The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Your Mainsail Is Your Friend


I have been noticing lately that many sailors have de-emphasized their mainsails. In some cases to the point where the main is the first sail to come down when the going gets tough and often does not even get set in the first place.

I guess this trend is understandable because of the advent of reliable and easy to use roller furling on headsails, but it’s also a mistake and potentially dangerous.

We Need Our Mainsails

When things get gnarly, our mainsails are our friends. And without them, our options are severely limited. Let’s look at why.

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More Articles From Online Book: Sail Handling and Rigging Made Easy:

  1. Six Reasons To Leave The Cockpit Often
  2. Don’t Forget About The Sails
  3. Your Mainsail Is Your Friend
  4. Hoisting the Mainsail Made Easy—Simplicity in Action
  5. Reefs: How Many and How Deep
  6. Reefing Made Easy
  7. Reefing From The Cockpit 2.0—Thinking Things Through
  8. Reefing Questions and Answers
  9. A Dangerous Myth about Reefing
  10. Mainsail Handling Made Easy with Lazyjacks
  11. Topping Lift Tips and a Hack
  12. 12 Reasons The Cutter Is A Great Offshore Voyaging Rig
  13. Cutter Rig—Should You Buy or Convert?
  14. Cutter Rig—Optimizing and/or Converting
  15. Cruising Rigs—Sloop, Cutter, or Solent?
  16. Sailboat Deck Layouts
  17. The Case For Roller-Furling Headsails
  18. UV Protection For Roller Furling Sails
  19. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing—Convenience and Reliability
  20. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing —Performance, Cost and Safety
  21. The Case For Hank On Headsails
  22. Making Life Easier—Roller Reefing/Furling
  23. Making Life Easier—Storm Jib
  24. Gennaker Furlers Come Of Age
  25. Swept-Back Spreaders—We Just Don’t Get It!
  26. Q&A: Staysail Stay: Roller Furling And Fixed Vs Hanks And Removable
  27. Rigid Vangs
  28. Rigging a Proper Preventer, Part 1
  29. Rigging a Proper Preventer—Part 2
  30. Amidships “Preventers”—A Bad Idea That Can Kill
  31. Keeping The Boom Under Control—Boom Brakes
  32. Downwind Sailing, Tips and Tricks
  33. Downwind Sailing—Poling Out The Jib
  34. Setting and Striking a Spinnaker Made Easy and Safe
  35. Ten Tips To Fix Weather Helm
  36. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 1
  37. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 2
  38. Two Dangerous Rigging Mistakes
  39. Rig Tuning, Part 1—Preparation
  40. Rig Tuning, Part 2—Understanding Rake and Bend
  41. Rig Tuning, Part 3—6 Steps to a Great Tune
  42. Rig Tuning, Part 4—Mast Blocking, Stay Tension, and Spreaders
  43. Rig Tuning, Part 5—Sailing Tune
  44. 12 Great Rigging Hacks
  45. 9 Tips To Make Unstepping a Sailboat Mast Easier
  46. Cruising Sailboat Spar Inspection
  47. Cruising Sailboat Standing Rigging Inspection
  48. Cruising Sailboat Running Rigging Inspection
  49. Cruising Sailboat Rig Wiring and Lighting Inspection
  50. Cruising Sailboat Roller Furler and Track Inspection
  51. Download Cruising Sailboat Rig Checklist
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Marc Dacey

Seeing as I haven’t objected to anything said here (despite being an avid user of “boom tackles” to the side decks on my tall, skinny and usually unreefed main of my ’70s IOR-style boat), I look forward to the discussion on number and depths of reefs, as our bigger steel boat has end-boom sheeting and considerably more area and therefore potential for grief if not kept “tame”.


