Some time ago I was on a well designed and well tricked-out offshore voyaging boat. When it came time to hoist the main I was asked to take the helm while two strong and experienced guys set the mainsail.
And that's when the surprise came: it took about three times as long and more effort to get the main up and drawing as it takes me alone (Phyllis or the autopilot steering) on Morgan's Cloud, even though our mainsail is about double the size and weight and I'm a creaky sixty-some.
Not only that, the boat in question is fitted with a 2:1 main halyard, and one of those "lazybag" permanently installed sailcovers that incorporate lazyjacks; gear that, at least in theory, make sail handling easier.
So why is hoisting the main easier and quicker on Morgan's Cloud? Do we have:
- In-mast roller furling?
- In-boom roller furling?
- Electric winches?
No, no, and nope.
What we have working for us is simplicity...with a bit of elegance thrown in.
Here's a video of the geezer in action:
Ninety-five seconds, from start to sailing. Let's look at the details that make this work:
indeed a very good approach, making it simpler whenever possible.
I leave the halyard fastened to the sail, as you do, and to keep the sail from rising and the halyard from banging around I just pull a bight of the halyard down and aft a bit and tie the forward sailtie around it (and the sail of course). That way I don’t need an additional rope and the halyard is away from the mast. Simple and effective.
That’s a good idea, but I think I will stick with my rope halyard retainer as I think a sailtie could chafe through over time. Also, I don’t like placing a sharp turn in a high tech halyard, and finally, with my system we can put the sail cover on without detaching the halyard.
Thank you for the article.
Can you please explain / share more details on:
– what kind of halyard you are using? Dyneema? What diameter?
– I can see a white cover on the splice – is this to prevent chafing ?
– How is your topping lift attached? Do you use 2:1 for it?
I also have a dedicated winch on the mast for the main halyard (not self-tailing) on my 39ft sloop, and a direct halyard to mainsail attachment, but it takes me some hard times pulling and winching the last 20%…
So I was thinking how to improve this – maybe with 2:1…
– do you have a self-tailing winch?
The halyard is 1/2″ New England rope T-900, lower creep than pure Dynema.
The cover is to stop chafe at the exit when off the wind and the head board is off centre, it is spectra.
We don’t have a topping lift. The damned things are the invention of the devil. Instead we have a rigid vang.
Yes, all winches are self tailing. The self tailing winch is the most important sailboat invention of the last 50 years, in my opinion.
If you have a problem hoisting on a 39′ boat, you have a friction or gear problem (undersized winch?) and need to look for and fix that. Don’t make things worse by adding a 2:1 halyard. Not making that kind of additive mistake is the whole point of the chapter above. Bottom line, find the real problem, don’t add complication.
After 2 years of cruising with a topping lift, putting up with it wrapping around the backstay, the sail battens, or flopping around in light winds in a left over swell, and then creating banshee harmonics when tightened at anchor in any decent breeze, we decided to try without it some months ago and use our muscular Forespar vang. So far we haven’t missed it.
For now, we have left the topping lift at the mast as a spare main halyard and dedicated MOB retrieval line – but really we can use the main or spinnaker halyard just as well. We have to move it away from the mast each night at anchor, and it is one more heavy rope frapping on the mast and chafing underway. Can anyone think of a reason why we shouldn’t (in the interests of simplicity) remove the topping lift, leaving a mousing line (in the mast) to haul a spare halyard through in the event of breakage?
Have you left your topper in place John?
No, no topping lift, but like you we are set up to rig one, or a spare halyard, should the vang fail us.
Hi John, I think the cars play a very big part of your system as on my own as they make raising so much easier.
Yes, any cruising boat should have some kind of track system. That said, even more important to why we could hoist so quickly and effectively is being able to swing our full weight on the halyard.
I support all John says, and would like to add some.
A 2:1 halyard will theoretically give you half the struggle at twice the time. That alone is not too desirable. In reality it also gives you much more friction and a serious risk of trouble with rope twist.
I’ve used a lot of this type halyards on racing multihulls, to reduce mast compression on extremely light rigs. They can work, but are mostly just a pain in the ***. I’ve developed an “allergy” to 2:1 halyards. Masthead locking systems also have problems, but I prefer that if compression is a problem.
