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Sail Inventories for Ocean Racing

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We’re currently outfitting and refitting our Swan 59, Icebear, for the upcoming, round-the-world Ocean Globe Race (OGR, oceangloberace.com) in 2023, a reenactment of the early Whitbread races. In 1985, Nautor’s Swan placed a “factory” entry into the Whitbread, Fazer Finland, a stock Swan 651 and the German Frers-designed successor to the iconic S&S Swan 65. Because Fazer is a very similar design to Icebear, having been drawn by the same designer and being from the same era, we’ve been communicating with some of the boat’s crew as we plan for the race looking for advice.

Top on our prep list is working out what our sail inventory will be. Back in 1985, Fazer carried a whopping 17 sails, including two mains, a blooper (!), four spinnakers, two staysails and storm sails. Add to that 14 crew for the Southern Ocean legs, and you’ve got a pretty crowded boat.

For 2023, the OGR Notice of Race limits the fleet to 11 sails for sloops and 13 for ketches and yawls, including storm sails. While that sounds like a lot, it’s actually fairly limiting in terms of racing. It is also, of course, completely unnecessary for even the most well-outfitted cruising boat. Nonetheless, it illustrates just how important sail selection is to passagemaking.

For offshore, shorthanded cruising, I like to focus on the following: redundancy, heavy-weather, light-weather and ease of handling.

The Solent rig aboard this Hanse 675 makes it easy to optimize the sailplan for the sailing conditions

The Solent rig aboard this Hanse 675 makes it easy to optimize the sailplan for the sailing conditions

Redundancy is perhaps most important. I remember one time I was delivering a still somewhat new 40-footer from the Bahamas to Annapolis. As soon as we got past the reef, we unrolled the genoa, and it immediately split down the leech as a result of having spent all winter in the sun. All we had left was a storm jib, not nearly enough power for even a moderate breeze. We spent the next eight hours patching up the damaged sail with a needle and palm.

On all of our boats, we carry two genoas plus a staysail and/or storm jib hanked onto a separate inner forestay. Before the start of each passage, we look at the expected forecast and wind angles, especially for the start. If it’s going to be upwind, even in moderate breeze, we change down to the 105 percent genoa before departing. This sail sets nice and flat upwind and can be carried fully deployed close-hauled in up to 20-25 knots apparent. In other words, it represents a way of effectively “reefing” the boat down right off the bat.

If, on the other hand, it looks like we’ll be doing a lot of reaching or sailing downwind, we’ll start out with the bigger 135 percent genoa. Off the wind, roller reefing this sail is possible without much consequence in terms of its shape, so there’s little downside. Never forget, though, that once offshore, it’s far easier changing up to the bigger genoa than it is changing down to a smaller one.

Of course, on most passages you’ll be spending far more time in light stuff than heavy weather, making light-air sails especially important. Both Isbjörn and Icebear carry cruising-sized asymmetric spinnakers that we can set either from a pole or the bow. They’re stowed in ATN socks, making them easy to set and douse, an approach I’m convinced is simpler and safer aboard a cruising boat offshore than a top-down spinnaker furler.

For serious heavy weather, both boats’ mains have three deep reefs, which are much easier to tie in than trying to set a storm trysail. We’ve used them often on both boats. A solid storm jib or small staysail that sets on an inner forestay completes our heavy-weather inventory. Our staysails also provide us with a backup should a genoa get damaged.

For those keeping count, this brings us to five sails, two of which will always be rigged (genoa and main). Staysails are small and usually fit under a forepeak bunk, and a spinnaker in a sock can be packed into a stuff sack. The second genoa, on the other hand, can be a bit problematic as it’s going to be big no matter what.

Which brings me to my favorite offshore sailplan, the Solent rig, a setup found aboard a growing number of modern cruising boats. In a Solent rig, a small genoa is permanently mounted on a furler immediately aft of another, bigger genoa on the headstay, thereby solving the stowage problem and also making for easier handling. The inner, smaller genoa is your upwind sail for tacking, and the larger, outer genoa serves as your reaching or downwind sail. Tacking or jibing the big sail requires rolling it up completely as the slot is tiny. However, in my opinion, it’s a very reasonable compromise for what is in many ways the best sailplan for offshore cruising. 

Andy Schell is a veteran delivery captain and co-owner, with his wife, Mia Karlsson, of the adventure-charter company 59 North, which specializes in providing sail-training and offshore passagemaking opportunities. Visit 59-north.com for more information

September 2021

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