Hi John, great topic and so many questions – I totally agree with your thoughts on having the mainsail up – all a bit late for me though unfortunately – my answer was to recently fit an aluminium boom furler set-up, with a new fully battened mainsail to match. So I was interested (and concerned I have to say) in your comment “ease of deployment is one of the big wins for in-mast (but not in-boom) roller furling units”. Why this view on “in-boom” John? Is it based on older generation models that had design-faults? Or is there some inherent weakness I should be aware of from an off-shore / storm-conditions perspective?

For completeness – my in-boom decision was based on what I perceived as a good list of up-sides (below) with the down-sides being higher initial price, and somewhat heavier boom. But:
We now have eight reefing positions (battens set under the in-boom mandrel), to suit the exact amount sail to the conditions and mast, and one additional “flattening” reef.
The sail sets way better than any slab reefing I have used on many yachts, with full length, “parallel to the boom” battens in the mainsail.
There is no distortion at any reefing points, or on any battens, when reefed in heavy winds – so the sail will last longer whilst looking way better. One local owner has done three trips from NZ to the Islands and back, and two “Round the North Island” races. His mainsail looks brand new according to my sailmaker. We hope sail/sail repair savings will be substantial over the life of the sail/boom.
We can reef right down to tri-sail size (or smaller) when heaving-to, eliminating the need for a separate tri-sail which saves us cost and complexity.
We can raise, lower or reef the sail; hove-to, head-to-wind, close-hauled, reaching or even running (with the boom amidships) if need be though the manufacturer recommends close-hauled with the mainsheet free.
The sail raises and lowers every time – nothing for sail battens to get caught on like lazy-jacks.
First mate can do all this without leaving the cockpit, using just the furling line and main halyard and the standard cabin top halyard winch (whilst I watch and offer helpful advice).
Simple set-up, only two lines (so cockpit cleared of many ropes) and nothing to jam – but if Murphy intervenes there is a manual override on the front of the mast/boom to winch the sail down using any standard winch handle, directly connected to the internal rotating mandrel.
In survival conditions (at sea or anchor) the sail rolls completely away reducing windage.
The boom and vang are both stronger than my old Selden ones.
At the end of a sail, it takes just 60 seconds to deploy the sail-cover and reach for a beer!
Look forward to you’re reasoning and further chapters articles on the subject.


Hi John,
Sounds like the “seizurefurl” system I sailed with up from Panama. Not to say that such a system can’t be designed to work under all conditions and thus reap the advantages Rob lists. When long distance single handed racers convert to in-boom furling I’ll be a believer.

Also spent two hours up the mast pounding on a jammed Hood in mast furled sail before leaving on a fall delivery from Newport one time—–.


Hi John
Thanks for the background to your comments. You are correct, the boom does have to be perpendicular to the mast so the sail furls evenly and doesn’t bunch up at the tack or clew, but this is a very simple matter of marking the topping lift with a marker pen once. Our topping lift comes back to the cockpit so we just have to check it is in the clutch at the right position, to always be right.
The hoisting and reefing is noticeably quicker with our system than our old slab reefing. Even dropping the sail is quicker because even though it has to be furled-in rather than dropped, we don’t have to go forward to pull down the last 1/4 that never self-stowed, nor catch the leach that spilled over the aft lazy jacks and flopped around in the wind.
I am impressed with the engineering in the system, but I guess that the proving of this pudding will be done by said Mr Murphy!

Gino Del Guercio

We absolutely love our Leisurefurl system and would never go back. My friends with inmast systems are always worried about jamming. Not us. If you want simplicity inboom is the way to go, IMO. Our boat came with an older inboom system with many of the problems you described, but Leisurefurl, at least, has worked these out.

Rob Gill

Hi Gino, it is now more than seven years since I wrote my question to John above and we have done around 30,000 nautical miles under sail around NZ and the SW Pacific since (but we are not live aboard). Probably 99.9% of those miles with our mainsail up. We almost never sail or motor sail with just a jib, as the main is always ready to go. Our mainsail looks good as new apart from a few stains.

Jenny our first mate does at least half our hoisting/stowing and reefing from the cockpit in any wind strength, all without calling me if I’m asleep off watch. She would never attempt any of this with our old cockpit controlled slab reefing.