I still own the halyard used by the NYYC to hoist a crew member up to the masthead of their 12 meter and beat on the halyard lock with a hammer when it froze during competition in Australia. Enough said!
Yea, we used to use halyard locks on E22s, I still have scars.
Good video, John. We just installed a heavier main, but we also installed a slippery track system. So far, so good. Our at mast arrangement is very similar, except I do still use a rope clutch. Maybe I shouldn’t bother.
Yup, lose the clutch, they are a very bad idea on a main halyard.
Well, everything’s at the mast and I can certainly give it a try, although my wife cast a baleful eye on the proposition! Regarding topping lifts, why the hate? I have a Wichard tether shackle on the end of mine that, if chafe is an issue, can be moved forward. I use the boom as a crane for getting light stuff like tenders aboard, and the topping lift (which is 1/2 inch Dyneema core) comes in handy for that.
Also wandering why the topping lift is a bad idea?
I don’t have a rigid vang, and don’t see why I need one (better spend money on a winch).
Marc, do you have 2:1 on the topping lift or a direct line?
Hi Marc and Taras,
The problems with topping lifts start to manifest once you get offshore in swell. (Inshore they are not a problem.) Pretty much no matter what you do they tend to bang around and chafe the leech of the sail as well as needing constant adjustment when reefing.
A partial solution is to run a piece of shock cord up the backstay, through a small bullet block, and on to the topping lift. This at least keeps it away from the sail.
And yes, I would fix any mainsail hoisting issues before worrying with a rigid vang.
I have direct lines that goes through mast-mounted clutches at about eye height for all halyards, including the topping lift. It’s easy for me to run the mainsail halyard without going thorough a clutch as a test, because, as John indicates, my halyards exit the mast fairly high. I much prefer the low-friction, “centralized” aspect of handling all halyards at the mast. I have fairly substantial winches there as well, mounted on the mast tabernacle. It can be seen here: https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-IIN3WMXc-xw/Vzd2VbhoeqI/AAAAAAAADb4/VcjxpadRHHw2PqwXSybNzwiKoGbLysaRwCLcB/s1600/WP_20160513_002.jpg
If the clutch is at eye height it should definitely go. No way you can properly bring your weight to bear when you can grab the halyard above your head.
Why the worry about removing the clutch? If you have a dedicated winch for the mainsail at the mast it’s not doing anything useful.
As to using the boom as a crane, why not just use the main halyard, as we do?
In my case the boom can overhang to the side of the boat so lifting up a “Thing” can be done vertically up, then move the boom back to the boat and lover the “Thing”. In my case the end of the boom is almost on top of companionway, so I can vertically lower down anything into the boat.
I cannot see how this can be achieved only with a halyard from the top of the mast.
Well first off, having the halyard a bit off vertical is really not a problem unless the loads are very high. We regularly swing things weighing several hundred pounds onto a wharf using just a halyard, as well as lifting our dinghy aboard with just a spinnaker halyard.
And if you do need to use the boom, simply attache the main halyard to it—stronger and a better winch than the topping lift.
No real worries, John…it’s just how the boat was rigged! We could use the main halyard as described, I suppose, and use the topping lift as a hoist for an SS wire antenna. The angle’s too tight between the mast base and the leading edge of the pilot house for a solid vang, I suspect. We’re still experimenting.
The track slides (what do ye call them? attaches mainsl to the track, every few feet) in your vid are far apart. The fewer of them the better, right?
And for hank-on clips for the genoa, same thing – the fewer the better?
Interesting question. I guess it’s a trade off between strength and clutter, so I would not say simply the fewer the better, particularly on a jib. On the mainsail, if one has too many cars the “stack” when the sail is down gets really high.
It’s also important to position the cars carefully so all of the reef tack cringles can be pulled down to the gooseneck without a car being removed from the track, or disconnected from the sail. A good sailmaker should be able to sort these two issues, but it’s amazing how often they screw it up.
Nice article with a few good points.
