Waterlines: No Strings Attached

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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

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