Cruising Tips: Boomed-out Headsails
I will say it until I’m red in the face: displacement cruising yachts, no matter how nimble, always make faster passages sailing in a straight line. Forget the gybing angles that racers use when sailing downwind. Square the sails off and run!
As you are doing so, you might want to try sheeting a large genoa to the main boom with the mainsail down—
a very efficient low-maintenance configuration, especially on yachts with swept-back spreaders. To do so, furl your mainsail and run your boom out as far as the shrouds will allow. Use a preventer—attached to the end of the boom and led forward around a turning block and back to a secondary cockpit winch—to pull it out while easing the mainsheet. Once set, tighten both the preventer and the sheet to hold the boom in place.
Next, clip a snatch block near the end of the boom (or lash it there with a strop if necessary) and run the headsail sheet to it. It can be tricky to get a fair lead, so experiment with different arrangements to avoid chafe. From the boom end, run the sheet down to a block on the toerail or genoa track and then to a winch.
Unfurl the headsail. Depending on the clew height, use the topping lift and the boom vang to set the height of the boom so the leech doesn’t flutter. In heavy seas, set the boom extra high to avoid dipping it when the yacht rolls. Sheet the headsail reasonably tight so that the sail presents its largest area flat to the wind. A downwind rig set up like this is very forgiving, light on the helm, and fast and easy to reef or douse in unsettled weather.