Cockpit Control - Sail Magazine

Cockpit Control

If you are one of the many thousands of sailors who own a boat built before lines-led-aft became ubiquitous, and you want to be able to sail your boat without leaving the cockpit, leading halyards and reefing lines aft can be a relatively easy upgrade
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If you are one of the many thousands of sailors who own a boat built before lines-led-aft became ubiquitous, and you want to be able to sail your boat without leaving the cockpit, leading halyards and reefing lines aft can be a relatively easy upgrade.

Planning the projectStep one is to look at the feasibility of locating the hardware you’ll have to add. Your deck layout may make it difficult to come up with clean leads from mast base to cockpit. If there is an owner’s association for your boat, check to see if other owners have tackled this project; better to learn from others’ mistakes than your own.

You won’t want to drill more holes in your deck than absolutely necessary. The bolts intrude belowdecks and can mess up your headliner or trim. Some mast steps on older boats will have tangs to which turning blocks can be shackled; if yours doesn’t, you could perhaps have some welded on while the mast is down for the winter. You may also be able to buy a ready-made base plate complete with halyard organizers that will fit on your mast step. Dwyer Mast and Rig-Rite both supply such items.

Make sure there’s enough room under your dodger to mount the rope clutches and winches you’ll need, and that you have an unimpeded swing with a winch handle with the dodger up. You’d be surprised how often builders get this wrong.

Now you have to decide how much hardware – blocks, organizers, clutches, winches – you’ll need to buy. How many lines do you want to take back? The main reason for going to all this trouble is to be able to take in and shake out a reef from the security of the cockpit. You’ll have to bring back the main halyard, topping lift, two reefing tack lines, and two reefing clew lines. That’s six lines already, which means six rope clutches, two deck organizers and two winches.

In theory you could lead all these lines to one winch, but in practice you’d find yourself grappling with a snake’s nest of tangled lines every time you try to reef the main. Life is much easier when you divide the tasks between two winches, which unfortunately means twice the expense. Or you could cut out two lines by going to single line reefing, but that’s another story.

I’ve seen some production boatbuilders who lead the halyard and reefing lines to the cockpit, but leave the topping lift secured on the mast. This means you have to go forward to harden it up before going back to the cockpit to take in the reef, and then go to the mast again to ease the topping lift. That’s just dumb. Either lead all those lines aft, or none of them.

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Theoretically, you could lead as many lines aft as your cockpit can handle. I once sailed on a boat that had 20 rope clutches; it was a nightmare. Remember that ease of handling was the reason you embarked on this project, and don’t complicate things.

Realistically – given the space constraints on a typical cruiser – you can bring as many as eight lines back to the cockpit, four a side. Now you have to work out your priorities. If you’ve already brought six lines aft, what with reefing lines, main halyard and topping lift, that leaves two spare clutches – three if you install a spring-loaded vang, which lets you get rid of the topping lift. What else should come aft?

If you have a furling genoa you’ll be tempted to add a clutch on the mast and leave the coil of the halyard there instead of having it cluttering up the cockpit. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you are a tweaker you’ll want to be able to alter headsail shape with the halyard, so you’ll need it led aft.

The other two lines could be the outhaul – again, it’s handy to be able to adjust sail shape without leaving the cockpit – and the vang, which is another often-used line you’ll want to be able to reach conveniently.

This is all subjective, though. For instance, when our project boat was re-rigged, we led the following lines aft: Cunningham, outhaul, vang; genoa halyard #1, genoa halyard #2, staysail halyard, spinnaker halyard, spinnaker topping lift (the pole downhaul runs along the toerail to a cleat). I like to reef at the mast, so I kept the main, topping lift and reefing lines there, though any future owner will have the option of taking them aft. A winch and rope clutches on the mast provide redundancy for the most-used halyards, so they can be jumped at the mast and tensioned from the cockpit. We find we use the Cunningham, outhaul and vang lines every time we sail, and often adjust the genoa’s halyard tension too. The other lines just clutter things up most of the time, but when we need them, it’ll be useful to have them in easy reach.

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