Having looked at ways to improve boat speed, comfort and safety when reaching in the last chapter of this online book, it’s time to look at what can be done once the wind comes right aft—beyond 150° apparent wind angle (measured from the bow).
If we do nothing, the headsail gets blanketed by the main and starts collapsing and filling with a bang every ten or twenty seconds, which is not only hard to live with, but will do the sail no good at all in the long run. Also, boat speed will drop drastically and the boat will start to wallow uncomfortably into the bargain.
As these are the sort of conditions that you can expect on a downwind trade winds passage, it’s time to do something!
I’d argue that, if you work on your skills for poling the headsail out, that it’s the best way to go (particularly when the wind is up).
The method that we use is slightly more complicated than some others in that we use an additional sheet, but it has real benefits over more basic methods and has worked perfectly for us over many thousands of miles.
Very interesting, Colin, and thank you. One small issue (literally) that I note is that the clew cringle might be too small to pass three of the right-sized control lines. Did you have your sailmaker size up the cringle or am I overthinking this?
very astute comment. My fault really, as I should have checked on the size of the cringle when I ordered the sail, but I assumed (!) that it would be bigger due to the boat’s size. The next time I’ll spec. a larger cringle.
However, the cringle is just capable of accommodating all three sheets, so it’s not an issue. And I prefer making the sheet fast to the cringle with a bowline, not a snap shackle, where the snap shackle would get snarled up in the other sheets, so it works OK – just.
I’ll have to remind myself to get a bigger cringle, then. I find that if the bowline can’t move much because it’s jammed in the cringle, the knots tend to beat themselves open easier because the same parts of the knot are slamming, or can slam in certain conditions. While a couple of turns can help with this, there’s also good reasons NOT to make a knot too secure on a jib, I’ve found. Now I carry a fid.
one trick you could try if the cringle is too small is to make the bowline on the running sheet fast to one of the existing bowlines on the working sheets – works fine.
Sure, and I’ve done that on some sails where backing the sail slightly during a tack helps the entire thing snap over. But I think a bigger cringle is a touch more clean, but they seem to be a special order.
On racing multihulls the sail loads are huge, so cringles are not used anymore. Just not strong enough. We use stainless steel rings attached to the sail with several webbings. That way the loads can be distributed much better. If you want a bigger cringle, I’d consider leaving the one you have and just adding a steel ring as mentioned, “outside” of the corner of the sail, or next to it. You can also cut off the corner of the sail where the cringle is now, but no big point normally…
I can’t really tell from the pictures: do you have the pole jaws facing up or down? If down, can you explain why it’s done that way for a jib but not a spinnaker?
the jaws are facing up, same as a spinnaker, and I can’t think of any circumstances when you’d do it otherwise.
You will add a great deal to any sailor’s downwind enjoyment with your recent article. I believe it to be right on in broad strokes and I am going to respond in bits and pieces as I absorb the details.
We handle our pole and sail with it in a very similar manner. One comment that immediately struck me as a difference is that we rarely adjust the tip position (only to drop it forward if sailing by the lee about which I will write later). Once set, I leave the pole alone (occasionally snugging lines to stop movement/chafe as you suggest) as I find adjusting the pole tip finicky work (3 lines need tweaking). This may speak to an attribute of a jib topsail where clew height remains roughly at the same height so tip position needs no adjustment. We can go from full sail to just a handkerchief without adjusting the pole at all.
Another attribute of a jib topsail in this application is that it gets the pole (and its tip) up high where it is very unlikely to get its tip dug into the water.
A great addition to augmenting DW sail technique.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
thanks for the kind words – I hope people find this piece useful.
Re the pole adjustment, we have a yankee headsail (partly because it is so good downwind) and although we can get away with leaving the pole in situ as if we had the full sail out, I prefer to ease the pole forward as we reef to keep the bowline snug against the jaws to keep chafe to a minimum. As you rightly say, with a yankee/jib topsail the clew height remains constant, so there’s not a lot of fiddling with the guys to do – with a genoa where the clew height varies as the sail is reefed, you have to adjust the pole height to suit.
I have used the same method on my Ebbtide 36. The problem that I found was damage to the gooseneck, and to the mast spinnaker pole track, due to high compression loads in strong winds. I have therefore been using a “twistle ” rig, for downwind sailing, it is much easier to set up, reef, or furl. There is no chafe problem, and as the poles are free floating an not attached to the mast track, no track damage. Also, as the twin sails are right forward, the boat is very easy to steer , without jiving, from about 140 degrees on either side. You just ease one sheet, and haul in the other. A side benefit is the huge reduction in rolling down wing. It of course needs a new twistle sail, an extra pole and a pole universal joint, but these are cheap and easy to make, or have made. I am usually singlehanded or with just one other crew, and this rig is safe, easy and fast.
I’ve never encountered any problems with this rig in many thousands of miles, and the only time I’ve ever seen damage from pole compression aaas in the bad old days of the IOR rule in the seventies, when it wasn’t uncommon to stick the pole (and even occasionally the boom) end into the water as those boats death-rolled merrily downed in a big breeze.
I’ve never sailed with the twistle rig, although I’ve heard good things about them, especially on heavy displacement long keeled boats like yours that roll a lot downing (thing gaff cutters etc.). On our Ovni, like all of these French centre boarders, the mast is well forward to achieve perfect balance and so the method we use works really well, and rolling is minimal. Horses for courses, and I’m sure your Ebbtide (great boat, by the way) with the mast well inboard would go really well with the twistle rig.
Hi Colin, Bill and Dick,
I think that Bill’s concern is important to highlight and that it in turn points to a big advantage of Colin’s running sheet system.
When we designed our replacement mast with Hall Spars (one of the best mast builders in the world) Eric Hall was very concerned that the pole track and associated hardware be built massively strong (and they are).
He said that Hall Spars had seen several failures like the one Bill details and when they analyzed them they found that the compression loads on cruising boat poles being used with jibs were actually higher than those experienced by racing boats with spinnakers.
