Sails and Sailhandling Systems

Six experts weigh in on the best ways to improve a boat’s sails and sailhandling systems.

1. A Better Mainsail Stowage System

Putting the mainsail to bed aboard our Malö 47, Nada, is a constant bone of contention. I wanted a fully battened sail for performance, but when we drop it using lazyjacks, it doesn’t flake down neatly, and the boom is too high for my wife, Terrie, or me to comfortably pull it into a tidy pile before adding the sail ties and cover. Worse yet, you can’t reach the headboard without climbing the base of the mast. There’s got to be a better way!  – Nigel Calder

2. Improve the Headsail Lead

If I could make one improvement, I would rig my genoa sheet-lead cars
with a tackle so I could adjust their positions from the cockpit. Genoa sheet leading is critical to a sail’s performance. An old sail properly sheeted will pull better than a new one left to its own devices. As the sail is rolled in, the lead must go forward or the leech will fall away, spilling wind and slowing the boat. The only answer then is to over-sheet, stalling the sail on a reach and killing speed when close-hauled. Without the right sheet-lead position, it’s lose-lose, and monkeying around while a flapping sail gives me a black eye is not my idea of fun. – Tom Cunliffe

3. Add a Backstay Adjuster

The most pronounced benefit to adding a backstay adjuster is control over headstay sag. Ease the adjuster for more sag, which makes your sail deeper and more powerful in light air. Tighten the backstay for less sag, creating a flatter shape for heavy air. This is especially advantageous for cruisers who rarely change headsails, as one headsail becomes more versatile. If you have a fractional rig, a backstay adjuster can add similar versatility to your mainsail. With the backstay pulling aft high against the lower headstay, increased tension increases bend. This bend, in turn, pulls cloth from the mainsail luff, making it flatter. Easing the backstay reduces bend and powers the sail back up again.  – Win Fowler

4. Vang it

After having sailed with a spring-loaded rigid boomvang for several years, I would never have a boat without one. First and foremost, there’s the safety factor; no chance of getting brained by the boom if Cousin Doofus releases the topping lift by mistake. Then there’s the ease of control; when reefing, I just release the mainsheet and vang and the boom springs up, depowering the sail and making it super-easy to crank in the clew pennant. That ability to “scandalize” the mainsail also comes in handy if you’re picking up a mooring under sail and need to depower the main quickly. I have a 4:1 tackle on my rigid vang and can easily tension it fully by hand. I left the topping lift rigged, because it provides security when I’m putting on the sailcover, helps keep the boom securely above head height when we’re anchored and serves as a backup main halyard.  – Peter Nielsen

5. Go with a Smaller Headsail

The one change that has made our sailing both easier and better was removing our 140 percent genoa from our roller furler in favor of a bulletproof 110 percent jib. The genesis for this was the stronger winds of the eastern Caribbean, but we soon discovered that even in lighter winds, we sailed just as fast with less strain. It has made us more inclined to adjust sail area with an efficient reef in the main rather than a shape-destroying partial furl of the headsail. If the wind is light enough that we need more headsail, the sea is also calm enough to make a trip forward not unpleasant. – Don Casey

6. A Ratchet on the Sock Downhaul

The best thing I ever did to make sail handling easier was to add a ratchet block to the downhaul line on my spinnaker sock. The block is attached to the rail and the line fed through the block. Now when I want to douse my spinnaker (when I am sailing alone) I can brace my feet squarely on the foredeck and pull up using my back to help. This is much better than hanging onto the line and pulling down. Plus, the ratchet ensures that the line does not get away from me if the spinnaker tries to fill again. – Brian Hancock

Photo courtesy Hallberg-Rassy

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