Skip to main content

The Power of Sails

Waterlines

I suppose it isn’t merely a coincidence that I’ve made significant changes to the sailplans of the last three cruising boats I’ve owned. The first project was the biggest. My old Golden Hind 31, Sophie, had lots of charm and character, but her sloop rig was laughably small. After blundering about for a couple of years, I treated her to a much taller spar, a fixed bowsprit and a new set of sails, and so transformed her into a very handy cutter. She sailed as smartly then as any boat with three keels (including her two bilge keels) could ever hope to.

My first Lunacy, an aluminum Tanton 39 cutter, also got a new fixed bowsprit, though it had to be welded rather than bolted on. This allowed me to add a third headsail to the foretriangle—a large lightweight Code 0-type genoa (I called it a screecher) that furled on its own luff courtesy of an easily removed continuous-line furler. The sail was easy to set and strike, much easier than changing the regular working yankee for a regular genoa, and greatly enhanced the boat’s light-air performance.

I sailed my current Lunacy, a Boréal 47, for three full years—including one transatlantic and three winter sojourns in the West Indies and southeastern U.S.—before deciding what changes were needed. Job one was to replace the stock staysail, permanently mounted on a fixed stay and roller-furling rod, with a removable staysail that furls on its own luff and is controlled by a continuous-line furler, like a Code 0. This solved a key dilemma with the Boréal rig, since the staysail isn’t really a staysail and cannot normally be flown in tandem with the headsail, as on a true cutter, because the two stays are too close together. The staysail really is more of a solent sail, designed to fly alone in strong conditions. It is used only rarely and the rest of the time just makes it hard to tack the genoa.

The second change was more subtle. I had always sort of resented the Boréal’s full-batten mainsail. In part because I was talked into ordering it, but mostly because it was so heavy, very hard to hoist and difficult to reef when sailing off the wind. This past spring I finally replaced it with a “hybrid” main, with two full top battens and the rest partial. The sail is over 20lb lighter than its predecessor and much easier to handle. It is also much easier to control its shape. Where the shape of the old full-batten main seemed set in stone, the new sail is quite responsive to changes in halyard, outhaul and vang tension.

Now I’m very happy with my sailplan! The new staysail when furled is very easy to set and strike. Even better, when I want to have it handy and ready to go, but still want to have it out of the way, I can just ease the halyard tension a bit, unclip the snap-shackle under the continuous-line furler and bring the whole rig to the mast.

Best of all, with the staysail out of the foretriangle, it is now possible to quickly and efficiently short-tack the Boréal in light to moderate winds with the full genoa flying. I celebrated this new superpower on my very first test sail of the new rig in early June. Beating dead to windward singlehanded up a narrow channel in Maine’s Casco Bay in apparent winds ranging from 9 to 21 knots, I tacked 17 times in four hours—with some boards as short as half a mile—and enjoyed every minute of it. With the old rig, where I often had to go forward to drag the genoa around the staysail, this would have been virtually impossible.

The moral of the story, in case you’re wondering, is that you should never take your rig for granted. A boat’s sails, quite literally, are its engine, the core of its motive power. After carefully examining your rig’s strengths and weaknesses, you can often make improvements, big or small, that will increase both its performance and your enjoyment. Even if it’s simply a matter of changing new sails for old, I’ve always found that fiddling with a boat’s rig is supremely rewarding. 

October/November 2021

Related

maintenance-02

Cruising: Old Sailors Never Die

“Old sailors never die, they just get a little dinghy.” It may be a hoary old joke, but one of my problems at age 79 is I can no longer get easily in and out of a little dinghy, and neither can my (several years younger than me) wife. For this, and various other reasons I will ...read more

01-LEAD-DSC_0953

The Mighty Compass

Here’s to the humble magnetic compass, without a doubt the sailor’s most reliable instrument onboard. It’s always there for you and with the rarest of exceptions, always operational. Yes, I love my chartplotter, autopilot, radar and AIS. They help me be a safer and more ...read more

02-En-route-Jost-Van-D

Chartering: Swan Song in the BVI

Joseph Conrad once wrote, “The sea never changes.” And while this may or not be true, something most definitely not open for debate is the fact we sailors, “wrapped in mystery,” as Conrad put it, are continually changing—whether we like it or not. I found myself thinking these ...read more

220307FP51_1JML0332

Boat Review: Fountaine-Pajot Aura 51

If you can sell more than 150 catamarans off-plan before the resin has even hit the fiberglass, you must be doing something right. Despite costing around $1.1 million once fitted out and on the water, Fountaine-Pajot’s new 51 has done just that. The French yard has been at it ...read more

00LEAD-IMG-9035

Ready to Fly a New Sail

It’s a typical humid, southern Chesapeake Bay summer day when I show up on the doorstep of Latell & Ailsworth Sailmakers in the one-stoplight, one-lane-roadway, rural tidewater town of Deltaville, Virginia. I’m late getting here to work on a new jib for my 29-foot, Bill ...read more

m5702_RACE-AREA-6

Dates for the 2024 America’s Cup Announced

Ever since making the controversial decision to hold the next America’s Cup in Barcelona, Spain, instead of in home waters, Defender Emirates Team New Zealand has been hard at work organizing logistics for the event.  The Racing Area for the Challenger Selection Series and the ...read more

00LEAD

A Force for Change: Captain Liz Gillooly

I first heard about Capt. Liz Gillooly in 2016 from my cousin while working three jobs in our shared hometown on the North Fork of Long Island and living with my parents to save money for a boat. But despite being the same age and growing up only 13 miles apart, Liz and I never ...read more

291726157_3222349914654950_8713674249134934221_n-2-1024x684

Sailing in the Growth Zone

The Goal This year, I’ve had a specific goal to be a better sailor. Some people have laughed and said, “Why do you need to be a better sailor? This was my 22nd year racing on the same boat, with the same crew. I like to win and want to make sure we stay at the top of the fleet. ...read more