The reason? The acute angle made by the jib and the loaded sheet because most cruisers use an existing sheet from it’s normal lead point quite far forward and often inboard.
Colin’s system solves this problem because the load is carried by a sheet from the aft corner of the boat and this in turn vastly reduces the compression load on the pole.
The take away here is that even if you use the existing sheets as Dick and I do, the lead should be moved aft and outboard, preferably all the way to the stern. This, in turn, means that either our working sheets need to be very long, which will be a pain in the neck at other times, or we need to use a running sheet as Colin does.
I for one will be experimenting with Colin’s running sheet this summer.
thanks for this useful addition to the argument. It’s something I hadn’t considered, but can see is evidently true.
John/Colin/Dick: This sounds very reasonable to me, even though I have a seriously overbuilt main spar (Selden) which is also securely stayed (11 stays plus running backs). I was slightly surprised when I acquired the “correct” pole lift ring for my particular mast: the thing is vast and chunky, but I can grasp now that it is made for situations in which Colin’s sensible running sheet tactic.
I had not encountered the Twistle / Twizzle rig before, so being a curious guy, I had to google it to find out more. The result is I actually think it has a lot of advantages and that it should be used by more sailors.
There’s some effort to rig the extra sail, but not considerably more I guess than rigging the system normally used, like the topic here. Considering that it needs no jibing, is much easier to adapt to different wind strengths and directions and that it inherently must dampen rolling much better, I’d say it’s the perfect downwind rig for cruising. For multihulls, rolling is not an issue but the rig probably is smart there too.
Obviously I have never tried this rig, but there is no doubt that the inherent anti roll properties must be quite strong. The booms will be affected by the roll of the boat, like a limited pendulum. As they move from side to side, one sail will be deeper and the other flatter. This in correct order to make the sails work more against the roll. Extremely simple and still quite advanced in function. I love that kind of stuff!
As I have a ReefRite furler, with Kiwi slides, changing headsails is easy. I motor downwind, to reduce the apparent wind, drop the Genoa , sail tie it and remove it from the foil. I then load the Twistle sail in the foil, rig the two sheets, with lots of slack and hoist the sail, which flies downwind like a flag. I then tension the sheets slightly and rig the poles. All this, I can do alone in about 20 minutes.
A big advantage of the Twistle rig is the speed, and ease that it can be depowered in a squall, one simply eases the sheets! If however strong winds are present, or expected, I furl the sail to an appropriate size. I feel comfortable, and safe, carrying this rig at night. This is in contrast to either a poled out headsail/mainsail combination, or a spinnaker which can be hairy in the dark, especially alone.
Hi Stein and Bill,
There is a lot to like about the Twizzle rig, but it’s not all good. One big issue is that if you need to heave-to or suddenly go to windward, or even reach, there is a lot to do first. With Colin’s rig, not so much.
Also, I don’t believe that the Twizzle reduces rolling any more than a main and poled out jib.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying one is better than the other, just that there are advantages to each—like most things in offshore sailing.
By the way, although we call this rig a Twizzle today, it’s really what the Hiscocks, Smeatons, and Pyes, would have call twin spinnakers, back in the day.
Very much as a side note: we kept our spinnaker halyard in front of the jib for years, but found that at least every year or 2 there would be a fire drill of some sort where the jib would get greedy and gobble up the halyard so that you could not furl the jib in. Very upsetting (or dangerous) in a rising squally wind. For a decade or more now we bring our spinnaker halyard back and flick it around our spreaders and secure it at the shroud bases amidships. We do this also for the spare halyard on the other side. Works great and keeps them out of the way for the times when you (or things) get sloppy.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
I agree – it’s as well to move the spi halyard downwind. On our boat we tend to mount the bowsprit when on long passages, and we put the spi halyard out on the end of it, which takes it well out of harms way.
But I’ve seen some real howlers with halyards wrapped in sails over the years, and, by the sound of it, so have you! Never did it myself, of course (ahem!).
And speaking of spinnaker halyards: we use ours as a topping lift. This has at least 3 advantages. The first is that most work of setting the pole can now be done on the foredeck: foreguy to the forward cleat, afterguy to the amidships cleat, spin halyard (for Alchemy) adjusted at the mast and pole base height also adjusted at the mast. This allows for better communication and quicker adjustment of settings when there are 2 of you doing the work. Communicating from foredeck to cockpit is great when things go like clockwork, which, on Alchemy, is not always the case.
More importantly, having most pole duties on the foredeck also allows me to single hand the pole much more easily and effectively.
And lastly, some topping lift leads out of the front of the mast are less than ideal with respect to chafe, especially if some bouncing around is allowed. The lead for the spinnaker halyard should always be chafe free for a topping lift.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
interesting idea, which I’ve never heard before, but I can certainly see how it might help. I don’t think it will work for us (as well) as our topping lift/pole up haul is perfect, but I’ll certainly have a good look when I’m back at the boat.
I concur with Colin. We have thousands of miles downwind under this rig, sometimes for days in gale conditions, and I have never had a worry or indication I should be worried with respect to compression loads on the pole attachment to the mast or the gooseneck.
I have looked at write ups of the rig you are referring to with interest and said to myself that if we ever are in tradewind country, it would be worth a longer look.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Hi Colin, the damage occurred when we did a Trade wind passage from Cape Town, to Salvador in Brazil. The lugs on the boom end of the gooseneck broke, (they were only welded on one side!), and a section of track on the mast pulled a bit loose. Both problems were easy to repair once in port, re welding and adding gussets to the gooseneck lugs, and re riveting the track, with larger, Monel rivets. Both of these problems were due to bad design, the gooseneck lugs, being welded on only one side, and the spinnaker pole car , a ring type, which resulted in too much leverage on the track. Both repairs have held up for tens of thousands of miles now. I forgot to mention, that I drop my Genoa, and then fit the twistle sail to the furler. This is easy to do, as I use “Kiwi Slides”, and not a bolt rope, on my Reef Rite furler.
yes, sounds like bad design indeed, and you were lucky the damage wasn’t worse by the sound of it. And I have never liked those rings for attaching the pole, and have seen broken pole attachments with them. But as we all know every boat has it’s issues, and the thing is to get at them and put them right as you’ve done – and always be lucky!