You pointing out one of the areas where we need an improvement on-board Maud. At times, we find it hard to hoist in strong wind and equally drop or set a reef. In our case, there are too much fraction on the sliding cars. We got EPEX sails with total weight of 30 kilos excluding reefing lines for slab reefing. We got a different process, but I agree that low fraction is king.
– High halyard exist point gives the person on the mast a good change to use their body weight when hoisting.
– Easy the reefing lines. Drag out the reefing lines at the end of the boom reduces the power required to hoist the main.
– A clutch is a must. The halyard goes back to the cockpit and through a Spinlock Powercluch. XX0812 using a 12 mm Dyneema line. Sailing two handed, we work in synch when hoisting. I am at the helm, holding the boat to the wind and taking in the slack on the halyard during hoist with a closed clutch. With a high-power clutch, there is hardly any drag on the clutch. My wife can use her body weight when hosting. This require that the halyard is taken in after every pull. This would be impossible without a clutch. I have never timed us, I estimates that a normal hoist should take less than 60 seconds. When the main is almost up, she moves to the cockpit for the final adjustment.
– Self-tailing winch, Harken Performa 46. With eight winches on-board you can say that this winch on the coach-roof is dedicated, at times it is used for other jobs. I am aware of the benefit of locking the halyard of on the mast and removed to strain from the mast, mast foot and coach roof.
Normally, we get a very good and fast hoist. We got Antal Mast Head board and sliding cars. The cars are the problem. I was recommended sliding cars by my sailmaker and not a main track with ball bearing cars. The cars are 1-inch-wide; at times they will not slide! Especially when dropping or when reefing in high wind. At times, we really need to drag the main down. We got our sailmaker to fit handles at the reefing rings. A few times I have had my full weight or 90 kilo pulling down without being able to drag it down.
Low fraction is the key. A main sail track with ball bearing cars is the solution. I have tried everything to improve the sliding cars. I replaced them to wider cars. I grease them with sliding silicon. That allow them to work better for a few weeks.
Saving up to retrofit Antal Main Sail track. My Rigger wanted 2K just for the installation job…..
Yes, I think you are right, used that way on a boat with the halyards lead aft to the cockpit, I can see the benefits of a clutch. For a boat like ours with the halyard at the mast, a clutch is simply clutter that ads friction and prevents us reaching high enough to get a really good haul on the line.
Your article is a really nice “how -to” instruction for mainsail raising and a wise general recommendation for how to think through solutions to problems.
I would underline at least 2 recommendations: firstly, the importance of slippery track. When we bought Alchemy, it came with Antal track and slides and I had no idea how important they would become. I admit that back then, knowing the price, I would not have bought that gear. Now I would not sail without it. Raising is easy, lowering, it comes down like a rock and slippery slides may be essential for fully battened mains. Most important for me is that I can reef and douse the main going downwind, even in full gales. Not having to round up is a huge safety factor for me.
The other area is being able to use full body weight to pull the sail up. As much as I am loathe to put holes in my mast, I would go so far as to suggest doing so (re-locating the exit point) to enable one to use full body weight reaching as high as one can in raising the main. I am really impressed by what good aerobic exercise winching is, so if I can finesse doing so I am happy.
One issue with hoisting in this manner is that I moved to HM halyard a few years ago and it is almost too slippery to use with full body weight. It might be something to think about when getting a new halyard. I am sure some HM lines have more “grip” than others.
I am interested in the masthead sheave addition you mentioned. I have never considered their being replaced. Mine are, I guess, the fairly typical axle with 4 sheaves in a row separated by plastic spacers. Primitive, but effective and relatively bulletproof. I will explore the Harken sheaves you refer to.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy, Inishturk, Ireland
Our Dyneema line is slippery when wet, that is not a problem if you are using the right technique. We are not pulling the halyard down, but in 10-30 degree angle. If someone is taking in the slack and the clutch in closed, you can use your body weight. As it becomes harder, you pull more in an angle. A slippery line has never been a problem as you are never pulling strait down.
Glad you confirm the Main Antal track. Last time the mast was down I installed a Antal Staysail track. Allow me an easy hoist of the staysail. The number of hols they made me cry. For strength, the track is several meters longer than needed. I am trying to convince myself that the mast is stronger with the track!
