Setting up the pole
The good news is that poling out a sail is straightforward. Here’s how:
• Start by attaching the inboard end of the pole to the mast. Then, clip the topping lift to the upward-facing bail and attach the downhaul to the opposite bail. I find that it’s best to fully rig the downhaul, leaving enough slack in the line to allow you to play with the pole height before securing it. Some sailors use only a topping lift and a downhaul to secure the pole, but by adding an afterguy to the outboard end fitting and leading it back (outboard of the lifelines) to a block you can effectively lock the pole in place—without an afterguy the pole can swing fore and aft.
• Next, furl the headsail. Then clip the pole’s outboard end to the sail’s active sheet. Do not clip the pole to the clew or the sheet’s bowline, as this makes it difficult to ease the sail or alter course. Some sailors prefer to set their poles in the jaws-up position, and others prefer the opposite. I always go with the jaws-up because it reduces the chance of the sheet coming free of the pole if someone accidentally releases the jaw’s trip line.
• Unroll the headsail, winching the clew toward the pole end. Eyeball the sail to figure out the optimal height for the clew. If there is too much twist and the leech section is fluttering, lower the pole’s outboard end to the proper height. Some boats have a fixed, non-adjustable stainless-steel ring on the mast’s front side to accept the pole’s inboard end; bigger, more racing-oriented boats usually have an adjustable car that runs vertically up and down the mast’s front section. If you have a fixed ring, simply trim the pole height via the topping lift; if you have an adjustable track, again trim the pole’s outboard end to the sail and then raise or lower the inboard end to square the pole.
• Once you’re happy with the pole’s height, wind in the downhaul and afterguy (if you use one) to secure the pole.
Building a better mousetrap
If you sail in an area with heavy commercial and recreational traffic or with navigational hazards (or if you just like preserving your options), you’re better off rigging your genoa sheet slightly differently. Instead of clipping the pole’s outboard end to one of your two active sheets, tie a third sheet to the genoa’s clew and route it back to the cockpit, passing it through the genoa car or a snatch block on the toerail, and finishing it at a winch. This allows you to tack or gybe quickly by simply blowing the active (third) sheet and making your course adjustment without worrying about the pole, which stays securely in place, triangulated by downhaul, uphaul, and afterguy.
Under sail and gybing
By far the easiest way to pole-out a genoa is to roll up the sail, attach the pole to the soon-to-be active sheet, and then unroll the sail. As far as gybing goes, it is wise to roll up your headsail beforehand, disconnect and rerig the pole on the opposite tack, gybe, and then unfurl the headsail on the other side of the boat. If you find yourself in a tight situation and need to make a rapid or unexpected course change, simply blow the active sheet, head up and tack, and wind in the now-active sheet. If you’ve rigged an afterguy and a foreguy, the pole will stay put and not get in the way.
Many thanks to Tom Peelen for the use of his fast and well-equipped Beneteau 36.7, Quokka, for this story.