Thanks for this very explicit article. We ran the same system on our Ovni 395 except we used the jib sheets and did not rig a separate running sheet as you do. But I might change that because I now can see the safety benefit of doing so. After our first Atlantic tradewind crossing we rigged 2 sets of fore and aft guys semi permanently on each sides of the boat. This made jybing the whole set up in the midle of the night a bit easier. We do not ajust the pole fore and aft , and the only adjustement required when setting up or jybing is the pole travelling car. I now need to work out a similar system on our new Garcia.
I think the running sheet idea is a good one for many reasons, but the No.1 benefit has to be safety.
I can see the value of setting up the guys etc. on both sides on a direct downwind trades crossing, especially at night as you suggest, when the less time you spend on the foredeck, the better. Good point.
And good luck with the new boat!
This is a great and useful discussion, by the way, Colin. Thank you. I love hearing about the pros and cons of various techniques of solving the same issues.
the comments always add excellent extra value to the articles – and we all benefit from that!
I will have to think more about this ‘running sheet’ idea. I’m not quite sure what it really contributes.
Otherwise we use a very similar setup (minus the tackle on the foreguy which I take back to the anchor windlass). In an emergency I would ease the working sheet and sheet in on the other or simply furl the sail away. I suppose the situation could possibly arise where one would have to gybe the main and sheet the headsail in on the same side. Is that why you use an extra sheet?
If the wind is really up and we’re running downwind we usually use our wishbone staysail (with a preventer that leads back to the cockpit). It’s such a useful sail and can set well past 90º to the centreline which can be useful. No pole to bother with and quick and easy to gybe. All done from the cockpit.
I’ve just answered your initial comment in reply to Dick, below – hope that’s OK. Having the working sheets free to take control of the headsail on either tack in an instant is a major (if rarely needed) advantage. Taking the time to roll up the sail etc. defeats the whole object in an emergency.
I used to demonstrate the running sheet method sometimes when I was teaching sailing (some years ago), and it works really well.
I used to sail a big sail trainer with a boomed staysail, and it was indeed a great and very useful sail – pity they’ve become so rare these days.
I suspect I may be missing something, but I see little safety advantage to adding an additional sheet, your runner, and some degree of introducing complications including safety considerations.
A runner needs an extra block, more set up time and the dance of tying it onto the sail.
On Alchemy, we sail largely as you do, first nailing the pole in position with a sheet running loose in the jaws. The sheet needs to get through the lifelines which we do at the gate so there is no pulling the sheet out and back, just drop open the gate wires one at a time dropping the sheet in place going to the jib lead block (which may need moving to a position next to the gate if the track is inboard like ours). With those simple manoeuvres: putting it into the jaws when raising the pole and dropping it through the gate, you are ready to sail.
I do not see how a runner contributes to safety. If chafe is an issue (it has not been on thousands of poled out downwind sailing for us), there are alternative methods including a few feet of chafe protection on the sheet near the sail, less abrasive jaws etc. In the unlikely event (given the regular inspection you suggest) that a sheet does part, there will be a bit of a fire drill, but the lazy sheet is always there to maintain control until things get sorted and another sheet is bent on.
Attaching a running sheet to as sail underway is not an easy task and seems fraught with safety issues. As you pointed out, you need two hands and are reaching above your head stretched out on an active ship. You are also near the slapping end of a sail and the sheets attached to it: a seeming recipe for injury. I do this manoeuvre a couple times a year (and never like it) with our asym when my anticipation of steady winds from one side is thwarted and I wish to gybe so I need the other sheet. Conditions when I am flying my asym are usually more benign than when setting a pole, but I still do not like doing it.
In addition, this is not something I wish to be doing single-handed.
As said, I may be missing something.
For me, it seems much simpler and safer and faster to use the jib’s sheets with no down side.
Thanks for the discussion,
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
I understand your thinking, but still prefer the way we do it. I accept that our method is slightly more complicated, but it’s no big deal to rig the running sheet in my experience. As I suggested in the article, it’s easy enough for us to blanket the main/reef the headsail and lasso the sheet in and temporarily make it fast while you tie the bowline. If you do it that way none of the sheets are really ‘working’ that hard. I do this all the time, and it doesn’t seem to me a major worry, and I always wear a harness. Far worse is climbing up to trip the sheet if it is attached with a snap shackle as I’ve seen some people do.
Where the ‘running sheet’ has a safety advantage is in the event of a man overboard/sudden major course alteration you can dump the running sheet without touching the pole and gain control of the headsail on either tack with the headsail sheets – neither sheet is constrained by the pole. If you use the headsail sheets with the pole, one of them will be in held in the pole end so you are limited, at best, to one tack in the event of an emergency, and you’d need to drop the pole and extricate the sheet to gain control – surely not viable instantaneously, which may be what is required, and far more dangerous than dumping the running sheet, in my view.
Hope that explains it
For those starting out (or those itching for a new toy), let me put in a pitch for a carbon fibre pole. You are correct in pointing out that a pole is largely contained as you describe your set-up, but there is much time during the set-up when lines are slack and there is plenty of room for a pole to do damage to boat or crew.
I do not know what my old pole weighed, but it was heavy and always scared me a bit on the foredeck. My now 10 year old 20 foot CF pole weighs in at 14 pounds (just over 6 kg) without the light and plastic end fittings. When I bought it it had to be custom made, but I suspect these things are more stock now.
