Light Weather Sails—Choosing What Is Right For You

Our new light weather sail on the loft floor

One of the things we like most about the OVNI 435 is the well-stayed cutter rig. In light of experience aboard our previous boat we opted for a yankee (jib-topsail) rather than the standard roller genoa knowing that the yankee maintains its shape and drive far better when well rolled, and is stable and easy to handle when poled out. However, we knew that the trade-off would be a loss of light air performance, but felt that this was a suitable compromise that we could address in the future, once we’d got some miles under our belt and decided on the best course of action. As we don’t want to use our engine any more than we have to, and don’t have huge fuel tanks in any case, this wasn’t an option, but a must.

Having put some miles on, it was clear that we had to do something to address the boat's main weakness, which was in less than 10 knots of wind when our heavy sails and cruising hull lines conspired against her.

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

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John Harries

Really interesting post, Colin.

I have always thought that large overlapping genoa jibs were a poor idea on cruising boats. In fact one of the first things I did when I bought “Morgan’s Cloud” was to sell the #1 and #2 genoa jibs and rig, as you have, as a cutter.

But, “Morgan’s Cloud” is set up as a true cutter with a larger fore triangle than a sloop. Also, she has a relatively large rig, particularly by European standards, so she will sail well down to about 6 knots true wind as long as the wind stays forward of the beam. (When it goes aft, we hoist an asymmetric spinnaker in a sock, too.)

My point being that what would not work on MC due to her size and big rig—Phyllis and I would not even be able to sheet in a 155% genoa after a tack, due to the loads—works great on “Pèlerin”.

This is just another instance that proves that in this complex game there are no right or wrong answers…only the right answer for a given boat and crew. Sounds like you nailed it for you.

Further, we too have toyed with the thought of a Code 0 for some years. But I think your article has cured us of that. The thought of the loads on MC of such a sail, and what would happen if the wind came up suddenly catching us with the sail up are truly frightening!

Bob V

Hello Colin,
I have been following your writings since you commissioned ‘pelerin’. Did you ever consider a parasailor chute like Jimmy Cornell used for years with great success?

Regards, Bob

Colin Speedie

Hi John

The genoa certainly works well for us – we were out two days ago flying it for the first time with the new feathering prop and the results were really pleasing, especially reaching when we would normally struggle. And as it is only designed and built for truly light conditions the loads are never too high for us with our relatively small rig.

Bob, our original plan was to buy a Parasailor, but the price was way too high. If it had been something like twice the price, then we’d have gone for it, but as it was more than 4 x the price of a conventional spinnaker we thought it was simply too much. I know that Jimmy Cornell is a big fan, and that certainly recommended the sail to us, but equally I’ve spoken to Parasailor owners since who were less convinced.

Best wishes

Colin

pete & sally

I have just been reading a piece about fore sails by Garry Hoyt. I found it interesting but was disappointed that I couldn’t e-MAIL HIM WITH 2000 QUESTIONS I HAD. I am interested to know if it is possible to change a mast head rig for a 9/10 rig or a 7/8 rig. The reason for this is I like the big main and a self tacking Jib more than a genoa, also Hoyt’s jib boom is a brilliant idea which I have tried on a friend’s yacht and couldn’t believe the difference it made to downwind sailing with a fractional rig so any ideas you folks have would be welcomed.

john

Hi Pete and Sally,

There is a lot to be said for large mainsail small jib rigs. Having said that, changing a rig’s proportions is a project with a lot of potential problems. Basically you would be moving the center of effort of the sailplan and risking radically unbalancing the boat.

I think that if you really wanted such a rig, the best thing, and probably cheaper too, would be to sell your present boat and buy one that is rigged this way.

Also, I am not a big fan of jib booms of any type on offshore boats, particularly large ones. Just too dangerous in a sea way.

mike

Hello Sir, I enjoyed your article. I would advise against a Code 0 because it’s not a sail that you can leave unattended under Autopilot. Especially in light winds you will often see the sail collapse with the yacht’s rolling or surfing (well accelerating) on a wave. Unless some one is steering to keep it full or tending the sheet it will soon fail due to the repeated SNAP of filling with wind. On a delivery we ran one for two days but didn’t even make the Canarys before blowing it entirely, then forced to sail Trans-Atlantic with nothing lighter than 9 OZ. Dacron

Dave Benjamin

While a true code zero would be a poor choice for a cruising yacht, our CLASS (Cruisers Light Air Sail Solution) which is a purpose built light air sail flown from a foil-less furler in the same fashion as a code zero has proved itself quite capable of being left up for days with an auto-pilot on.

