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
Publish date:
Social count:
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

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.


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.



The ICW North Bound Migration Begins

As the northbound migration begins, we are getting some early reports on conditions along the ICW. The overall impression this spring is that after the damages caused by the hurricanes, the winter storms have apparently not made too many additional changes. There is even some more


Charter: Historic Croatia

Heaps of history—that’s not usually what comes to mind when you plan a sailing charter, but if you like a bit of culture mixed with your cruising, Croatia is the place to go. Caught between two worlds, (the whitewashed laid back vibe of the Mediterranean and the brash demeanor of more


Gear: Pan-Pan man-overboard Locator

There He Goes!The Pan-Pan man-overboard locator won a Pittman award for 2017 as a great idea, and now it is in production as the Weems & Plath CrewWatcher. It’s a two-part system that employs a smartphone app to locate a small personal beacon that triggers automatically should more


SAIL 2018: Reader's Photographs

Are you out there sailing, cruising and living the sailing life? If so, we’d love to see it. Send your sailing photos to sailmail@sailmagazine.comAnd don’t forget to sign up for our free eNewsletter.Check back for updates!This was taken from half way across the 26 mile crossing more

Landing Page Lead

The Volvo Returns to the Southern Ocean

Since the Volvo Ocean Race’s inception, the Southern Ocean has made it what it is. And no part of the race says “Southern Ocean” like Leg 7 from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajaí, Brazil. The 7,600-mile leg, which starts this Sunday, is not only the longest of the event, but far more


SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comTeak deck paradise  I had a call recently from the man who replaced the deck on my Mason 44 five years ago. He was worried about the way people are wrecking their teak decks trying to get the green off. more


Gear: ATN Multi Awning

THROW SOME SHADEAmong the many virtues of cruising cats is the large expanse of netting between their bows, which is the ideal place to hang out with a cold one after a hard day’s sailing and let the breeze blow your worries away. Only trouble is it can get a bit hot up there more