Advantages: Safety and ease of use come first to mind. I also sail better more of the time as I am far less hesitant to deploy the pole than I used to be thereby doing less “waiting for the wind to improve” and more “ doing better with the wind I have”. I also do not hesitate to leave it up when not in use as it weighs so little (less stress on lines etc. = less chafe). Wind from astern seems to me quite fickle, always changing sides, so I can go from a poled out W&W configuration to a broad reach on the other side while leaving all the gear set up for when the wind returns (which is predictably when you have put the gear away). We have gone days like this. It also makes it easier to allow one to wait to bring in gear at change of watch rather than doing it alone. Finally, it is much lighter on the mast where, on Alchemy, it is stowed.
Finally, I have found most vendors/riggers much more practiced at determining pole size necessary for a symmetrical spinnaker which, at the pricier end, is tapered and gorgeous. This pole is overkill (more unwieldy size-wise and especially to your wallet) if using it for poling out your jib. Find a rigger who can make good judgments in this area. Since good people are sometimes mentioned in these pages, I will suggest Tom Anderson at Hathaway, Reiser and Raymond as a go-to guy in this area. He guided me to my pole (among many other areas).
And on a cosmetic note: CF is vulnerable to UV so we painted ours white. Since then I have heard about a UV protecting clear coat which lets that sexy, slightly figured black surface show. I am convinced that the sexy black poles are faster than a dull white one.
My best to all, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
I would love a carbon pole, and the only reason we don’t have one is that at the end of the build process we had to cut corners somewhere! If/when we have a few spare £ it will be right at the top of the list.
As the poor sap on the foredeck it would make my life much easier, and that’s always to be appreciated. As I outlined in the article, it’s possible to keep the pole under control pretty well, with forethought and good coordination between the two crew, but it does take a lot more planning and training. A carbon pole would be a big plus.
And a black carbon pole not only looks faster, but all that weight you save think of the boost to performance in light airs!
Dear Colin, There is technique we have used which I have never seen elsewhere which has really made certain sailing conditions much more palatable and given a broader range in others. I would love feedback on whether it has been written up, used by others etc. You are going along on a broad reach in moderate winds and sloppy large seas, maybe left over, but giving no signs of easing. The sails are slatting back and forth as the boat rolls, it is noisy, uncomfortable and not very fast: all conditions that approach torture for me underway. AW rolls between 140 and 120 and winds speed is 10-12 kn. No end is sight. What we do now is pole out the jib. On the upwind side. The jib seems to start to act like a foil (rather than a shield) which heats things up and gets us moving faster. The main also likes to be moving faster as it acts more like a foil. Sails stay filled which stops the slatting and, going faster, the seas are less of a bother and we are more comfortable. We have sailed “jib by the lee” like this in AW up to120 degrees regularly and 110 degrees in smooth conditions (sometimes, rarely, we drop the tip of the pole forward to expose more sail to a wind going forward). We find it faster to be poled out and W&W in the 120-140 degree AW range than a broad reach would be. Below 140 the jib is blanketed and a pole is always necessary. Going “too far” has not been a problem: the jib just points toward the wind (or gets slightly back winded) and flutters, a tweak at the helm filling the sail on the correct side once again. I wrote the following for another venue which gives a different slant. 1. A wonderful discovery (for us) which I think likely most seasoned cruisers are aware of, but that I have never seen written about so I include it here. a. You are sailing W&W, main out port side, jib out the starboard going DDW (dead down wind). The wind starts to back. It is one of those days. You do not want to gybe the jib onto a broad reach until the wind has moved forward to at least a 140 deg AWA, preferably farther. b. We have learned that, W&W, we can comfortably carry the apparent wind forward on the jib side to 120 and even 110 degrees apparent depending on wind strength and seas (this can be enhanced by dropping the tip of the pole forward). That way has the wind blowing directly into the main and into the jib in a fashion that feels like the jib sail is being used once again as a foil and not just as a shield. c. We have found the above a very powerful combination at moderate wind speeds and even found our speed decreasing when we finally had to gybe the… Read more »
well I’ve never seen that done, although we routinely sail at 150 and maybe even a little less in moderate winds with jib poled out. I can see how lowering the end would help, too. We’ll give it at try and see who we get on – thanks.
One thing we use in light weather reaching (or with the asy spi) is a light weather sheet. Normal size, heavy duty headsail (and spi) sheets are disastrous in light winds, way too heavy – using a light sheet can let the sail fill and stay filled much better.
Other than that, your pole idea is something that I’ve seen used to excellent effect (in a variant form) with the old Freedom wishbone rig, where, being shroud less, you could ease the forward boom right out towards the bow, and even rig a nylon Gollywobbler between the masts.
The Bermudan rig we (almost all) have those days has some shortcomings, and it’s fun and rewarding to find ways to circumvent the weaknesses.
Hi Dick. Please know that you are not alone in employing the tactic of poling the jib well to windward. I have no idea why more folks don’t do it! Although my experience is more associated with great lakes racing, I absolutely endorse your finding that the configuration can both better stabilize and dramatically improve the downwind white sail performance of the boat. Although variable depending on sea state and wind strength, I agree with you in saying that the configuration works with the wind around to about 130 degrees. Beyond that I find that foil efficiency is lost and rolling moment starts to develop back-winding in low wind scenarios. I would also note that in my case I use an extendable whisker pole which gives more flexibility in adjusting the shape of the foil than would be the case with a fixed length spinnaker pole.
Stay safe, sail well. Kevin
I still do not get it.
In an emergency, I can dump the working sheet without touching the pole, neither sheet is constrained by the pole (except for running free through the jaws). I can and do go back and forth from broad reach on one side to a W&W poled out on the other with just my usual sheets (they are long enough to go out to the pole tip and over to the jib on a broad reach on the other side). It is entirely possible to go all the way to close hauled on the side opposite the pole with the pole up, but I think it unlikely to ever need to (and would look ridiculous). It seems both methods constrain sailing to one tack, if the wish is to sail free of the pole on the pole side, something that would be the case in both configurations. It may be possible, using your free-of the-jaws sheet for you to sail free on the pole side with the sheet coming above the guys and below the pole to its block and to the winch, but that seems fraught with problems. I remain confused.
