Sail Rigging for Short Handed Cruising

Multiple Purpose Sail (MPS)
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Hood Sail’s Ian Broad, veteran of many years assistance in the design of cruising sails, here describes the theory behind setting up a Peterson 46 for a short-handed world circumnavigation. All of the theory, and much of the specific information would apply to any yacht.

When we started long range cruising, we were (and still are) a two handed crew – and one, being female, is pretty damn weak about the biceps.  We had already chosen Blackwattle, a  Peterson 46.  She was cutter rigged, an obvious solution to making the sails easier to handle, but what was going to be the most successful sail solution for our planned circumnavigation? Well, we knew what we wanted to achieve – that was the easy part: 1. Being short handed and wanting to rest off duty crew means that the boat mostly sails with a crew of one.  So, we don’t want to be taking sails down and putting them up again with any frequency.  In short, it’s more important to rest the crew (so that they will be rested if there IS an emergency) than it is to go fast. This means we want sails that will cover all our needs and be controllable easily by one person. 2. BUT we cannot return to the marina to get a sail fixed at the end of the day (maybe not for 10 days – or even three months), so we definitely need sails that will LAST the distance.   We don’t want ANY chafe.3. We also want to be able to reef easily, at a moments notice, and reef with just one crew at the mast.  Ideally we want to be able to reef the boat single-handed. 4. We definitely do NOT want to have the mainsail jam while trying to take it down – short-handed issue again.  5. For space and weight reasons, we are only carrying one set of sails, so they had better be good – strong and trouble-proof.   6. There are times of very light weather, and times of gales, so we need a 'one-stop' solution for all weathers. These are the goals that we didn’t need to explain to Ian Broad of Hood Sails when we first consulted him.  Broadie said for what we intended to do we needed a minimum of working sails that are easy to handle. We probably needed a dedicated sail for VERY light wind, and maybe we should have another track on the mast for the storm trysail.

This week Sail-World’s Rob Kothe asked Broadie to describe the theory he used when putting our sail plan together – and here was his rationale, which can be applied, with variations, to any short-handed boat:

‘We made them a new mainsail with a radial head and full length battens. It is loose footed, and has batcars. It also had a large 2-ply clew area, which took into account where the reefs go. The reef rings were EXTERNAL TO THE SAIL to stop any chafe where the reef line goes through and around the leech. It is also lighter and stronger. It has a large 2-ply area on the luff, extending to cover the reef points from the tack.

‘We made the reefs on the main a lot further apart than normal so that when they decide to put a reef in, they go from a full main to quite a reefed main and then to a big reef. When the breeze increases it often increases enough to make the mainsail need to be a lot smaller, quite a lot smaller.

‘Remember I said we put the reefing rings external to the leech so the actual reef line goes through the external ring and not through a ring in the sail, this keeps the reef line well away from the actual back edge of the sail so it’s not chafing on the leech and it does not compress the reefed sail between it and the boom - which causes bruising of the fabric. This is very important. Sailing a boat non-stop for 168 hours a week is somewhat different to sailing it for a few hours racing at the weekend, and you can’t call the sail maker on Monday morning to repair it.

‘For strength and long wearing ability, the seams have two rows of triple stitching. We put the chafe protection on each seam which is a ‘paint-on’ - we call it Duraseam. We paint it on to the seams to stop them chafing.

‘All the batten pockets were double reinforced. We used the proper vinyl ester battens, not just the stock batten for them. They have batten protectors at the leech and, having used batcars, the battens are fully enclosed in the plastic structure. The battens are installed and removed from the luff end of the sail.

Blackwattle sailing with the yankee
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‘They had a big overlapping headsail, which habitually caught on the inner forestay during a tack, requiring someone often to have to go for’d to ease the sail around. We changed that to a Yankee. A yankee is a shorter on the foot, higher-clued sail, which made it easier for tacking. The yankee is also ideal when reaching in a seaway, as the clew and the foot do not touch the water when the boat is heeled.

‘We made a new staysail to fit underneath that one. Both the Yankee and the staysail are on furlers. For a boat that is sailing shorthanded just a few sails cover quite a big range. Both the yankee and the staysail were made with luff pads, which allows the sail to retain its shape when it is partially furled. When they wanted to go from a light wind to a medium wind they’ve got the main the Yankee and the staysail up. Then if it gets a bit fresher they could take the staysail down, and if it got fresher still they could furl the yankee and unfurl the staysail. With those three sails they can basically cover nearly all the wind conditions they are going to have.

‘For very much lighter winds when they want more horsepower, we made them what we call a multi-purpose spinnaker (MPS). For running square or ¾ they use the MPS. You can use the MPS like a headsail, with the tack taught, or like a normal spinnaker with both clew and tack free. But most of the time, the three sail solution will cover all needs.

In addition to the normal cruising sails, we made them a storm jib and a storm trysail. The storm jib was built to fit the inner forestay and because of the furling system it is necessary to use some judgement as to when to change from the staysail to the storm jib. This would normally be done as the weather builds on a bad forecast. The storm trysail can be fitted to the mast on its separate track prior to its actually being required.

Comment from Blackwattle:
Since leaving Sydney, we have now sailed about 12,000 miles to Turkey, and with the exception of extensive wear to the sunbrella cover of the staysail where the yankee sheet chafes (we should have had leather protection there we think), we have had hardly any damage to the sails in that time, even though conditions were at times quite tough for long periods.

The external reefing rings and batcars have been a dream, and the mainsail never falters. In addition, the reefing system devised by Broadie is very simple, and very easily achievable by one person. The yankee is easy to tack, and in combination with the matched staysail, it made the boat closer winded and slightly faster to windward. When square running with the yankee and the staysail to leeward, a well balanced situation results.

While we are highly critical in some areas of the work that was done on our boat prior to our departure from Sydney – incorrect installation and bad crimps etc , we have been delighted with the performance of the sails, and can only thank Broadie from Hood Sails Australia
for his knowledge and commonsense in assisting us with our preparations.

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If you would like information and quotes about your cruising sail needs, contact:
Hood Sail Cruising - Worldwide

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