Perfect O-shaped coils of rope look mighty nice when done up properly, and in many cases this is a fine way to make up and stow an idle line on a sailboat. But in some instances lines trained to coil down in ovals develop problems when working. This happens most often with lines that run through a multi-part tackle. If you coil the tail of a line that runs through a tackle in perfect ovals, you’ll soon find the line twists up in the tackle when you’re using it. Eventually you must unreeve the line from the tackle, untwist it so it runs fair again and then re-reeve it. To avoid this, you should coil the line in a figure-eight pattern when stowing it.
To train a line to coil down in an oval, you give the body of the rope a full clockwise twist with your wrist as you take up each coil. (This is if you’re laying up coils from your left hand to your right; if you’re going the other way, the twist should be counter-clockwise.) A figure-eight coil is a more neutral configuration. You need little or no twist to get the coils to lay fair. At most you’ll have to give a little quarter-turn counter-clockwise (if coiling from your left hand to your right) as you take up a coil. The line learns no bias, hence will not hockle and twist when run under load through a tackle.
On most modern cruising boats, the only line running through a tackle is the mainsheet, so it’s a good idea to at least coil this one line in a figure-eight when stowing it. On race boats generally all lines are stowed this way so there’s no confusion among the crew and lines are always likely to run fair. Also, this is often the only way you can get a hybrid line (with a low-stretch high-modulus core and a polyester cover) to coil neatly. Such lines are quite common on race boats, and are increasingly popular on cruising boats.