So we are also happy with our Leisurefurl boom choice, but have learned a few tricks:

1. have the boom elevated by about 7.5 degrees using the Forespar solid vang settings, so when we release the vang and mainsheet, the boom elevates automatically and we furl perfectly every time, no matter the wind strength.

2. we do reef OK downwind if needed by leaving the main out against the spreaders, elevating the boom to at least 10 degrees using the topping lift, and leaving the halyard around the cleat (clutch open), then winch the sail down with the luff really tensioned.

3. to regularly check the torque on the bolts securing the boom to the gooseneck. These appear to have been put in with a silicone grease and can back out in a big seaway (discovered in time before any damage done luckily). We have now put Helicoils into the boom casing, and reset the bolts using Locktite. Our rigger and an engineer sailing buddy believe this to be a permanent fix. But the next seven years will tell eh?

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Hi Rob,
I’ve long been tempted by in-boom furling, but have been worried about a few things I wonder if you would comment on.
* Reefing while headed down wind, especially if caught with too much main up when the wind increases quickly. We’ve gotten our downwind overpowered slab reefing dialed in, and I’d hate to have to turn into the wind/waves in those conditions. Have you tried it? How did it go?
* Fragile luff tape – I’ve heard that the luff tapes tend to tear, with many needing to be replaced every year. Sounds like your friend’s system has been very solid and reliable over many miles. Have you heard of this issue? Is it real? I heard about it from a sailmaker that I trust a lot. On the other hand, or course a sailmaker would only see the ones that tore, and maybe they weren’t set up with the right angles. He would never see the reliable ones, so his opinion might be skewed.
* Can you tell us which in-boom furler you and your friend chose and what size boat?
It’s hard to find non-armchair, actually been-there-done-that-across-real-oceans info about in-boom furling. Appreciate your info and any more you can offer.


I was equally tempted and worried David! Since the boom and sail are only 5 months old and we are in spring now, it hasn’t had much sea time. So to your questions:
Reefing downwind? One “trial” to date in about 20 knots of wind went well. My method was to run directly downwind, centralise the traveller with mainsheet in tight. Topping lift and vang on to set marks so boom was level and so the mainsail was completely de-powered. Then eased out the main halyard as we wound on the furler. We have a cleat that takes a single round turn of the halyard or furling line being eased. I believe this will work well up to about 20 knots, and once reefed down taking further reefs up to perhaps 30 knots – not convinced above that if wave action makes steering too hard to keep the “full” mainsail perpendicular to the wind for long enough to reef. Since we always reef early and long, I never envisage having to reef the full mainsail downwind. At night I plan to put in at least two reefs on passage (my reefs are at every batten – 8 of them – not reefing point). If we are caught with too much sail and over 20 knots wind then I would leave the sail almost out and furl the mainsail as before, but expect some wear of the sail against the side stays, but the battens will reduce the friction / load vs sail-cloth. I may have to use the winch handle at the mast if the furling line gets too loaded.
Fragile luff-tape? Less wear than my old main in the mast luff track. We have a new luff track bolted to the back of the mast (as part of the set-up) so the luff tape is always vertical (so it rolls straight up). The feeder is well rounded and has less friction than before. The new sail luff is strong and the bolt rope substantial.
I was influenced in my decision by four sailors I trust with experience of the same system in racing and offshore cruising yachts. One is my sailmaker who I have known for over 20 years (who’s boss is Mike Sanderson winner of a Volvo Ocean race). He did a rough delivery trip back from the Islands to NZ solo (rest of crew seasick), and he was converted – I asked him the same question about the wear and he assures me it’s a non-issue with this system.
Make of in-boom furling system? We all have the NZ made Leisurefurl system (which I think is marketed by Forespar in the North American market). On my boat this is matched with a new powerful Forespar solid vang, and a fully battened Doyle Stratis laminate mainsail.
Size of boat? My boat is 13.5 metres Beneteau 473. The boat that completed the round NI races and Island round-trips is also around 13.5 metres.
Hope this helps with your deliberations.