Colin Speedie

Hi Dave

I like the sound of your CLASS sail, and we probably would have opted to fly our hybrid sail from a furler, except that the furler we had (for our asy spi) was maybe on the small side for an upwind sail, and we also liked the idea of having a spare stay in the event of the main reefing gear having a problem.

Having used it for a while, it works fine, and maybe most importantly behaves well in an ocean swell. But I’d have to say, if I had the time (and money!) again, I’d probably go for a furler – they’re so versatile, and make stowing the sail so easy. And I see no reason why one wouldn’t function well inside the forestay.

Ultimately, it’s about a sail you can really use, isn’t it, not some decorative, expensive thing that just looks the part?

Best wishes

Colin

Dave Benjamin

Colin,

I wish we had known you back then as we likely could have supplied the CLASS with a furler for about the same or less as you spent for the genoa. Hydranet in crosscut version is really no better than a good Dacron when you dig into the testing numbers. Hydranet is also quite expensive. We like the radial version of Hydranet for a performance cruising sail but Hydranet of either variety seems overkill for a light air genoa.

While a 2:1 halyard is nice to have, it’s not necessarily mandatory on a cruising boat. We think of the CLASS as a sail to fly up until the point where the jib or genoa can take over and deliver similar performance. On a race boat where a 2:1 halyard is mandatory, a code zero would be carried beyond that point because it could translate into better boatspeed, particularly when the boat has a hull that can plane. It’s important that we don’t apply race boat thinking to a cruising application that has little in common.

As for tacking inside the forestay, I have seen that done. In fact there’s an article floating around on my computer about some people who did that with a drifter flown from a Facnor on something like a Tayana 37.

There are some inexpensive sprit kits available that are well worth considering. As for creating a point to attach the furler on an anchor platform, it can be as as simple as adding a bale. It’s important to insure that the anchor platform can sustain the upward force.

Here’s what a customer reported about his experiences with a CLASS on a Catalina 42 (12.8m) after sailing from San Francisco to Mexico.

“I really, really like the CLASS! It worked great and was super easy to handle. Furling and unfurling were total non events even when we left it up once into a mid20’s breeze. Most of the time we were nearly dead down wind so the sail spent a lot of time poled out and much of that with the main furled. Under that configuration we saw boat speeds equal 2/3 to 3/4 of the wind speed – 5 knots in 8 knots of wind and 6 to 7 knots in 10 knots. Combine that with the ease of handling and I couldn’t have been happier. Mark was on board as crew and he was totally sold on it also. I will be surprised if he doesn’t call you to get the same setup for his boat.”

Colin Speedie

Hi Dave

The Hydranet option was as much to do with the light weight cloth, I believe, and the sail wasn’t too expensive in reality.

Plus, we wanted a sail we could go upwind with (as high as possible) where we had a real weakness. We probably couldn’t have achieved that with a 0 or free flying sail. We can get closer to the wind with this sail than we ever can with the yankee, which in flat water is a real asset.

Also, we do have bowsprit, which is fine for the asy, but wouldn’t have coped with the loadings of a free flying sail sharp up to the wind, without (a) replacing the spi block plate at the masthead (a piece of junk on our boat) (b) welding a plate near the waterline to take a spectra bobstay and (c) installing a 2:1 halyard – the cost just kept going up and up.

The system we have works brilliantly for our boat, and does what we needed it to do. Our circumstances were peculiar – Ovni’s aren’t the sharpest boats upwind. For everything other than upwind, I’d agree that a good cruising hybrid ‘0’ is a really good way to go, and we’d love one.

Best wishes

Colin

Dave Benjamin

Colin,

Hydranet is not appreciably lighter than a regular Dacron. There’s an incremental difference but it’s basically just a Dacron with some Dyneema added for strength.