Our “in trouble” first step is to roll the jib in, quickly and easily done pole and lines in place. This we have yet to need to do this as course changes have always sufficed till we can make changes in more planned way.
Our DW MOB procedure (this would be done single-handing) is for the motor to turn on and to return quickly to the MOB. Tacking upwind for MOB is a job for fully crewed racing boats. This would entail rolling the jib, quickly and easily done DW albeit it will look sloppy and there can be no spinnaker halyard stored out front or it will certainly interfere. Your runner would be one more line to worry about getting in the prop, especially if let loose. Strap the main amidships and power back to the MOB.
Thanks for helping me sort this out,
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
I like having the quick option to get the headsail sheets working, and in the past I’ve used the same method as you OK, but having tried the running sheet method became a convert. It’s not perfect (what is?) but as long as the headsail isn’t too large (a yankee is good) you can get closer to the wind on the pole side with sheets free.
You also raise a good point that I should have mentioned, the length of the headsail sheets, as I’ve been aboard boats where the working sheets were too short to gybe across effectively. Sheets need to be long enough to work with the standard method.
I agree that for most sailing couples, the best MOB drill is to to get the engine started and round up fast under power and work back up to the person ditching sails as you go. Incidentally the running sheet needn’t be let go entirely at the length I’ve suggested with a yankee at least, so needn’t end up in the water. But I still like the options that ‘our’ method gives us.
I could not agree more about the benefit of light sheets, although we have never used them in a jib as we would tend to go to the asym in those conditions.
Decades ago, on a terrible first passage to Bermuda, we were largely becalmed for 2-3 days and actually used fishing line for an asym sheet to good effect. Now my light air sheet for the asym is ¼ inch HM line and we just upgraded the regular sheets to 7/16 HM from the sponge-like double braid we have used for years. The HM lines largest benefit (and this is a big deal) is they do not soak up water and get heavy when dipped into the sea.
My best, Dick
There is a lot AAC has to offer, some more obvious than others.
One of the things I really miss about being out cruising is the camaraderie of shooting the breeze about boats and boating: whether in the boatyard over a cup of coffee or later in the day over a beer. Comparing notes, disagreeing, agreeing, learning from each other, clarifying your own ideas: it is all good. Out cruising, it largely just does not seem to happen in most of our cruising grounds: sometimes it is language issues, most of the time there are just few cruisers where we go.
AAC comes close to filling that niche for me (short of supplying the coffee and/or beer).
I thank you all for participating.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
I agree, and miss the sessions over a beer or two that we enjoyed in the boatyard at Lagos in Portugal. Time to get out there again…
Thanks for the contribution about angles and compression loads. That was useful. Intuitively (or luckily) , but not with conscious intent I move the lead quite aft for my working sheet on the pole as this gets it through the gate without fussing with reeving and re-reeving through the lifelines. This angle is not too different from a lead to the quarter where my asym sheets go.
I do agree that pole track has to be robust and cringe when I see a ring simply held on by a few screws that are going to see side loads. That said…
As for compression loads on a cruising boat being larger than on a racing sailboat, I am not with you. Maybe if the sheet was brought straight back to the boat at an acute angle, but even then…
DDW we go as fast as we want to go with our full jib wung out on the pole in 20-25 kn TW (often triple reefed or no main as we are going fast enough). By that I mean about 75-80% of our flat out speed, which means we are, for our 40 foot boat, sailing about 6.5 to 7.5 kn. We can go faster, and it is likely to be safe but, for us, most sailing over 7 kn starts to get uncomfortable in the long haul and a bit too much vigilant work. That means the AW is 13-18 kn and I find it hard to believe the compression loads on my pole (with that AWS) approach a racing sailboat pole w/ a spinnaker up. Let alone exceed the racing sailboat as you (or Hall Spars) contend.
As an aside, I would want to suggest, that most of us leave far too much sail up far too long when going DW. It takes surprisingly little sail to get to 80% of hull speed or so. And the comfort difference between 75-80% of hull speed and 90% and above is impressive. We lounge at the former and are on vigilant tenterhooks at the latter speed.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Sorry, in my desire to write short about the pole loads I oversimplified. While I’m guessing you are right that a pole on a race boat will, when close reaching with the spinnaker up, probably get as much or more compression load than a cruising boat pole being used with a jib downwind, the race boat load is directly onto the front of the mast and therefore does not threaten the integrity of the pole track and end fittings the way a pole being used downwind on a cruising boat does where the load is at close to a right-angle to the track and car and therefore much more potentially destructive.
The other issue is that a racing boat spinnaker is not constrained at the leeward edge the way a cruising jib is in this configuration. The point being that in the cruising situation we are in effect trying to flatten the jib between two fixed points, the pole end and the headstay, against the force of the wind on it. As we flatten this curve the loads go up logarithmically—that same old load multiple that we talked about in jacklines.
Couple that with the habit many cruisers have of using the normal sheet lead that is both forward and often inboard and we have truly prodigious loads.
The bottom line in all of this is that Hall Spars engineers have determined that a cruising boat spinnaker pole track, car and associated fastenings must actually be stronger than required on a racing boat.
We can also see that the further aft and outboard we can move the turning block for the loaded sheet the less the load will be.
I think you are absolutely right about benefits of reducing sail off the wind more than most people do.
One thing I would say is that because of the loads I discussed in my last comments and the importance of being able to sharpen up quickly in an emergency, I think it is better to keep the relative sail area between the main and poled out jib equal as one reefs down and not be tempted to over reef or even strike the mainsail.
