Why I'll Never Lead my Lines Aft

There is a popular notion, heralded by most modern sailors, that leading all lines aft to the cockpit will simplify your life. I’m here to disagree.
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There is a popular notion, heralded by most modern sailors, that leading all lines aft to the cockpit will simplify your life. I’m here to disagree. 

Elizabeth, our old 28-foot cutter, was rigged simply. There was no boom vang or cunningham, no battens or lazyjacks, no roller furling on the jib and no lines led aft to the cockpit. To raise, reef or lower the main, we got out of the cockpit and went to the mast. We liked the ease with which Elizabeth’s sails could be handled. The luff slugs on her battenless main slid effortlessly up the track. Her single-sheave halyard enabled us to raise the main in less than 10 seconds, without a winch. The lack of lazyjacks caused no friction or chafe and the main fell easily when released, even off the wind.

Because of this, we reefed often, and we reefed early. There was no second-guessing. If the thought crossed our mind, we reefed, long before conditions got hairy.

I’ve heard many accounts of owners going in for an “all lines led aft” upgrade. The belief is that doing so makes sailing safer and easier. By staying in the cockpit while adjusting your sails, you supposedly reduce the risk of injury or falling overboard. But in my opinion, this is backwards thinking. 

The notion that leaving the cockpit is dangerous should be denounced. It is far more dangerous not being able to quickly and efficiently drop or reef sails. Whenever I’ve sailed a boat with lines led aft I’ve always had to leave the cockpit, deal with a snag, overhaul some slack or re-lead a fouled line. Inevitably this happens during the worst conditions, completely negating the reason the lines were brought aft in the first place. Sailors who are not accustomed to leaving the cockpit while underway will be unprepared for foredeck work when squalls come to play.

Furthermore, many of the lines-led-aft systems I’ve seen actually make the rigging more complex and therefore more dangerous. The more turns a line makes, the more friction there is, and this alone makes lowering sails more difficult, especially when you’re in a hurry. The lines running along the deck make footing treacherous, and excessive line clutter in the cockpit leads to snags, knots and more tripping. 

My wife and I have owned several boats. Efficiency, safety and ease of use have always been our top priorities. But it wasn’t until our third boat, where the lines were not led aft, that we felt the most confident handling and adjusting sails in any condition. Until I find a system that combines the accessibility of lines led aft with the efficiency and reliability of lines led to the mast, I’ll stick with the system that minimizes opportunities for problems. I’ll keep my rigging simple, direct and always running smoothly. 

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