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Five 'Get ready now' heavy weather sailing strategies

by John Jamieson on 13 Aug 2013
Captain John Jamieson http://www.skippertips.com
In heavy weather sailing, sailing tips that save time and effort can be more valuable than gold when the rough stuff arrives aboard. Sure, you have jacklines rigged, crew in personal flotation devices (pfds), harnesses, and clipped in. And you've set preventers, taped the lifeline gates and lashed and stowed sailing gear topsides and down below decks. Look over this list of 'time and effort' savers and you just might see something to add your 'get ready now for rough weather later' list.

1. Beware of Reef Hook 'Hole Punch' Syndrome

Make jiffy reefing the mainsail luff reef faster with a reefing hook installed at the gooseneck of your boom. You lower the mainsail to the desired luff reef grommet and slide it through the reefing hook (also called a 'ram's horn').

But take care...

One blustery day, we were reefing the main and the strop-ring slid off the horn. The sail caught beneath the horn and we punched a small hole in the luff. We caught it in time and stopped grinding--but it could have been worse. Lesson learned--make sure the ring gets seated before you apply winch tension!

As an alternative to the luff reef grommet, have your sailmaker install a strop of webbing with a ring at the luff reef patch. Lower the sail to the strop; slide the strop ring onto the ram's horn and hoist away. No more worry about accidental 'hole punches' in your expensive mainsail.

2. Leave Mainsail Bunting Alone for Now

Should you tie up the extra mainsail cloth that lies along the reefed foot on top of the boom? It might not look picture-perfect, but in no way will this extra bunting harm the sail or affect your ability to trim or make way to windward in a blow. What matters will always be proper luff tension and good down- and outhaul leech tension.

Matter of fact, tie the loose bunting too tight and you run the risk of rips and tears. If you decide to neaten up the foot, keep the reef tie lines with complete slack. You should not have any tension whatsoever on any of the reef points (small patches with grommets that span the sail from luff to leech).

Tie off the bunting beneath the sail itself on loose-footed mainsails. Otherwise, tie them slack and loose beneath the boom. How loose? If you see any tension lines, puckers, or 'crow's feet' that extend out from a reef-point grommet, slack off on the reef tie line. Loosen them more than you think necessary and you could save yourself big dollars in ripped mainsail repair costs!

3. Hank on a Headsail Made for Tough Weather

I remain an advocate of the hank-on headsail. Call me old fashioned, but I tend to like things that come down in a few seconds from full hoist. Guaranteed to go up and come down without a hassle. Every time.

But, most sailors love their furling gear. And I must admit it's sweet to pull a string and have a sail roll up like an old-fashioned window shade. I have some tough advice for any sailor--new or veteran; do not use a furling Genoa in winds approaching near gale or gale force. No matter what anyone tells you, furling Genoas are not made for heavy weather.

You run a great risk of having the furling gear jam. Or being unable to lower the sail if you need to because of the friction of the luff inside the extrusion. Rip or tear a furling sail and it could be a handful for any sailing crew to get down in a blow. Try this solution used by many veteran sailors...

Talk to your sailmaker and rigger about installing a removable inner forestay just inside your headstay. They can advise you on placement and any additional support you will need (i.e. running backstays). When not in use, detach the lower part of the forestay and clip it onto a pad eye located near the mast. When you need it, attach it to the forestay deck fitting. This offers you a perfect way to hank on any headsail or even a small staysail for sailing in any season.

4. Turn Downwind to Furl or Change Headsails

Put a hefty amount of wind onto a sail and you can bet on lots of friction and tension on the headstay. This will not be an issue with hank-on headsails, but it could turn into a ton of trouble with a furling headsail if the drum failed or the furling line broke or the sail ripped halfway up the stay.

Take the load off a headsail before you hoist, lower, or furl the sail. Turn downwind to a broad reach. Place the sail in the wind shadow created by the mainsail. You will have an easier time when you need to hoist, lower, or furl any headsail. The apparent wind will become lighter, the boat more level, the deck dryer, and the foredeck crew less fatigued.

5. Reef Before Dark

Changing sails in the dark on a wild pitching foredeck or reefing at the mast can be a challenge. Tuck a reef in before the sun sets if you suspect the wind may build or if sailing in an area frequented by squalls. You might lose a knot or so of speed in lighter air. But you will be better prepared to handle an unexpected squall or gusty winds overnight. Make this simple step standard operating procedure aboard your small sailboat. Put sailing safety and crew comfort at the head of the list for a happier, more relaxed cruising experience.

John Jamieson (Captain John) with 25+ years of experience shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need for safer sailing worldwide. Visit his website at www.skippertips.com. Sign up for the Free, highly popular weekly 'Captain John's Sailing Tip-of-the-Week'. Discover how you can gain instant access to hundreds of sailing articles, videos, and e-Books!
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