Mistake in my post above – should have written “parallel to the wind”.

David Nutt

Common sense article and common sense is what seems to work best at sea. On Danza we have a very similar system to yours and it worked well for our 5 year circumnavigation and a trip to Greenland. I can recall only one time that we sailed without the main up and that was a short day passage in 5kts of wind. Ease of raising and lowering the main on Danza is augmented by using the Antal track and car system. Harkin’s is great as well but results in a noticeably higher stack when the sail is down. We have 3 reefs and often found ourselves sailing with a double reef and just the staysail when it got snotty out there. Our reefing winch, located on the boom, is significantly oversized which actually makes it the right size. It is hard for things to go wrong with the simplicity of the system and after over 60,000 sea miles I do not know what to do to improve it. My wife Judy says to leave it as it is.

Wyn Folsome

Certainly an alarming tend.
The advent of roller furling sails in general has done more to hold back safety at sea. Many people are not even carrying a storm jib, let alone a storm trisail anymore.
Then they get into trouble trying to reef down a roller jib to storm condition size and can’t sail off a Lee shore because there sail is not flat enough to work upwind .
I am a proponent of hank on sails, and jiffy reefing.
Sure they take up room on your boat but they always come down and can be reefed for the weather conditions.

I spent years in the Coast Guard during which time there were quite a few cases of sailors not rigged , or not knowing how to sail there vessels with just the main, or proper reefing points set up.
And in many of the cases there vessels were damaged , simply because they could not control there vessels when under just main, or were unable to properly reef their sails due to roller furling rig failures.
The KISS method always works… keep it simple…..
And you will spend more time safely offshore.

David Nutt

Danza is a ketch with a roller furling jib and a roller furling staysail and we have found it to be a near bullet proof system. In all our offshore miles we have yet to ‘reef’ the jib; instead we suck it all the way in and drop down to the staysail which by nature is a fairly flat sail. By then we have long since furled the mizzen and tucked two reefs into the mainsail. There are those who advocate sailing a ketch with the mizzen and the jib but on Danza that is a very poor choice as she does not handle well and a ‘reefed’ jib is a very full sail just when you want it flat.
Wyn mentions his experience in the Coast Guard of providing aid to those who are not rigged and/or not knowing. At that point there is little left to do but try to rescue them. No doubt in many of these cases bad decisions were made early in the cascade of increasing problems and gear failures. Any system, regardless of how simple it is, will fail if one’s ducks are not all in a row.

Greg Rosine

I’ve watched others sail with just their jib and they seem to move fine. But when I have tried it, it just doesn’t seem the boat feels “balanced”. Being able to heave to at moments notice is huge. It’s like have a set of brakes.

ted wasserman

Mainsail reefing is a subject that very much interest me. On our Outbound 46,hull #12 with Hall carbon Fiber mast, and North 3DL cruising sails,I have been mulling over how I might the upgrade the system to work a little easier. The main has three reef points but only the first two have reef lines. All reef lines lead back to the cockpit passing through Lewmar clutches. I desire smaller diameter reefing lines with lower friction ,that will work properly with the Lewmar D2 clutches. Considering changing the Sta-Set to Endura Braid! Will there be slippage with the current clutches? See current Practical article on this subject! thanks!


Hi Ted,
This was exactly my dilemma when I chose an in-boom furler. How many of the readers conventional systems can be managed by one person, without trips between the mast and cockpit?
Bottom-line for us was, my wife had to be able to reef or take in the mainsail, in 20 knots plus, single handed (ie. with me incapacitated or swimming), on any point of sail.
My old Selden slab single line reefing worked fine in 15 knots, but over that it was hard work for me and near impossible for her – and like you we had 3 reefs, but only two reefing lines. No matter how much we “dry-lubed” the sail track, in strong winds I always had to go to the mast to pull the last 1/4 down into the lazy jacks. Achievable for me as I am tall, but not for my wife without climbing part way up the mast – in 30 knots? Yeah right!
Now she can engage the auto-helm, and reef away, without leaving the cockpit.
Better still a good in-boom system will keep your 3DL sails looking like new for years. OK, my old slab reefing wasn’t broken, but it wasn’t simple or safe in a single-handing situation either.