If it were me, and I had a halyard that was too slippery to grip when wet, I would replace it. Pulling off axis is a big speed and efficiency hit.
In my opinion, all lines that must be pulled should have a Dacron (polyester) sheath so it’s not slippery. We use New England Rope T-900.
Dick, I have no other way to reach you but a man named Niels mistook me for you on Cruisers’ Forum and was looking for you in Clifden. It’s our good taste in boat names, evidently.
John, feel free to delete this once Dick has indicated he’s seen it. I have no other email for him. Thank you.
Good points. I’m with you on slippery car type mainsail tracks, right up there with self tailing winches. Don’t leave home without both.
And yes, I think that a really good mast head sheave is an often neglected way to make hosting easier. Try it and you will be amazed by the difference. And, like most Harken gear, they too are pretty much bullet proof.
By the way, one should not make the mistake of using a sheave that has roller bearings in the load area as this does not work well in halyard applications. Harken have done a real study on the best way to get the job done, so I highly recommend the sheave I link to above.
Great article with lots of practical advice. One thing you touched on was your battens hanging up on lazy jacks as you hoist. I added some elastic cord from the shroud at the tips of the lower spreaders to a nylon snap shackle that I clip onto the lazy jacks at spreader height. This doesn’t interfere with them doing their job and holds the two sides of the lazy jacks a bit further apart, making them more forgiving as you raise your mainsail. The plastic snap shackles don’t damage the sail and allow the lazy jack to slide up and down through them as necessary and also make it easy to take them apart for winter storage. The effectiveness of this arrangement will be affected by the relative height of your lower spreaders versus your lazy jack attachment point to the mast, and it took me some trial and error to find the proper length of elastic cord, but once I played with it a bit I found that it resulted in fewer hangups as I hoisted my main. Total cost was less than $10.
just to clarify, we really don’t have a problem with this. The secret is to have the mast attachment point for the lazyjacks low enough. Most that I see are too high. More in the lazyjack chapter.
That said, if someone is having a problem, your idea sounds good. Having said that I don’t like to add stuff to the rig that could, if fouled, pull a spreader out of column. It’s surprising how weak some spreaders and their mounts are when subjected to loads that they were not designed to take.
Hey John, good write up on mainsail hoisting. Although we don’t have an exit block high on the mast, ours coming out about deck level to a dedicated winch just aft of the mast on our Kaufman 47. Not the best but we figure since we are young and once the main is up it’s up, we think pulling the halyard up between the mast and winch while being tailed works pretty well. Also, we changed out our masthead sheaves and exit blocks on our Isomat mast with ball bearing sheaves from Garhauer Marine and they are quite smooth. Just another option for those who are looking to replace sheaves as they are a great product at a good value from a great company.
Sounds good. One point though, studies at Hall Spars and Harken have shown that sheaves that use roller bearings to take the pin loads are not a good idea for halyards. What happens is that over time under high load the rollers develop flats and go out of round so that they actually add more friction.
Therefore I recommend the Harken sheaves specifically designed for this application. http://www.harken.com/productcategory.aspx?taxid=395
Thanks for the info John. You wouldn’t happen to have a link or anything to those studies would you? I believe what you are saying, I just don’t think I’m understanding it correctly. When I look at the Harken sheaves they look very similar to my Garhauer sheaves. Both have the the same/similar plastic balls riding on aluminum races. If by roller bearings you mean cylindrical pins, the Garhauer sheaves don’t have those. Am I just not understanding the terms here? I thought I did my homework when I went that route last year when I refit the mast. Appreciate your time and knowledge always.
Sounds like the Garhauer sheaves are fine, in that case. The issue is that the loads on the pin should not be taken on bearings, either roller or ball. Ball bearings are fine for the much lower side to side loads.
And no, I don’t have any links to formal studies, but I do have it on good authority from the riggers at Hall Spars, who I trust implicitly.
Great, I’ll have to look more into it and give Garhauer a call just to make sure. I trust your word as good as yours as I have no reason not to. Thanks again for the tips and information.
