Making sailboats easier to handle (“Sailing for Geezers,” September 2007) apparently touched a responsive chord. Here are more improvements I’ve made on my 30-year-old Pearson 40 to make it easier and safer for me to handle. Since I’m approaching 60 years of age, easier also equals fun.
The Geezer mainsail reef
Staying in the cockpit when the wind is building is a cardinal rule for me, primarily for my own safety. Roller-furling headsails are a great geezer-friendly solution that addresses part of the problem of reducing sail area, but that still leaves the mainsail. Because my budget doesn’t allow me the luxury of an in-mast or in-boom reefing system, slab or jiffy reefing has to be my solution.
To keep things simple, I wanted to create a single-line reefing system. The problem is that the standard system runs the reef line from the cockpit to the base of the mast, up to the reefing cringle on the mainsail luff, back down to the boom, back to the aft end of the boom, up through the reef cringle on the leech of the main, and back down to the boom (Fig. 1).
I used this system on a number of boats and found that the luff reef cringle would often be mashed into the gooseneck while the leech cringle would remain weakly tensioned. The result: a baggy mainsail. My solution is to run the reef line out to the leech first, then lead it forward to the mast and up through the luff reef cringle (Fig. 2).
Although this setup requires additional blocks, four years of cruising and dozens of reefing cycles have proved to me that it produces a reefed mainsail with perfect shape. The only modification I’ve made to the original setup is to put a block at the leech reef cringle and run the reef line through that block instead of running it through the reefing cringle.
When I reef the mainsail, I first lower the halyard to a mark I’ve made on it. Then I pull in the single reefing line until the mainsail reaches its perfect smaller shape. I can complete the entire operation from the cockpit.
Be deck smart
I prefer to stay in the cockpit as much as I can. For one thing, going up and down the companionway ladder is getting to be tough on my knees. More important, unless another person is on board, there’s no one standing watch on deck. That’s why I keep my logbook, which has waterproof paper, with me.
For the same reasons, I’ve eliminated having to go below to turn on the running lights when it gets dark and to switch from the masthead tricolor I use when I’m under sail to the pulpit-mounted bow and stern lights and mast-mounted steaming light if I turn on the engine. I used to switch several other lights on and off frequently, which also required a trip below. I solved the problem by installing a small, waterproof Blue Sea switch panel (www.bluesea.com) in the cockpit. I can control all the navigation lights, the Windex light, and the cockpit and deck floodlights from that panel, which I installed right next to the helm (Photo 1). Since the engine controls are adjacent to the switch panel, the location eliminates a potential senior moment where I would forget to go below and make the required running-light changes.
Years ago I could climb a mast hand over hand. Those days are long gone, but I still need to go aloft every once in a while. I tried many mast-climbing options, including steps and commercial mast ascenders, but found that none of them were very easy to use and some even felt unsafe to me. To solve my problem, I created my own mast-climbing kit. I bought a well-built bosun’s chair with a hard bottom and added a good amount of foam padding around the seat. Then I assembled a good block-and-tackle with 4:1 purchase and enough line to allow me to pull myself the 53 feet to the masthead. This amounts to four times the height of the mast, or 212 feet of 7/16-inch line.
That system allowed me to go up easily, but stopping to rest along the way was a problem because I had to hang on tight to the rope tail while I supported about a quarter of my weight. My solution was to replace the top block with a Harken model 1565 Hexaratchet and remove the cam cleat. Now I can stop and rest at any point since the Hexaratchet holds most of my weight. It also makes it easy for me to come down under control and with minimum effort (Photo 2).
My backup in case the primary halyard should fail is a spare halyard clipped to the base of the mast and tensioned with the halyard winch. I put a mountain climbers rappelling harness around my hips and tether it to a Petzl ascender (Jumar) that’s attached to the backup halyard. That arrangement will catch me if I should start to fall.
More geezer gadgetry
The remote controller for my Raymarine autopilot certainly wasn’t designed to be a geezer-assistance device, but I use it more than any other piece of electronic gear on board. When I’m sailing, I usually let the autopilot steer; it has a longer attention span than I do.
Formerly, I’d have to sprint back to the cockpit-mounted controller to make an adjustment to the autopilot, and when I first purchased my controller, I considered it primarily as an interesting gadget. Now I can steer from any spot on the boat. It’s become, literally, my personal sailing assistant.
Super sail cover
My cover is a big one that goes over the mainsail, the solid rod vang, and the blocks at the base of the mast. If it isn’t oriented properly when I start out, I wind up lumping the cover around on the boom, turning it inside out, or both. Not geezer friendly.
My solution was to sew two sail ties, one blue (forward) and one white (aft), on the inside of the cover. Now I can fold the cover the same way every time and then put it back on the boom correctly. The ties aren’t visible when the cover is on the boom (Fig. 3).
To make the mainsail drop easier, I first move the traveler as far as possible to one side; when the sail is down, I tighten the traveler line to keep it in position and then tighten the mainsheet. This keeps the boom well off centerline and minimizes the chance that I will stumble down a hatch while I’m putting the cover on. It also keeps me out of the line of sight of anyone standing at the helm.
Replacing youthful brawn with more brains and better equipment has been an interesting challenge as I have gotten older. I know these systems have helped me appreciate creature comforts, and I’m not about to give them up. In fact, I’m thinking about more geezer-friendly gear I can add that will let me continue to sail safely and maximize the fun I have when I’m out on the water.
Many older production boats have issues that can make them difficult to sail in some conditions. For example, I found my Pearson so exhausting to steer when the wind and seas came up that I thought I’d have to sell it. Fortunately, I consulted with naval architect Roger Marshall, who recommended replacing the original swept-back rudder with a partially balanced spade.
Even though the difference between the two rudder profiles is small, the load reduction and improved steering control are significant. Not long after the new rudder was installed, I sailed in a northeaster in the Gulf Stream, off the east coast of Florida. In 25 to 30 knots of wind and steep Gulf Stream seas, I was able to steer the boat with two fingers on the wheel. ’Nuff said.
Chip Lawson, president of Lawson Sails, has been a sailmaker and rigger for more than 40 years. He continues to refit his Pearson 40 for extended cruising. You can reach him at email@example.com.