Marc Dacey

Agreed wholeheartedly. To us, it is easier to “centralize” the function right at the mast than it would be to add more line, more line-handling equipment (cheek blocks and clutches) and more friction. Granny bars are cheaper and it’s better, in my view, for situational awareness to get out of the cockpit (or in our case, pilothouse) to do these sort of jobs. You can see a hang-up faster than you can feel it and fruitlessly yank on it until you figure out you need to go forward to solve it anyway. Just my .02.


Hi Ted,
We had to switch down from Sta-set to smaller Endura-braid for our slab reefing (50′ cat) with everything led to the cockpit through Lewmar D2 clutches just like your boat, in order to get the reefing lines to run smoothly. It works much better now, on all three reefs, with zero slippage, and the Endura-braid is actually quite a bit stronger than the bigger Sta-Set, which is comforting, and lighter, which means less flopping about and chafe on the leach. Also added strong-but-light blocks to the dog-bones at the reef tacks to run the reef line through, which made the single-line reefing work much better. Now we can reef downwind in heavy air no problem. We just snub the halyard to keep tension on the luff while the reef line pulls the sail down. A slab system like John describes in his book on the subject would probably work better, but if the boat comes rigged with everything led to the cockpit, it’s easier to figure out how to make that work.

Terje M

Good article. You need to add something about the topping lift – or the bloody topping lift! Sailing short-handed I would like to get rid of it all together using a boom kicker that supports the vang. Most of the boom kicker are for smaller yachts.

When or if you take your main down it also depends of your sail plan. Some yacht sails on the Genoa other on the main. The rigging and yacht design make an important part.

Reefing a main sail down to a tri-sail – I do disagree. I can see the simplicity and the reduced cost. It also depends on your sail material. You can easily get a main sail that is not optimal due to the fourth reef. And when you use it – you partly over use your main sail. I think you are better of with a separate track for the trysail with a spare halyard. You then got redundancy. The try-sail track can be used with a Mast Mate when you need to climb the mast.

Keep up the good work,

Rob Gill

John – thanks for the great input.
One more question if I may regarding “what about the engine”?
I learned as a lad a rule of thumb from an old salt I admired: “you can sail to windward offshore in wind (measured in knots) equal to, or below, your vessel’s length (in feet)”. i.e. a 40 foot boat stops making to windward in about 40 knots, once leeway and drift is factored in.
For the “deeply reefed mainsail and engine combo” how might this extend that rule in your experience, say trying to get off a lee shore as you mention?


Thanks John, yes a wide thumb being held up and in fairness he would have referred only to a well founded and crewed vessel! But the rule helps me consider my ship and “if I had to”. My previous yacht was a 38 foot production “cruiser” and I know we couldn’t get to windward much above 30 knots wind in open seas, mostly due to the wide angles needed to prevent her slamming to a stop. I estimated I could add 5 knots true wind speed to that with the engine, because it allowed me to work up in the troughs and drive around the crests.
A major factor in my view (and why this article is of such interest) is the shape of the full reefed mainsail (or tri-sail). My previous mainsails lost their efficient shape when double/triple reefed due to point loading and stress lines around the reefing eyes, stretched leech creating a baggy exit and hook to windward that became more pronounced as reefs and wind strength were added. Also I suspect part of the problem was the head of the mainsails designed to set at the top of a thin flexible mast were trying to set behind a lower, wider, stiffer and unmoving mast section. Yes, the sails would set, but they didn’t give us the lift needed to work to windward in heavy conditions – and worse still, probably created more drag than drive.