Generally, for the reasons John spoke to in the article, I have little trouble getting the sail through our lazy jacks and I may have a couple of caveats/questions about your suggestion, but it is just that sort of creative problem solving that I enjoy.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
I found that simply switching to a low stretch halyard (T900) made a huge difference.
As a long term racer I have never given this much thought – on most race boats to hoist the main one person sweats it at the mast whilst another tails in the ‘pit. No drama.
Now, as a wannabe blue water cruiser I can definitely see the merits of John’s system.
John, if no clutch how do you cleat the halyard off? Is it on the winch all the time? Are you worried about the load on the winch?
We simply leave the halyard on the winch and cleat off to a simple old fashioned horn cleat that also gives us a good place to hang the halyard.
And no, I’m not worried about the load on the winch. I’m pretty sure a properly sized winch is way stronger than a clutch. After all, back in the day before clutches (not that long ago to an old guy like me) we left all halyards on winches.
What’s the size of your winch?
It’s a number 46 two speed self tail. However I don’t think that’s a very useful piece of information for you since our mainsail would be somewhere between two and three times heavier than that on your boat, so a winch of this size would be over kill.
experience has taught me some work-arounds for most of the the problems addressed here, which i like to think is in line with your appropriate admonition to simplify vs complicating as i see retrofitting as complicating vs devising effective work-arounds…one such work-around is using leather-palmed and half-fingered gloves, which double my gripping power and last indefinitely…another work-around is simply learning the subtleties of the particular boat’s handling plus enjoying the challenges of matching these subtleties with the conditions at hand knowing the boat’s limitations and anticipating for these…i like these challenges plus i also like the aforementioned aerobic workout from working winches esp at mainsail raising…on lakota i need the winch when the main is about halfway up as my halyard leads into the cockpit, which i also like esp when single handed plus i can then coil the halyard line later at my liesure or not if i decide not to just leaving it in a small heap on the cockpit sole…yes i do occasionally snag a lazy jack line, but nowhere nearly as much as i used to, and the fix is relatively simple by dropping the sail a foot or two to release the snag and keep on hoisting from there…however, i have made notes of all of your pointers john, and i can see myself implementing some or all of them over time…cheers, richard in tampa bay
Good point. Some times the best idea is to just go sailing!
Well done, I’m a big fan of working at the mast as well. We added a “Strong Track” system in 2003 and it has worked perfectly. No moving parts, but it drops so fast that it can break the circle pins. Reefing off the wind is easy as well if you control the leech as you go. As we continue cruising into our 70’s the last two we added help. We have been using a 28 volt 1/2 right angle Milwaukee drill with the 8pt “winch bit” when ever needed. Having both F&R on two speed winches make things fly even on a 21 ton 50′ cutter.
S/V Maggie, in Brittany
Well that encouraging for a guy who is 5 years your junior with a boat of about the same size. Interesting on the drill. We have one of those too, which we bought to retrieve our Jordan Series Drogue. However we have never used it on deck for day to day work for fear it would get wet and die. Could you please expand a bit on how you use and store it on deck since I’m getting to the point where a little mechanical help would be welcome on occasions?
We have also considered getting a winchrite. Have you any thoughts on that?
Hi John, have a look at http://www.sailnsea.com They are offering a device which looks very solid, built by a German engineer who is also a sailor.
That’s interesting and looks well made, but it’s just a gear box that requires a drill to drive it. The drill I already have will do that directly via a winch bit and does fine in testing and for Jim (above). The big issue is that it’s not waterproof, or even splash proof.
We have a Milwaukee m28 side angle drill as well for that purpose and we’ll we needed it during our refit. Also, have the wet/dry portable vacuum cleaner that uses the same battery. I have thought about making a Sunbrella(or similar) sleeve to go over the drill fairly snuggly, but the back would be open so you could reach in to access the trigger. Sort of like a foul weather gauntlet with elastic or something similar. It’s only a thought at the moment.. But I figured I would share my idea.
