Waterlines: Spaghetti Madness

Author:
Publish date:
MainHalyard

Whither the mast-mounted halyard winch?

Just as all roads once led to Rome, many sailors now believe that all working lines should lead to the cockpit. The result, unfortunately, is often a pile of multi-colored spaghetti that is hard to manage and can actually make it harder to sail your boat.

On many modern sailboats, almost every line coming off the mast or deck forward of the cockpit is led aft through blocks and organizers to a battery of rope clutches arrayed around two winches on either side of the companionway under the cockpit dodger. On race boats this may not be too troublesome. The dodger is usually removed so the companionway winches are easy to access and grind, and the tails of all active lines are simply flung down the companionway into the main cabin. With plenty of crew aboard, each companionway winch also has a grinder on it, and there are people at the mast to jump halyards and clear any snags in any line running back to the cockpit.

On a cruising boat, however, the all-lines-to-Rome strategy is a two-edged sword. One big problem is winch access. With the cockpit dodger raised, companionway winches are often much harder to use. Line storage and organization is another problem. Also, lines that must be handled more or less simultaneously are often led to the same winch, which means you must load and unload one winch repeatedly to accomplish one task. Yet another issue is increased friction in line runs.

It does make sense to lead some lines aft. Lines needing relatively infrequent small adjustments—topping lifts, vang lines, spinnaker downhauls and mainsail outhauls, for example—are good candidates. But in my opinion, the busier lines, particularly the main halyard and mainsail reefing lines (assuming a slab-reefed main), are best controlled at the mast.

It boggles my mind that some people now believe it is actually dangerous to have to leave the cockpit to reef a mainsail. I seem to remember there was a time when you not only went to the mast to reef the main, but you also routinely went to the bow to change headsails, and this on boats that didn’t have lifelines ringing their decks. Perhaps in the future, we will have lifelines around our cockpits, but meanwhile—and pardon me for saying this—if you are afraid to go to the mast it may be time to trade in your sailboat for a powerboat.

In my own mind, it is largely a matter of convenience. It is much easier for a single crewmember to hoist a mainsail working at the mast. You can quickly haul the line hand over hand for much of the hoist, then resort to the winch to finish it off. On smaller boats, you really only need the winch to tension the halyard after the hoist is complete. The whole job is finished in less than a minute. Hoisting a main alone from the cockpit, you’ll be grinding the winch almost all the way up, due to all the extra friction in the line run. It takes much longer and is also more tiring.

It’s the same deal with reefing. It’s faster and easier doing it all at the mast, plus you have a clear view of the sail the entire time. With cockpit-led reef lines, by comparison, you are often ducking in and out from under the dodger to check on your progress. Because you are usually working more slowly, lines are also more likely to get tangled, which may—gasp!—require you to leave the cockpit to untangle them.

In truth, the only real advantage to doing all your line-handling in the cockpit is that you are less likely to get wet there. I get that. Most adult humans generally prefer to stay dry except when bathing. Some, I imagine, would get themselves dry-cleaned if possible. But here’s the thing about boats: they aren’t really tools to keep you from getting wet; they are tools to keep you from drowning.

The answer to the problem is clothing. As some wise old mariner once said: there’s no such thing as bad weather, so long as you are properly attired. Because I always set up my boats to reef at the mast, I probably spend more time than many dressed in foulies while sailing. I like to be able to reef at a moment’s notice, and I like to do it in just a moment. To me, it seems safer than the alternatives. 

September 2018

Related

qr_main

Antal: QR Clutch

Get a Grip Italian deck gear maker Antal’s two new QR clutches not only have high holding power—up to 3,500lb for the QR10 and 4,800lb for the QR12—they can be opened and released under maximum load, so there’s no longer any need to take up the strain on a winch before freeing a ...read more

leadpicBoxes

DIY: Easy Drawers and Boxes

During the extensive refit of my Pearson 40, I needed to create a significant number of custom-sized plywood drawers and stowage bins, or boxes. These included 10 under-floor storage bins, under-sink organizers, boxes for tools and stores, and even a specially fitted cat ...read more

ARC2018Flags

Tips on Gaining Experience Passagemaking

Whether you want to build a sailing resume or just gain practical experience, getting more miles under your keel is key. You can sail a lifetime of summer afternoons and never quite get the hang of cruising—where creativity and offshore savvy result in self-sufficiency and ...read more

arc18-3981

Stories from the Cruisers of the ARC

Each December, the docks at Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia are abuzz as the fleet of the ARC—the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers—arrives to much fanfare. No matter what time of day or night, the staff of the World Cruising Club, organizers of the 33-year-old rally, are there to ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com A sign from outside the box  Rev counters on modern engines are driven electronically from a terminal on the alternator. If all is well, as soon as the engine fires up the revs will read true. If, ...read more

emSelf-tacking-jib

Ask Sail: Are Self-trackers Worth It?

Q: I’m seeing more and more self-tacking jibs out on the water (and in the pages of SAIL) these days. I can’t help thinking these boats are all hopelessly underpowered, especially off the wind, when compared to boats with even slightly overlapping headsails. But I could be ...read more

01-LEAD-hose-leak-CREDIT-BoatUS

Know how: Is Your Bilge Pump up to the Job?

Without much reflection, I recently replaced my broken bilge pump with a slightly larger model. After all, I thought, surely an 800 gallon-per-hour (gph) pump will outperform the previous 500gph unit? Well, yes, but that’s no reason to feel much safer, as I soon discovered. The ...read more