I’ve previously written about our disdain for the Yankee. Bob Perry wrote an excellent piece that I’ve pasted in below this paragraph. I think a better solution for your boat and most cruising monohulls is a conservatively sized genoa on the furler and a CLASS for when things go light. We find that in really light air, that the CLASS far out performs any genoa. Although you can’t point as high with a sail that has a free flying luff, the added speed gets you to the destination quicker 90% of the time.

Here’s Bob Perry explaining why we’re not fans of the yankee:

Bob Perry on headsails – (this is pasted verbatim from a post on sailing anarchy and was posted in response to a question about clew height):
“I drew it that way because at the time most cutters carried high clewed yankees. It was traditional. But if you look at the area of the high clewed yankee and the center of pressure you can see that retaining the same sail area and dropping the clew will drop the center of pressure and result in a lower heeling moment. Over time I have grown away from high clewed sails. My own rule of thumb is never have a jib clew higher than you can easily reach when the boat is heeled past 20 degrees. The yankee with the lower clew will be far more effective without the staysail to “fill in the hole”. If I owned your boat and I was after a new headsail I’d have it cut like a genoa with the clew just above the lifelines. This would be a far more versitile sail than a high clewed yankee. A high clewed yankee and mainsail flown without the staysail is not a good combo.”

John Harries

Hi Colin and Dave,

I have to jump in here on the high clew yankee issue. While Perry is right that a low cut sail is more efficient up-wind without the staysail, he completely misses the point, because a true cutter carries the staysail any time the wind is forward of the beam. And in this case the combination is, when properly tuned, very fast, particularly in swell.

In fact the total area of our cutter rig is only a little smaller than a number one genoa, but infinitely more flexible and easier to handle.

In fact we have won our class twice in the Bermuda race and in one case had best corrected time in fleet using this rig. On the last day of one of these races we sailed through several boats carrying #1s that gave us time, on the wind in light air.

Then when reaching and broad reaching in big breeze the high cut yankee is way more efficient than a low cut sail because the sheeting point is further aft resulting in a less hooked leach. This is what we used to call a blast reacher in my racing days.

The other big advantages to the high cut yankee is that it does not scoop water on a reach and you don’t need to change the sheet lead as you roller reef, like you will have to with a low cut sail.

Of course one still needs bigger and lighter sails off the wind in light to medium air, but you need that whatever height your clew is. On MC we set an asymmetrical spinnaker or a Perkins, depending on the level of energy aboard :-).

We get away without a light air headsail for going up wind because we have a big rig in the boat and are more willing to motor than Colin is. Colin’s boat, as is typical of European boats, has a smaller rig in relationship to her weight (it blows way harder over there) so her needs are different when up wind, hence the genoa, but that does not alter the benefits of a high cut yankee jib, high or low, Colin would still need the added area when it gets light.

Davew Benjamin

John,

I think it may be rigged as a cutter, however the boat seems to be designed as a staysail sloop, at least in this line drawing I found on the internet.

http://sailboatdata.com/viewrecord.asp?class_id=5364

John Harries

Hi Dave,

That does not, in my experience, alter the fact that as long as the fore-triangle is of a reasonable size and a staysail is carried when going to windward, it is a very efficient rig that is much more flexible offshore than the sloop.

Inshore, where frequent tacks are required, not so much.

Point being that I simply don’t agree that a cutter rig is old fashioned and has been superseded.

Dave Benjamin

John,

You’re bringing up some excellent points, however if I’m not mistaken, the Ovni that Colin owns is not cutter rigged.

For most boats, particularly those that are not true cutters like MC, a genoa of moderate to minimal overlap with a clew height just over head level will do a superb job. There’s no tendency for the sail to “scoop water” and the sail can work acceptably well both upwind and reaching. If we’re using a CLASS, then we’re not using the genoa off the wind in lighter airs. What we’re able to do is cover a wide range of wind strength and angles with a very simple two sail arrangement, both of which are easily managed and economical. The size of the CLASS is not much larger than a traditional #1 genoa but where it’s getting the performance from is the “shoulder” we’ve engineered into it and the fact we’re using a cloth that weighs a third or fourth of what most genoas would weigh.

For a true cutter, there’s a variety of arrangements. I just did a complete inventory on a cutter rigged ketch and for that project we ended up with a Yankee foresail that had the clew a bit lower than a traditional yankee. The staysail is the self tending variety on a boom. The client reported back after 1200 or 1300 miles that the boat was performing well.