Just a quick googling gives a lot of ideas on waterproofing. Also there are some underwater drills, like this: https://nemopowertools.com
I have to wonder if the Milwaukee “winch drill”, which is a common sailor hack, could not just be fitted with a waterproof cover (not slick surfaced) with Velcro tags and just the business end poking out (which is buried in the winch during use)? The ventilation aspect can be ignored, I think, for the short period it takes to hoist the main and would suffice for all but the heavier downpours. Just a suggestion from a fan of cheak hacks and shore-side equipment aboard.
Hi John and all,
In (some) defense of topping lifts:
1. I have used one without trouble or chafe for decades now. Mine is dead ended at the masthead and adjusted (rarely) by a lashing at boom end. A length of shock cord keeps it firm and out of trouble when it becomes slack. I have not missed the ability to adjust length: quite the contrary, it is simplicity itself with no tail and stowage issues.
2. Rigid boom vangs are far more trouble to design and install correctly (especially to retro-fit on spars not designed for their loads) than most owners realize and that some venders admit to.
3. They can be complicated pieces of kit that are not field repairable. Casual observation and dock discussions has lead me to believe that it is not infrequent that installations are not up to the occasional mistakes owners make sailing and that a boat’s equipment should absorb without major complaint.
4. One loses (at least on smaller boats) a strong and a bit protected location for the liferaft (just abaft the mast). More than once I have seen a raft mounted on the companionway “garage” for just this reason and these garages are not up to the task as they are usually just screwed into the deck. The vang part of this equipment (as opposed to the topping lift element, can go to the side decks where the geometry is better altogether.
5. Finally, just below the boom is a superb area to store the dinghy, mine being a hard bottom nesting dinghy. The fore-deck is a lousy place to store anything underway when it comes to working a spinnaker or whisker pole or any fore-deck duties for that matter.
My best to all, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Thanks for the alternative view. I completely agree that it’s important when fitting a rigid vang to make sure that the attachment points and spars are up to the job since the loads are substantial. Having said that, after some 40 years with rigid vangs (I had one of the first Hall Spars Quickvangs) I would not be without a vang, both to get rid of the topping lift and because it allows as to properly adjust twist in the sail when reaching and running.
Also, in all of that time, first with a mechanical vang and for the last 25 years with a hydraulic one, I have (touch wood) never had a failure.
I am not surprised you have had good luck with Hall vangs. They looked to be great kit at the onset and, I suspect, they have only gotten better. I also suspect, after very minimal contact I had in the past with the people at Hall, that they do a good job of ensuring their vangs fit the boat and are properly installed.
We may have alternative views on topping lifts, but I absolutely agree on a vang being one of those items essential to a sailboat.
My best, Dick
Dick, some of those concerns apply to us, as well. Should we find a topping lift problematic in serious use, it can either go forward or be retired, but I fully concur on the essential need for clear decks forward of the mast.
I got mixed feelings for topping lifts. A good rigid vang often does a better job. Would I move it?
A few years back. I was the bow man of a racing yacht in the Solent. We T-boned the committee boat at the finishing line due to the bloody topping lift! During Cowes Easter Challenge we forgot to take the topping lift forward. With lots of yachts in close corners in high wind the topping lift had locked itself around the backstay. The captain and helm’s man ordered the final tack close to the finishing line. Unable to tack we T-boned the committee boat. Our yacht got almost a feet shorter, the steel committee boat got a dent and a few scratches in the in the paint work. Most important, all the Easter Eggs broke. So of you missed your Easter Egg in 2008 you now know why!
On my own yacht we still got the topping lift. I got plans to use it to hold up the stern gangway when cruising.
Yikes, what a story, that settles it!
A friend created the term “complify” to refer to situations in which complexity is introduced with little or no added benefit. Sometimes additional complexity is necessary and beneficial, but very often not. Remembering my friend’s term has helped me be more aware of things that are “complified.” 🙂
“Complify” that’s great, I shall adopt it.
Exactly, very much like my set-up.
1. I do have a clutch, which adds very little friction when open, and it allows me to take a break if needed; sometimes the waves demand that.
2. The clutch is quite high, just where I can reach. It does not interfere.
3. The winches mast mounted winches can be a real sheet tangle hazard. I rigged a pair of vertical stays about 3′ to the side and 2′ forward of the mast to solve this. They also make really nice vertical jacklines and hand holds on that high, scary cabin top.