Yes, the question of how much main to reef/douse and when going DDW can be a vexing one. Alchemy really likes to be pulled from the bow and our autopilot works very little when that is the case, even surprisingly, with a poled out jib alone, which should be quite unbalanced, and yet, is not. With the main up, any change in wind strength/direction (the changes seem to happen more DW than other points of sail) tends to slew the boat around making for a wobbly course and making the pilot work harder The lever arm for the main, esp on a cutter, is surprisingly powerful even with the third reef. But having some mainsail just feels right and certainly is essential if you wish to round up and actually accomplish something.
My best, Dick
In his book published last year (Traverser l’océan à la voile), sailor and astro-physician Benoit Villeneuve propose a different approach to sail downwind. Instead of sailing directly downwind, he suggest that it, for most boats, better to sail 20 to 30 degrees off the wind. It will not only be more comfortable but also faster! Yes, instead of sailing downwind, selecting a route 20% off (and jibing occasionally) will increase the distance by 6%. Sailing 30% off the wind will increase the distance by 16%. When selecting this strategy, you compare your speed downwind with your spead at 20 or 30 degrees. If it the speed of the boat increase in % more than % of the additional distance (and this should be the case for most boats), then you will arrive faster and the ride will be more comfortable. I have adopted this strategy and it work great. My wife love it and we no longer manipulate a pole.
For years I tried to document the advice of gybing downwind being faster than straight downwind and failed to do so. It is my conclusion that, with displacement boats, going straight to the barn is faster. I will be interested in what others say.
Also, I would still need a pole with the angles you are describing, 20-30 degrees off DDW. My jib would still be blanketed by the main.
Now, I expect that fast cats and sleds will gybe DW effectively, but displacements boats (at least mine) get to the goal faster DDW going DDW.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
I tend to agree with you. Gybing downwind works better with lighter, faster boats.
For me the break point is when we can sail at or about hull speed when going dead downwind. If we can do that then I can’t see how much we gain by gybing downwind. However, if we can’t make hull speed then gybing can work.
We recently made a longish passage with lots of running. At first light one morning we sighted a sail astern of us, and could see that whoever/whatever the boat was, it was making deep gybes to make good progress, and only finally caught us at nightfall. It turned out to be a fast looking cruising cat that should, by all rights, have eaten us alive, but hadn’t.
I’m happy running with no regular sail handling, thanks, although I’d concede that if you have a full crew and a fast boat then the best way might be gybing – but the gains are small.
I believe your philosophy can be summed up as “when not racing, don’t race”.
I pole out my genoa quite often downwind. You have emphasized a couple of times how important is to move the sheet lead well aft and OUTBOARD. Now, I do move my sheet car always all the way aft because I’m well aware of the loads on pole, track and mast. But I just don’t know what you mean by moving the lead outboard. While I can see the advantage to do so — how would I be able to do it without rigging some extra device on the stern ? The curve of my boat’s deck sweeps well inboard aft and Morgans Clouds’ does so as well, from what I remember. Have i missed something ?
Very interesting discussion by the way, thanks Colin and thanks Dick for your contributions. I’m with you in that I will not employ an extra running sheet.
Sorry I was not as clear as I should have been. What I meant was that many cruisers lead the poled out sheet through their normal jib sheet lead, which is a really bad idea because the geometry increases the compression load on the pole dramatically. So, what I was trying to convey is that we need to move the lead out to the rail and as far aft as possible to increase the angle that the sheet makes with the pole as much as possible.
If you have moved the sheet out to the rail then that’s a big step in the right direction. Moving aft is good to, but as you point out, on boats like yours and ours with fairly narrow sterns there is a diminishing return as you move the lead aft.
Here is a promotional video from Fore-spar about their whisker pole – curious what you think about this. https://youtu.be/nGwNsS27R14
Hi Robert Andrew,
I would agree with Dick’s comment below that any pole, whether extending or not, should be securely held in place with fore and after guys at all times. You will note that the video was shot in a near calm on sheltered waters, not the real world of offshore sailing.
Hi Robert Andrew,
I agree with the video that the whisker pole is a very underrated and under-appreciated piece of gear.
In the last 2 days I have done 60+ miles down the southern coast of Norway, the first in 20+ kn winds and 2.5 meter seas (1/2 jib and triple reefed main and just under hull speed the whole way): today 20 m in less wind, all wing & wing. I am quite clear, that without fore and after guys keeping even my much much lighter pole (7 kg) than the one in his video from slamming into the forestay and/or a shroud would have been very difficult. The seas yesterday had us rolling and yawing, particularly jerky until we had the sails full. With a fore and after guy (and topping lift), the pole was under control the whole time. I firmly feel that fixing a pole in place is the safest way to go and provides the most versatility.
I have used both line control and push button adjustable length poles and found them quite difficult: largely un-adjustable (or adjusted too quickly: ,ie collapsed) unless there was little or no pressure from the sail. They are also much heavier (and more expensive) than the work requires as you are essentially buying two poles sleeved together. Also, when things get a bit pear shaped and the sail is flapping on the end of that pole that is free to move quite a bit: I got worried when near the jumping around end.
Another advantage to a pole fixed in place is that you can leave the pole up when not in use. We do this when the wind climbs up the jib side of the boat, eventually back winding it. At that time I just gybe the jib and sail a broad reach. I am usually convinced that, if I bring the pole in and put it away, the wind will return to its former direction. With the pole out and waiting, I just gybe it and return to W&W.
Get a single tubed pole (mine is carbon fibre) that gets your headsail out flat and leave it at that. With the pole guyed and fixed in place, you move the sail in and out by furling and need pay no attention to the pole.
Come back with questions, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Dear Dick Stevenson, may I know the length of your pole at 7kg? I am sourcing for a pole maker and weight is a major consideration for me. Also on gybing to a broad reach while leaving the pole in place, you would need a very long jib sheet or do you unclip the jib sheet from the jaw of the pole when gybing?
