Skip to main content

Waterlines: No Strings Attached

The mainsheet arch, pioneered on production boats by Hunter and now widely copied, has many advantages

The mainsheet arch, pioneered on production boats by Hunter and now widely copied, has many advantages

I am amused by some of the running-rigging trends I’ve seen at boat shows lately, one example being this fashion wherein all working lines must be concealed beneath the deck. First it was all the lines led aft from the mast, then it was tails from the new-fangled double-ended German mainsheets, then it was jib sheets, and now even headsail furlers and mainsheet travelers are going underground. What with the demise of such fixtures as Dorade vents, granny bars and handrails, real estate forward of the cockpit dodger on many boats now is as sleek and featureless as a sheet of ice.

I get it: this looks trés cool. Sleek and sexy! But I am a coward at heart and the thought of having to venture forward into such an environment in bad weather almost makes me soil my shorts. For me, used as I am to having all sorts of stuff to cling to when my boat goes sideways, this would be like going for a spacewalk without a suit on. Even in harbor I’d probably be clipped on in a harness just going up to the bow to anchor.

At the opposite extreme I’m remembering those meaty, line-bedecked Swans from the late ’70s and early ’80s. Every line coming off the mast was splayed out around its base to its very own winch, every Dorade vent had its own granny bar, and there was often even an extra cockpit somewhere in the middle of the boat just for trimming jib sheets. There was a veritable cat’s cradle of string and hardware to hang on to, but you literally had to roam the whole deck to work it all. The weight and expense of all those winches was also enough to ruin both the rating and budget of most race boats.

That was a trend driven by a certain aesthetic sense, just as this current one is. Back then people wanted their sailboats to look more nautical and businesslike than they really needed to; now they want them to look like smartphones. Between those divergent poles there must be an ideal we should strive to realize.

Some of the trends I see these days I actually find encouraging. I am, for example, a big fan of German mainsheets: first, because, after decades of mainsheet controls being planted on cabintops beyond the reach of the helm, it is a relief now to be able to steer and trim main again simultaneously; second, with two mainsheets you can trim twice as fast if you have crew help out on the other winch on the other side of the cockpit (assuming there are dedicated mainsheet winches on both sides of the cockpit—an important proviso, I submit, for any such system).

I also really like to see mainsheets led overhead to cockpit arches or, on catamarans, to targa tops. Some monohull builders provide the arch, then lead the sheet to a single attachment point. Others create a two-point bridle or, even better, put on a full traveler, which is an ideal arrangement. You get all the advantage of being able to fine-tune the sheet’s lead angles, but none of the disadvantage of having a volatile and often heavily loaded control line sliding back and forth across the cockpit sole.

The problem with mainsheet cockpit arches, of course, is that to any eye prejudiced by even a glimmer of nautical tradition, or by a sense of contemporary Euro-chic, they tend to look quite ugly. In many cases they seem like sweptback flying buttresses grafted on top of surfboards, although I also expect that someday they won’t appear so out of place. In the end, form should always follow function on a sailboat, and eventually, I believe, that which works best for a sailor will also always look beautiful. s
SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane, sails his Tanton 39 on the Maine coast and down in the West Indies whenever he gets the chance. He is the author of The Modern Cruising Sailboat, published by International Marine, and is a contributing blogger at SAILfeed.com

Photo Courtesy of Jeanneau

February 2016

Related

promo-2048x

Just Launched Mid-sized Cruisers

With so many manufacturers dreaming up bigger production boats, more and more mid-sized cruisers fall on the smaller end of their lines. However, “smaller” does not mean less, and the tricks for optimizing larger models have helped with squeezing more enjoyment into less LOA. As ...read more

05-DSC_0638

Charter: Lake Tahoe

A sail on Lake Tahoe has been on my bucket list since the day I first laid eyes on it, and come hell or high water, I decided I was going to someday charter a boat there. North America’s largest and deepest alpine lake, Tahoe sits at 6,225ft above sea level and straddles the ...read more

East-River-Rapids

Escape from New York Part 1

I was never supposed to take my boat through New York City. After getting sucked backward through the Cape Cod Canal on my way south from Maine, when the speed of the current exceeded the maximum speed of my little electric auxiliary, I wanted nothing to do with Hell Gate and ...read more

LEAD-Celeste-in-the-Tuamotu

A Watermaker Upgrade

As a classic-boat sailor, I’ve long held that simpler is the better. I still think this is true: a simpler boat is cheaper, she has less gadgets to break down and there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing you’re able to handle a bit of discomfort. Thus, for a long time, I sailed ...read more

01-LEAD-IDECsport_180919_032

Sailing Speed Records

Although the 1903 defender of the America’s Cup, Reliance, was deemed a “racing freak”—the boat pushed design rules to their limit and couldn’t be beaten, at least in very specific conditions—designer Nat Herreshoff was nonetheless onto something. A century later, purpose-built ...read more

BVIFeetup

Chartering with Non-sailors

Three tips on managing the madness First-time charterers and first-time sailors aren’t at all the same thing. One group may struggle with beginner chartering issues, like sailing a multihull, catching a mooring or dealing with base personnel. For the other group, though, ...read more

AdobeStock_455372159

A Gulf Stream Crossing at Night

Even the dome of light glowing above the city behind us had disappeared as if swallowed in a gulp by Noah’s whale. The moon was absent. Not a star twinkled overhead. The night was so dark we could have been floating in a pot of black ink. The only artificial lights to be seen ...read more

00-Lead-549215sJL2uLEa

Summer Sailing Programs

Every year, countless parents find themselves navigating the do’s and don’ts of enrolling their children in a summer learn-to-sail program for the first time. While the prospect of getting your kid on the water is exciting, as a sailing camp program director, there are a lot of ...read more