4. I had a 2:1 halyard on my last boat. It can help if rigged low friction. It will also reduce halyard stretch by 50%. But like many things, there can be problems. It’s all in the details.
I never move my lazy jacks. As you said, speed helps. I can get past the critical point in just a few pulls.
I also like Sailcote. I tried soap once at someone’s suggestion; it took months to get that damn sticky mess washed out.
In addition to other comments, I think your halyard diameter is important, 1/2″ is getting to be large enough that you can actually grip the line properly. We have a mix of 3/8″ and 7/16″ and I find both hard to grip. Having worked on much larger boats a lot, for my hand size 7/8″ is about perfect but that would be ridiculous on most boats.
That is why all our halyards are 1/2″ Dacron with a 6 mm Spectra core. Half an inch is perfect for my wife, and is as small as I prefer.
Absolutely, I should have put that in.
A small drop of liquid soap makes the main go up fast and washes away, so no buildup.
This speed helps get past the lazyjacks.
A rigger/racer gave me this tip. Must say it works and haven’t noticed any effects of the soap.
we are just rerigging a 12 m cruising boat with a 40 sq m main and considering retro-fitting either a external mast track such as from Harken or using Ronstan ballsliders which run on the aft surface of the mast itself.
What is the collective experience on such systems ?
We fitted Fredriksson system some 20 years ago, (very like the Harken) and I would not be without it. One of the best upgrades to our boat ever. I highly recommend them. That said, our main is a bit over 600 sq ft (55 sq m) so we may get a bigger benefit than you will with a smaller main and boat. Still, for any boat over about 35 feet, upgrading from normal luff slides is one of the best changes we can make.
I don’t have any experience with the Ronstan system, but having had a look at the site, I can’t see that it will be anywhere near as good as a track system since the slides are still going to have a lot of friction running in the mast internal track.
Hi Ted and John,
Danish Fredriksen, as John mentions, made very good racing hardware. The brand doesn’t exist anymore, but the products are still being produced by the same people in the same place under the Australian Ronstan brand. They also bought another great danish brand, Andersen Winches, which stays under its old name.
Ronstan has several types of mainsail track systems. The ball bearing systems are relatively expensive and add a bit of weight, but their friction is very low. Other systems might work well for you, but that depends on several factors. Ask the makers. If your mainsail has a big roach, with accordingly high batten loads, most likely ball bearings are the best solution. Similar systems can be found from many companies. Harken.com, Antal.it and Karver-systems.fr are all very good alternatives. Karver is light, strong and innovative, but mostly aimed at high end racing, priced accordingly and their online info isn’t the best.
I have a 12m boat and agree with John in all respects. I will add that I consider “slippery track” as an essential safety gear for a boat that wanders widely in addition to easing all aspects of mainsail handling, but especially for those with full battens. Being able to reef (or douse) the main going downwind in a blow without having to round up with all its ensuing chaos makes for a much happier, safer boat.
Mine is Anstal which we have used for almost 20 years now with barely a hiccup and is the only gear I have first hand experience with. “Slippery track” from the big names is not for the monetarily faint of heart. A less expensive option that I have heard good things about is Strong Track (again no experience) and I would be interested in hearing from any reader with reports on the Strong Track, especially the ability to reef/douse downwind.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
We have a Harken Battcar system on our Kaufman 47 cutter, Redemption. We have a 402 sqft (37sqm) high aspect mainsail with 5 full battens. We ordered the ‘A’ size which is for 40-50′ boats and/or 600sqft(56sqm) mains. It comes down very easily and we can get it up past the 2nd spreader before needing a winch, 53′ luff. We haven’t sailed extensively with it yet but we did have to drop it during a hard blow with just my 13yr old nephew and it dropped like a rock coming down. Much, much better than with the square slugs on our original main. It was also very easy to install. Just my wife and I, myself in a harness and her feeding up the track slugs for mast attachment. Probably a 2-3 hours once we got going. Talking to Harken on the phone prior to purchase was great as well. Hope this helps.