Marco van Hombeeck

Hi folks, I’m new to this forum, and try hard to keep updated my readings of the excelent material being released.
I have a 42 ft sloop, built some 30 years ago, and have tried to update every system on it, especially those related to sail handling.
I just saw Skip Novak’s video on reefing, and on heavy weather sailing, and it came to my attention the difficulty, which I have also, of getting the main sail fully down, I mean the last 30%. Does any one have a better idea than having to go one or two steps up on the mast, which can be very dangerous in rough seas and hard winds?
Hope to find some light on that.


Well, thanks for your answers, seems to me I’ll keep to the athletics approach, and try to fix some kind of downhaul and see how it works.


I had the same problem sometimes, even with ball-bearing slide cars, although maybe only 7-10ft was still aloft. We added a downhaul, which solved the problem. It’s not full length, just about 10′ long, of 5/16″ Sta-Set (shouldn’t be super-light line), attached to the bottom of the top car. We run it inside the webbing that connects the cars to the sail so that it’s under control for some of its length while it’s up there. Now, if the main comes most of the way down and then stops, I can reach up and grab the downhaul, which is generally flapping about within reach, and it’s easy to pull the rest of the sail down. I don’t have to wrestle with a flapping sail, but can pull down on the line with feet planted and body braced against the mast, which seems safer. We also added a cleat on the mast near the boom gooseneck, and we tie the downhaul there when the main is down. That way we can leave the main halyard attached and tensioned all the time, without needing to climb up our dangerously too-high mainsail car stack height to attach the halyard, and the main is always secured but ready to hoist in an instant. It ended up sort of a two-birds-with-one-stone solution for us. The worry I had before, and still have, is that the line will get tangled on something up there and keep the main from coming down. But it hasn’t happened, not even a hint of it, in all sorts of conditions over the year of full-time cruising we’ve had it set up that way. Maybe that’s because there’s really only 4-5ft of line actually loose, with he rest running up inside the webbing loops that connect the sail to the cars.
Of course, with the halyard always attached and tensioned, in harbor we add a bungee to pull it to the side and avoid driving ourselves and others crazy with the halyard banging on the mast. I’d be curious to know the opinions of those more experienced and salty than we are. Line flying about too dangerous? What about a full-length downhauls? John, sorry this discussion may be ending up in the wrong article…

Marc Dacey

Downhauls aren’t off-topic at all if they are part of keeping the mainsail “friendly”. I think that downhauls are a little neglected these days, but I’ve used them to douse big hank-on genoas in (too much) big air, and if you can tension the sheets, the sail practically folds directly down on deck instead of flopping in folds over the lifelines if the helm is a little off.

I suspect I will have a main downhaul rigged for when needed, and I also suspect that this is a excellent place to run a Dyneema line because it can be quite thin and still have the strength to work.

Phil Streat

Hi Marco,
I get that last 30% down with a boat hook. I reach up from deck level, hook it over one of the cars and give a quick enough pull to get the momentum going again. Two or three pulls is usually enough. In a strong wind a light weight boat hook is hard to control at arms length; a heavier wood one would be better.


+1 on the boathook, used it alot on bigger boats. Works well to have it stowed up against the mast ready to hand. With the boathook you can also easily reach the halyard as well to pull it down and tie it off to something to stop the sail blowing up again. This also stops the halyard banging against the mast and chafing. Its also useful for pulling down reefs, and all the other normal functions of a boathook.


I find the telescoping ones are usually to flimsy and either seize totally or slip when under load. The boathook doesn’t want to be too long, it just needs to be able to easily reach the stack height plus at least one slide spacing. But it must also be shorter than the stack height to deck distance.


