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Sails and Rig


Full length battens

There's nothing very high-tech about the principle of full-length battens. After all they were originally used as a means of stabilising and reinforcing the lowest of low tech sails on Chinese junks. So why do we need them now when we have strong, durable stable cloths?

On the pro side, full-length battens do stabilise the shape of a mainsail. In addition, if you want lots of roach for extra sail area, the battens support the area effectively. Full-length battens also tame the flapping of the mainsail when raising, lowering and reefing it.

However, there is a long list of drawbacks. To operate effectively on a mainsail of any size - especially if it has a big roach - the battens must be supported by sophisticated and expensive batt cars and a special track. These cars are by no means immune to failure.

Though the battens themselves are generally quite robust, they can be broken if bent around shrouds or spreaders particularly during reefing, when it is hardest for a short-handed crew to control the sail. If a batten is broken it is quite likely that it will damage the sail.

Inverting in light winds

Full-length battens and their cars are heavy, significantly increasing the weight of a mainsail and therefore making it slower and more difficult to hoist. The weight of the battens also makes lazy-jacks a virtual necessity. These bits of string are a nuisance. They inevitably become tangled with other lines when you least want them to and also require that the sail is exactly into the wind when hoisted.

The greatest disadvantage is that with a fully battened mainsail it is necessary to head up to at least a beam reach to luff the sail while taking in a reef. As the large professional crew of an early Mari Cha discovered on a trans-Atlantic record attempt, it is impossible to reef such a sail when running in heavy weather and big seas without breaking one or more battens. It may also be dangerous to luff up in heavy seas.

Long battens make sense, conferring most of the advantages of full-length ones without the disadvantages.

Halyards in the cockpit

In the supposed interest of safety and comfort, the halyards on most modern cruising boats are brought back to the cockpit and led to winches under a cockpit dodger. As a result, when it is time to take a reef in the main, at least two people are required, one on the halyard and the other at the mast to deal with the reef tack ring. With halyards on mast winches with clutches, the whole operation can be handled by only one person, ensuring that the other member of a short-handed crew rises fresh from undisturbed sleep for his or her watch. In addition, halyard winches positioned under dodgers are hopelessly inefficient, as it is impossible to achieve an effective winching position.

 What is it with Bowsprits?

In the days before stainless rigging wire and metal masts, rigs were pretty low aspect. Without an engine, sailing vessels needed to spread as much sail as possible on this low rig. To this end, a bowsprit was a useful if unhandy and vulnerable addition to the mast, gaff and long booms. One or more extra staysails could be set in lighter winds. For fishing vessels, which often moored along tightly packed wharves, bowsprits were 'reefable', pulled back along the deck to protect them from damage.

Modern racing boats have found a use for bowsprits by setting asymetric spinnakers on them, as do a few adventurous cruisers. However, these are mostly reefable 'prods' rather than true bowsprits.

A walk along the dock in almost any marina on the west coast of the USA, shows that bowsprits are still apparently popular with cruising owners, if not with the dock-walkers who must dodge them. This is a puzzle. These boats all have powerful engines and most have reasonably tall rigs, held up with modern wire and fittings. They don't need the extra sail area of a staysail or two.

Most of these bowsprits are also very heavy, fabricated from heavy stainless tubing, with large bow rollers incorporated and usually a stout stainless pulpit around the lot. Some even have anchor windlasses bolted to them and virtually all have one or two anchors hanging from the rollers. All that weight sitting out beyond the end of the waterline helps pitch the boats bow into every wave that comes along, making it slower, wetter and less comfortable.

And then there is the cost. Marina owners rub their hands with satisfaction at the sight of all those bowsprits, adding as they do 15-25% to the cost of mooring the boat. There is also the cost of repairs. Bowsprits are uniquely vulnerable, sited as they are well beyond the bow. They are often damaged and often do damage. Finally there is the complication and frustration of trying to keep the anchor rode from scraping all night on the bob stay.

The price for carrying around that piece of sailing history is pretty high.

Slutter versus Rig

For single masted cruisers, the choice seems increasingly to be between the standard cutter rig and what might be called a 'slutter' rig. The difference between the two lies mostly in the placement of the inner forestay.

Cutters usually have an inner forestay which runs from the upper of two sets of spreaders down to a point about one third of the way aft in the fore-triangle. The staysail set on such a stay is pretty small. It is efficient when used in combination with the larger foresail on the headstay, but is not really much use by itself except in heavy weather. Unfortunately it is also often sheeted quite close inboard, which is not useful for heavy conditions. This cutter rig usually also carries running backstays which are set up to support the rig in strong winds. The alternative is a set of jumper stays; these may foul and chafe the foresail set on the headstay. It is usually possible to tack the foresail around the inner forestay.

The 'slutter' rig differs from the cutter in that the inner forestay, sometimes called a Solent stay, runs from very near the top of the mast down to a point only half a metre or so behind the headstay. The advantages of this arrangement are that a larger, more powerful staysail can be carried on the inner forestay and there is no need for runners to support the mast. Disadvantages of the rig are that the use of both headsails together is not very efficient and the foresail on the head stay cannot usually be tacked past the inner forestay. However, the staysail is big enough that it is likely to be used by itself in almost any short -tacking situation. The staysail is also efficient used by itself in moderate as well as heavy conditions.

In both rigs, the staysail can either be set on a roller-furler or with hanks on the stay. The advantage of the latter arrangement is that it allows a change to a storm jib when necessary. It is useful on the slutter rig to be able to detach the inner forestay so that the foresail on the headstay can be easily tacked in lighter, flukier conditions. Both rigs are often well enough balanced to allow the use of the staysail alone in heavier winds.

On 'Sunstone' we use a slutter rig with the staysail permanently hanked to the inner forestay. We have been extremely happy with the rig and prefer it to the cutter.



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