Thanks to all for the great information in answer to Ted’s question.
Strong Track is amazing. Ours has been on for 20 years and 30,000 mi of tough use and it still work perfectly. Our main is full batten and 450+ sq ft, once you drop the halyard it’s in the cover in 2 seconds. Fits all tracks.
Can’t recommend it enough. I’m 74 and I hand pull it pass the lazy jacks to the second spreader.
Thanks for the field report. That is what I have heard from riggers who put them on, but it is good to hear longevity of use and lots of hard miles.
My best, Dick
I agree with Jim Ferguson.
Strong Track for 15 years on Tartan 37c; full batten main 250 sq ft.; near full hoist without winch; reef downwind; drops without help; no problems.
Thanks for that. Always nice to hear about equipment that works. Dick
We appreciate all your comments and feedback. Our inclination is to go with the Harken or Ronstan auxiliary track and slider systems which are readily available here in NZ. We will come back with our experience once we have fitted and made some coastal trials.
All your input highlights the huge value of this site in short-circuiting the choice of gear for the serious offshore cruising boat without the bias of advertising distortions, so our grateful thanks.
510 sq ft, loose footed, heavy Dacron, one full length batten, Strongtrack with stainless steel slides, dedicated Harken 42:2 self tailer, high exit point, 12mm dyneema halyard. No stack pack or lazyjacks. Have copied John’s rolling hitch.
Now, can I beat 95 seconds? Not sure I am as fit as John!
You’r on! Seriously, it’s a lot more about practice that strength. I bet you get it under 95 seconds with time.
A couple of observations in support of working at the mast instead of cockpit:
Side-mounted mast winch seems to give the same ergonomics as the stand-up grinders on large modern racing yachts. They will have done the science and worked out its more efficient. It certainly feels easier than a horizontal cabin-top winch.
Lines led aft will have a lot of friction if there’s ice in the blocks. Quicker to walk forward and raise sail than boil the kettle first.
Hi P D,
Yes, a winch at waist hight, particularly with a double grip handle does seen by far the most efficient to me to.
A few years late to the discussion… Interesting article John. I’m just thinking about the relative ease of different systems. With your system, although you are pulling down with 2 arms you are letting go with one arm between pulls and having to take the weight of the sail in just one arm, while you move the other one up the halyard. When the sail gets too heavy for one arm you have to resort to grinding the rest up.
The following allows me to bounce a smaller sail all the way to the top and never rely on just one arm to take the weight, not sure if it would work for your size of sail though:
Halyard exits high up the mast, going to a clutch on the deck via a turning block at the base of the mast, providing someone doesn’t mind taking in the slack after each pull you never need to take the weight of the sail in one arm. Also with the clutch closed the pull on the halyard is more out rather than down which is much easier. The clutch and turning block don’t add any friction to the system as they are downstream of the pull. The downside being that you do need an assistant, someone fast but weak will do, like my 8 year old 🙂 Without an assistant you’re back to taking the weight in one arm between pulls while you pull the slack through the clutch with the other arm.
Sure, that’s what race boats have done for decades: one person jumping the halyard and one tailing in the pit. Great if you have the extra person available. It’s also the best way to hoist if the halyards are lead back to the cockpit and you have an extra person.
But in our case, and most cruising boats, the other person is steering to keep the boat head to wind. So, as you point out, with only one person such a setup would really slow things down and be very awkward.
Also, at least on our boat, even with two people, it would not reduce the winching length or increase the speed very much. The reason is that once the sail is about two thirds up the weight is increasing exponentially due to the added full length battens and weight of cloth (because the sail shape is a triangle) and the lower parts have a lot more reinforcement. The result is that very shortly after I must go on a winch from hand strain, I would have to do the same simply because the sail weighs more than I do.
Of course I could sweat the halyard (pull outward) but once the loads are that high, I don’t think that’s any faster than a winch since when sweating some is lost back on every pull.
Bottom line, like with most things on boats, which works best depends on usage profile.
Thanks for the reply John, Yeah I guess if the sail weighs more than you do there’s no getting around a bit of grinding (with a 1:1 halyard at least) Loving the website btw!