Hi Marco,
For us this was a very real issue. I am not convinced that there is a “half-way house” solution. John’s formula is simple + proven = slab reefing at the mast + small athleticism, and that’s a persuasive argument. Mine is from the premise that I may be incapacitated or worse, overboard. So the mainsail must be able to be controlled and secured in any conditions, at night, without leaving the cockpit, by my wonderfully trusting, non-athletic, short and slightly built, inexperienced sailing wife, on her own – no downhauls, no boathooks, no climbing up mast steps or on granny bars. When you add the friction and complexity of extra controls back to the cockpit, the only other real formula in my mind (like with headsails) is furling.

Dick Stevenson

Marco, They have been mentioned, but I would like to emphasize that, to me, the best recent addition to mainsail handling is slippery car/track made by Antal and Harken (maybe others). Going up or coming down, the sail just moves so much easier and handling it is much safer. It is a major initial expense, but I do not know anyone who regrets their decision to go with slippery cars/track.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy


Hi everybody
Like many other issues, this seems to be hard to get a consensus. Solutions spread from the athletics, which I use at present , to the in mast or boom furling, which is probably the safer, if it works properly.
The use of ball sliding cars can help, I have them, but not enough. As for the hook, I find it hard to use on windy and wavy conditions.
The downhaul I intend to try consists of a line tied to the upper sliding car, and coming down through the straps that fix the luff to the cars, but it will end at a point somewhere around the third reef eye, where the sail stops dropping when halyard is loose. In this way, there will be not much, if any, of a loose line wandering around and looking for trouble. With this system I still have to go to the mast, but can stay with my feet on deck.
Let’s see if it works.

Marc Dacey

Marco, that is similar to what I have used on the main. On my hank-on genoa-equipped boat, I have used a skinny line from sail head down the hanks (there’s plenty of room when the forestay is just 1/4″), running to a block at the tack and tailing to the mast. I can turn head to wind and douse main and jib more or less at the same time on my 33 footer. On my 41-foot cutter-rig, however, I would prefer the “slippery car/track” setup because of the force multiplying of the (much) larger main. I would consider a downhaul for the staysail, however, as it remains hank-on and it is about the same size as the No. 2 on the 33-footer, i.e. I know a light line will bring it down to the deck quickly and tidily. That said, I would like to hear of your results as I like downhauls conceptually.


Marc, I will take some time till I can test this, my boat is in Trinidad and I am in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, where I am from. Will be back there by the end of January.
I did not understand what you do use for the main. Does it work?

Marc Dacey

Like you, Marco, I have used a short line secured to the headboard of the main (at the top) and running down through a few slides and terminating in a small loop. If the last few metres of the hoist are “sticky”, I can use a boat hook or just reach up with my arm to bring the remaining part of the main all the way down.

Colin Farrar

I rigged a main downhaul using 1/8″ dyneema between the headboard and the third reef. One day it became caught between the mast and one of the spreaders, necessitating a trip (partway) up the mast to free it. It turns out that small gaps are created at the inboard corners of the spreaders as the mast flexes in response to pressure, something I had failed to notice. Now I am mulling a different setup, but John’s comment is prescient: a downhaul can create a bigger problem than it solves, so it needs to be well tested.

Marc Dacey

Absolutely a good point, and I already know before the “well-testing” stage that there are a few techniques I won’t be bringing from a smaller boat with a tall, skinny main to a larger boat with a more traditional main with a lot more area and, therefore, potential forces in play. If I am picturing this correctly, would not “spreader boots” or criss-crossed tape have avoided your particular issue?


Definitely a potential issue. I’d suggest that if trying this, avoid small light line for partial downhauls, which will fly around more and be more likely to get jammed in little crevices. 5/16″ Sta-Set has worked well for us, but we’ve only had it for a year. Time and Mr Murphy will tell…

Marc Dacey

It’s always an interesting discussion and hearing the pros and cons is illuminating. For the record, I have eight sheaves at my mast top and it would be pretty straightforward to make a easily-secured continuous line as a “clip on downhaul” for the main…problem is that I have not heard of such a thing ever being done. But it’s the sort of thing that wakes me up in the middle of the night thinking “hey, that could work”.