I think a yankee on a boat like the Ovni which is already compromised upwind further hobbles the boat. I would have suggested a different approach. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the traditional approach but I think that we have a lot of materials and hardware options that simply didn’t exist when many of these boats were originally designed.

John Harries

Hi Dave,

Ah, I think you and I are actually closer in our opinions than it would appear from the above because Colin’s boat is rigged as a true cutter.

I agree entirely with you that a high cut jib without a low cut staysail under it is very inefficient and not a good idea.

Now we could start on Jib Booms, one of the true horrors of the sea, in my opinion. 🙂

Dave

John,

I’m not suggesting anyone scrap their cutter rig. I’d simply suggest that a cutter rig and sailplan is best employed on a boat designed as a cutter.

I like solent rigs. The inner headsail can be a high aspect sail. A traditional low aspect staysail is much less efficient than a high aspect sail of similar size. Think back to the “good old days” when a race boat would have a #3 or #4 headsail that was 80 or so on the hoist. Now those sails tend to have taller hoist with less overlap. The way we usually explain the difference is that taller hoists deliver power without the heeling moment of a sail with shorter hoist and greater overlap.

Colin Speedie

Hi Mike

Interesting point that you make, and one I can easily understand. We’ve had our new sail up in light airs with a reasonable swell, and so far, so good, it’s been stable enough.

As we generally only sail two handed, the need for a sail that can look after itself is paramount, as although Lou likes to hand steer, I’m less inclined!

Best wishes

Colin

Martin

Hi Colin, interesting approach and you’r right to listen to sailmakers! I’m following a similar reflection in refitting a 34-foot Romanée (French-built aluminum sloop from the late 1970s; displacing +/- 6 ton; you must have seen a few when in Britanny.) I’m very tempted to get rid of the roller reefing genoa (good for furling, bad for reefing), and replace it with good old-fashioned hanked-on sails. Sailcloth and cut have made a lot of progress. So the thinking goes: 110 or 120% genoa + solent jib to cover average sailing conditions. Orc-type jib for anything above that. Light-air conditions: We’ve got spinnakers so off-the wind situations are covered. Close-hauled: code-zero or light-air genoa. I agree with you on the latter choice; much smaller loads and easier short-handed. But I only have 1 forestay. So, the idea I’m toying with is to have the genoa free-standing, with a doubled-up halyard and furling system (similar to what you have for your asymmetric kite. In French: drisse mouflée et emmagasineur). The tack would be right behind the forestay (which makes for easy tacking). I wonder what you think about the combination.

Best

Martin
Romanée Isatis

If you’re curious about the Romanée; check out http://pouvreau.romanee.free.fr

Colin Speedie

Hi Martin

I know the Romanee, and they’re good boats.

Re your thoughts on sails, I see no reason why you couldn’t do as you suggest, and run the furling gear and lightweight sail attached just aft off the forestay. We certainly considered that, as we already had a furler (for our asy spinnaker) but in the end opted for a separate stay and tensioner with the sail on hanks. There were a number of reasons for this, most of which you have outlined. It works well, and we have an ’emergency’ forestay. The only thing I would (now) have done differently would have been to have the inner forestay in Dynex Dux and with soft hanks, but they really weren’t available at that time.

Another option (if your roller furler is in good nick) might be to fit the lightweight genoa on that, and fit a ‘foc de brise’ inside it, and don’t bother reefing the genoa, just furl it up and go straight to a strong, flat upwind sail.

Anybody out there tried a furler inside the forestay?

Kindest regards

Colin

Martin

Thanks for your reply, Colin. A “soft” removable, inner forestay with soft hanks is indeed an appealing idea. Hmm… You got me thinking. But then why not rig the light genoa on the main forestay?

Re your suggestion of having the light-weather genoa on the roller/furler and the heavier working sails inside: the downside is that I’d end-up sailing with a furled light genoa most of the time. My idea is to have a working (heavier) genoa (hanked on) and a light genoa (ghoster if you wish) for the really light stuff.

As many late 70s, 1980s boats, the Romanee was designed with large, overlapping headsails. With contemporary materials, it’s possible to rig larger mainsails (bigger roach and full or long battens), and much smaller genoas — for similar or improved performance and much easier handling. I’m not sure that roller-reefing is really useful, at least on the smaller/lighter boats, if you get rid of the large, overlapping genoa in the first place.

