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Lazyjacks for Your Mainsail

I have always liked lazyjacks in theory, but in practice I’ve found them to be a total pain in the backside. Even so mundane a task as hoisting a mainsail takes on a new dimension when you’ve got to time it just right so the batten ends don’t get caught in the lazyjacks; and if you’ve ever had a lazyjack line caught around a spreader end, you’ll know that adds a new layer of excitement to a gybe.

But gathering up, flaking and lashing down a big mainsail that’s sprawled all over a cabintop is a pain in the backside too, especially when it’s blowing, the boat is rolling, you’re in a harbor that’s full of traffic, and there are only one or two of you on board to sort out the mess. Eventually, midway through a breezy summer, I saw the light. I would install lazyjacks, and life would be sweet. Or would it?

Choices, choices

There were four basic choices. I could have a Dutchman system, which I like, retrofitted to the sail. I could seize the opportunity to have a “lazybag” made, which would incorporate a sailcover for true ease of handling. I could buy an off-the-shelf lazyjack kit from Harken, Schaefer or EZ-Jax. Or I could try rigging up my own system. Naturally, I took the path of most resistance and decided to do it myself.

Most lazyjack systems­—whether supplied commercially as kits, or made up by individual boat owners or riggers—consist of lines running from somewhere above spreader height (usually just below the top spreader on a double-spreader rig) down to 6-10 feet or so above the boom, where they’ll split into two, three or four legs. Three legs are better than two. Except on smaller boats or shorter booms, I’ve found that two-leg systems always allow some part of the sail to spill out, which defeats the point of having lazyjacks in the first place. A three- or four-leg system will have lines spaced so that the sail is well contained—important for singlehanded sailors or shorthanded crews who want to spend the minimum amount of time fussing once the sail is dropped.

There are any number of ways to rig lazyjacks, some better than others. I had two goals in mind: I wanted to be able to let the halyard run and drop the sail into the lazyjacks with no part of it obscuring my vision, and I wanted to ensure that the lazyjacks would not foul the mainsail headboard or battens when setting sail.

One way of ensuring easy hoisting would be to secure the standing lines under the spreaders, a foot or so out from the mast; the extra clearance between the lines will make them much less likely to snag a batten. I didn’t like that idea, though. I’d still have to be head to wind, or nearly so, when I raised the sail, so the shorter battens wouldn’t blow inside the lines. Also, it would have interfered with the sailcover. I did not want to make any other modifications.

I decided I wanted the lazyjacks to retract and lie along the boom when not needed. Some commercial kits are designed to do this and others can be adapted. Kits will come with all necessary hardware, sometimes right down to the drill bits and taps, which can save you a few trips to the chandlery.

Depending on the size of your boat, you’ll want to use 1/4in to 3/8in prestretched polyester doublebraid for your lazyjack lines. Don’t use nylon—it stretches when wet so the lines flop around and don’t hold the bunt of the sail so well. I used 1/4in Sta-Set for the risers, and 5/16in for the lower lines—simply because I didn’t have enough of either to do the whole job. Either is more than strong enough.

Three legs or four?

Since my boat’s boom is only 12 feet long, I decided to experiment with a three-legged system. After first engaging a rigger to scale the mast and rivet a pair of cheek blocks to either side of the spar just below the top spreaders, I marked off the boom with tape at 3-foot intervals, and tied the individual legs off at these marks. It took a fair bit of fiddling about before I was happy with the lead of the lines.

Because the lower lines would have to run freely, I debated whether to use blocks, but settled on 1in-diameter stainless steel rings—mainly because I already had some. Blocks offer the least friction, but can chafe the sail unless sheathed in plastic or leather. I found that the stainless rings on the ends of the risers tapped against the mast, damaging the anodizing, so I removed them and replaced them with simple bowlines, which create too much friction; when I get the time, I’ll install a couple of nylon thimbles.

I did not want to drill holes in the boom. Fortunately, Seldén supplies some ingenious two-part lazyjack sliders that fit in the groove under the boom. Between those and the sliders for the reefing lines, I was able to tie off the reefing lines without having to install permanent padeyes. I was glad of this when I decided a four-leg system would work better; between them and the fact that I’d been too lazy to neatly splice eyes into the ends of the lines, using bowlines instead, it was easy to modify the system.

I ran the fall of the lazyjack risers through a pair of Spinlock PX cleats, which was a mistake—they’re fine for other uses, but in this application they have a habit of letting go at the wrong time. Simple cam cleats or even horn cleats would have worked much better. That aside, I’m pleased with the system. The lazyjacks hold the main securely, even in a strong breeze, and once I’ve lashed the sail I can uncleat the risers and pull the lazyjacks down, leading them forward along the boom and hook them under the reefing horns, then tension the risers to hold them in place. Best of all, I can raise the mainsail without worrying about getting hooked up on those infernal lazyjacks.

So what’s the catch? You’ll need to have your sail cover remade to fit around the lines. You can make up your own lazyjacks, but you have to buy the Dutchman system as a kit. The sail will have to be modified by a sailmaker, so the cost is typically a couple of hundred dollars more than a set of professionally installed lazyjacks.

Basic: Two-leg system

The simplest possible system involves having the risers of the lazyjacks (1/4in pre-stretched line) secured to padeyes about 50-60 percent up the mast, or just above the spreaders. The legs are secured to the boom about two-thirds of the way abaft the gooseneck, taken up about 6ft and through small blocks or stainless steel rings on the falls, and forward to jammers or cleats on the boom about one-third of the way back from the gooseneck. You should mock up the installation before drilling holes in your boom. Make sure there is enough spare line to allow the lazyjacks to be slackened enough to pull them forward and secure them out of the way of the sail.

Better: Three- or four-leg system

It is common to see the risers taken up to cheek blocks on either side of the mast, then back down to the gooseneck, where they are cleated off or run through jammers. This allows the lazyjacks to be adjusted or completely slacked off. The legs are usually secured to eye straps, evenly spaced along the boom starting at 15-20 percent of the way forward of the clew. The legs may be run through 1in stainless rings or small blocks so they can be pulled flat along the boom when you want to hoist sail or put the sail cover on; or you can simply seize the legs to the rings and either leave the lazyjacks permanently rigged or secure the legs with snap hooks so you can unclip them from the boom easily and tie them out of the way.

Drop it & Bag it

I’ve heard plenty of opinions both for and against lazybags. It takes a lot of the work out of mainsail handling, and many cruisers—especially those with bigger boats with high-set booms— wouldn’t sail without one. But if it’s poorly designed or made, a lazybag can flop around annoyingly when you’re under sail, filling with air and making a hellacious racket when the breeze gets up. Because the sail is stacked atop the boom rather than having its folds draped on either side, windage can be a problem too, especially if you have a light boat that’s already prone to sailing around its anchor.

The Dutchman system is the most efficient way of controlling the fall of a mainsail so that it flakes evenly along the boom. It employs two or three (depending on the length of the boom) vertical lines, secured at one end to the boom and at the other to the topping lift. The lines are threaded through plastic grommets let into the sailcloth; as the sail is dropped, they guide the sailcloth onto the boom. Put the sailcover on, and you’re done.

Illustrations by Alastair Garrod

Resources

Doyle sailmakers, doylesails.com

E-Z-Jax, ezjax.com

Harken, harken.com

Jiffy Jax jiffyjax.com

Schaefer Marine , schaefermarine.com

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