Erik de Jong

Hi John,

Where I do wholeheartedly agree with pretty much all your points regarding configuration of the sail, furling, reefing ability, to be able to set mainsail etc. I would like to point out that a well designed boat (read: balanced) sails as well upwind with just a jib in very bad weather compared to just a small mainsail.
I actually prefer to sail our “Bagheera” upwind in storm conditions on just a storm jib only over sailing upwind under trysail only.

Under jib, the boat accelerates faster after a breaking wave has stopped her, and due to the fact that a boat usually has little to no heel when sailing upwind under conditions like that, the boat is very well balanced, the maximum speed under jib only is lower than under trysail. The average speed under both configurations might be the same, the setup with jib only has less fluctuations in speed and is therefore much more comfortable and less dangerous.

This is a characteristic that is fairly common to Fin keel yachts that have a storm jib on an inner forestay with the mast relatively far aft. I suspect that we experience on Bagheera will also be the similar with the Adventure 40.

A long story short, when the sustained winds come above 45 knots, I much rather sail my boat with just the storm jib than any other sail. Much easier on the crew and the autopilot as well. This is a situation that is not very often the case as people like to see large mainsails and small headsail these days, but there certainly are quite a few cruising boats out there that will sail as well upwind under jib only but more comfortably.


I largely agree with you on the advantages of having the main set at all times, and have been caught out before when I have pulled it down for running, or not bothered to set it on a short downwind run. Other big benefits of having the main set are being able to use it to blanket the headsail to furl it, or deal with any furler problems, and to be able to drop a spinnaker or MPS behind it.

The last time I got caught was bringing the new boat back from adelaide, a decent NE built up before a front, I dropped the double reefed main to ease the helm and save wear on the collapsing headsail rather than putting in the third reef and poling it out like I should have. I had my reasons, but it came back to bite me when the wind swung through W to the SW and she wasn’t happy punching into it under headsail alone. With a weak crew, dark night, no engine, and no lazyjacks I decided to drop the headsail and lie a hull for the night. Heaving too would have been much more comfortable! In retrospect I wish I had tried heaving to by the stern with just the headsail backed, but I wanted to minimise and lost ground.

Having said all that I still am happy running or reaching without the main on many occasions, though I feel slightly vulnerable.

If needed I am happy to raise a main without being head to wind, and under just a headsail at say 50 degrees apparent, but maybe even out to 70 degrees app. In some ways it can be easier than trying to motor head to wind. the boom is well out to leeward, the backwash from the headsail keeps the main luffing and often this can make her self steer to some degree. Also less chance of a rope round the prop, and less rolling. Worth practicing.

Rolf Niebel

Hi John,
I am just in the process of buying a new mainsail for my Hallberg Rassy Rasmus 35.
There is one question I didn’t find discussed in your online-books (perhaps I just didn’t see it – sorry).
Should I buy a loose-footed or an attached mainsail (with rope or slides on the boom).
All sailmakers I talked to, recommend a loose-footed main for better adjustment to the wind conditions. I am a bit concerned about the loads being just on two points on a loose-footed main while it is all over the boom on an attached main. On the other hand, if you are in reefs, there are also just two attaching points.
For information (I don’t know if it’s relevant): The boat hat got a new selden mast and boom with single line reefing-system.
I am very interested in your thoughts about this.
Thanks very much and best regards

Rolf Niebel

Hi John, thanks very much for your reply. So I go for loose footed
Best regards

SV Moonshine

By the way, even though I’m not big on them due to my fixation on simplicity, ease of deployment is one of the big wins for in-mast (but not in-boom) roller furling units.

As a fellow appreciator of simplicity with a low screw up tolerance I’ve been cautiously eyeing these systems. What I had gathered from my initial reading is that an in boom system would be better than an in mast system due to the ability to lower the head of the mainsail instead of just moving the leech forward. I’m guessing there is more to consider here? I’ve never been on a boat equipped with either.