Great website btw. I’ll need a new mast and am going through the articles on the topic…

Best,

Martin

Paul Gilfedder

Hi Colin – on our Ovni 385 we have (what we regard as) an amazingly useful sail which is a cross between an asymmetric and a furling gennaker (http://www.code-d.fr/code-d) and which sits on a short removable bowsprit. I say amazingly useful because it’s so easy to deploy with the emmagasineur (endless line furler) that we use it without fail in winds up to about 10kts, and between about 50 (yes 50) degrees of apparent wind all the way to 180…When we had a spinnaker or asymmetric, whether in a sock or not, we rarely used them when sailing as a couple because of the labour-intensity of rigging and constant surveillance required. This ‘Code D’, as the makers call it, behaves like a genoa and is so stable the autopilot (NKE Gyropilot) is quite happy with the wind on the quarter/full run in a swell (in part because the NKE is Vendee-proven and a good bit of kit too).
Because it’s so useful it’s rigged the whole time we’re sailing (6 weeks) so has to have a UV cover. It means we will now have the roller genoa cut down to the first reef, which with the foam luff should make it useful when rolled to what is currently the 3rd reef. After that – for a long, predictably windy trip – we rig the removable inner stay and hank on the staysail (bagged when likely to be needed, otherwise stored in the fwd sail locker). I haven’t yet decided to install the staysail on a furler as I suspect 3 furlers will be too much for a 40ish foot boat (although I saw a 395 at La Rochelle with 3 furlers).
best regards
Paul

Dave Benjamin

The Code D is very similar to our CLASS (Cruisers Light Air Sail Solution), which is a sail we developed after one of our staff, a former Grand Prix / America’s Cup sail designer, cruised his Hylas for 17,000 miles and “got religion” on easily managed light air cruising sails.

I suggest some caution on fitting suncovers to these sails. Much of the power and utility comes from the “shoulder” designed into the sail. The sails are made with cloth ranging from 1.5 oz. – 2.5 oz. depending on application. If we build with a suncover, we like to use an ultra-light material rather than the standard UV Dacron which is a 5 oz material. One of our cloth vendors makes a titanium impregnated 2 oz. cloth that works well for this. That said, it does take some of the usefulness of the sail away as we have to reduce that “shoulder” I referred to.

In my mind, it’s better to simply commit to taking the sail down, which is very easy to do as it’s attached to the furler with snap shackles.

Our CLASS has proved itself well crossing the Pacific and the stretch along our west coast down to Mexico. The CLASS and similar sails like the Code D are the future of light air cruising sails. For 90+ % of cruisers, it is the only light air sail needed.

Paul Gilfedder

Hi David – yes, it is the only light air sail we need being so versatile and I completely agree with the ‘testimonials you cite. For a cruising couple it’s brilliant – makes us fast, doesn’t collapse readily (even when rolling or motoring – probably because of the soft luff allowing the sail to absorb an oscillating COE).
Yes, it’s a very light cover we’ve had made for exactly the reason you describe – the usual sunbrella-type material would chafe and damage the lighter fabric sail which is one of the reasons I prefer sacrificial strips on the genoa to a cover (of whatever design).
We prefer to leave this light air sail up though since folding a rolled sail for storage causes very sharp corners which destroy the material – you can see holes in the sail when viewed against the sun. To avoid this we’ve had a round storage bag made so that the sail is coiled rather than folded – not perfect but much less harmful to the sailcloth.
For angles less than 50 apparent with the ‘Code D’ we also have our dirty little secret – except that it’s a clean, quiet and powerful little helper, bit like the autopilot really.

Bruce Cuthbert

On a 12m Alan Payne steel cutter, we use a code O upwind and reaching up to 10-12kn, and downwind up to 15 kn apparent in association with a poled out yankee. The code O sets well down wind as it is held full by the yankee and is easy to furl, leaving us set up as the wind strengthens. We also have an asymmetric spinnaker, but rarely use it now. The code O is much easier to handle , more stable and not much slower.

caitlin

Colin, we are also considering a new genoa for our 45′ staysail ketch. I’m wondering what weight sail cloth you opted for and whether that has proven a good choice for airs less than 10kts.

Thanks!

Caitlin