be furled and unfurled within reason maximizing the efficiency of roller furling. The system is not really designed to fly both sails at the same time, a double headstay rig it is not a cutter in disguise. Although there is the option of double poled out headsails for downwind work, with today’s terrific sail control systems a better solution is to fly a spinnaker.

Double headsails are also not well suited for day sailing in capricious winds. Tacking or jibing requires furling the big genoa first because it is difficult to squeeze it between the stays cleanly. Tight maneuvers, however, are better accomplished with the smaller headsail anyway and this sail is set on the after stay allowing conventional, uncluttered tacking. This rig really works best for passage making.

Installation of the second stay will likely require placing a chainplate forward, which may be a fairly big job. According to rigger, Roger Underwood, the aft bulkhead in the external chain locker is well placed in Steve’s Beneteau 456 to accept a strap from a husky stainless steel deckplate that is through bolted. Lacking a well placed chain locker, it may be necessary to tie the chainplate via a rod to structural member below decks. A slight modification to the opening fiberglass chain locker hatch was also required on the 456. Custom mast hounds, strapped and through bolted to spar support the fitting for the top end of the stay. Be sure to have a rigger evaluate the mast itself and make certain that it is strong enough to endure the loads of a second head stay. Steve opted for ProFurl roller furling for the second stay, matching the system on the forestay.

Double headsails aren't well suited for day sailing in capricious winds, but they are perfect for passage making where tight, constant  maneuvers aren't required.
A second, fore and aft stay usually creates eccentric loads on the mast and requires adding running backstays for support. Runners are a bit cumbersome but with today’s lightweight, low stretch lines, runners can be soft and friendly instead of wire and dangerous. Naturally you will have to design a block and tackle system for the runners. Nance and Underwood suggested two double blocks for four-part purchase, shackled to the spinnaker lead attachment and led to the secondary winches for easy and efficient tensioning. The system will also require leading a second furling line aft to the cockpit. You will likely be able to use the existing genoa track and sheet leads, although a second lead car will be necessary. When all the dust settles, Steve will have spent close to $5,000 adding a second stay and roller furling system. Fortunately he already had the sail, requiring only an additional luff tape.

There are variations to fore and aft rigged double headstays. A couple of decades ago it was common to rerig bluewater cruising boats with twin, side-by-side headstays. This arrangement fostered easy setting of double poled out headsails for downwind sailing in the tradewinds. A custom stem fitting is usually needed to accommodate two stays but does not necessarily require running back stays. Also it is easy to tack or jibe with either sail. However, this system has a couple of major drawbacks. It is very difficult to control headstay sag as the static backstay tension is divided between two off center forestays. Also as the stays sag, they allow the sails to chafe. Improvements in furling systems have rendered side-by-side stays nearly obsolete.

There are several variations of double headstays-double headsails rigs so make sure to do your research prior to commiting to a specific type of installation.
Other variations of double headstays-double headsail rigs include reversing the order of the sails. Walter Schultz of Shannon Yachts believes that a boat with a bowsprit is better served by placing a high cut, long luffed yankee on the forward stay and a big genoa behind it on the second stay at the stem. He also places a removable third stay, usually made up of Spectra or other strong, low stretch line, where the original cutter stay would have been. His contention is that the yankee will be more useful in a blow, especially when you need power to claw off a lee shore. If things get really nasty a storm jib can be set on the third stay and for most sailing conditions, the genoa will be the workhorse. Schultz calls this rig, the “scutter.” Ironically, many cruising multihulls, which are at the opposite end of the spectrum of a traditional, bowsprit monohull, have adopted a similar sail plan.

In a few months Steve and his wife Jan will head for the islands on a cruising sabbatical. Beating from Florida to the Caribbean is tough work and an ideal situation for double headsails. The working jib will do most of the work but every now and then you get a break and can crack out the big sail. I hope that every time he effortlessly rolls jib and pops out the genoa he thinks of us.

John Kretschmer is offline  

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