Dick, thanks for your input. It was about what I expected from someone who is actually using this equipment on the open water – these videos can be very misleading about real situations. What’s your view on the best length for the pole? Spinnaker poles have a prescribed length I think based on the boat’s measurements, but I guess a whisker pole could be any length you want. Is longer necessarily better? Certainly more difficult to handle solo.
I was a rigger an sailmaker, back when the world was young and so was I.
Anyway, on pole length, you are right, the standard length for a pole is the base of the foretriangle (know as J) but that is simply a function of racing measurement rules and has little to do with correct pole length for a whisker pole.
Correct whisker pole length depends on the luff perpendicular measurement (know as LP) which is the shortest distance from the luff to the clew. LP is typical expressed as a percentage of J. A standard length pole (same as J) will work well with a jib that has an LP of 100%-110%.
However, typical roller furling cruising genoas are about 130% of J and some are as much as 150% so a standard length pole will be too short unless you roll up some of the sail, which is a pity since you are trying to sail downwind and probably need the area. This is why Forespar sell their extending pole.
Dick makes a standard pole work because he has a cutter and so his J measurement is rather longer than that of a typical sloop, ditto his pole. Also, being a cutter, his boat uses a jib with less overlap. I know this because our own boat is exactly the same.
Summary: If you have a sloop with a typical roller furling genoa, you will need an extending pole—a fixed pole of the right length would be impossible to stow—or you will have to partially roll the jib in.
Disclosure: Forespar just started advertising here at AAC.
Hi Robert Andrew,
Firstly, I am not a rigger or sailmaker, the consultants of choice in this regard. I just know what I have done and what has worked well for me. Tom Anderson at Hathaway, Reiser and Raymond (Stamford CT, USA)was my brains and experience when I got my carbon fiber pole 10+ years ago.
My short answer is long enough to get your jib out flat with the pole just about to kiss the forward shroud and at right angle to the mast. My whisker pole was made 20 feet which was just a tad longer than my boat’s J. I immediately cut off 12 inches so my jib topsail was fully pulled open and flat, the pole just ahead of the forward shroud. I then cut off 6 inches to clear a dinghy I often had on deck and to make deployment of the pole easier.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Regarding some of the comments above about poling out to windward at tighter wind angles. I have used this technique with success but the jib backing is annoying. On a broad reach I have had much better success poling the jib out to leeward. With a low pole end (tight jib leech) and the pole far aft the jib is at a much more efficient shape and kept further to leeward away from the mainsail, opening the slot and minimising wind shadow from the main. With correct sail trim this setup is very efficient through quite a large angle range. If the boat is too downwind the jib flops much less than free sheeted and if too upwind it just luffs a bit at the front.
I would agree with you that when the wind comes forward of about 150 degrees it is better to have the pole on the same side as the boom—works a treat from about 155 to 120.
Interesting report. Thanks.
Just so I read you correctly: in the broad reach range (~~150 to 130 AWI), you have had better success sailing with the jib on a pole to leeward than going with a wing & wing configuration or sailing the broad reach with a loose clewed (non-poled) jib. That makes sense.
Wind from that direction is just very difficult, especially in the medium/light wind range.
I believe my pole often comes out when I am sailing in the broad reach range and getting unhappy (wind going aft, wind too light, things getting sloppy) when I need to do something. The choice is usually a pole to windward as I can deploy this while still sailing the broad reach and then gybe the jib onto a W&W configuration. This usually heats things up nicely and we sail faster and more comfortably (over the loose clewed broad reach).
I get to the configuration you describe (pole to leeward) when, from a W&W position, the wind shifts to start to backwind the prevented main: so we gybe the main and now are sailing with a poled out jib on a broad reach. I have never minded this, as it tames the sail well, but have always considered it a default configuration rather than one I would choose for the boat.
Thanks for your suggestion.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Great article, Colin.
If you, or anyone else for that matter, would like add a perspective on the following it will be appreciated;
– Iris is a cutter rigged vessel fitted with a high clew yankee. I read about your lasso method above to get the clew inboard to attach the running sheet, but on Iris the clew still, in terms of height, well above my head. Do you have some thought on, in a safe fashion, to attach the running sheet to the clew?
– in “what you need”, there is a running sheet (1,75 x LOA), but no dimension. I understand that this is a function of the boat type and size. Iris is 43ft, about 16-17MT loaded and the yankee is 40 sqm. Sheets of 1,75 x LOA tends to become heavy to handle, hence I would like to reduce the size if possible. Do you think a 12mm (1/2″) line would do the trick?
Enjoy the day!
I had a look at the your boat in the link, and that is indeed a high clew! Ours is much lower as you’ll see in the photo’s in the article.
Other than rigging some form of block with a ready rigged ‘mouse’ line (sometimes called a ‘messenger’) I can’t come up with a simple way to rig a running sheet on your boat.
I’d recommend 14mm as a minimum, 16mm for preference, partly to manage chafe and build in a little insurance. We use 10mm for a light weather sheet on our spinnaker and it’s fine, but as soon as it’s loaded up it becomes hard to handle.
Fine boat, by the way!
I just came across this quote from a talk about sail trim given by the talented yacht designer and successful racing sailor Hank Kauffman.
“When heading downwind with a breeze on the quarter and too shy to wing and wing, instead of just letting the headsail flag blanketed or poling it out on the leeward side, sheet it inboard back towards the mast. This can work extremely effectively in such situations. I really shouldn’t be sharing that with you!”
Not being a competitive sailor (except when there happens to be another boat following – or ahead.) I wouldn’t know how effective this technique is in terms of speed but it can certainly limit rolling.
In these quartering conditions when it’s too sloppy to set the kite (or I’m simply feeling lazy) we sometimes sheet the yankee in fairly hard on the leeward side and let our wishbone-boomed, masthead, inner staysail way out past 90 degrees on the windward side. A strange configuration but it seems to work fairly well and limits roll effectively.
