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Ask Sail: Vanged if You Do

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Fred Roslyn of Brunswick, Georgia, asks:

I sail a 1995 Catalina 42 that I’m now preparing for a long bluewater cruise. One thing I need to install is a liferaft, and I may want to put it on the coachroof right behind the mast, but the solid boom vang prevents this. Can I remove the vang and instead control the shape of my mainsail with tackles led to the caprails on either side? Any other options you can think of?

Win Fowler replies:

The short answer to your question is, yes, you can certainly control mainsail twist with a tackle to the rail once the boom is no longer over the traveler. However, don’t forget that your rigid vang also supports your boom when the mainsail isn’t doing so—as in when you are reefing. If you remove the vang, you will have to fit a topping lift if there isn’t one already. The drawback to a topping lift is that it can chafe the leech of the mainsail. This isn’t much of a consideration in coastal cruising, but during long offshore passages it can become a significant problem. In our loft we have seen topping lifts abrade completely through the stitching on leech seams. These leech seams carry a considerable load, and if the stitching goes, the sail could come apart from leech to luff, which would seriously ruin your day. 

If you do install a topping lift, use slippery low-stretch Dyneema cordage rather than wire and keep a watchful eye on your leech seams. 

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