Hi John, I am rigging up a pole out system for my boat and would like to ask some more basic questions. Firstly pole uphaul mast attachment. For a cutter rig, I suppose the attachment for a block for the uphaul is just below the staysail halyard. What type of fitting do you use to hold the block (a ring?) and do you use rivets or bolts for that fitting (assuming that it is subjected to high loading, maybe shock loading). I suppose your ,mast must be custom built to have the uphaul leading to the cockpit. Regards, Rob
On our Hall mast the pole lift (uphaul) goes through a sheave box and is then lead inside the mast. Of course this would generally result in chafe when the pole was out either side, so Hall fitted a simple rounded fairlead to solve that.
And no, we don’t lead the the pole lift back to the cockpit. Rather it’s terminated on the mast through a clutch and can share a winch, although that’s not usually required. Two reasons. First we are not big fans of leading any halyards aft, and second it’s usually the person at the mast that needs to adjust the uphaul when deploying and retrieving the pole anyway.
More on the former reason: https://www.morganscloud.com/2015/09/03/six-reasons-to-leave-the-cockpit-often/
Hi John, Thank you for the pointers. Do you use your pole for down wind with “wing on wing” as well as a spinnaker and a kite? I am thinking of a good pole length. As I am not an experienced sailor, I am thinking if a fixed length pole can be a good compromise for the various sail configuration? Or is the compromise worth considering at all as it may end up being neither here nor there. My cutter rig has a new non over lapping high clew Yankee (good advice from your website) with a “J” dimension of 6.5m. A pole maker (C-Tech limited) suggested a multi purpose pole of 10% in addition to the J dimension. What would be your advice? Thanks,
We don’t use the pole with the with our asymmetric spinnaker, but if we did, a standard J length pole should be fine, I think. After all, that’s what racing boats use.
And since you went with a cutter rig (smart man :-)) you don’t need to go overlength on the pole. In fact if you added 10% it would, I think, be too long to work well with the Yankee. (Our J length pole works great.) The other issue is that the longer you make it, the more difficult it is to jibe inside the staysail stay and handle generally.
I concur with this. A J-length pole suffices nicely and is harder to screw up.
John, Marc, thanks for your inputs. John, you hit on another area of consideration with regards to pole length. Getting it under the staysail when gybing !! My T-track is only 5m long from the base of the mast. It came with the boat when I bought it as it was fitted for a very heavy aluminum extendable whisker pole. What would be the sailing penalty of using a 5m pole instead of a 6.5m (J lengh)? I suppose i would be limited to use it on a wing on wing configuration with that length being 23% shorter than the J length.
Pole supplier. What should I look out for in a pole supplier? are all carbon pole of the same thickness/diameter/length the “same”? I suppose there are different grades/weave of carbon fibre and do they matter?
You definitely don’t want to use a short pole so I’m afraid you are either stuck with extending the track or an extending pole, with the former being, in my opinion, the better option.
As to pole vendors, a carbon pole is a pretty simple piece of kit these days, but do ask if it has been laminated with off-axis fibre including at least one wrapping laminate (90 degrease to axis) and one at 45 degrees. This will make it a lot tougher and resistant to breaking, albeit slightly heavier.
More on carbon laminates here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2006/05/18/carbon-fiber-mast-gmt/ It’s a long read, but does explain a lot about what not to do with carbon.
Thanks John. Maybe I have to consider storing the pole on deck, fasten to the stanchions. Any reservation on this? Yes, deck clutter…
You could certainly stow the pole on deck, in fact we used to do that. The drawback is that it is much more difficult to deploy and usually needs two people on the foredeck instead of just one. Now we have the pole on the mast, we would never go back.
That said, I would use deck chocks and not the stanchions.
Thank you for the good pointers John. I would have to plan on mounting on the mast in the long run. There is the radar to relocated as well as it too gets in the way of the J length pole. Food for thought and lots of work indeed.
Hi John and fellow sailors, I am looking at pole weight which affects the cost quite a bit (and of course weight for handling). With a cutter rig and assuming the use of the pole for the yankee jib only, what is a recommended pole weight if there is such a thing (kg per meter?) ? I guess it must have a relation with the sail area and vessel tonnage. How does one calculate required pole weight?
Calculating pole scantlings is not a job for us amateurs. Just go to a reputable manufacturer and let them figure out how heavy the laminate should be.
Ok John, thanks.
Hi John and all, just curious. what is the length and weight of your carbon pole? My 7m carbon pole would weigh 15kg from a pole maker. Is that about right? He says that if I want a lighter pole, then I can only use it for light to moderate downwind. Not for reaching. I think it is a bit heavy but I dont have any guide. Thanks.
Hi John, due to budget constraints, i am considering aluminium pole instead of a carbon fibre. I am just wondering if I can buy an aluminium pole of the same specs and rivet the end pieces on them?
We are soon to make the trade wind (as soon as the trades actually fill in) passage from the Canaries to the Caribbean so I am very interested in downwind sailing configurations. The other evening another cruiser suggested wing on wing with the blade staysail sheeted straight back, to reduce rolling. Has any one tried this, and if so what do you think. I have sailed the boat wing on wing, as well as with working jib and almost equal sized staysail poled out to opposite sides a good configuration for ddw but a little too “locked in”, both in terms of undoing and because the only angle possible is pretty much 180. The boat is an Ohlson 38 cutter rigged.
Having done that passage, I’m pretty sure that the blade staysail idea is not going to work. What will happen is that each time the boat rolls it will fill on one side and then the other resulting in a lot of potentially destructive cycle loading, not to speak of how hard it will be on your nerves!
Frankly I think that people fuss too much about rolling. We found that after a day or two we got used to it, and it wasn’t a problem. We just used a jib top poled out on one side and the main well prevented on the other. Worked fine and once the boat gets moving the roll slows down anyway.
Actually, that’s more the secret to keeping the boat comfortable than anything: keep her moving well. To that end, when it got light we set an asymmetrical spinnaker on the same side as the boom and sailed a pretty hot (high) angle.
Thanks, that was my thought as well.